Why the Harem Genre?

Why the Harem Genre?

Why the Harem Genre

Kannagi

Considering my nutty schedule this month, which makes watching anime nearly impossible, I was trying to think of some anime or manga-related topic I could discuss.  As I looked at my tastes in anime and manga titles, I find that I have a strong preference for the so-called harem titles.  So I thought I would explore this a bit.

For those who might be new to anime and might not know, the harem genre in anime and manga series where there is a single male character, usually some really nice guy, who suddenly finds himself surrounded by a bunch of babes, most if not all of whom are enamored with him.  Some or all of the girls may even live with the lead male which adds an extra element to the aspect of a harem.  As such, I see the harem genre as more of a sub-genre of the romantic-comedy genre.

Why the Harem Genre

Hand Maid May

Harem titles have their roots in TAKAHASHI Rumiko-sensei’s Urusei Yatsura.  When that manga (and subsequent anime adaptation) started, lead male character Ataru is working on female character Shinobu as a girlfriend but is certainly interested in other girls as well.  When the alien Oni come to Earth, Ataru is drafted as Earth’s champion and he eventually defeats female Oni, Lum, and as a result is betrothed to her.  However, he is not interested in marrying Lum and wants to play the field, whether with Shinobu, some other girl in school, some other girl in town, or any of Lum’s humanoid, female, alien, friends.  Out of all of these girls, only Lum is in love with Ataru.

The harem concept took a more familiar form with Takahashi-sensei’s Ranma 1/2.  There, lead character Ranma has been betrothed to a dizzying number of girls thanks to his idiot father.  The difference between Ranma 1/2 and modern harem titles is that Ranma (and his father) live with the family of one of his fiancees.  The other girls only show up over the life of the story and then, only lead fiancee Akane is regularly shown.  Further to that, Akane has her own pursuers because of Takahashi-sensei’s love of complicated, overlapping romantic triangles.

Why the Harem Genre

Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-ohki

The father of the modern harem genre is widely considered to be the canon OVA series, Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-ohki. Indeed, before the term “harem” came into wide usage among fans, the term “Tenchi clone” was often used to describe a harem title.  There, lead character Tenchi suddenly finds himself living with a house full of alien babes, all of whom are in love with him.  As is common in a harem title, the lead male cannot make a choice and the audience makes their choices, based on their personal preferences (though in the case of TM!R, the story has a good reason for Tenchi to marry all the girls).

When I decided to check into anime in 2002, I had opted to go for a couple of small series that wouldn’t require much time invested on my part.  After all, if the series sucked, then I wouldn’t have lost much.  As such, the first two titles I rented were the 5-episode Oh My Goddess OVA series and the 11-episode Hand Maid May series.   For Oh My Goddess (aka Ah! My Goddess), we have a borderline harem title where the lead male Keiichi does live with three goddesses, but only one is in love with him.  For Hand Maid May, the lead male Kazuya finds himself living with a Cyberdoll maid, but then other Cyberdolls fall for him, some living with him, some living with the landlord’s daughter (who’s in love with him), and one living with his rival.

Why the Harem Genre

Love Hina (manga)

I liked both titles and started investigating watching more of these “Tenchi clone” anime titles.  Now, you’d think I would have gone to Tenchi first, right?  HA! I didn’t because at the time, there was conflicting information on which Tenchi title was first and how all of the Tenchi titles related to each other.  So, I decided to pass on that and go for Love Hina, to see if I would continue to like these harem anime titles.  To my surprise, I did like it, so much so that I took people’s advice and started buying the manga in order to get the “real” story.  At about the same time, I finally knew which Tenchi title was the first one and rented that.

So, what is it about the harem genre that I find so enjoyable?

I suppose on some level, I’m like most guys in that the idea of a whole flock of hot babes all wanting what you’ve got has a certain appeal (though in reality, that would drive me nuts).  It can be quite amusing seeing the cat fights that emerge as a result of conflicting personalities all going for the same guy.  At the same time, history is replete with men of power (and even of common folk) having multiple wives, though obviously not in the same exaggerated and humorous way that are common in anime and manga.  So there’s probably something genetic in the idea of a guy with a bunch of women.

