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Harem (ハーレムもの, hāremumono, "harem works") is a genre of light novels, manga, anime, and video games focusing on a main character surrounded by multiple potential romantic or sexual partners. Originating in Japan in the 1970s, its popularity increased during the late 1980s and 1990s with the advent of dating simulator games. The genre often features a protagonist who's surrounded by three or more suitors, love interests and/or sexual partners. Harem works are frequently comedies that rely on self-insert protagonists of whom allow projection for the viewer, often accompanied with an ensemble cast of supporting characters. A story featuring a heterosexual male paired with an all female harem series is informally referred to as a female harem or seraglios, while a heterosexual female paired with an all-male harem series is informally referred to as a male harem, reverse harem, or gyaku hāremu (ハーレム). Although originating in Japan, the genre later inspired variants in Western media.[1]


The most distinguishable trait of harem works is the presence of a single protagonist surrounded by multiple different characters who are treated as options for a sexual or romantic relationship. In some instances, the plot may follow an additional arc for the protagonist and these characters to embark on together; however, many harem works, especially dating sims, focus on the relationships themselves (and the tension and competition between different potential partners) as the key driver of the plot.


While harem works are a loose genre and vary greatly, certain tropes that lend themselves to reader self-insertion are common.

The protagonist, commonly an everyman-archetype, often has very little characterization other than general amicability and reacting passively to their surroundings. This is done specifically to let the readers insert themselves in the character's stead or develop sympathy for the character.

Many harem love interests are easily enamored with the self-insert; falling for the main character because of simple kindness or coincidence, often described as due to their low self-esteem.[2]


Harem works frequently put off commitment to any specific love interest for as long as possible, sometimes indefinitely; commonly executed by oblivious or easily-flustered protagonists. By leaving the protagonist's desires and choices unclear, viewers with different preferences are able to continue their self-insertion without coming into conflict with source material canon.[3] Most Harem works end with the main character pairing up with one or more of their suitors, with some games and visual novels featuring branched endings dependent on player choice. A "harem ending" occurs in works where the protagonist ends together in a polyamorous relationship with all of the suitors.[4]


While most harem works focus on a male protagonist with women or gay male suitors, "reverse" harem works focus on female protagonists courted by men or queer women.[5]

Same-sex relationships

Although most harem works tend to be binary and heteronormative, works in the genre can contain characters of various gender identities and sexualities, including many yaoi and yuri harem works.[6] An example of a same-sex harem anime would be Kyou Kara Maoh, which features a male protagonist with male characters comprising his harem. Especially in dating sim visual novels, it has become increasingly common for harems to feature characters of multiple genders, with the player choosing whether to pursue an opposite- or same-sex relationship.


Many harem works have fallen under criticism for unrealistic and often misogynistic portrayals of women and relationships. Female harem members frequently lack agency and personalities of their own, other than desire for the self-insert protagonist and one-dimensional visual and personality traits to differentiate them from other love interests. Critics have also argued that harem genre tropes around a passive protagonist effortlessly picking and choosing from multiple eager suitors furthers the mythos of men being entitled to female affection, and can lead impressionable male readers to react negatively to being rejected by women in real life. [2][7]

See also


  1. ^ Mel Gough interview: Reverse harem an old fantasy turned on its head, Romantic Novelists Association
  2. ^ a b "Harem Anime and Manga – Expectations vs. Reality". 21 May 2016. Retrieved 2021-11-11.
  3. ^ "Anime's Long History of Spineless Lead-Characters".
  4. ^ The Visual Novel Database (March 11, 2021). "Harem Ending". VNDB. Archived from the original on January 11, 2022. Retrieved January 11, 2022.
  5. ^ "15 Reverse Harem Anime You've Probably Never Heard of". 15 March 2020.
  6. ^ Oppliger, John (April 17, 2009). "Ask John: What Distinguishes Harem Anime?". Anime Nation. Archived from the original on November 16, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-16.
  7. ^ Kincaid, Chris (2020-02-09). "Why are Harem Anime Popular?". Japan Powered. Retrieved 2023-02-16.

Further reading