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There are three distinct races of ponies in Equestria, as opposed to a common misconception that pegasus and unicorns are special variants from the basic pony. The episode "Hearth's Warming Eve" as well as the iOS app Twilight Sparkle: Teacher for a Day and its Ruckus Reader version Twilight Sparkle's Special Lesson explain how the three races came together to form the land (the episode tells less of the story but in more detail, while the app tells more of the story but in less detail). The exceptions to this are the rare Pegasus unicorns, who possess traits of all three races. Genetics do appear to play a role in determining species: in "Baby Cakes", Mr. and Mrs. Cake (earth ponies) have a set of pegasus and unicorn twins, which Mr. Cake ascribes to these being from their long-distance relatives.
The most commonly seen type of pony in Equestria. While being the "normals" among the races, lacking the overt magic of unicorns and the flight of pegasi, they nonetheless have their advantages. They tend to have greater endurance than other ponies and have a special connection to the earth, resulting in many of them, such as Applejack, becoming farmers. Also, the majority appear to have a superior sense of balance, poising objects with ease on their heads, backs or even noses. Earth ponies are the founders of the show's main setting, the town of Ponyville. Word of God states that earth ponies do have a passive magic that ties them to the earth and to caring for it. The pageant in "Hearth's Warming Eve" shows that the Earth ponies were originally a more subservient race to the Unicorns and Pegasi; the latter races had requested tithes of food from the Earth ponies.
The race of our main heroine, Twilight Sparkle, and the founders of the capital city of Canterlot. All unicorns have telekinesis, which makes them great multi-taskers and gives them an advantage to handling things that would normally require hands. Most unicorns learn additional magic in association with their special talents. For example, Rarity has a magic spell that helps her locate gems. "Hearth's Warming Eve" suggests that prior to the point where Princesses Celestia and Luna took control of the rising of the sun and moon, this duty fell to the unicorns. This implication is also present in the very first episode, where the introduction states that Princess Celestia specifically uses her unicorn powers to raise the sun.
Most pegasi hail from the majestic city of Cloudsdale, a Floating Continent made of clouds and rainbows. Pegasi possess passive magic that allows them to walk on clouds and manipulate the weather, which is very important, because ponies are actually responsible for the environment in this setting. "Hearth's Warming Eve" shows that they were once a race of proud warriors, and to this day enjoy athletic prowess as shown by the Wonderbolts aerobatics team and Young Flyer's competition.
Pegasus Unicorn Ponies
The rarest and most mysterious of the pony races, they are often called alicorns by fans and some of the show's staff, though they have only been referred to as unicorns in the show itself. Word of God claims that they actually are a combination of all three races, even though the earth pony traits aren't obvious. Only three have appeared in the flesh so far in the show, Princesses Celestia, Luna, and Cadance; an unnamed princess appears in a book in "Hearts and Hooves Day". Besides these canonical Pegasus unicorns, others have appeared as Canon Foreigners: Celestia's four-year-old cousin Léon who appears in an illustrated French magazine story, several characters created using Virtual Paper Doll Web Games, and some characters from The Merch. Celestia & Luna are extremely powerful, able to raise the sun and moon daily, though it seems that this level of magical power is exclusive to just the two of them. Cadance, as of the end of the second season, has not displayed above average abilities for any of the three standard pony tribes, though her special spell can be extremely useful in the right circumstances.
The pony civilization's homeland. A Constructed World that differs very much from our world, it's divided into many pony-inhabited cities, towns, and villages. Ruled by the two powerful pony princesses Celestia and Luna, it is a magical place where everypony lives in (almost perfect) harmony with nature and the land.
- Ponyville: The show's primary setting, where the mane six currently reside. The town was founded by Earth ponies many years prior to the setting, but is now inhabited by various types of ponies.
- Canterlot: The capital city of Equestria. A place located on a side of a tall mountain and mostly inhabited by unicorn ponies. This is also Twilight and Spike's hometown and where the princesses reside.
- Cloudsdale: A large, floating, Greek-themed city made out of clouds that only pegasus ponies have access to, since only they can stand on clouds without falling right through them. Other ponies can visit the city either through flying machines, such hot air balloons, or magic.
- Appleloosa: A western-themed town that was founded a year before the Mane Six first visited it. Buffaloes were the native inhabitants of the place before the ponies built a settlement in their land, which has caused a conflict between the two races. The conflict ended in "Over a Barrel" with an agreement that the ponies would give the buffaloes apple pie every time the buffaloes passed through.
- Other cities/towns/villages seen or mentioned in the show include Baltimare, Dodge Junction, Fillydelphia, Hoofington, Las Pegasus, Manehattan, and Trottingham.
