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The Power Of Memes In Different Fandoms: How Fans Contribute To The Expansion Of Narrative Universes And Influence Media Consumption

Around the world, people seek out friends and fellow fans to talk about their most beloved comfort characters in specific fandom communities, engaging in various levels of interest within these fandoms. The best channel to find people who share the same taste these days is the internet, which can be a handy escape from reality and a simple way to create a new community among fans of all types of content.

A 2023 study by the insight and strategy agency BAMM Global revealed that digital spaces are the fuel that connects fans globally. According to the survey, Facebook is the most common place for fans to interact with one another and express themselves, followed by Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and other platforms online.

Online fandoms of all sorts have continued growing at considerable speed over the last few decades, and alongside this phenomenon, fandoms have also come to influence the way media is consumed or perceived in a multitude of ways.

Through various mediums such as social media trends or memes over the years, fans have frequently contributed to the expansion of narrative universes and influenced the experience of media consumption — even when they don’t consciously intend to do so.

Take for example the Big Chungus meme. This more portly version of the beloved Looney Tunes character Bugs Bunny evolved into a prominent meme back in 2018, slowly spreading until it became one of the most recognizable memetic characters of all time.

Big Chungus, spawned entirely from internet users creating memes, became such a phenomenon that Warner Bros. itself took notice and used the character in both the promotion for its mobile game Looney Tunes World of Mayhem and as a new character in Space Jam: A New Legacy. Last year, Warner Bros. even filed to trademark the Big Chungus character following its online virality.

But Big Chungus is just one notable example of the power that fandoms, the internet and memes have had on the media over the years.

In this article, we’ll explain how memes and other online phenomena like this are the perfect medium in which fandoms express themselves on the internet and how this translates to a real-world impact across fandoms, ranging from video games and TV to movies, music and even comic books.

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Fandom and Memes On Gaming Culture

Fandom in gaming culture has a multi-decades-long history, especially regarding internet communities, memes and other viral phenomena.

Engaged and interested fans have contributed tremendously to boosting many video games’ popularity and revenue over the years — usually as a genuine byproduct and not a deliberate marketing campaign.

Some of the most relevant examples of fandom-generated content, like memes, are increasingly recognized and utilized by media companies to harness their memetic power and result in real-world effects.


The Most Memed Games

Video games can become famous for an emotional story, interesting gameplay, innovative and creative features or for the memes and trends a fandom creates on the internet — as seen with heavily memed intellectual properties (IPs), such as Team Fortress 2.

We pulled data from Know Your Meme to create a list of the “Most Memed Games” according to our database to analyze which video games have accumulated the richest meme culture over the last decade.

Pokémon Mario Sonic Minecraft Team Fortress Roblox Fortnite GTA Halo Skyrim Most Memed Games On KYM 300 0 100 200 Total # of memes uploaded in Know Your Meme's database 400 Know Your Meme 500

According to Know Your Meme’s data, the Pokémon franchise has the highest volume of memes uploaded on the internet, with 422 total entries and more than 85,000 images in our database that vary from image macros, creepypastas, characters, parodies, remixes and many other formats or viral moments from over the years — the most of any video game franchise on the site.

When comparing other prominent gaming franchises' meme search history on Google Trends for the last decade, Pokémon still sits at the top of the podium in terms of meme culture with more search volume than any other video game.

Compared breakdown by region pokemon meme mario meme sonic meme minecraft meme roblox meme
(01/01/2013 to 07/27/2023 data from Google Trends)

Somewhat more recent games have also conquered a fair amount of countries as their favorite meme source, such as Minecraft dominating parts of Eastern Europe, Brazil and some Arabic countries like Iran and Turkey.

Another interesting takeaway from our findings on the “Most Memed Games” is that many games people would typically consider the most popular are not necessarily the ones with the deepest meme culture or online presence.

While there may be lots of general memes not tied to a consistent format or trend for some more well-known gaming IPs, the iconic meme culture surrounding games like Team Fortress proves the power of fandoms and their impact on the franchises they love.