Why the Harem Genre

Ai Yori Aoshi (manga)

Ultimately, it isn’t the harem concept itself, with its multiple female fetish types, that is the attraction.  For a title like Love Hina, it was Keitaro’s navigating through the minefield of women to get to whom he truly wanted.  For Ai Yori Aoshi, it was Kaoru’s and Aoi’s relationship as they had to hide it from all of the female housemates, thus allowing those girls to think they had a chance.  For Hand Maid May, it was the general sweetness of the story as a whole as well as the comedy.  For Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-ohki, the harem and romantic-comedy stuff was just frosting as the appeal was the core story of who Tenchi really is.  For the Negima! manga, the harem stuff is also pure frosting as the interest to me from volume 3 onward has been the story. So, as I look through the various harem titles I’ve liked over the years, each one has had a different appeal with the harem aspects only being a small part of the appeal.

Some of my favorite harem titles are (in no special order):

  • Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-ohki (all of the canon anime series)
  • Tenchi Universe
  • Tenchi Forever — A very good movie and my favorite non-canon Tenchi title.
  • Tenchi Muyo! GXP (the canon spinoff-sequel to TM!R)
  • Ai Yori Aoshi (both anime series and the manga)
  • Love Hina (all anime series and the manga)
  • Kanon (anime)
  • Clannad (anime)
  • Vandread (both anime series)
  • Fruits Basket (a reverse harem of sorts)
  • Negima! (the manga only)
  • Saber Marionette J
  • Hayate the Combat Butler (manga) — Some outrageously funny stuff at times from this manga.
  • Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari — The ultimate Kajishima-sensei harem series and canon spinoff of TM!R.
  • Kannagi (anime) — Very funny at times.
  • Toradora (anime)

Notable mentions are (in no special order):

  • Maburaho — Could have had a stronger story.
  • Boku no Marie (anime) — Could have been longer.  Also, had no chance to read the manga.
  • Dual! Parallel Trouble Adventure — No problems, just not a favorite of mine.
  • El Hazard (first anime only) — Pretty good title but the sequels weren’t as good.
  • Happy Lesson (all anime) — I really liked the franchise but not enough to watch it again. ^_^;
  • Hayate the Combat Butler (anime) — The first series had a lot of crap in it and while the 2nd series is good, the manga is better.
  • Mahoromatic (manga and anime) — Funny, fun, and a lot ecchi at times.
  • KageTora (manga) — Fun but not good enough to warrant “favorite” status.

Funny thing is, there many other harem titles I’ve watched which aren’t even mentioned here.  I suspect that I will always gravitate to harem titles as long as I’m a fan of anime and manga. ^_^

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22 Responses to “Why the Harem Genre?”

  1. I’d recommend To Heart 2 as a harem anime as well ^^ it has several types of girls as well (big-sister, tsundere, loli, childhood friend etc)

  2. evgenidb says:

    Try the anime “Mouse”. It’s 12 2-part episodes, each 12 minutes long. Meaning, you basically have only 6 episodes to watch. Too bad it wasn’t longer.

    There is also a manga (although I haven’t read it’).

    P.S. And watch “Level-E” it’s not a harem anime, but it has so many hilarious scenes and dialogs. And lots of unexpected plot twists (lots of them also hilarious).

  3. junior says:

    Aside from the obvious ‘wish-fulfillment’ angle, I suspect that one of the reasons that harem series work is because the plot is basically a romantic triangle taken to extremes. Instead of two focusing on one, you have many focusing on one. Indeed, the Takahashi series that you cite as some of the earliest harem series are really just a series of inter-locking triangles (with the vast majority of triangles focusing on one or the other member of the “official” couple). That, of course, is due to Takahashi’s insistance that by the end of the series it’s obvious who everyone is going to end up with – even if one of the individuals in question is currently having none of it.

    Other series don’t necessarily follow that same format (Kajishima, of course, is an apparent fan of polygamy, which completely ignores the expected outcome of a triangle), but they do follow a form of the triangle.

  4. Ransom says:

    Wow!

    So Tenshi Muyo came before Love Hina (Which I though was firts)… And is basically the predecesor of what we know as harem genre.

    This was an interesting and informative article. I liked Tenshi Muyo but Love Hina will be my favorite of all times.

    Another harem series I’d recommend is “Umi no Misaki” by the same author of “Ai yori Aoshi” it’s a slow pased but interesting story.

