If you have yet to be introduced to the cracky wonders of TW, I hope you'll give this post a chance to be your gateway drug! In the past few months, as Teen Wolf took over pretty much every corner of fandom ever with rather startling speed, you may have read people rhapsodising about the wonders of one Stiles Stilinski, or perhaps heard people commenting on the actual possibility of a slash ship going canon for the first time ever omg!.
Mostly, if you're not into Teen Wolf, you're probably wondering why on earth so many people are obsessing over an MTV show about werewolves. (From what I can gather, this comic accurately describes every single Teen Wolf fan's spiraling descent into teen-wolf-dom. It's uncanny.)
To start off, let me just say that there is no way I can hope to outdo the utter brilliance that is hellotailor's Teen Wolf primer, so you should totally give up on this overview and go read that instead.
Teen Wolf, in canon, is mostly about a teenager named Scott McCall who is bitten by a werewolf and has to come to terms with his new powers, with the help of his genre-savvy human best friend Stiles. There is one other werewolf in town, the ~mysterious Derek Hale, who helps Scott when the mood strikes him—but mostly just growls at Scott and Stiles for a variety of reasons. Scott falls in love with new-girl-in-school Allison Argent, who, (initially) unbeknownst to both of them, comes from a long line of werewolf hunters.
Teen Wolf, in fanon, is mostly about Stiles being awesome and Derek being growly. They somehow end up having sex and/or pining epically for each other and/or mating for life. As one does. Scott may show up occasionally. (There is non-Derek/Stiles fic out there, but at this point they are still relatively few—unfortunately, really, because there are so many other awesome characters in the show.)
If you've only ever read TW fic without ever watching the show, the show's focus on Scott can be downright befuddling. If you want to watch an episode to get a feel of what the show is like, I strongly recommend bypassing the first few episodes and jumping straight to episode 104 (this link only works in the US, but it's a very easy show to obtain via, ahem, less-than-legal means). The show has underwhelming special effects, pretty awkward dialogue at times, and not-even-close-to-stellar plots—but somehow, it's very, very addictive.
1. Scott McCall
Scott being Scott. (source)
Scott McCall is, you know, not all that bright, not all that awesome, not all that popular, nothing much, really—just a totally regular teenager until he's bitten by a werewolf. Luckily for him, his childhood best friend Stiles is all over that, and uses the Power of Google to help Scott throughout the mess that ensues.
Scott is desperately in love with Allison Argent, which, considering her family's penchant for exterminating those of the growly persuasion, makes from some seriously awkward meet-the-inlaws dinners.
He also loves: his mother (the awesome nurse Melissa McCall), playing lacrosse (lacrosse is a Very Big Deal at Beacon Hills High—don't ask), and animals (he works at a vet clinic—Deaton, see below, is his boss).
Scott in full werewolf regalia. (source)
Despite the fact that werewolves are stronger in numbers, Scott isn't all that keen on the idea of joining the local pack, under Derek's leadership; his character arc points more towards him eventually becoming leader of his own pack, which at the moment is pretty much just Stiles and Allison.
2. "Stiles" Stilinski
Stiles is the trusty sidekick, and can always be depended on to provide comic relief and witty banter. He's also Research Guy, and pretty much the only character in the main cast who has shown actual planning skills so far. He's very much the heart of the show. Stiles is the reason a lot of people fall in love with Teen Wolf, and it's not hard to see why: he's loyal and fiercely protective of the people he loves; he's hilarious; he's clever; he's observant; he's resourceful.
Because of these qualities, fanon quite often has Stiles in the role of "human pack mom" in a hypothetical future where Derek's pack is somewhat functional and not a loosely-gathered bunch of misfits. He would clearly be brilliant at glueing them all together, and boy, are they in dire need of that. But I disgress.
Family-wise, Stiles lost his mother when he was younger, which is a source of a lot of angst for both him and his father. Stiles's father, the town Sheriff, is amazing. More on him below.
Stiles has had a crush on the amazing, brilliant Lydia Martin for many, many years. He's all kinds of adorable about it. Lydia has mostly ignored Stiles up until the series started, but they're now starting to inch towards friendship.
Stiles has ADHD, and while the show doesn't deal with it well—it's basically just played for laughs—fandom has produced some interesting meta on the subject, such as this.
We don't actually know Stiles' real first name—even his father just calls him "Stiles."
Stiles is thoroughly human, and refused to take the bite when offered.
3. Derek Hale
How to make friends and win over allies, by Derek Hale. (source)
Derek Hale is a born werewolf. He's broody, lurk-happy, quick to resort to physical intimidation, and seems to believe that social niceties are things that happen to other people. (If you're about to start delving into Teen Wolf fanfiction, be prepared to read the "raised by wolves, literally" pun a lot of times. Like, a lot.) In his defence, his entire family was slaughtered six years ago by Kate Argent, a ruthless hunter who seduced teenage!Derek in order to gain access to his family home and set it on fire. Needless to say, this left him with a truckload of issues.