Surprised Pikachu and The Power Of Other Pokemon Memes

The Pokémon franchise has been sustaining and growing for over two decades, but what has made it so incredibly successful and different from other gaming franchises?

Originally released on the Game Boy console on February 27th, 1996, the first Pokémon game was mainly targeted at children under the age of 10 and was rapidly popularized globally. The franchise largely kept its momentum by providing a wide array of media to engage with, ranging from anime and movies to the trading card game and more.

Based on the previously mentioned survey from BAMM, niche communities like video games, comic books and animation have stronger fan intensity. Their research shows that more than 20 percent of gaming, comic book and animation enthusiasts call themselves "superfans."

The staggering amount of media constantly released by the franchise helps the fanbase to use its creativity and artistic expression to spawn memes and internet trends that further expand Pokémon’s popularity.

The BAMM survey also showed that 1 in 10 fans interact with their fan subject or fandom through the metaverse or gaming platform, best exemplified by the massively viral meme known as Surprised Pikachu.

Coming in at No. 16 on our Top 50 Memes of the Decade in addition to being the highest-viewed Pokemon-related meme entry on Know Your Meme with nearly 2 million views, the Surprised Pikachu reaction image first emerged online in 2018 and continues to see use to this day.

Mom: Let me speak to your manager. Cashier: I am the manager, Mom:

Although some online claim that Surprised Pikachu was a stealth marketing campaign supposedly used for the promotion of the Detective Pikachu movie, the original creator of the meme told us in 2020 that this was untrue and that she merely created it as a simple fan of Pokemon herself.

According to BAMM's survey, this is a common fan behavior, as 18 percent of fans consider themselves creators and come up with ideas and concepts based on their fandom.

After the first Surprised Pikachu meme was posted back in late 2018, the format rapidly took off, becoming one of the most viral memes in the 2010s with thousands of variations, examples, fan art depictions and more circulating the web since then. BAMM's survey revealed that more than 8 percent of fans have created fan art inspired by their favorite products, shows and games.

In the following years, the Pokemon Company took notice of the fan-generated Surprised Pikachu meme and gave it recognition through references in official video games and viral tweets on its official social media channels, harnessing the power of social fandoms through memes.


The “Meme-ability” Power of TV Shows and Movies

One value of meme creation is the online word-of-mouth publicity that can spread like wildfire in mere seconds. When a TV show or movie captivates its audience with social media engagement relating to the content on the big screen, the results are often impactful. Netlifx’s Squid Game phenomenon back in September 2021 is one such notable example of this.

Two weeks after its premiere, Squid Game swiftly became the most-watched show in 90 countries. In November 2021, Netflix released new data about the series — showing it was No. 1 with a staggering 1.65 billion hours of viewing in 28 days following the premiere.

The show connected to its audience in various ways, such as the Hunger Games-esque “battle royale” aspect, the thought-provoking social commentary and especially its power as a source for memes.

The deadly version of the titular children's game Red Light, Green Light became a prevalent social media trend and reference across multiple platforms. A video filmed by TikToker viprawr near the real-life doll of the series amassed an impressive 164 million views and 13 million likes since it was posted on September 23rd, 2021.

@viprawr RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT! ‼️‼️‼️ #squidgame #fyp #foryou ♬ Squid Game – Green Light Red Light – Yovinca Prafika

The Most Memed TV Shows

Sometimes memes are created by a community just to discuss the events of a particular moment from their favorite TV show, while others form more organically based on a scene being a perfect template for memes.

According to data from Know Your Meme, this is the list of the “Most Memed TV Shows”:

SpongeBob SquarePants The Simpsons Family Guy Game of Thrones Breaking Bad South Park Rick And Morty Stranger Things Futurama The Office Most Memed TV Shows On KYM 0 50 100 150 Total # of memes uploaded in Know Your Meme's database 200 Know Your Meme

Television has changed a lot over the past 10 years, but it seems nostalgia and a series’ ability to maintain cultural relevance are the biggest driving forces behind meme culture about TV shows.

