Though nuclear families and, to a lesser extent, close-knit extended biological families are often perceived as a norm and expectation of what one’s future will hold, for many, it’s not the reality of their lives. Our best friends, our co-workers, relatives of relatives, and more can often be the ones offering emotional support, helping to care for children, celebrating holidays and significant events, and performing many of the tasks that would traditionally be expected to fall onto a spouse, parents, or siblings. Families come in all shapes and sizes and don’t have to be biologically related or legally recognized entities to be valid. Your family is the people who will show up for you and love and care for you when you need them, whoever those people may be. There’s nothing I love more than fiction that reflects that idea and so I’ve come up with a list of some of my favorite shows, books, and fanfiction that highlights the strong bonds and love between characters. Let me know some of your favorites in the comments, I’m always looking for recommendations!
Leverage Come for the fun heists and corrupt CEO takedowns, stay for the five broken people who come together as a family and find everything they’ve been looking for. They found acceptance and a place where they perfectly fit and people to have their backs, on a job and in the rest of their lives. It wasn’t what they planned but it became so much more than they thought they could ask for.
One Day at a Time If you can watch the first season finale of this show and tell me that Schneider and Dr. Berkowitz aren’t a part of the Alvarez family, this list is probably not for you. They want to be a part of Lydia, Penelope, Elena and Alex’s lives and continually choose to support them however they can. And they have been welcomed in with open arms, hearts, and a seat at the dinner table.
Pose In this show, the chosen family isn’t a small piece of the story, it is the story. The idea and name of chosen families originated in the queer community as people came together to form new emotional attachments and support structures when their biological families cast them out and that is exactly what we see with Blanca and her children. Her warm heart and emotional strength hold the family together and offers a safe space for her friends and children to come together and just be.
The Good Place They were put together to torture each other but instead, with the help of the demon who thought up the torture and a repurposed Janet, they are probably going to end up changing the whole structure of the afterlife. They made each other better in ways that weren’t supposed to be possible and will seemingly continue to do so in any timeline because they are fundamental to each other’s growth and happiness.
Killjoys Over the course of four seasons, what started as a small family of three has grown to include former enemies, people they only tolerated out of necessity, allies with unexpected histories and skills, and more. In the face of a danger who threatens all they hold dear, they have banded together and become a team. They belong to each other and will fight each other’s fight until the very end and watching them get to that point has been the best part of the show.
Younger I feel like this show is known for its better-than-usual love triangle but the friendships are really where this show shines. As the different pieces of Liza’s life have come together and relationships formed a part from their shared connections with her, the show has only gotten stronger. She left her traditional life and family and built a new one that’s a little unorthodox but which works so much better for her and the rest of the people in it.
Girl Meets World Boy Meets World also does a terrific job with this trope with Shawn’s friendship with Cory and his relationship with the Matthews’ family as a whole but Girl Meets World does even better. We still get Shawn as a member of the family but we also see it in Cory and Topanga’s daughter’s relationship with her own best friend. Riley and Maya chose each other a long time ago and nothing, especially not a cute boy, is going to get in a way of that. Their larger friend group already recognizes how rare and special their friendships are and it’s a lovely example of people who found each other at a young age and never intend to let go.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine On the job or off, the people of the 99th Precinct have each other’s backs. Whether it’s offering support over a potential promotion, coming over for Game Night after coming out didn’t go as hoped, or planning a beautiful wedding after the first was interrupted by a bomb, there’s not an occasion in which they will not show up for each other and go through any lengths necessary to show that none of them are alone. They know they can handle anything, so long as they have each other.
GLOW When you feel like an outsider, finding the place where you fit can mean everything. For varying reasons, the women of GLOW struggled to find their place until a wrestling enthusiast and a cynical director decided to make a show about women’s wrestling that forced them to both live and work together. In each other, they found their place. They found people who accepted them as they are and in doing so, found their confidence and their voices. The support and validation they give to each other and the way they make each other feel seen and cared for is the strongest part of the show and the best reason to watch.