In the pilot, Derek's sister Laura shows up murdered. Stiles and Scott actually get Derek arrested for that crime, because Derek? Cannot catch a break. Ever. Shortly thereafter, Kate Argent comes back to town, and kidnaps Derek to torture him. His life is the absolute worst, seriously. From what we can gather, Derek actually lives in the burnt-out shell of his childhood home, because bless this show, subtlety is not its forte.
Scott getting turned and being generally both useless and stubborn about it is yet another constant source of woe in Derek's very tragic life. Scott and Stiles aggravate Derek to no end; they also save his life from time to time.
Derek, like almost every other male main character in Teen Wolf (apart from Stiles), has a serious case of Shirt Allergy. He's also often seen wearing leather jackets, which are his standard lurking attire.
Contrary to what is probably popular belief in Beacon Hills, Derek does, in fact, know how to smile. He even does it this one time to get someone to do something for him!
See also: Derek's "Get in, loser, we're going shopping." look. (source)
Most of the time, though, his facial expressions range from "angry" to "extremely annoyed," with some serious eyebrow action, with bonus werewolf!glowy eyes.
Since the season one finale, Derek is the alpha (leader) of the Beacon Hills pack. (This means that he can, and did, bite humans to transform them, to strenghthen the pack.) He's...not very good at it.
4. Allison Argent
Allison/Bow OTP! (source)
Allison is a badass archer who comes from a long line of werewolf hunters. She finds out about this legacy during season one, but her character gets significantly developed as more than Scott's tragic love interest in season two.
Her father, Chris, seems to be the only reasonable hunter in the family; her mother Victoria, her aunt Kate and her grandfather Gerard (played by Saul Tigh from Battlestar Galactica!) are all very, very trigger-happy in the worst ways. In theory, the Argents are supposed to mind the family's Code to decide whether to kill a werewolf; in practice, these last three seem fonder of Kate's kill-first-ask-questions-later philosophy, with liberal helpings of torture along the way.
Allison is very torn between her loyalty to her family and her love for Scott, and in late season two—manipulated by her grandfather Gerard—she ended up placing herself very dramatically in the anti-werewolf camp. She's now figuring herself out again. Scott and Allison broke up, but fanon—much like Scott—tends to ignore that.
5. Lydia Martin
Lydia, on the surface, seems to be your average teen show "popular girl." She's gorgeous, she dates the captain of the lacrosse team and whatnot. (Seriously, don't ask about the lacrosse thing.) Most people in school, however, are blissfully unaware that Lydia is in fact an actual genius. She has, among others, major math and language skills, but tries her best to hide this behind a vapid mask.
Due to several events in the show so far, Lydia's popularity has taken a bit of a hit, and it's probable that she'll grow closer to the other main characters as time goes by. Her mental stability was a major issue throughout season two. She was manipulated by the late Peter Hale (see below) in a roundabout yet terrifying way into resurrecting him.
She is in love with Jackson, despite the many ups and downs of their relationship, and recently pretty much managed to single-handedly save him from death-by-inner-lizardness (don't ask) with the Power of Love.
Lydia is human, and immune to the bite.
6. Jackson Whittemore
Jackson being Jackson. (source)
Jackson is a dick. He's very aggressive, and a total jerk to pretty much everyone, up to and including Lydia, despite the fact that he's in love with her. (One notable exception: his best friend Danny, see below.)
At first, Jackson is envious of Scott's new werewolf-powered lacrosse skills, and does his best to find out the guy's secret. Once he does, he's determined to get bitten as well, so that he can be stronger, faster and whatnot. Derek eventually relents and bites him, but it doesn't turn out quite as planned.
See, Jackson has major issues and is seriously emotionally repressed, and in Teen Wolf, sometimes bitten werewolves can take on different shapes if they have unresolved issues. Jackson became a mind-controlled lizard-like monster (called a kanima), and was used by a guy named Matt to exact revenge on several people in Beacon Hills. In the season finale, Jackson came to terms with his issues, with Lydia's help, and became fully realised as a regular werewolf.
There was probably going to be more to Jackson, but the actor who plays him, Colton Haynes, has recently announced that he's leaving the show in season 3. The series' creative team is working on ways to eliminate the plotlines they'd set aside for him so that they can write him off. He still shows up in fic most of the time, though.
7. Isaac Lahey
Isaac is a new werewolf that was turned in season two. His father was extremely abusive (e.g. locking him inside an old freezer as punishment), and Isaac grew up with major issues. He's very kind and loyal. As of the season two finale, he's the only new werewolf that's remained part of Derek's pack.
He and Scott have recently begun growing closer, bonding over lycanthropy and lacrosse, and are sometimes paired in fic.
8. Peter Hale
Peter's eyeroll. (source)
Peter was the only person in the Hale house that survived the fire, but he was badly burnt, and comatose for years. He only managed to recover fully after murdering his niece, Laura, and thus gaining alpha status. He used this new strength to exact revenge on people connected to the Hale fire.
