It’s easy enough to spot frequent waves of nostalgia throughout any given fandom, but rarely have so many fandoms at once enjoyed such a thriving period of renewed engagement and attention in pop culture. In 2015 fandom was unquestionably the year of the comeback.
With all of the old-school fandoms having their day in the sun, you might wonder if any new creations managed to squeeze into the public eye, much less develop fandoms of their own. In fact, only one of this year’s top fandoms came into the world in 2015—but what a fandom it is.
We present our picks for the fandoms that made headlines in 2015, thanks to the fans whose timeless love and enthusiasm made them all deserving of a renaissance.
How does an upstart, hip-hop musical you haven’t even seen yet take over Broadway and the Internet, land upon this list ahead of hoverboards and Potter, and, oh yeah—somehow defeat a global superpower?
Lin-Manuel Miranda and a baby cosplaying as Alexander Hamilton at #Ham4Ham on Halloween
If you’d told us while we were writing last year’s top 10 list that another fandom—much less one for a Broadway musical—would unseat Star Wars in 2015, we’d have probably sent for the doctor to see if you were feeling OK. But if last year in fandom was the year of diversity powered by feminism and social justice activism, then it only makes sense that this year, the fandom that took everyone by shock and storm was one that took all those conversations to the next level—and several levels beyond.
Put simply, Hamilton is the story of a single founding father, retold through a modern lens with a cast mainly composed of black actors. Nothing about Hamilton is simple, though—starting with the music, a stunning, stirring hip-hop language that crams three times more text into its run time than the average Broadway musical. In addition to being inherently modern, Hamilton is also an inherently fannish text—a kind of AU (Alternate Universe) fanfic that also serves to critique its canon, which in this case is the historical narrative we’re all taught. That narrative all too frequently leaves out marginalized voices, and evades the messy politics of a revolution carried out by white men, many of whom distrusted urban industry and had no intention of freeing their slaves. Composer Lin-Manuel Miranda inserts his own viewpoint as a hip-hop fan born to Washington Height’s immigrant Latino community into that of Alexander Hamilton, who immigrated to New York in poverty from St. Croix. Hamilton typified the revolutionary spirit Miranda reclaims on behalf of #BlackLivesMatter and other current political movements.
Rarely has theatre seemed to loom as large over the cultural landscape as Hamilton does, but rarely has theatre managed to intersect so neatly with both the immediacy of current political issues and the constant cries for representation from fans who expect more from the media they consume. Hamilton began a season-long siege on social media upon the release of the long-awaited cast recording, taking over Tumblr and Twitter and ultimately winning a stint as the bestselling rap album in the country.
Fans responded in legion forces, annotating hundreds of thousands of words on the show’s category on the lyrics website Genius, and churning out fanworks and critical analysis in droves. Renewed interest in Alexander Hamilton was so intense that the Treasury is now delaying his removal from the $10 bill. Additionally, Miranda’s social media savvy, his genius #Ham4Ham pre-shows, and his appearances all over pop culture from Colbert to Star Wars, have all made him an instant celebrity. And the fandom just keeps growing. History is still happening in Manhattan—all you have to do is look around, look around at the Hamilton movement to see it.
Last year we compared Star Wars to a mighty leviathan emerging from the ocean after years of slumber, and in 2015 this fandom is well and truly awake.
Following the dubious legacy of the prequel trilogy, Star Wars fans were right to feel apprehensive about the new movies. Thankfully J.J. Abrams and Disney spent the entire year putting everyone’s minds at rest, launching a full-on charm offensive with the new Star Wars cast. The result was a level of hype that hasn’t been witnessed since the end of the Harry Potter franchise.
We love John Boyega and Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. We’re almost embarrassingly obsessed with BB-8. Fans have already blown a mountain of cash on new Star Warsmerchandise, and the Internet has spent months debating fan theories like whether Jar-Jar Binks is a Sith Lord. By the time the actual movie came out, the world was basically eating, sleeping and breathing Star Wars, and rightfully so.
If astronomers keep track of “big years” in the field, 2015 will probably make it into the record books. Has any astral orbiter ever gotten so much coddling and attention from space fans as our favorite roseate planetary body did this year? Curiosity and Opportunity gave us hard-hitting mars rover news. We got to see the sun set. (Spoiler alert: it’s blue!) Mars One came and went, and then was thankfully upstaged by NASA’s plan to put humans on Mars by 2040. As if that wasn’t enough, we found friggin water!—a development which totally jossedThe Martian, but we didn’t care because that movie was awesome.
We ended the year with a huge revival of interest in Mars-related sci-fi, including the announcement that one beloved space epic, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, is getting its own TV series adaptation from Spike TV of all places. When even the network known for James Bond reruns is perking up at mention of the red planet, you know it’s a banner year for space. Just don’t let Elon Musk take it over, Mars fans. Some things need to be kept at home.
Against all expectations, the fourth Mad Max movie was one of the best films of the year. Director George Miller returned to the franchise to create a stunning visual spectacle with strong ecological and feminist themes, praised for its realistic stunts and smart storytelling. It was the kind of movie you can discuss for hours on end—and we did.