- Cities/towns/villages seen or mentioned only outside the show (on The Hub's Facebook page, in a New York Times ad, or in The Merch) include Foaledo, Galloping Gorge, Manechester, Saddle Arabia, San Franciscolt, Seaddle and Whinneapolis.
A dangerous place where Nature acts on its own without the ponies' control. Several dangerous flora and fauna reside here, such as dragons, hydras, a cockatrice, and the poison joke flowers.
Not yet shown but mentioned in "It's About Time", Tartarus is a place where many evil creatures are imprisoned and guarded by Cerberus. For those not familiar with Greek Mythology, Tartarus is essentially the Greek version of Hell.
The focus of an upcoming Target-exclusive toy line of the same name. Its description reads "Welcome to the Crystal Empire, a magical place full of hidden secrets! The ponies shine and sparkle here!" This toy line's logo features Princess Cadance, suggesting that she has some connection to the Crystal Empire.
Part of a land outside Equestria that lies beyond the Everfree Forest, shown in one of the German magazine comics (Scanlated as No Way Too Far). Here, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, and Spike meet a stallion who invites them to be his guests for the evening, though it isn't shown where exactly they spend the night with him.
Analysis on the Toys
Hasbro has released multiple series of blind bag toys, some ponies from which bear an uncanny resemblance to some of the fandom's beloved background ponies, unnamed minor characters, and few named canon side characters. Each toy comes with a collector card. The cards themselves contain the pony's full body cartoon portrait, a small picture of their cutie mark on the corner, and a description of their talent (simple but multi-language in the European versions; more detailed in the English versions).
Most significantly are the names printed on the toys' packaging and the cards, which often conflicts with the ponies' well-established Fan Nicknames and even a few in-show names. Neither Hasbro nor the animation studio officially or explicitly acknowledges any of the background ponies' existence for the show's continuity nor did they state that the similarly looking toys represent the background ponies themselves and thus are open for interpretation.
Due to this, a debate whether to consider these similar looking toy ponies as the same characters themselves or a separate character entirely has erupted within the brony community. Opinions range from varying degrees of acceptance to outright refusal, casting away Hasbro's Toyline as a separate continuity from the show. The occasional names that differ from the in-show names, along with Hasbro's mixing up Apple Bloom and Scootaloo's names on two different occasions, have further solidified the notion.
So far most of the toy ponies that are seemingly based on minor ponies are exclusive to the Blind Bags. Not many of them appear in other toy lines like the brushable toyline, which is the "main" My Little Pony toyline where some of the characters have different art than they do in the Blind Bags (a small number even have unique art).
Note that all of the wave 4 Blind Bag ponies are solid in color, meaning that their entire body only has a single color usually following the original version's most dominant color. You can find more information about this particular Blind Bag wave here.
List of toy names (excluding major characters such as the Mane Six and the Princesses):
Amethyst Star (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 21)
Matches Sparkler's cutie mark and color scheme.
Apple Dazzle (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 14)
Similar both to Apple family member Apple Bumpkin and to an unnamed background pony introduced in Season 2.
Berryshine (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 16)
Similar to Berry Punch. Fans consider these as two separate entities because of the fact that Berryshine is a unicorn (and a Rarity Palette Swap, but You Don't Look Like You is common for the molded toys) while Berry Punch is an earth pony. The only things that make her similar to Berry Punch are her color scheme and cutie mark which fans have speculated that the two could possibly be related to each other.
Before this realization, they called Berry Punch as Berryshine Punch with "Berry" being a shortened nickname for Berryshine.
Blossomforth (Blind Bag wave 2, pony 8/upcoming Toys "R" Us exclusive Friendship Celebration Collection; also a wave 3 brushable)
Identified by name in both the show and the toyline. Her eyes are a different color in the show than they are in the toy line, which proves that single color differences can fall under You Don't Look Like You. She's also the only pony so far to appear in the toy line before appearing in the show, proving that the show does pay attention to the toys (though as she has both a brushable toy and a Blind Bag toy, it isn't clear whether the show pays attention to the brushable toys, the Blind Bags, or both).
Breezie (Blind Bag wave 5, pony 5)
Matches an unnamed Wonderbolt's coat and mane colors, but it's unknown if her eye color or cutie mark match. Also partly shares her name with Earth pony stallion Mr. Breezy.
Chance-a-lot (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 10)
Similar both to Caramel and one of his variations (who has a different eye color). Chance-a-lot's eye color matches Caramel's.
Cherry Berry (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 21; also a Pony Wedding brushable)
Similar to Cherry.
Crimson Gala (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 4)
Similar both to Apple family member Red Gala and to an unnamed Apple family member.
