I may be biased, but I love Bowsette.
(Featured image taken from here)
The character, the meme, the stories made… Bowsette was and is one of the best pieces of internet culture created in the entire 2010s. It combines a weird self-parodying sense of irony with nostalgic silliness with queer positivity with fetishizing suggestivity… So many factors all swirled up into someone who is likely the #1 most famous fan character ever created.
Despite the massive deluge of porn and the innate sex appeal of the character, I’d honestly call Bowsette one of the most wholesome and friendly internet phenomenons out there. It never got any official content behind it, and was in fact explicitly de-canonized by Nintendo itself, but this meme lives on with a strong spirit even two years later.
If you’re not a Bowsette fan, maybe you’ll come to respect the character and the meme a little bit more as I expound a bit about why I think she ended up so popular and so successful, and how I eventually fell for her too.
A Brief History of Bowsette
It all started with the Super Crown, an item added to Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. The game barely even mattered—it was just the re-release of a game made five years prior—but this bizarre new power-up piqued some fans’ interest.
And that’s when the all-too-famous comic came in.
This very famous comic recontextualizes Super Mario Odyssey’s “the girl chooses her own way” ending, very refreshing in terms of non-RPG Mario storylines, into one of fandom’s most infamous and celebrated elements—shipping the hero and enemy together. With the use of this pointless Toadette power-up from an unrelated game, Bowser has become an evil sexy babe. To add to the hilarity, Peach is feeling some mix of disgust, annoyance, or even jealousy.
The comic parodies several things at once: Nintendo’s enthusiastic marketing towards a power-up nobody cares about; the Super Mario Odyssey ending; the permanent “love triangle” between Peach, Mario, and Bowser; and, finally, the simple concept of heteronormativity itself.
But even though it was all just a silly comic strip… Bowsette exploded.
Soon enough, everyone was talking about Bowsette. Everyone in the world was drawing her. Even famous manga artists were posting their Bowsette art online!
Soon enough, Nintendo was having to go out of their way to de-canonize the entire concept. Soon enough, Bowsette became the most popular fan character of all-time (as far as I’m aware). She was a phenomenon, a sensation!
And, inexplicably, the meme did not die after a week. This is an age where things go viral and disappear so soon that you can miss an entire cultural event if you’re on vacation. (My “Double Rainbow” article is about exactly that.) But Bowsette DIDN’T die. Sure, it’s not actively talked about anymore. But it never went through the cycle where it goes mainstream, then becomes annoying, then disappears. Two years later, people still post fan art every day and people still remark about her fondly.
And, I think the very salaciousness of Bowsette is what saved her. She’s cute, almost adorable, but also very, um, voluptuously drawn in most art. She’s also unabashedly queer no matter which way you look at it: She’s either transgender or a gay lizard man and both of those are way out in the Queer Zone. Moreover, she’s always portrayed as a battle-hardened anti-hero. Combine those three things and you’ve got a character who’s guaranteed to sell. In fact, I can barely think of any original popular media characters who fit the bill. Catra from She-Ra passes three of the four, I guess?
The meme could never go “fully mainstream.” Homophobes/transphobes could never embrace her (openly); she was too risque for “Brands” or news media to take advantage of; and copyright concerns about Nintendo’s trigger-happy lawyers prevented further spread. So Bowsette never reached the point where people finally got sick of her, weirdly enough.
Why I Love Bowsette Myself
I didn’t, at first. I liked the original comic and thought it was funny, but I didn’t really think too much of it. And, admittedly, I didn’t care about the sex appeal stuff at all. I still don’t.
But… I made a strange “mistake” that changed my creative life forever.
You see, I published ATL: Stories from the Retrofuture, with its first story The Social Media Killer starting on Tuesday, September 25th. I had just finished writing a huge backlog for the series and wanted to relax. So the next morning I sat down at my computer to write a short and silly fan fiction to cash in on the meme, which was reaching the peak of its popularity.
That short and silly fan fiction, of course, turned out to be the 100+ chapter The Glory of Bowsette which became one of the most popular Mario-based fan fictions of all-time. (I partially detailed this fact a year and a half ago. Since then though it’s only grown even further; it’s now #76 fan fiction on Royal Road with 147,000 views, and thousands of views from the other sites. Just bragging.)
The entire story started as a massive shitpost, as most of my projects do. Take the world of Mario and act like it’s a big cohesive fantasy world with an intricate timeline. Then put this giant shounen-style action plot in there. It’s the antithesis of the Mario franchise… and yet it ended up working remarkably well for some reason. I had an absolute blast making it!
I did not intend to turn the story into a big transgender coming-out narrative, either; in fact, I originally intended for Bowsette to identify as male through the entire story! That is, until I started messing up with pronouns in the narration and decided, “Screw it, let’s go transgender.” But I feel like that narrative was its most important element. Other Bowsette stories (including the MUCH more popular fan comic Bowsette Saga) do a LITTLE with the concept, but almost none of them actually make gender identity a central focal point of the whole plot. Once again, tooting my own horn comes off poorly, but I think I made a pretty refreshing story here, one with dumb comic book nonsense plus legitimate emotional content. It’s nothing special, but it’s clearly got something people like.
Also, my story actually finished. Basically only one other Bowsette story ever can make that claim.
I fell in love with the concept of Bowsette through writing the story. She’s a well-designed character, and she’s deeply, DEEPLY rooted in queer culture. It’s a great thing to take a kids’ game and tell a coming-out story with one of the main characters. It’s so stupid that it loops back around to being great again.
The main problem was that I wrote the whole thing in like two weeks in a mad-dash OCD-fueled haze, so it’s pretty sloppy compared to any non-fan-fiction story I’ve ever written. And since it’s my most popular work… Well, I’m not sure if it gives off the BEST impression of my writing skills, but oh well. Lots of people love it, and that’s all I care about.
The Super Crown Spreads
I can’t talk about Bowsette without talking about one of the coolest parts of the fandom: the OTHER Super Crown characters.
People saw how Bowser could become a Princess-like character, and they immediately extended that to every single other Mario villain ever made. The most popular ones were King Boo (Booette) and Chain Chomp (Chompette), but there’s hundreds more.
And what’s best to me is that it’s all decentralized. Bowsette got one primary design based on the original comic, yeah. But everyone else? The artists themselves decided, so there’s hundreds of different versions of the popular characters.
It’s all a permutation on the anime fandom’s Monster Girl thing… Which immediately diverges into NSFW stuff so look that up yourself. But the idea that artists can create adorable waifus of classic Mario characters, and everyone can have tons of fun? That’s just great.
The Future of Bowsette
Well, there’s probably nothing.
Nintendo won’t ever make Bowsette canon. And there’s not much material left that could bring her back into major popularity. She’ll always be AROUND, yeah, but more like lurking on forum profile pictures and Twitter artists portfolios and Youtube MMDs.
But that’s not the point, anyway. The point was having a fun time while it was popular.
And her spirit will absolutely live on. People saw just how popular Bowsette got without any sort of promotion whatsoever—a bonafide viral success. And character designers across the internet surely took down notes.
Bowsette’s a powerful, sexy, adorable queer anti-hero, and her spirit will undoubtedly live on for years to come. Mark my words, you will see MANY more queer anti-hero characters all over pop culture throughout the 20s.
We already saw the freeware game Helltaker capitalize on some of this (though it was a classic two-week meme that’s mostly dead by now), so the onslaught is about to begin. And I’m very, very excited about it.
Thank you, Bowsette, for all the goodness you have bestowed on the world, and for all the goodness you will bestow in the future.