  5. arimareiji says:

    I’ve branched out into a lot of different genres since, but harem titles were my start as well… and I find that I’m much less quick to stop watching one than I would a comparable title. I’m not really sure why – but as strange as it sounds, my guess would be the interplay between the girls.

    One of my favorite aspects of animanga is the way characters will frequently sublimate their needs or desires for the sake of the people they care about, and it’s hard to find a purer example of that than in a harem title. IRL, a harem relationship would probably quickly dissolve in hurt feelings and recriminations, because there aren’t many subjects you can get more emotional about than love and fidelity. (See Kashimashi or Kimi Nozo for good treatments of this – Kashimashi is achingly bittersweet, while Kimi Nozo is like experiencing a trainwreck as one of the few survivors.) But in a harem they manage to make it work anyway, usually through some combination of selflessness and keeping their senses of humor.

    A bunch of random thoughts in no particular order, ’cause this is a post with a lot to think about…

    1) Would Mahoromatic have made it to “favorite” status if Mahoro had followed her instincts and nuked Shikijo-sensei from orbit on sight?

    2) Near the start of my animanga days, I gave up on Tenchi really quickly – maybe too quickly. This was back when I still watched dubs, and the American VAs drove me nuts. Which would you recommend starting with?

    3) Is it just my misperception, or do your favorites also lean heavily toward titles with themes of selflessness? (Whether minor, like Love Hina, or major, like Kanon)

    4) Hayate (anime): Could not agree more. I gave up for several months, and came very close to giving up entirely, because in the first season the writers were too busy “improving” it with their cleverness to pay attention to the story. I’m really glad I didn’t.

    5) Ah! My Goddess – there’s a tiny bit of “subtext” with Skuld and definitely some with Urd, but when there’s UST present it mainly seems to come from the Recurring Character of the Week (i.e. Peorth or Sayoko).

    6) Not sure whether Fruits Basket really qualifies as a reverse harem… everyone (regardless of gender or inclination) loves Tohru, sometimes possessively, but there’s very little romantic love. However, I do have to admit that like the traditional harem lead, a) she’s completely unaware of how much everyone loves her, and b) it’s hard to imagine someone less likely to act on base impulses – not even Keiichi. (^_~) (Usually it’s just one or the other.)

  6. burnpsy says:

    I rather like Negaserete Airntou, myself.

    And TWGOK as an affectionate parody.

    I’m a fan of the genre myself, really.

  7. evgenidb says:

    to arimareiji:
    Regardles your 2) – I started my Tenchi Muyo journey with the TV series, not the OVA. It’s true that the OVA series is the most superb, but it’s also the most sophisticated. You probably should watch them at least twice and even after your third or fourth time I’ll might still discover new details (especially if you read some background stuff as well).

    It’s one of the things that makes this TM! OVA so great.

    So, I’ll recomend you to start with the TV series – it’s a lot simpler story and then move to the OVA.

    Or you can also watch the whole franchise chronologically – I just don’t remember what was first and then what follows.

    Of course, you can start with the OVA as everyone else says, but you might get dissapointed a little bit with the spin-offs since they are not at the level of the OVA (“No existing anime is!”(tm)).

  8. K88 says:

    If you have the time you should check out The world god only knows.

    Its very funny and enjoyable. (I like the manga more, the anime is ok)

    Hmm going check out tenchi muyo.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I second the recommendation for Umi No Misaki, in which a superior harem is a complemented by perhaps the most appealing of all harem-story protagonists.

    Ichigo 100% deserves props not only for for the keeping the top two girls running evenly for most of the 167-chapter story. This was there rare story where either choice could have resulted in an equally satisfactory ending.

    The School Days TV series is noteworthy as a non-pornographic harem story in which the “hero” scores with all the girls.

  10. AstroNerdBoy says:

    OK, I almost screwed up. I’ve got to break down my replies into multiple posts. ^_^;;;

    I’d recommend To Heart 2 as a harem anime as well ^^

    I did watch the original To Heart and the sequel To Heart ~Remember My Memories~. I never did get around to To Heart 2, I think because I found the pacing of the first two series to be so slow AND I knew that To Heart 2 had a new cast. I should look into it more.