Flower Wishes (wave 1, pony 12/upcoming Toys "R" Us exclusive Friendship Celebration Collection; also appears to be an as-yet-unnamed upcoming Fall 2012 Toys "R" Us exclusive brushable)
Matches Daisy in every way but name. There are very few, if any, fans that refer to Daisy as Flower Wishes.
Golden Delicious (Blind Bag wave 5, pony 17)
This unicorn mare shares her name with the Apple family Earth pony stallion from the show.
Golden Harvest (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 8)
Goldengrape (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 5)
Similar to Sir Colton Vines III.
Junebug (Blind Bag wave 5, pony 4)
This unicorn mare shares her name and eye color with the Earth pony mare from the show.
Lemon Hearts (Blind Bag wave 1, pony 16/upcoming Toys "R" Us exclusive Friendship Celebration Collection)
Some fans used to call her Lemon Drop, the name of a G1 pony she resembles. Possibly due to Lemon's lack of popularity, most just call her by her toy name now.
Lyra Heartstrings (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 22 and wave 5, pony 24; also a Pony Wedding brushable)
Called just Heartstrings in wave 3, which made her the center of debate within the fandom, probably due to her popularity rivaling Derpy in some aspects.
Before the brushables and wave 5, there was another popular interpretation of a similar fashion to the "Berryshine" pony. This concept seemed to revolve around the wave 3 collector card, specifically the dark green coat coloration used by the card. Due to this fans had thought that these two were different ponies. This notion spawned a lot of fanwork most noticeably the "Lyra strangling Heartstrings" fanart that seemed to stem from the fandom's initial reaction to the name and the comically odd "LyraXHeartstrings" shipping in a similar vein as the "Trixie narcissism" shipping. However, even before the wave 5 Blind Bags, the wave 3 Blind Bags (once they hit stores)' packaging has shown that the wave 3 Heartstrings card probably just used prototype artwork, which indicated that the toy's coloration was the more correct one after all.
Meadow Song (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 17)
Bluegrass A.K.A. the Ermac/ninja pony from "Luna Eclipsed". This pony has appeared prior to that episode, most prominently in "Over a Barrel". Fan opinion on whether these two are the same pony or not is vague due to his lack of popularity compared to the other background ponies.
Merry May (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 8)
Similar to Flora.
Minuette (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 5)
Mosely Orange (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 20)
Applejack's Uncle Orange.
Noteworthy (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 23)
Blues A.K.A. the cyclops pony from "The Best Night Ever". He has appeared in numerous episodes before. The fandom was more acceptable with the toy name and have considered the name as his surname making his full name as "Blues Noteworthy" or the other way around.
Peachy Pie (Toys "R" Us exclusive Pony Collection Set, pony 10)
This Earth pony mare shares her name with the Earth pony filly from the show.
Rainbowshine (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 4)
Similar to Rainbow Day.
Roseluck and Rose (wave 1, pony 13)
Matches Rose in every way but name, however it's easy to believe that "Rose" is short for "Roseluck", and because of this a lot of fans have adopted Roseluck as her full name.
Royal Riff (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 6)
Introduced in "The Mysterious Mare Do Well", though he wasn't shown clearly until "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000" and wasn't the focus of any shots until "Putting Your Hoof Down".
Since his toy was seen before he appeared on the show, he was previously considered to be another Blues look-a-like, matching his eye color, having a darker shade of blue for the coat, and having a similarly themed (musical symbols) but different cutie mark (a G-clef instead of a musical note). Some considered him a different pony mainly due to the cutie mark and dark shade of blue. Others thought he looked more like Blues than Noteworthy due to the matching eye color.
Sapphire Shores (Blind Bag wave 5, pony 8)
This unicorn mare shares her name with the Earth pony mare from the show.
Sassaflash (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 15)
Similar to Wind Whistler.
Sea Swirl (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 10)
Similar to Seafoam.
Shoeshine (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 23)
Similar to Linky.
Star Swirl (Blind Bag wave 2, pony 10; also a brushable)
This Earth pony mare appeared in the toy line before Season 2 started mentioning the Posthumous Character Star Swirl the Bearded, a unicorn stallion.
Sunny Daze (a So Soft)
This Pegasus filly (the toy is a newborn, but its packaging uses a present-day picture of her) shares her name and eye color with the Earth pony filly from the show.
Sunny Rays (Blind Bag wave 5, pony 3; also a Pony Wedding brushable)
Similar to Rays.
Trixie Lulamoon (Blind Bag wave 3, pony 22 and wave 5, pony 24; also a Pony Wedding brushable and appears to be an as-yet-unnamed upcoming Fall 2012 Toys "R" Us exclusive brushable)
Called just Lulamoon in wave 4, lowering the toy names' credibility until the brushables and wave 5 made "Trixie Lulamoon" her full name.