Mad Max: Fury Road earned incredibly in-depth analysis from fans and critics, many of whom returned for multiple rewatches. Now we’re in the midst of awards season, Fury Road has become an unexpected contender against more traditional prestige projects like Carol and The Revenant. Whether it wins any Oscars remains to be seen, but its critical acclaim proves that action cinema can be both artistic and overtly feminist, and still make a ton of money from mainstream audiences. Remember the flamethrower guitar? Of course you do. Who could forget?
“If you liked the remake, you have to see the original” has never been so true as with the case of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This long-running cult favorite, universally shorthanded as MST3K, managed a solid 10 years on various cable networks in the ‘90s and has enjoyed a solid steady loyal following on the Internet, largely due to the fandom’s longtime mantra “keep circulating the tapes,” i.e. uploading them to YouTube. Given that these shows involved hand-operated robot puppets dropping a litany of obscure pop-culture snark as they watched terrible sci-fi movies from previous decades, MST3K’s humor isn’t exactly Vine-ready, but its particular brand of geekiness has flourished in the Internet age.
Numerous copyright and contract issues kept creator Joel Hodgson, writers, and actors unable to share in the profits of their shows, even as fans happily carried forward MST3K’s concept of celebrating bad movies and “riffing” on anything and everything. Rifftrax, the Internet-based comedy project of former MST3K team members Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, paved the way for MST’s comeback by developing a streaming model that worked to keep fans engaged. Through several very successful Kickstarter campaigns of its own, Rifftrax set the stage for last month’s unexpectedly huge Kickstarter for an entire new season of MST3K.
Any question that the world doesn’t want more MST3K was roundly answered as a number of geekdom’s biggest stars including Felicia Day, Patton Oswalt, and Dan Harmon joined the project. Ultimately, Joel, Mike, and the bots did what no one suspected, surpassing the Veronica Mars and Reading Rainbow campaigns by raising $6 million to #bringbackmst3k—and becoming the highest-grossing creative crowdfund ever in the process.
Between the return of Death Note, a veritable blitz from the Attack on Titan franchise, hit new series like Nozaki-kun and Tokyo Ghoul, and popular revivals of series like One-Punch Man and Kuroko’s Basketball, 2015 was a busy year in anime. But all of that was overshadowed by the loving send-off the international Naruto fandom gave to the long-running anime, which concluded last year. Initially fans had doubts about the manga’s One Big Happy Konoha Family ending, with its echoes of the infamous Harry Potter epilogue. But then came Boruto, creator Masashi Kishimoto’s affectionate coda to the story he’s spent two decades carefully crafting, and all our misgivings were put to rest.
Boruto debuted internationally at this year’s New York Comic Con, bringing Kishimoto to the U.S. for the first time ever. Fans packed NYCC’s main stage and gave him a reception worthy of a rock star at one of the most well-attended panels of the con. And so wholeheartedly did they embrace Boruto that not one, but two of Naruto’s romantic pairings wound up on Tumblr’s list of the most reblogged ships of the year. Not bad for the genki kid who grew up to be Hokage.
Korrasami, the fandom ship name for the relationship between Korra and her BFF Asami, had taken off last year, when the show strongly hinted in its closing moment that the two women had moved from friends to lovers. A queer happy ending for a Nickelodeon show? If any children’s series could do it, it would have been Korra, which had capitalized on the devoted fan following of its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender. At first, fans were skeptical about an ending so vague that the creators had to clarify their intentions. But then Konietzko started sharing his own Korrasami fanart, and the femslash side of the fandom got to work. Over 2015, the Korrasami fandom churned out so much content on Tumblr that it wound up as the 6th-most-reblogged ship of the year—the most popular all-girl ship in the land.
Canceled after three glorious seasons, Hannibal actually lasted longer than some of Bryan Fuller’s other cult-popular projects, Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls. Obviously we still wish it had been renewed for another season, but at least Hannibal got a fitting send-off with one of the best series finales in recent memory.
Fannibals have always been astonishingly creative, but the show’s final season pushed Hannibal fandom into overdrive. Along with fanfic, art and cosplay, fans began organizing IRL events and themed dinner parties, inspired by the show’s complex artistic subtext and passion for opulent feasts. One of the most impressive fandom achievements was the RAW Kickstarter, which crowdfunded almost $100,000 for a luxury hardback book of Will/Hannibal slash fanart and fanfic. Bryan Fuller himself reputedly ordered a copy, which isn’t such a huge surprise when you consider the intensity of the show’s queer subtext in season 3.
Suicide Squad makes us feel kind of bad for the people marketing Batman v Superman. The Man of Steel sequel is supposed to be the biggest DC Comics movie of 2016, launching the Justice League franchise with a new Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck as a grizzled, middle-aged Batman. But despite the selling power of DC’s three biggest heroes, people on the Internet seem way more excited for Suicide Squad, a movie whose cast is mostly made up of C-list villains from the DC archives.
As adult dramas with high production values (Daredevil) and complex, mature narrative themes (Jessica Jones), Marvel’s Netflix shows mark a turning point for the MCU. The 13-hour runtime gave Daredevil space to explore a classic origin story in detail, moving away from Marvel’s usual lighthearted tone to make way for bloody action sequences and heartfelt drama in equal measure. Then Jessica Jones burst onto the scene in November, using the world of the MCU to weave a tense psychological thriller about abuse and survival. With this level of quality already on display, we’re feeling very optimistic about Luke Cage next year.
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor