I have not hidden how I feel about harem anime. The entire genre tends to be wish-fulfillment garbage at its best, and downright offensive at its worst. But nowadays, the modern harem genre has stepped it up, becoming bigger than who is the top waifu.
Harem is often a subplot in a lot of anime, Shojo and Shonen alike. It generally refers to the main protagonist having a gaggle of admirers to choose from. Normally that leads to either very convoluted love triangles or slapstick humor, not something that adds much to the plot beyond frustration. Most of the time, the harem serves no plot beyond being personal cheerleaders for a very weak protagonist.
But then, what makes for a good harem? I think the rare harem anime that work, only do so when the characters are more than just filler content. They are solidly written, with well-thought-out backstories and motivations instead of just shallow fanservice bait.
A common misconception amongst anime fans is that harem anime can only involve a male protagonist. While that’s a majority of the harem genre, there do exist some excellent role reversals. Reverse harems are harem stories that center around a female protagonist being pursued by multiple male suitors. A popular example of this is Ouran High School Host Club, a classic Shojou from the 2000s.
In any case, if you have been waiting to dip your toes into some harem anime but don’t want to risk wasting your time, look no further! Here are my picks for harem anime that don’t make you feel like you’re watching bad fanservice.
Starting strong, Rent-A-Girlfriend is considered a refreshing take on the typical harem romance by many fans.
Kazuya Kinoshita is your typical, mild-mannered college student but he still has some growing up to do. When he breaks up with his ex-girlfriend Mami Nanami, he’s heartbroken enough to hire a ‘fake’ girlfriend. But Chizuru Ichinose is not your typical waifu sweetheart and she is not afraid to express herself. Of course, Kazuya is offended by her harshness. Like, this isn’t what he signed up for, so to catch her ‘red-handed’ he hires her again, only to have things unravel pretty quickly. And so, Kazuya strikes up an unlikely bond with her and the rest of the girls in the service.
Remember how I talked about harem characters normally being flat with nothing concrete to offer? This is where Rent-A-Girlfriend shines, with a stellar roster of characters that are multi-faceted, leading to interesting interactions between them. It’s comfortable in its cliches, without depending on them fully, leading to an enjoyable light watch!
2. KonoSuba: God’s Blessing On This Wonderful World!
Even without the harem of cute dysfunctional waifus, KonoSuba stands out as a rare Isekai comedy that’s genuinely funny.
A hikikomori as a protagonist rarely works out well, but Kazuma Sato sells it. Couple him up with Aqua, a goddess that initially taunted him but gets stuck with him as repentance and hilarity ensues. They get transported into a new world where they must push back a demonic invasion. They form a guild that quickly starts collecting characters so, so strange, you have to wonder what the heck is going on. Like you have Darkness, a noble paladin with a highly concerning masochistic streak. And then there’s Megumin, a mage who gets way too into blasts and explosions to be comfortable.
What genuinely got me hooked into this one is that the harem aspect isn’t forced and Kazuma isn’t heralded as this amazing, super cool male lead everyone obsesses over. Highly recommend!
3. Ouran High School Host Club
Kiss kiss, how can we not fall in love with this beloved classic? This was one of the first instances of a reverse harem we got in anime, and it went on to revolutionize the entire genre!
Haruhi Fujioka is our adorable protagonist who got into Ouran Academy, a school for the rich and elite, on a scholarship. She stumbles unknowingly into the members of the titular Host Club, a collection of attractive boys who entertain and host the many ladies studying at Ouran. The group is led by one Tamaki Suoh, who startles Haruhi into breaking an expensive vase in the music room. And of course, Haruhi needs to pay them back for it. How? By joining the Host Club and working alongside these perfect gentlemen as a boy herself, of course!
Each member of the Host Club is a stereotype, but they all dote on Haruhi. Ouran is a delight, no matter how many times you watch.
4. Date A Live
Welcome to Date a Life: A show where our hero has to stop the destruction of the planet from the villains by dating them. Yeah, the power of love saves the world, literally.