Twilight Sky (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 17)
Ice, a lesser known background pony that appeared in the episode "Green isn't Your Color" as an assistant of Photo Finish's and as a bouncer. Matches eye color, coat color and cutie mark. Others think it's a pony version of another guy that sparkles.
Twilight Velvet (Blind Bag wave 4, pony 22)
Twilight Sparkle's mom.
Twinkleshine (Blind Bag wave 2, pony 21; also a wave 4 brushable)
Similar to Twinkle.
Pop Culture impact
MLP: FiM proved an overnight sensation on the internet, and even before the first season was over, it had spawned image macros and countless forum threads full of speculation and discussion; it also led to lots of males having existential crises about enjoying a "girl's cartoon" so much. It also provides one of the best examples of Troper Critical Mass in action: one season of a show ostensibly for little girls contains hundreds upon hundreds of tropes, a Characters page, a fan-fiction index, and legitimate fanbases for every character under the sun.
The show has spawned a variety of musical compositions and enormous quantities of fan art, enough to flood most of the Image Boards on the 'net throughout 2011 (starting with cartoons, but swiftly spreading to message boards devoted to topics as diverse as violent video games, wrestling, and heavy metal, with Team Fortress 2 in particular becoming seen as a fortress of brony-dom.)
It has even spawned an unofficial fighting game currently in production: My Little Pony: Fighting Is Magic, which is making waves in the industry. Other game spinoffs produced by the fan community include a Rainbow Dash-mod of the Adult Swim game Robot Unicorn Attack, which preceded the series by a few short months, helping to establish the inherent manliness of all things rainbows and unicorns. There are also attempts by fans to make a multiplayer massive online game, "Equestria Online", and a spinoff of the Ace Attorney series, "My Little Investigations".
Despite such ironic remarks, the show was cited by Wired as an example of "the new sincerity" in 2010's culture, with adult fans honestly defending the assertion that it took self-confidence to appreciate the show on its own merits as a celebration of innocence, friendship and tolerance. Others watch it for the plot.
Friendship Is Magic did not penetrate the mainstream consciousness until summer 2011, when Fox News issued a series of critiques of the "bronies" phenomenon, with William Kristol declaring it to be "worse than terrorism!" (The other people on the Fox panel were supportive of the trend), and other commentators comparing it to the adult fanbase of SpongeBob SquarePants, another cartoon known for its good writing that appeals to children and adults. Of course, America has a long and storied history of producing and marketing animation exclusively for kids. The resulting fan response led to a series of Shout Outs by other media figures, including Stephen Colbert (who gave a brohoof "to all my bronies!")
Much like Trek or Doctor Who, the MLP fandom has spawned its own culture with distinctive lingo and code phrases. The writers even make references to these fandoms and Ascended Fanon, such as Derpy Hooves. While the phrase "brony" originally referred to the male audience, it has since come to mean any adult fan of the show—male or female—to a certain extent.
The high-profile fansite Equestria Daily, which went online on January, 19, 2011, has visibly shown the surprisingly quick growth of the fanbase. To compare, it took 57 days for the site to reach 1 million hits. Now the site racks up a million hits every 1-2 days.
A recent episode is usually available on Hasbro's official US site, more recent episodes are usually available on The Hub's official site in the US, and the German dub of the entire first season is available on the German & Swiss Nickelodeon and German Nick Jr. official sites. DVDs are being released in various regions (with the completeness of the releases depending on the region), and selected episodes are being added in pairs to the LeapFrog App Center. All of the episodes from seasons that have finished airing, along with the episodes that Shout Factory has released on DVD, are available from Netflix, and all of the episodes that have already aired can be bought on iTunes if you're lucky enough to live somewhere in the one-third of the world where they're available, and viewed through other (less official) sources. On July 4th, the show began airing in the UK on Boomerang, and premiered on Boomerang worldwide soon after. German Audio Adaptations of the show's first four episodes are available across two volumes in CD and MP3 formats. The show's second season premiered on September 17th, 2011 and ended on April 21, 2012. A third season of 13 or more episodes has been announced.
Fortunately for its prospects, the show has proven very successful with its target audience as well.
Ironically, some have cited an initial wave of harsh criticism for the show's kids-commercialization aspect with sparking interest in the show, starting with Cartoon Brew's article "The End of the Creator-Driven Era", which initiated the first wave of interest; and later with Ms. Magazine writing an article which generated hundreds of responses—including one from the show's creator, Lauren Faust, a feminist.
Non-Canon Alternate Universes
There has been an immense amount of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic fanworks and such made by the Periphery Demographic (excluding Mega Crossovers that aren't centered on MLP or MLP characters). A list of them has been created and can be found here.