Shadowhunters premieres on January 12 on Freeform, and it is poised to be the hottest new fantasy TV series. The world of Shadowhunters has actually been around since 2007, when The Mortal Instruments book series by Cassandra Clare first debuted. If it’s new to you, let us get you up to speed on the who, what, where, when, and why of the Shadowhunter World and the upcoming TV series.

What Are Shadowhunters?

Alec, Clary, Isabelle, and Jace (left to right)

Shadowhunters, also known as Nephilim, are a secret race of humans born with angelic blood. The “shadows” that they’re hunting are actually demons. For thousands of years, the Shadowhunters have been appointed to control the demons and Downworlders to protect both the inhabitants of the Shadow World and the mundane world (aka the human world).

What’s a Downworlder?

Magnus Bane is a warlock, a type of Downworlder

Vampires and werewolves and warlocks, oh my! These are a few examples of Downworlders, the supernatural creatures who are part human and part demon, as opposed to Shadowhunters who are part human and part angel. Downworlders and Shadowhunters try to peacefully coexist, though that truce doesn’t always hold.

Who Are Shadowhunters Fighting?

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Clary fights a demon in her living room

The Shadowhunters fight any threats, namely demons and rogue Downworlders. Demons are malevolent, interdimensional beings that travel between worlds, destroying everything in their path. They come in a large variety of forms and can even be shapeshifters, which means that they can pose as humans if need be.

What Are the Shadowhunters’ Weapons of Choice?

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Alec has two visible runes marked on his body

On top of kicking major butt with martial-arts moves, Shadowhunters have a few other weapons at their disposal. First off, they mark their skin with magical tattoos called runes. Runes are burned into the Shadowhunter’s skin using a personal stele, metal wands that are made of a magical metal called adamas. Runes can even be applied to weapons to strengthen them or assign them powers. In the brute force department, there’s the seraph blade. These swords are named after an angel who can then be called upon to imbue the blade with heavenly fire.

Who Are the Main Characters?

Shadowhunters Cast
Alec, Jace, Clary, Simon, and Isabelle (left to right)

The story revolves around Clary Fray who, on her 18th birthday, finds out that she is not completely human; she comes from a long line of Shadowhunters. She meets a group of fellow Shadowhunters who help her embrace this new world and explore her mysterious past. Her main interest is Jace, the gorgeous and brooding fighter who first discovers Clary’s power. He lives at a concealed haven called The Institute with Isabelle (aka Izzy) and Alec Lightwood, Shadowhunter siblings that know their way around a fight. Also in the picture is Clary’s adorably nerdy human best friend Simon Lewis and the powerful playboy warlock Magnus Bane.

Can I Get a Quick Shadowhunters Vocabulary Lesson?

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Clary holds a seraph blade
    • Parabatai – Two Shadowhunter warriors who swear an oath to be lifelong partners, willing to lay down their lives for one another. (For example: Jace and Alec are parabatai.)
    • Mundanes – Regular humans who are oblivious to the existence of the Shadow World. Also known as “mundies.” This is the Shadowhunters world’s equivalent of “muggles.”
    • Mortal Instruments – The Mortal Instruments are the three divine items given by the Angel Raziel to the first Shadowhunter. The Mortal Cup allows Shadowhunters to create more of their own kind by letting others drink from it. The Mortal Sword is primarily used to compel Nephilim to tell the truth, mostly during trials. The third is the Mortal Mirror, which is thought to be lost. We won’t spoil how it’s eventually found later in the series.

Where Did the Story of Shadowhunters Come From?

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The Infernal Devices and The Mortal Instruments books

The world of Shadowhunters has been around for almost ten years! Cassandra Clare is the mastermind behind The Shadowhunter Chronicles, a young-adult fantasy series comprised of two book series and several short stories. The first series in the chronicles is The Mortal Instruments, which includes six books and was initially released in 2007. This is the series that inspired the Freeform T.V. show. The second series in the chronicles is called The Infernal Devices. There are three more series in the works right now. In 2013, a movie based on the first book, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, was released. Freeform’s show will be the first television interpretation of the books.

What Else Do I Need to Know Before I Watch the Show?

We’ll spare you our favorite “ships” in an attempt to be spoiler-free, but just know that Isabelle is nicer than she seems, Simon may not be human for long, and no one can rock glitter and eyeliner better than Magnus Bane. Watch the trailer below to get a taste of what you’re in for!

For everything you’ll ever want to know about Shadowhunters, check out the Shadowhunters Wikia, home to 775 pages about the series.

Ariana Snow
Ariana Snow is the Community Development Manager for Lifestyles & Entertainment at Fandom. She is a passionate foodie and T.V. binge watcher.