Google Trends data shows that the most searched memes about TV series are almost all from shows that premiered before 2010, with the exception of Game of Thrones, which premiered in April 2011.

Compared breakdown by region spongebob meme game of thrones meme friends meme the office meme simpsons meme
(01/01/2013 to 07/27/2023 data from Google Trends)

That being said, the data shows that SpongeBob SquarePants is an internet favorite for memes in North America, Europe and the Middle East. The Simpsons is Latin America’s most searched meme series, while Asia is divided between Friends and SpongeBob SquarePants.

The Power of Nostalgia and Creativity In SpongeBob SquarePants

Nostalgia is a powerful ally of meme culture, and those of us who’ve spent a considerable amount of time on social media know to respect “the good old days.” From classic cartoons to long-lost teen dramas, these shows have taken over TikTok and are being introduced to Gen Z all over the world through popular memes created by earlier generations in the initial rise of meme culture.

Despite the mix of reboots and revivals of classic series, SpongeBob SquarePants has kept its position as the most memed TV show on the internet. The Nickelodeon show premiered in July 1999 and has accumulated over 28,000 images and 413 different memes uploaded on Know Your Meme, which have collectively amassed more than 24 million views. According to Google Trends, SpongeBob has had a relatively stable level of popularity for the last decade (2013-2023).

Interest over time 100 75 50 25 Jan 1, 2013 بليك Note Mar 1, 2016 May 1, 2019 Note Jul 1, 2022
(01/01/2013 to 07/27/2023 data from Google Trends)

A major factor for the show’s success as a meme powerhouse is how it was first popular during the early days of the internet. As The New Times explained in 2018, SpongeBob SquarePants “took off when many early online meme creators were children,” which means the show’s already had an expressive fanbase even before memeing was a mainstream thing.

The show also offered a lot of cultural references and plenty of exaggerated and visually instigating scenes that, years later, served as the perfect fuel for meme creation.

One of the most well-known memes is Mocking SpongeBob, a screenshot of a SpongeBob episode from 2012 in which he is clucking like a chicken, paired with overlay captions meant to imply a mocking tone. The meme, created in May 2017, has more than 2 million views on KYM and is still used across social media to this day.

TV Shows Resurrected By Memes and Fanbases

The 2021 iCarly revival stands out as a recent TV show that has adapted to reflect the modern influencer culture. In addition to accurately depicting today’s influencer and online celebrity economy, the teen sitcom also provided a whole generation with a blueprint to create trends and viral content on the internet — more specifically, memes.

Originating from Drake and Josh, Megan's “Interesting” meme features actress Miranda Cosgrove staring at her computer while holding a drink. As a marketing strategy to boost the show’s revival, Paramount+ decided to recreate Megan's “Interesting” meme, which quickly became a trending topic on social media.

The iCarly revival became the second most-watched original series on Paramount+, behind Star Trek: Discovery. The show’s main success factor lies in the portrayal of internet drama, online personalities (influencers, streamers, comedians), and viral aspirations that make iCarly a relatable and valuable piece of media in modern days.

The Most Memed Movies On KYM

Since becoming a major part of our lives, the internet has become an essential tool to augment a film's longevity and popularity. This phenomenon typically follows a routine cycle in which a movie is teased or released with people quickly taking parts of it and spreading these across social media — creating various forms of expression to praise, mock or simply participate in a trend.

Sometimes, even decades later, a film or franchise that's been largely forgotten can also garner an entirely new fanbase or maintain its relevance through the help of the meme culture (such as Shrek).

Considered one of the most popular franchises in the world, Star Wars is essentially the king of movie-related memes on KYM with roughly 300 total entries posted on the website, accumulating over 26 million views in total.

