These backstory fanfic recommendations may not be established canon themselves, but they also won't violate it too badly either. They are plausible, often make a lot of sense, and only add to the character's depth and fascination. You may even find yourself so convinced by these backstories that you end up claiming them for your own personal headcanon!
1. The Early Years by L. Burke - X-Men comics fandom, gen, series
10 stories in a series that follows the Original Five (Scott, Hank, Warren, Jean & Bobby) as teens at the mansion under Professor Xavier's mentorship.
There are 10 stories in this funny, witty series of teenaged mutant hi-jinks and attitude. Sticking to the 'original' comic-verse, this is the story of the first five mutants Xavier finds and adopts. Bobby (Iceman) is young and gullible, Warren (Angel) is a terrible influence, Hank (Beast) is more interested in becoming a mad scientist than anything else, Scott (Cyclops) is their snarky Machiavellian leader, and Jean (Marvel Girl) is just trying not to get completely caught up in their tom foolery.
These stories are clever and hilarious, and while not specific to any one version of the canon the feel of their characters stays true to the long history of development the X-Men were given before the 2000s Movieverse massacred everyone else's character in favor of purely Wolverine. I love the brilliance, irreverence, and yet strongly moral nature of these younger representations of the classic characters. These are teenaged versions of the heroes they are already becoming.
Sort of like X-Men: Evolution, so if enjoyed that show you'll love these stories!
2. Child of the Moving Tide by Jeanne DeVore and Signe Hovde - Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, gen, series
A cycle of stories which deal with young Peter Caine, from his days in the orphanage through his high school years with the Blaisdells. This epic actually started with a small idea - a kernel in a little story, Family Matters. And from there it sort of - grew. We'd seen Peter Caine at the temple, and we know present-day Peter. But we were intrigued by the idea of Peter during those crucial adolescent years, as he struggled to reconcile his past with his present (a struggle which continued throughout the series) and tried to make himself fit in with his new life and family. We wanted to see the kid who became the adult we met in the pilot.
These stories are a classic from an old forgotten fandom that became classic even when that fandom was alive and thriving. This cycle of 20 stories have been zine-published, shared and recommended for over 20 years now. While the KF:TLC fandom is all but gone, thankfully stories like these are still available online because it would be a crying shame to lose a body of work this good.
Young Peter hasn't had the easiest life, from his mother's death when he was too young to even remember her to losing his father and his entire way of life in a fiery blaze. Then that strange young boy gets tossed alone and unprepared into the deep end of modern western culture - it's a difficult transition for anyone to make, let alone a grieving teen. This series explores how a hurting, unusual Shoalin-trained teenaged boy survives the orphange, meets the Blaisdells, and grows up to become to a cop. It's not smooth sailing at any point, angsty and poignant, but there's love and hope, and hey... at least we already know how his story ends.
3. Bedtime Stories by RayShippouUchiha - Star Trek, gen, WIP, Trigger Warnings: Genocide
Born of tragedy, raised in the fires of Hell, he walks through the valley of the shadow of death and fears that he is evil. When bedtime stories are long since over Jim Kirk struggles to survive.
A Tarsus IV Jim Kirk backstory fanfic epic. I know, there's been a few really good stories that deal with this issue, so why rec an unfinished WIP? Because even though it hasn't been continued since 2011, at 62,835 words this story is already everything I could ever want in Jim's backstory and I'm happy enough with just that.
As with any story dealing with Tarsus IV, this story has all the warnings for child abuse, starvation, horror and violence that you'd associate with a story set during a canonical genocide. But as we know already, young teenaged Jim Kirk was one of the few survivors - and this is the story of how he and those other kids he dragged with him managed to cope in a brutal situation, and how it shaped him into the man that would come to lead the Enterprise into greatness. There is a pairing tag for Kirk/Spock, but it's in the future and has no effect on the backstory as written so you can consider it gen.
There is another story about Kirk's backstory I always consider when I think of this, one that's more awesome and amazing than anything else I've ever read in this fandom... but as fabulous as Atlas by distractedKat is at revealing and developing Jim Kirk's character, it does so through Spock's eyes as he learns about Kirk's past, not by showing his past in backstory. So fantastic as it is, it doesn't qualify for this particular themed rec. I'm still mentioning it though because everyone should read it anyway! ;P
4. The Methos (and Kronos) Journals by Xenon - Highlander fandom, gen, series
"Help me out here... I mean, five thousand years of wisdom? Him?"
5000 years of living makes for a hell of lot of backstory for a character! Many people in the Highlander fandom have tackled this task in one way or another, but none so completely as Xenon. Xenon took it bit by bit and basically wrote the entire story of Methos' (and often by default, Kronos') past in adventure after adventure. Every story was carefully thought-out and written so as never to contradict canon, and I'm sure the author must have been a historian themselves because the level of historical detail in most of these stories is nothing short of amazing.
Comprising about 50 loosely-connected novels, this series is listed in chronological order but was not written that way. You can pretty much read any fic you like at any time without issue. The series continues through the thousands of years of backstory, into the Duncan MacLeod years of H:TS canon, and on into the future.
5. Of Fire and Stars by Gecco - Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit fandom, gen
A Gimli centric story. Ever wonder what Gimli was doing during the 'Hobbit'?
Gimli, son of Gloin, was too young to join his father and uncle on the Quest to reclaim Erebor, but he wasn't so young not to set out on a little quest for himself. This is a story of what Gimli, who will eventually become one of the Nine Walkers to save Middle-Earth, experienced in his past to make him the mighty Dwarven warrior he is destined to become.
I love this story! It is such a beautiful, fascinating insight into all the complexities and wonders of cultural exploration and different lifestyles. As the author puts it, this is book-verse canon and going off on only the little details Tolkien gives about Dwarven culture Gecco (aka Ro) developed this rich society of mixed races blending together in a their daily lives. Gimli is young, yes, just shy of his majority by Dwarven standards but already old enough and strong enough to find a place for himself out in the wider world.
There are several original characters in this story that contribute greatly to Gimli's backstory, but don't let that put you off because every one is as full of depth and real as Gimli in this author's talented hands. This is a story you probably never considered for LOTR, but once you read it I promise you it'll sink so deeply into your mind you won't ever be able to forget it. In all the best ways.
And one that, okay, does involve a little deviation from canon, but...
6.My Asgard Father by Bixata - Stargate: SG-1/MacGyver fandoms, crossover, gen
Jack is Thor's adopted son. When he returns to Earth he becomes MacGyver. From childhood to Iraq, and the steps in between, through loss and love and fatherhood.
Alright, this one is technically AU in that Jack meets Supreme Commander Thor of the Asgard fleet a little earlier (ie: as a baby!), but as he never gives a hint of it away and canon proceeds as expected, I'm giving it a pass. ;)
Thor saves Baby Jack O'Neill and raises him as his own son among the Asgard race. Then Jack comes home and starts up a dual life as MacGyver (the original Richard Dean Anderson version, obviously), marries Sara and has Charlie, reunites with SAM, and eventually joins the SGC to meet up with the alien Asgard again. Just like canon!
Yeah, okay, it's weird, I'll give you that. But it works perfectly, manages to tie together so many aspects of both Jack and MacGyver's characters, and stays remarkably true to both canons. For that alone I would rec this fic, but when you add in that it is very well-written and just such a gripping tale, how can you go wrong!
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