What is a Harem Anime? [Definition; Meaning]

Harem is a subgenre of light novels, manga, and anime involving polygynous/polyandrous relationships. A polygynous/polyandrous relationship is a relationship in which you have one person at the core of the relationship and two or more members, often of the opposite sex, devoted, often romantically, to the one person at the center. The actual definition of a harem refers to a place; the separate part of a household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants.

Where is it legal? First: NOT JAPAN. Polygynous marriage is still practiced in many of the equatorial countries on the African continent. You will also see it practiced in majority-Muslim countries in the middle east and some parts of Asia. The practice is illegal in China and has been since 1949, further proving the communists don’t want you to have any fun. You will also find polyandrous marriages are illegal everywhere except Antarctica, where polygamy is also not illegal. Those naughty little penguins know how to live.

The Structure of a Harem Anime

To Love-Ru

  • Episodes: 26
  • Aired: April 2008- September 2008

A harem anime most often is distinguished by a group of males or females who orbit the protagonist. The setting is also often school-centered and frequently slice-of-life. A great example of this is the anime and manga To Love-Ru. The story of Rito Yuki, an average high school boy that can’t even confess to the girl he loves, Haruna. Rito’s life gets spun up in a whirlwind when he crosses paths with an alien princess who tells her father, the emperor of the galaxy, that Rito is the boy she will marry. It’s all in an effort to avoid an arranged marriage. The devil-tailed princess named Lala moves in with Rito and his sister and slowly more and more girls enter his orbit as they find their own feelings for the average earthling.

You won’t get a lot of boom-chick-a-wow-wow in most mainstream harem but you will get a lot of fan service, e.g. panty shots, near nakedness, and embarrassing situations. You also won’t get a lot of romance in most of them either since the members of the harem are often trying to seduce a clueless protagonist.

To Love-Ru PV

Protagonists Equal Plot


  • Episodes: 24
  • Aired: July 2005- January 2006

We would divide the genre into three different categories based on the protagonists: battle anime/harem, slice-of-life anime/harem, and ecchi anime/harem. The complaints you often hear about harem protagonists are usually referring to the “everyman” lead in the slice-of-life anime.

The complaints are often that the lead is flat, boring, not well developed, and questions wondering why so many individuals would be drawn to them. We get that, but often the male character in the slice-of-life is intentionally flat to let the reader or viewer easily put themselves in their shoes and have a harem vicariously. A great example of this is the lead character in Shuffle! Rin Tsuchimi is a normal 17-year-old high school student who, despite being unremarkable, not only has a childhood friend with a crush on him but the daughters of the king of the gods and the king of the demon world are also infatuated. We really don’t understand why he’s worthy but that’s the story.

Shuffle! PV

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry [Chivalry of a Failed Knight]

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: October 2015- December 2015

The second kind is the hero character we often see in the battle anime, one who shows his prowess episode after episode. The character is often an underdog or has to meet some challenge and the members of the harem (mainly women) are drawn to him. The hero uses their amazing combat ability or magical ability to overcome all obstacles. The battle anime/harem Chivalry of a Failed Knight is a perfect example of this subgenre. The hero, Ikki Kurogane, wants to be a magical knight called a blazer despite having almost no magical power. He trains his body and mind to become formidable weapons. Ikki has to fight battle after battle to prove himself in a world where the deck is stacked against him. The hero ingratiates himself with girl after girl as they enter his orbit, including a princess who is a considerably strong blazer as well. The protagonist in cases like this is the guy we want to be. He is the unbeatable hero we aspire to be, he is the rock star the all the girls want to be with.

Chivalry of a Failed Knight PV

Trinity Seven

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: October 2014- December 2014

One of the main character traits of the protagonist in battle anime and slice-of-life anime is they don’t really want or seek out a harem. The women just gravitate to them even though in most cases they are in love with one girl.