Star Wars The Avengers Shrek Lord Of The Rings Toy Story Despicable me Barbie (2023) Mean Girls Oppenheimer The Matrix Most Memed Movies On KYM 100 200 Total # of memes uploaded in Know Your Meme's database Know Your Meme 300

Fantasy and fiction are the most popular movie genres that inspire memes on the internet. According to Google Trends data, the world is polarized between Star Wars memes and Shrek memes as the most searched movie-related memes in the last decade. The only exception is India, where Marvel’s The Avengers franchise was the most popular film to be searched for memes.

Compared breakdown by region star wars meme shrek meme toy story meme ● lord of the rings meme avengers meme
(01/01/2013 to 07/27/2023 data from Google Trends)

The “Morbius” Phenomenon

In mid-2022 it was almost impossible to avoid all the memes about Jared Leto as the Marvel Comics character Dr. Morbius. The anti-hero vampire and his set of cringy, over-dramatic moments were (although unintentional) perfectly aligned for meme stardom.

Due to initial bad reviews, the movie started to be memed on the internet, and the first memetic event was called Morbius Sweep. Instead of anchoring on the irony of Morbius’ disastrous box office failure, people insisted that the movie had "swept" the box office, trumping the highest-grossing movies of all time like Avengers: End Game and Titanic.

The movie went on to inspire a series of other memes like It's Morbin' Time, Stand Back, I Am Beginning to Morb, Morbius Poster Mashups and many others, making the movie a viral sensation on the internet.

TP "it's morbin' time"

Understanding internet and meme behavior is key when most of the content presents irony, sarcasm and other subtle messages. A misinterpretation can lead to terrible consequences, such as Morbius's return to theaters after the memes became a global phenomenon.

Sony actually put Morbius back into theaters in June 2022 despite its box office failure, believing the memes would inspire more people to watch the movie and add to the film’s international take.

While they did get a bit more revenue, it wasn’t the amount they’d hoped for, and, more importantly, it was never the audience’s wish to see the movie from the start.

This decision only boosted more jokes about the movie and the studio’s poorly planned strategy, hopefully becoming a learning moment for movie industry executives on the dark arts of meme culture.

[cries in fiesta, salsa, quinceañera] MEN NM AWAB 207 Take Me Home Roud EW

The rich tapestry of music and its many internet fandoms stretches across decades, with a particular emphasis on online communities, memes and a plethora of viral moments and trends on social media platforms like TikTok or YouTube.

Passionate fans have played a pivotal role in amplifying the renown and financial gains of both musicians and bands throughout the years — often arising unintentionally through viral songs used in memes and TikTok dance trends.

Fan-crafted content such as these have progressively gained recognition and been integrated into various strategies for media corporations to tap into the potency of these cultural fragments, leading to tangible real-world outcomes.


The Most Memed Musicians On KYM

Currently, an artist essentially has two ways to navigate the internet: avoid it and leave your fans to carry your brand and promote new work, or dive in headfirst and engage in the latest viral trends, topics and memes on social media.

To understand the relationship between the music industry, memes and fans in a contemporary context, we’ve gathered some data from KYM about the most memed artists from the last decade.

Most Memed Musicians On KYM Drake Kanye West / Ye Beyoncé Taylor Swift Lady Gaga Nicki Minaj Michael Jackson Katy Perry Adele Doja Cat Madonna 0 25 50 75 100 Total # of memes uploaded in Know Your Meme's database Know Your Meme 125

Canadian singer Drake is known not only for his successful music career but also for the memes created about him over the last decade. According to Google Trends data, the singer topped the search engine for meme search interest in almost every single region of the world from 2013 to 2023.

Compared breakdown by region drake meme beyonce meme taylor swift meme bts meme kanye west meme
(01/01/2013 to 07/27/2023 data from Google Trends)

However, meme powerhouses like Brazil and India were more interested in the up-and-coming K-pop group BTS in the 2010s. BTS’s success and meme creation got exponentially bigger around 2018 and 2019 when the band started its Love Yourself World Tour.