    Try the anime “Mouse”. It’s 12 2-part episodes, each 12 minutes long. Meaning, you basically have only 6 episodes to watch. Too bad it wasn’t longer.

    Wow. I haven’t even heard of that one. ^_^;;;

    P.S. And watch “Level-E” it’s not a harem anime, but it has so many hilarious scenes and dialogs. And lots of unexpected plot twists (lots of them also hilarious).

    *lol* I’ll look into it but no promises as the insane backlog of anime I already have to watch still needs to be plowed through. ^_^;;; (I need to win the lottery and just watch anime full time. ^_~ )

    Aside from the obvious ‘wish-fulfillment’ angle, I suspect that one of the reasons that harem series work is because the plot is basically a romantic triangle taken to extremes.

    I agree.

    Other series don’t necessarily follow that same format (Kajishima, of course, is an apparent fan of polygamy, which completely ignores the expected outcome of a triangle), but they do follow a form of the triangle.

    *lol* Yeah, I’d say Kajishima-sensei is a huge fan of polygamy since all of his anime titles have a harem ending of one kind or other.

  11. AstroNerdBoy says:

    So Tenshi Muyo came before Love Hina (Which I though was firts)… And is basically the predecesor of what we know as harem genre.

    Yeah. TM!R started in 1992 whereas the Love Hina manga started in 1998. There were proto-harem titles that preceded TM!R, including the Ah! My Goddess manga but TM!R is considered the father of the modern harem genre.

    Another harem series I’d recommend is “Umi no Misaki” by the same author of “Ai yori Aoshi” it’s a slow pased but interesting story.

    Is that still ongoing? As I say, no promises but I’ll look into it. ^_^

    I’ve branched out into a lot of different genres since, but harem titles were my start as well…

    I’m considering exploring other genres as well in the blog since I started with harem and branched out from there.

    Would Mahoromatic have made it to “favorite” status if Mahoro had followed her instincts and nuked Shikijo-sensei from orbit on sight?

    *lol* Well, maybe. ^_~ Actually, the fanservice levels of this one, both manga and anime, made it where I just didn’t want to go back. Negima! and TM!R ride the edge of my fanservice tolerance levels and they are boosted by their superior stories. Mahoromatic had an interesting story but it just wasn’t as impactful to me to give it a boost.

    Near the start of my animanga days, I gave up on Tenchi really quickly – maybe too quickly. This was back when I still watched dubs, and the American VAs drove me nuts. Which would you recommend starting with?

    I would start with the first (and canon) Tenchi OVA series. That way, you get the original story and then can watch the canon spinoffs like Tenchi Muyo! GXP and Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari. Then, the non-canon spinoffs like Tenchi Universe, Tenchi in Tokyo, and the like.

    TM!R is the only series I recommend be watched in Japanese with subtitles. It is also a title that I’ve lobbied FUNimation to retranslate the subtitles.

  12. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Is it just my misperception, or do your favorites also lean heavily toward titles with themes of selflessness? (Whether minor, like Love Hina, or major, like Kanon)

    I hadn’t considered this aspect but that may well be true. After all, while I deeply involved in White Album, I have zero desire to rewatch that and the lead male is rather selfish.

    Hayate (anime): Could not agree more. I gave up for several months, and came very close to giving up entirely, because in the first season the writers were too busy “improving” it with their cleverness to pay attention to the story. I’m really glad I didn’t.

    Yeah, when I blogged the first series, people were telling me that the anime was much better and I had decided to wait to read it until after I’d watched the first series because I was pretty sure that if the manga were as great as people said, then I would never be able to watch the anime again. Thankfully, Viz has done an outstanding job on the manga adaptation for the most part (a lack of translator notes and a couple of poor touch-up jobs to remove Japanese text from certain panels being the only negative things for me).

    Ah! My Goddess – there’s a tiny bit of “subtext” with Skuld and definitely some with Urd, but when there’s UST present it mainly seems to come from the Recurring Character of the Week (i.e. Peorth or Sayoko).

    I consider A!MG to be a proto-harem manga. In its beginnings, Belldandy was first and the Urd joined them. Urd wasn’t interested in stealing Keiichi IMO but was irritated at their lack of progress and decided to aggressively move things forward, even if she had to give Keiichi “experience” to do so. You had Sayoko who found some interest in Keiichi only after losing out to Belldandy and thus you have the starts of a harem-like situation. Skuld’s arrival helps that a bit since Keiichi is then living with three girls (goddesses).

