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What is Harem?

Harem or harem works is a type of Japanese fiction genre. It depicts the main protagonists surrounded by potential lovers. A typical harem series consists of one male protagonist and multiple female characters. The number of lovers can be 2 or more. The male protagonist can either have a passive or active demeanor. He doesn’t need to have a relationship with any of the leading ladies. On the other hand, a “reverse harem” is where one female protagonist is being courted by multiple male characters. Harem is available in manga, light novels, anime, hentai and video games. A harem work can end with the protagonist having none, one or all lovers.

Some examples of popular series are Bakemonogatari, Fushigi Yuugi, Haganai, Hana Yori Dango, Highschool DxD, Mahou Sensei Negima!, Nisekoi, Ouran HighSchool Host Club, The World God Only Knows and To Love-Ru.

 

Etymology

Harīm (حريم‎) or “harem” is originally an Arabic word. It means a delegated private house for the women of a rich Muslim household. The usual occupants include multiple wives, concubines, relatives, and even servants. Today, the word is associated with a group of women ogling on a single man.

The Japanese word for harem is haaremu-mono (ハーレムもの)  or “harem works”. This pertains to the media depicting the genre.

 

A Brief History

The origins of the harem genre surfaced in the late ‘80s. One of the first speculated harem anime was Urusei Yatsura, a manga series that was written between 1978 and 1987 by  Rumiko Takahashi. It also received an anime adaptation in 1981. The harem series is about the relationship between the lecherous high school student Ataru Moroboshi and the alien Lum Invader. Lum believes that Ataru is her fiancee after losing in a life-and-death game of tag. Ataru already has a girlfriend named Shinobu Miyake, but he is a hopeless skirt chaser. Lum eventually settles down at Ataru’s place and becomes a student at his high school. Many male students tried to court Lum but she rejected their advances. Lum would also comically electrocute Ataru every time he leers at other women. Urusei Yatsura delves into the comedic aspect of having 2 women competing for the same man. This series counts as a harem anime despite only having 2 leading ladies.

In the 90s, popular series such as Ah! My Goddess and Tenchi Muyo! further popularized the genre. The success of the genre eventually led to the production of several media through the decades.

 

Modern Usage

Harem still remains a popular fiction genre in Japan. It also occasionally crosses over to other genres, such as rom-com and isekai. Fans can also experience harem through dating sims. This allows lonely fans to fantasize about having a polyamorous relationship. The appeal of harem media lies in various aspects, from the comedic scenarios to the elating fanservice. However, whatever happens in harem media does not apply in real life. People have to be proactive in seeking relationships rather than waiting for one to arrive.

One of the recurring problems in harem works is the repeated clichés and tired tropes. Dozens of anime share the same elements. The plot, characters, and premise are too shallow. There are little to no developments in the story. Some modern media end up as wish-fulfilling power fantasies for fans. This alienates not only older anime fans but also potentially new fans. But for every poorly-written series comes better ones. It is a matter of finding the right series that fits with the fans’ tastes.

 

References:

Haaremumono, Pixiv Encyclopedia, https://dic.pixiv.net/a/ハーレムもの, Retrieved 27 March 2021

harem, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harem, Retrieved 27 March 2021

Introduction, Tomobiki-cho: The Urusei Yatsura Web Site, http://furinkan.com/uy/intro/index.html, Retrieved 27 March 2021

 

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