K-Pop and Fandom Culture

The music industry can be a ruthless and competitive environment. As a result, artists try their best to create a powerful connection with their fans to generate engagement and commercial support. One of the best examples of a supportive fanbase is the K-pop fandom.

This community supports a large market of singers, including both girl and boy groups, and they’ll do the impossible to help their favorite artists reach immeasurable career heights.

The K-Pop Fancam Replies trend, for example, started on Twitter in November 2018 as a way to promote a new single dance video or simply the artists themselves. Through the trend, fans used footage of K-pop stars as reaction memes, helping to increase their online presence and bring awareness to the artists.

According to K-pop news site Seoulbeats., EXID (a 5-member girl group) suddenly started topping charts, was nominated for awards and increased their TV appearances as a direct result of their viral fancam post with the song "Up & Down.


Book Franchises and Comic Book Fandoms Driving Internet Memes

Much like other types of fandoms, comic books and novels have also spawned a number of iconic memes and internet phenomena that have created broader interest in several franchises.

The collective force of dedicated comic- and book-loving fans on the internet has generated tangible influence numerous times, significantly elevating the recognition and economic success of both literary artists and storytellers across the last two decades.

The ever-evolving realm of memes has progressively garnered recognition and caught the attention of media conglomerates, who now harness these cultural fragments to bring about palpable real-world effects.

Specifically, some of these recognitions have appeared as nods to community-driven memes through easter eggs in various products or promotional materials.

For example, the Thanoscopter (a helicopter piloted by Thanos in two older issues of Marvel comics) became a notable community-driven meme for years in the 2010s and early 2020s, which then received an easter-egg nod by Marvel in the 2021 Loki series on Disney+.


The Most Memed Novels and Comic Books On KYM

For many, memes act as a source of entertainment. They help us fill time, take us out of boredom and help us to make it through one more work meeting or semester at school.

For comic books and novels, memes are channels to immerse ourselves in the stories of these larger-than-life characters, expanding their lore or traits from the traditional canon.

According to KYM data, these are the comics, novels and manga with the most memes on the internet:

Most Memed Comics, Novels and Manga On KYM Spider-Man Batman Jojo's Bizarre Adventures Joker Harry Potter Dragon Ball Naruto Superman Captain America Bleach Iron Man 0 50 100 Total # of memes uploaded in Know Your Meme's database 150 Know Your Meme

The popularity of certain comic books, novels and manga-related memes has been largely dependent on the creator’s region of the world. Google Trends data indicates that North America, most of Latin America and Asia prominently searched for Batman memes, while Europe was divided between Harry Potter and Spider-Man memes.

Compared breakdown by region spider man meme harry potter meme batman meme naruto meme dragon ball meme
(01/01/2013 to 07/27/2023 data from Google Trends)

When Fans Love A Character: Patrick Bateman and Juggernaut

Renowned comic book series and novels have created plenty of unforgettable characters that resonate with audiences for decades after their initial release. Nowadays, meme culture has taken some of these memorable characters and turned them into meme icons.

In the eyes of the internet, the dark satire of American Psycho's main character was the perfect subject to be memed, particularly using Christian Bale’s portrayal of Patrick Bateman as the face of biting memes boasting about one's social status or labeling the character as a Sigma male icon.

This fascination with Bale’s character that originally appeared in the earlier novel has led to thousands of Twitter memes, Reddit posts and TikTok trends or compilations depicting Bateman in various situations and expressing opinions that are considered “based” and part of his identity as a “sigma male.”


Another example of fan favoritism is the I'm The Juggernaut! meme, a catchphrase associated with the Marvel Comics’ X-Men character The Juggernaut. The meme started as a parody dub video of the 1992 X-Men animated series that was then uploaded in 2006 by Randy Hayes and Xavier Nazario of My Way Entertainment.

The parody was so well received by fans that more content started to appear on the internet, which didn’t go unnoticed by the producers of the 2006 X-Men: The Last Stand film. The line "I'm The Juggernaut!" was referenced with a live-action incarnation of Juggernaut, played by Vinnie Jones, during his fight with Kitty Pryde.

