1. “All Harem Anime Are Sexist!”
It’s probably the most frequently levelled criticism against the genre and it’s easy to see why, a bevy of beautiful girls throwing themselves at a single guy! “What woman would act like that? That’s completely unrealistic! And insulting too! What self respecting woman would put themself in that kind of situation?!” But with the exception of some specific examples these girls are all willingly in this situation, they are individuals with the autonomy to choose their lifestyle and what they’ve chosen is to compete for the attention of a man they desire—regardless of whether others have too laid claim to said man. Are there harem anime that are sexist? Yes, for sure. But that’s the fault of specific creators who put sexist dialogue or situations in their series’. Harem Anime should be treated on a show-by-show basis as there’s multitude of show’s out there that run the gamut from offensively sexist to vaguely feminist. The genre as a whole however is not by default sexist.
2. “Harem Anime are unrealistic, superficial male fantasies!”
Well done for realizing that fictional anime and manga is meant to be escapist fantasy! The kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy is present in nearly every genre of anime so why are harem anime being singled out as especially offensive to certain sensibilities? I have a theory: Western pop culture idolizes heroes, superheroes specifically being deeply ingrained in our cultures as being the fictional ideal—modern day gods living amongst us. Polyamory however is not only frowned upon but downright illegal in many places in the West and so portrayals of these kind of relationships are are seen as a problematic kink at best or destabilizing to the natural order at worst. Do I think this should change? No, monogamy works for me as it does most people, but there’s no way we should treat Harem Anime any differently from any other fictional fantasy.
3. “Harem Anime give impressionable viewers unrealistic expectations about relationships and the opposite sex!”
Ah, I see your letting anime doing the parenting now? Certainly the media we consume does a great deal at informing our world view, especially if it’s all you watch. But I’d argue the way most harem protagonists treat the women in their lives reinforces ideas of being kind, being patient and listening to the concerns of your significant others. Once again the onus is on the individual creator as to whether their harem protagonist treats women with respect but in my experience most male harem protagonists only have the best interest of all the girls around them in mind. As for whether the actions and shenanigans reinforce imitable behaviour that can lead to women in real life being the victim of sexual assaults—well, let’s not bring up the tired “violent video games cause real life violence” debate again shall we? We’re all smarter than that, right?
4. “People who like Harem Anime are perverts!”
5. “Harems don’t make logical sense, someone’s going to end up hurt—it’s an unrealistic way to build relationships!”
Because nobody ever gets hurt in monogamous relationships, right? /sarcasm. In all but the cheapest and poorly written of harem anime, the concept of ‘who’s best’ and ‘who’s sidelined’ is a common source of drama and dilemma not just for the girls themselves but the protagonist too. Navigating the minefield of emotions of not just one but multiple women means a smart harem anime can mine a lot of worthwhile plot and character development. People learn who they are and what they really want when under these trying and unusual situations and that in of itself is very interesting to behold.
6. “Harem anime fetishises having multiple partners and encourages infidelity!”
You’re right… damn it, you’re absolutely right, I have three anime body pillows and it’s not enough, I just want more and more and Harem Anime is all to blame!
7. “You can’t be a feminist and like Harem Anime!”
I used to be a feminist, til I took a harem in the knee. Do I support equal rights for men and women–literally the definition of feminism? Yes I do–we’re all human beings deserving of the same treatment. Am I incensed by depictions of inequality in the sexes, mistreatment of women under patriarchal societal norms and negative gender bias? Also yes, there’s no need for reinforcing harmful behaviour in entertainment. But do I like watching scantily clad girls fawning over a guy, endless panty shots, boob gropes–accidental or otherwise–and all manner of other Harem related shenanigans? You bet I do! So where does this leave me? Am I still a feminist? Can I still have my cake and grope it too? Sadly, this is one question I don’t have an answer for. People are complicated…
8. “I don’t like Harem Anime!”
And that’s okay, because there’s plenty of things I don’t like either. Having a genre bias is fine, it’s perfectly normal in-fact, not everything in this world can be viewed objectively. But what’s not fine is…
9. “All Harem Anime is the same, it’s all trash!”
You must have been busy then, ‘hate-watching’ every episode of every Harem Anime that’s ever been produced! The amount of times I’ve watched what I thought was going to be a standard Harem Anime only for it to find someway to subvert expectations is surprisingly high. Whether it be in the form of nuanced characterisation and devastating personal backstories (The Grisaia series), or the protagonist having a surprisingly delicate and personal way of letting down each of the characters in the harem to finally settle on one (A Bridge To The Starry Skies), or even an unexpected choice of final partner (The Hill Dyed Rose Madder). Be it strained and varied interpersonal relationships between the girls in the harem (Haganai series), complex plotting and narrative (Monogatari series) or a harem with an emphasis on taking care of everyone’s varied physical and emotional needs (Monster Musume). There are harems that explore the idea and viability of the concept itself while assessing what it means to even be in a harem (To Love-Ru Darkness series), harems about saving the world with the power of friendship (Konosuba, Yusibu!) or even saving the world with the power of orgasms (The Testament of Sister New Devil, Hybrid x Heart)! I can’t even claim to be an expert on Harem Anime, I’ve only seen a small percentage of what’s out there but what I have seen has been varied, complicated, exciting, enriching and most of all… unique.
10. “It doesn’t matter how “unique”, or “interesting”, or “good” you say it is, I’m not going to change my opinion on Harem Anime. I just don’t see the appeal!”
You don’t have to see the appeal in something to appreciate the fact that its existence brings joy to others. If it’s legal and it doesn’t hurt anyone, then what’s the harm in me having my little “unrealistic, superficial male fantasies”? Just remember, if you’re someone who finds themselves so angered by something merely ~existing~ that you have to tarnish an entire genre to make yourself feel better, maybe you’d be better off talking about something you do love and fill the world with positivity instead, that’s at least what I’ve tried to do here.
If you liked my post and want to support my content, please consider supporting my Patreon page, or donating by buying me a coffee on Ko-fi!