Hurt/Comfort is such an interesting thing. It’s basically an entire genre of fanfiction. I’d argue it satisfies a very basic, vital need–the same way that horror satisfies the basic need to be scared in a safe, controllable space. 

And yet it doesn’t really have an equivalent outside of fan culture. "Tearjerkers” can sometimes come close, they’re probably the closest thing to a mainstream hurt/comfort genre that there is. But those types of books and movies don’t usually focus on the “comfort” aspect in the same way, and don’t make use of tension and release.

I think every good hurt/comfort fic makes use of tension and release just as horror does,

whether the writer is consciously aware of it or not. Though of course the tension and release in h/c comes from different sources than in horror. Instead of anticipating something frightening, you anticipate the intimacy and/or validation that comes from the “comfort” part you know is eventually coming. That’s what provides release of the tension built up during the “hurt” scenes.

I could write a goddamned essay about this it’s so fascinating. 

This is a great definition/analysis of it! I’ve been interested in this too. It’s always been my favorite fanfiction genre. It’s to the point where reading just angst is not enough, there is something left unfulfilled if the character does not have the ‘tension and release’ and just remains under whatever stressor at the end. I think part of the reason I like it so much, is often in mainstream media characters DO NOT have that ‘healing moment’, shall we say. Too often, there may be a sad/traumatic/stressful event and the character is shown to just pick themselves up from it and move on like nothing happened. Which is not realistic as we all know, so I think the hurt/comfort genre in fanfiction is a kind of a response to that. The “filling in the blanks” of when a character needs a moment of healing or validation to continue onward, because that in a sense is more relatable then the “super hero” character who can move through it like nothing damaged them.