Current Meme Culture and Fandoms Making the Rounds

The resignification of messages through meme creation becomes possible with humans’ ability to assign new interpretations and values collectively. Back in 2022, no one could predict that putting the Barbie movie and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer opening in theaters on the same July 2023 day would’ve caused a massive fan jointure to promote both films.

The combination of the movies birthed the Barbenheimer meme, which spread through social media and gained its own traction via memes and viral discourse, mostly about the act of doing a double feature to the theaters to watch both films.

CNN explained in a recent article that Barbie and Oppenheimer maintained incredible momentum into their second weekends. Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie topped $1 billion in global box office ticket sales, breaking the record for female directors.


Throughout both movie’s promotions, thousands of memes, trends and engaged fans helped to cement the idea of the double feature, supporting and creating combined materials on social media that inevitably resulted in an increase of real-world interest surrounding the two films.

This concept is not limited to pieces of media like movies or television either. In June, a McDonald's product became the most talked about subject on TikTok and other platforms for weeks as the Grimace Shake Trend became inescapable. It all started with a marketing campaign to promote Grimace’s birthday and the company's new purple milkshake.

What McDonald's didn't predict was the enthusiasm and amusement that the internet responded with. Upon its debut, a swell of Grimace-related jokes, memes and content during the month across social media.

The company was quick to acknowledge the trend in time to produce relevant content that ultimately resulted in the TikTok hashtag “#grimaceshake” getting over 2.9 billion views on the platform and helped boost McDonald's second-quarter sales by over 10 percent in the U.S. and nearly 12 percent globally (according to the company itself).


♬ original sound – armen

@snackgoon This new McDonalds #grimace shake made me feel weird #grimaceshake #grimacebirthday ♬ original sound – Gooner

The Most Memed Characters On KYM

A brand or an entertainment company knows it hit the jackpot when a character they've created is meme-worthy. From Game Of Thrones' Ned Stark and Breaking Bad's Walter White to iconic Star Wars villain Darth Vader, these are just a small portion of memorable personalities that reached the highest honor of online stardom.

Some fictional characters have significant importance in our lives that surpass common knowledge. They can be the “heart” of a show, the reason someone goes out to the movies or buys a new game, etc.

These characters often serve as the audience's perspective and enable them to be a part of something bigger than themselves — and there’s perhaps no better way to express this sentiment of love for a character than memes.

This KYM chart looks at personalities from any type of media during the last decade to understand who are the most memed characters on the internet.

Mario Sonic SpongeBob SquarePants Spider-Man Batman Joker Shrek Harry Potter Sans Barbie Vegeta Naruto Pikachu Yoda Goku Homer Superman Peter Griffin Darth Vader Walter White Most Memed Characters On KYM 0 100 200 300 Total # of memes uploaded in Know Your Meme's database Know Your Meme 400

Final Thoughts

All of this data and research translates to one simple conclusion — fans are powerful brand allies, especially when paid attention to by corporations.

Giving fans the opportunity to “belong” in a fandom community gives them the support and motivation to create interesting and creative content.

According to Know Your Meme data, there are more than 5,000 images uploaded to the website related to “fandom” in general and over 49,000 images related to “fan” meme content.

25.000.000 20.000.000 15.000.000 10.000.000 5.000.000 0 Most Viewed Memes per Character On KYM Sonic Sans Mario SpongeBob SquarePants Shrek Spider-Man Joker Batman Harry Potter Vegeta Naruto Darth Vader Yoda Walter White Pikachu Superman Homer Simpson Know Your Meme Goku Barbie Peter Griffin Total # of views across all memes about them uploaded in Know Your Meme's database

The data proves that fans fall in love with well-written and multilayered characters and want to create their own forms of expression utilizing them.

Ultimately, fandoms enable each fan to have a voice of their own, drive cultural conversation on a global scale, set new trends across social media platforms and bring joy to people around the world through the massive connectedness of the internet.

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