Steven Universe Given the slightest opportunity, Steven will befriend and adopt everyone he meets into the circle of people who are important to him. He has such a pure heart that is filled with incredible capacity for love and acceptance and meeting people where they are and that ethos shines through this entire show. The Crystal Gems (in all iterations as they continue to grow), Greg, Connie, and the citizens of Beach City are Steven’s family and he is theirs. They are in this together as they prove why Earth was worth fighting for.
October Daye series by Seanan McGuire Toby may have started the series feeling alone but by the time the 12th book comes around, she has managed to collect a large and unusual (even for Faerie) family of people who would do everything in their power to keep her as happy, healthy (though she does often make that difficult for them, and safe as it is possible for a Hero of the Realm to be. They’ve made her stronger by reminding her why she fights and there is nothing she wouldn’t give for them.
In Death series by JD Robb If you liked Castle (especially if you were a Kate Beckett fan) you’ll find a lot to like in this very long-running series. Eve starts the series convinced that attachments are nothing more than a distraction, save for her mentor and best friend, and has no need for things that distract her from her job. Then she fell in love and got a new partner and slowly her world grew and changed for the better. For the first time in her life, she knows she’s loved and has people who will look out for her and fight for her and even 40+ books in, her amazement and acceptance of that fact is a delight to read.
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers This book is everything I could have asked for in a sci-fi novel. It’s full of interesting species with their own unique cultures but more than that, it’s about a crew who has become each other’s family (officially in one case). They don’t have to like each other, or even know each other well, all that matters is they are committed to the same cause. It’s warm and open and accepting of so many different types of family structures that all come together to make it truly special.
Seafire by Natalie C. Parker It’s an all-female crewed ship who has made it their mission to take down the oppressive ruler of the seas, truly what more does a person need. After losing everyone but her best friend during an attack, Caledonia forms heir own crew of women who have lost those they love or hurt at the hands of Ares and his dangerous fleet. They are all hers to care for and protect just as she is theirs to care for and serve. They are sisters forged through fight and fire and there’s nothing they wouldn’t give for each other.
Books of the Raksura series by Martha Wells Moon starts the series as an outsider before being taken in by a line-elder of a distant colony in the hopes that he can help provide the colony with children but it doesn’t take long for him to find a genuine home amongst them. After most of a lifetime alone, he doesn’t quite know how to fit in and has trouble trusting in the affection of others but despite some troubles adjusting, he still manages to find friends, love, and the family he’s been searching for.
I’ve been on a Marvel fanfiction kick for the past couple months and the Steve/Tony fandom has a lot of really incredible fics that emphasize the Avengers team as a family so I thought I’d highlight a couple of my favorites for this list.
Tale of the Bots by scifigrl47 This is one of the cutest, sweetest explorations of identity and finding the place and shape in which you fit. Canon-divergent after The Avengers (and with visits from the Fantastic Four and X-Men characters), rather than going their separate ways, everyone stayed together and became a family of broken, complicated people who love each other and who especially love the unexpected kid that popped into their lives. DJ is the heart of the story and it’s his specific interactions with each member of the team that make this so heartwarming to read. It’s a classic in the fandom for a reason. Also recommended is the Toasterverse by the same author, which crosses over with this universe for one installment.
Deep In the Heart of Me by Finely Honed This is a non-powered AU with Steve as the former captain of an Army unit that included Bucky, Clint and Natasha that was discharged after an attack that left them with physical injuries and PTSD. A few years after the incident, he’s running an established tattoo shop, raising his godson after his parents were killed and thoroughly ignoring the fact that he has PTSD and has developed unhealthy coping mechanisms as a result. It eventually becomes clear that he has a problem and his family is right there with open arms to help him through the painful and necessary process of healing. I love the way Tony is welcomed so enthusiastically to the family and the way they also rally around him while he and Steve are working through their individual issues together. The prequel with Bucky and Clint is also terrific with the same strong family unit emphasis.