The third type of protagonist is the harem king. We are talking about the character that wants to be surrounded by girls. A harem king anime is most often a fantasy setting involving angels or demons and magic. We have two anime that immediately come to mind as examples of the harem king genre: Trinity Seven and Highschool DxD. Trinity Seven is about a high school boy named Arata Kasuga who is drafted into a magical high school in a ruined world. He is quickly found to have immense power and is surrounded by seven very powerful mages known as the Trinity Seven. Did we mention that all the mages are teenage girls? Arata is simply a horny high school boy that possesses amazing magic and a responsibility to save the world. He often finds himself in risqué situations with the members of his harem and enjoys every moment.

Highschool DxD

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: January 2012- March 2012

Highschool DxD follows the protagonist Issei Hyodo, an admittedly perverted average high school boy who is killed and then reincarnated as a devil in service of a devil princess. He becomes part of her family of devils and ends up fighting time after time on her behalf. Issei isn’t always battling though, he has plenty of time to gain the allegiance of more and more girls and even his benefactor the buxom Rias Gremory. He states openly he wants to be the harem king. Ecchi harem often dials up the fan service to eleven, the kind of episodes that often get heavy censorship with god rays and floating stickers.

Highschool DxD PV

The Harem Draw Back

Punishment. As you watch harem anime, you will quickly realize that the protagonist is often beaten and abused by many of the women that claim to love him. You will also find that your life as a harem king is subject to a lot of flirting and not a lot of action. The girls are teases and almost never cross the line into more intimate realms. You also tend to have a lot of responsibility in a harem like saving the world or something not as remotely as easy keeping multiple women happy at the same time.

Saekano: a deconstruction of the harem genre

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata [Saekano: How to raise a Boring Girlfriend]

  • Episodes: 12
  • Aired: January 2015- March 2015

A perfect deconstruction of the harem genre is the anime Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. The story is centered on an average high school boy and otaku named Tomoya Aki who dreams of creating the ultimate dating sim. He brings into his creation circle a childhood friend and prodigy artist Eriri, his senpai and best-selling novelist Utaha, and Megumi an average girl from his class who he sees as the model for the game’s heroine. The entire anime is filled with inside jokes about the industry and anime. Tomoya and his harem often observe that their own lives mirror many of the tropes of the anime world. You even have each of the stereotype heroines of anime: tsundere, harsh senpai, regular girl, little sister type character, and carefree musician type. The story confronts the genre time after time, including the sometimes-flat protagonist. We know if you go into watching the show understanding what the writers are trying to do you will love the show for the love it shows for the harem genre.

Saekano: How to raise a Boring Girlfriend PV

The harem genre isn’t just a male character surrounded by a bunch of female characters. Reverse harem follows many of the same rules. Fruit Baskets is one of the most popular reverse harems where homeless high schooler Torou Honda is taken in by a supernatural family. Each of the members is a part of the Chinese zodiac, and when embraced by the opposite sex they revert to their animal form.

Final thoughts

A harem story is supposed to be fun. The story often, but not always, is a light-hearted fantasy. We watch harems because they break the opposite sex down into easily recognizable stereotypes. We have found that in many ways we see these traits in the people around us and that makes it all the more fun. The center of an anime harem does often have some drawbacks, like physical punishment, but we all want to be liked and harem is the ultimate wish fulfillment.

Saenai-Heroine-no-Sodatekata-Wallpaper What is a Harem Anime? [Definition; Meaning]


Author: Zeke Changuris

I’m a journalist, writer, photographer, video producer, social media manager and above all a storyteller. I’m located on the east coast of the United States but travel the world with the love of my life. I’ve been a nerd since birth with a love of history and science. I fell in love with anime, watching ROBOTECH and Venus Wars in the 80s when our only source was secondhand VHS dubs. A crazy new thing called the internet changed that, giving me access to new and amazing anime every day. I love to write for work and pleasure. I’m living the dream of every kid, getting paid to watch anime and loving every subtitled line.

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