    As you said, the “character of the week” (“arc” would have been a better choice than “week” but your meaning is understood) element is what keeps A!MG from being a true harem title. That’s also what kept Ranma 1/2 from being a true harem title.

    Not sure whether Fruits Basket really qualifies as a reverse harem… everyone (regardless of gender or inclination) loves Tohru, sometimes possessively, but there’s very little romantic love. However, I do have to admit that like the traditional harem lead, a) she’s completely unaware of how much everyone loves her, and b) it’s hard to imagine someone less likely to act on base impulses – not even Keiichi. (^_~) (Usually it’s just one or the other.)

    I think that Yuki, Kyo, and Momiji all had romantic feelings for Tohru at the same time but attempted to hide those in their own way. The others certainly loved Tohru and I think that Haru found her attractive at the very least, even if his heart belonged to Rin. So its close enough that I counted it as a reverse harem since harem elements are most certainly here.

  13. AstroNerdBoy says:

    I rather like Negaserete Airntou, myself.

    And TWGOK as an affectionate parody.

    I’m a fan of the genre myself, really.

    More things for me to investigate. Thanks. ^_^

    Or you can also watch the whole franchise chronologically – I just don’t remember what was first and then what follows.

    Ah, but then I have the most excellent Tenchi Muyo! FAQ website to answer that question. ^_~

    If you have the time you should check out The world god only knows.

    Its very funny and enjoyable. (I like the manga more, the anime is ok)

    Yeah, this has popped up more than once on the recommendation list. As I always say, no promises though considering my backlog and very busy schedule.

  14. AstroNerdBoy says:

    I second the recommendation for Umi No Misaki, in which a superior harem is a complemented by perhaps the most appealing of all harem-story protagonists.

    Understood. ^_^


    Ichigo 100% deserves props not only for for the keeping the top two girls running evenly for most of the 167-chapter story. This was there rare story where either choice could have resulted in an equally satisfactory ending.

    This one has popped up on my radar as well. Wish I had more time to check all of these things out.


    The School Days TV series is noteworthy as a non-pornographic harem story in which the “hero” scores with all the girls.

    I’m strictly going off the top of my head here, but wasn’t there some brutal murder done in this TV series? I’m thinking that’s what made me shy away from it when it was first recommended to me.

  15. Joe says:

    The harem genre has always been a big favorite of mine. I don’t know why, but I really love the mystery surrounding the whole romance aspect and eventually leading up to the ending. I mean, you have Shuffle-like endings, Ichigo 100%-like endings and tenchi-like ending, among others.

  16. PLAY GAMES says:

    WOW!!!!!!!!! NICE~~~

  17. arimareiji says:

    I’m strictly going off the top of my head here, but wasn’t there some brutal murder done in this TV series [School Days]? I’m thinking that’s what made me shy away from it when it was first recommended to me.

    Quite so. I skimmed through bits of the last episodes out of morbid curiosity… even aside from the infamous ending, it came off as a showcase of some incredibly nasty behavior. Possibly a deconstuction of some of the tropes that drive harem animes, but overdone to the point of being spiteful.

    Just a gut feeling, but I think you’d have found it at least as much of a turn-off as the “hero” of White Album.

  18. AstroNerdBoy says:

    I mean, you have Shuffle-like endings, Ichigo 100%-like endings and tenchi-like ending, among others.

    Which reminds me, I have Shuffle on DVD and haven’t watched it yet. ^_^;;;

    Just a gut feeling, but I think you’d have found it at least as much of a turn-off as the “hero” of White Album.

    Well, no wonder I passed on School Days. ^_^;

  19. Kirbstar says:

    May I recommend “Seitokai no Ichizon” (translated: Judgment of the Student Council) as another pseudo-harem title? I like this one due to the very memorable characters, and the “harem lead” being very intelligent. One 12-episode season has already ended, another is upcoming, and the light novel is about to conclude.

  20. AstroNerdBoy says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. ^_^

  21. Eric you says:

    a brand new harem anime concept features a normal 16 year old kid named Adam Manson his father Dr Joshua Manson a inventor and researcher made a artificial wormhole like gateway into another dimension he calls Britannia.

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