This mortal coil: A beginners’ guide to ‘Shadowhunters’
If you’re here, that means you’ve likely seen a whole bunch of coverage for Shadowhunters and may have found yourself wanting to know more about the young adult show or simply fearing that you’re getting old and losing touch with “the kids”. What you need is a guide and we’re here to help provide you with one.
In our humble opinion, the supernatural teen show makes for a fantastic bingewatch – particularly if you love supernatural shows with a side of action and a healthy dose of romance. But you still might need some basic prepping before you dive in and start streaming. Here’s everything someone who’s never seen a single episode of Shadowhunters could want to know about the show.
It’s the TV adaptation of The Mortal Instruments book series
If you don’t know or understand Shadowhunters, you’ve no doubt heard about The Mortal Instruments at some point during your various sojourns through pop culture. Cassandra Clare’s young adult book series was turned into a film in 2013, starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, and Kevin Zegers. However, when it failed to rock the box office producers turned to the small screen for another shot at developing the story.
Taking the tale right back to the start (with the story of City of Bones, the first book in the series), the new incarnation of the franchise landed on Freeform in 2016. Helmed by Ed Decter and McG, this new retelling of the story came with a shiny new cast and a fresh start.
Okay, but what exactly is a “Shadowhunter”?
Shadowhunters (sometimes called Nephilim) are a secret organization of (very attractive, let’s be honest) half-angel, half-mortal demon hunters. Their bombass angel blood gives them magical powers such as invisibility and superior strength and allows them to use angelic blades. They fight against powerful supernatural beings (often said to be part-human and part-demon) called Downworlders – these include werewolves, vampires, faeries, and warlocks.
So it’s kind of like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
A little. There are certainly similarities, but Shadowhunters is far more based in fantasy than Buffy was and delves into a broader cross-section of supernatural intrigue. However, like Buffy, it does come with its own terminology that might help you to understand the show a little better.
For instance, ordinary humdrum humans with no idea there’s a war between good and evil happening right now are (appropriately) known as Mundanes. The political body that governs the Nephilim is known as The Clave. And a pair of lifelong Nephilim warrior partners are called Parabatai. A couple of other important things to know about are Runes and The Mortal Cup. Runes is complex symbolic language burned into Nephilim skin which grants the hunters supernatural ability.
The Mortal Cup is a powerful transformative instrument (one of the three Mortal Instruments, in fact) that can turn Mundanes into Shadowhunters if they drink from it (and don’t die). The cup is crazy powerful and can even offer protection from demons.
Who are the main characters I need to know about?
First, there’s Clary Fray (Katherine McNamara), a young woman who lives as a Mundane for years only to discover her mom has kind of kept a huge secret from her – there’s a secret dark world she doesn’t know about and she’s a huge part of it. That’s the no-spoilers version of her bio. By S3, Clary is a formidable ass-whooping Shadowhunter who has discovered plenty more bombshell secrets about her identity, bloodline, and power.
Then there’s (prepare to swoon) Jace Wayland (Dominic Sherwood), who’s kind of the MVP of the Nephilim. He recognizes that Clary is a Shadowhunter before she does and helps to train her and fights by her side.
Clary is (understandably) totally hot for him.
Naturally, that means there’s a big ole love triangle on the go (it wouldn’t be a young adult story without one!) courtesy of Simon Lewis (Alberto Rosende) – Clary’s human best friend. Simon is totally hot for his bestie but she just doesn’t see him that way (womp womp). Love vibes aside, Simon actually departs on a life-changing journey of his own during the show, making him more than just a sad pal in the friendzone.
Making Clary’s life initially very tough is Isabelle Lightwood (Emeraude Toubia), but the two eventually become tight buds because women don’t have to be pitted against each other, y’all!
Izzy’s dreamy older brother Alec Lightwood (Matthew Daddario) is another skilled Shadowhunter who’s secretly in love with Jace. (That’s a second love triangle right there!)
Luckily, indomitable warlock Magnus Bane (Harry Shum Jr.) enters the picture and shows an interest in Alec. Magnus has a flair for dazzling outfits and sharp quips but he’s also powerful AF.
This is also the best time to talk about Malec – the shipping name for Alec and Magnus. Learn it, live it, love it. Fall down a fanfiction rabbit hole and come out a better person.
Last but not least, there’s the Big Bad of Shadowhunters: Valentine Morgenstern (Alan Van Sprang). The dude is a former Shadowhunter turned super evil bad guy who wants that damn Mortal Cup for his own. He has some shady secrets and there are plenty of surprises that come for both him and Clary as they’re pitted against each other (but they may be more closely connected than they’d ever imagined).
That’s a lot of characters
Look, we haven’t scratched the surface on the main Shadowhunters squad, but now that you know some of the core characters, you can dive in and discover the rest on your own.
Alright, but hasn’t it been cancelled by Freeform?
It has, but fans aren’t giving up hope on that cancellation being reversed or on a different network or SVOD service picking the show up and giving it another chance at life. It’s an understatement to simply say the #SaveShadowhunters campaign has been “active” since the show was cancelled in June. The fans that make up the passionate ShadowFam have been a roaring charge of enthusiasm in support of saving the show.
The #SaveShadowhunters petition currently has over 153,000 signatures (and counting), but fans have continually organized a number of grassroots campaigns to protest the cancellation and urge that the show be saved.
Some of their efforts to help save the show have included buying billboard space in major cities like New York and Toronto, advertising the #SaveShadowhunters campaign on the sides of London buses and in Seoul subway stations, and flying a #SaveShadowhunters banner above Netflix headquarters. And that’s just a sample selection of what the campaign has involved. These fans mean business.
Why are they so passionate about saving the show?
Shadowhunters isn’t your average young adult supernatural show. Hell, it isn’t your average TV show period. One of the reasons why the show has made such a colossal connection with fans is in its depiction of LGBTQI characters and relationships and in telling a story with strong, complex female characters at the heart of it.
For many fans, the show means more than just an enjoyable bingewatch after a long hard day of living. It offers a lifeline of support and a community of like minded people, many of whom are LGBTQI and credit the show with helping them through challenging times. That’s why so far fans have used the #SaveShadowhunters campaign to raise over $21,000 for The Trevor Project – a charity providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQI youth.