Derek and co. managed to kill him in the season one finale; Derek thus inherited the role of alpha.
With Lydia's help, however, Peter managed to return to life, and somehow managed to hang around as part of Derek's pack. Homicidal tendencies aside, Peter is fun to have around in canon—he's awesomely snarky, and doesn't hesitate to mock Derek's overly-dramatic broody ways.
Erica Reyes: another new werewolf recently turned by Derek, Erica chose to take the bite to cure her epilepsy. She's since become more confident. She used to have a crush on Stiles. In the season 2 finale, she and Boyd—after being kidnapped and tortured by Gerard Argent—decide to part ways with Derek to find a new pack. They end up running into an invading pack of alpha werewolves; their fate is unknown.
Vernon Boyd: the last of Derek's three new werewolves, Boyd is the most grounded and calm member of pack. He's often portrayed as witty and long-suffering in fic; up until he and Erica left the pack, he was pretty much Derek's right-hand man.
The Sheriff and Stiles. (source)
Sheriff Stilinski: he and Stiles have an amazing, openly caring relationship. They've grown closer since Stiles' mother's death, but it's deeply scarred them both. The Sheriff knows nothing of the supernatural shenanigans that plague Beacon Hills, and it kills Stiles to have to lie to him. (We don't know the Sheriff's first name, either. It's a Stilinski thing, apparently.)
Dr. Alan Deaton: is the Beacon Hills vet and Scott's boss. He's also strangely knowledgeable in supernatural things, and often provides Derek, Scott and Stiles with guidance and information. He seems to be an old friend of the Hales'. No one knows exactly what his deal is.
Danny and Stiles. (source)
Danny Mahealani: Jackson's awesome best friend. He's smart, very tech-savvy, and friendly with Scott and Stiles. He's openly gay, and the show treats this in a very casual way; Beacon Hills apparently exists in an alternate universe where homophobia does not exist.
(If you think you have a good grasp on what everyone looks like, this hilarious fanvid should give you an essential feel for most S1 TW characters. If you don't, what the heck, watch it anyway. You won't regret it :D)
Most common pairings:
An infamous scene where Derek and Stiles were paralysed together. (source)
Derek/Stiles (or "Sterek") is by far the most common ship in TW—to the extent that, in Teen Wolf fandom, "rare ship" is basically defined as anything that is not Derek/Stiles.
In canon, despite Derek's general aura of menace and growly intimidation, Stiles always calls him out on his crap. They're gradually establishing mutual trust—well, "gradually" may be pushing it, since they keep saving each other's lives and have been leaning on each other almost instinctively since they met.
Both the Teen Wolf showrunner (Jeff Davis) and the cast enjoy pandering to their slash-loving fans. The show's online presence is very well-managed; they have an active tumblr, they ran a fanfiction contest, and they make tongue-in-cheek promos, and share slashy edited scenes and whatnot. They've indicated that there is a possibility that Derek/Stiles will actually become canon at some point in the future. Needless to say, fans are all kinds of thrilled.
Scott and Allison. (source)
Allison/Scott is the show's canon OTP. Their love is very tragic, starcrossed and whatnot. They're both ridiculously adorable, but there isn't much actual fic written about them—the ship is often relegated to the background in Derek/Stiles fics.
Lydia and Jackson. (source)
Lydia/Jackson is a very conflicted ship in canon. Jackson's a very difficult guy with serious emotional issues, and after he broke up with Lydia for no good reason, they each tried very hard to act stand-off-ish toward the other, and only recently admitted that they still care for each other. In fanon, sadly, this ship is often just used as a convenient way to pair off characters as background to Derek/Stiles, especially considering Stiles' old crush on Lydia.
Scott and Isaac. (source)
Other ships that often make an appearance in TW fic, even if just in the background, are Isaac/Scott, Danny/Jackson, Erica/Boyd, and Danny/Stiles.
Pack dynamics in canon. (source)
The show offers plenty of subtext for pretty much any ship you can think of. There's plenty of threesome/poly/etc. fic out there—the Teen Wolf fandom really loves its puppy piles!
Peter offering Stiles the bite. (source)
Peter/Stiles seems to be the fandom's creepy OTP of choice, with several fics spawning from this one moment in season one where Peter offers Stiles the bite in a somewhat seductive fashion—as opposed to simply biting, which is what Peter did to Scott. (Stiles refused.)
The Teen Wolf fandom is widely cross-platform—but mostly, it's heavily based in tumblr, AO3 and Twitter. Sure, there are LJ comms, and there's some activity there, but if you're looking to read Teen Wolf fic, you'll inevitably end up on AO3. (Interestingly, there are 7,221 works listed in the AO3 TW tag, whereas there are 4,400 works on ff.net. Feedback stats on TW AO3 fics are unprecedented to a degree that's actually kind of terrifying sometimes.)