Strange earthquakes have wrecked Earth, leading to millions of casualties. Shidou Itsuka, a high schooler, is one of the survivors along with his sister, Kaoru. However, when she is in danger by being at the epicenter of one of these earthquakes, he rushes to rescue her. Only to discover the very reason for these disasters called a “Spirit“, otherworldly creatures that trigger spatial quakes while looking like very cute girls. Between the Spirit and the Anti-Spirit Team, hell-bent on destroying these creatures, our protagonist is stuck. That is until he meets “Ratatoskr“, a party that believes they can save the spirits, commanded by none other than Kaoru! Kaoru reveals to him an alternative to killing them: make the spirits fall in love with him instead!
This show is clearly parodying mecha anime like Muv Luv and Neon Genesis Evangelion. But god damn it, it works!
Nisekoi is one of those comfort watches where the harem ends up being fun because they aren’t over the top. Also, what can I say, I’m a sucker for Yakuza tropes!
Meet Raku Ichijou, a first-year student at Bonyari High School and sole heir to a Yakuza family. As a kid, he made a promise to a friend but all that remains is a lock pendant, with the other friend having the key. Raku is forced to step up when his family’s turf gets invaded by the Bee-Hive Gang. And so, he pretends to be with Chitoge Kirisaki, the Beehive’s chief. Of course, Raku and Chitoge hate each other at first sight. After all, because of Chitoge, he can’t spend time with his childhood crush, Kosaki Onodera!
This show is a cozy watch for when you don’t want to be overwhelmed.
6. Fruit’s Basket
What can I say? Fruit’s Basket will always have my heart!
The story of how Tohru Honda helps heal an entire family afflicted with a curse, simply by being accepting and loving, transcends what a harem would normally have to offer. The story follows Tohru accidentally stumbling upon the Sohma family secret: the members transform into their corresponding Zodiac animal forms when they are weak, stressed, or when they are embraced by anyone of the opposite sex that is not possessed by a spirit of the zodiac.
This is a brilliant show about the journeys the characters take on discovering themselves. The harem is a surprising bonus!
7. The Quintessential Quintuplets
This is like watching How I Met Your Mother but in anime form. And oh, quintuplet sisters.
Futaro Uesugi is a high schooler down on his luck. He’s a good student but stuck with debt and loneliness. That is until the wealthy Nakano family arrives and hires Futaro to tutor their daughters. Of course, all five students have 0 interest in studying, with some being hostile to him because he’s a stranger. But Futaro perseveres, creating bonds with each of the wildly different girls and helping them get better grades. In a time skip scene, it is revealed he even married one of them, though we don’t learn who until the very end.
Each of the sisters gets time to shine here. And their varying personalities cement them as fully independent characters on their own journey, rather than being plot devices for Futaro’s. It’s weird how much I ended up enjoying this one!
8. Kiss Him, Not Me
Lord, does this anime hit slightly too close to home. And it’s embarrassing but worth it.
Kae Serinuma is a fujoshi, a female otaku obsessed with yaoi. So when one of her favorite anime characters is killed off, Kae falls into a depression spiral where she loses a ton of weight. Her new visuals catch the eyes of her classmates, Nozomu Nanashima, Asuma Mutsumi, Yūsuke Igarashi, and Hayato Shinomiya. And they are well aware of Kae’s Boy Love obsession but can’t help falling in love with her and competing for her affection. Of course, Kae could care less, because all she really wants is for them to fall in love with each other, fuelling her Fujo fire!
It got cute boys, great comedy, and surreal yaoi scenarios courtesy of Kae’s imagination. How can I not stan?!
9. Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend
Don’t be fooled by the title! The characters here are anything but boring.
Tomoya Aki is an otaku who dreams of making his own Visual Novel. So one day, he decides to call up his female friends together to help advise him on this passion project. This VN, however, is more of a dating simulator. So, to be as authentic as possible, they decide to write out each other character’s romantic routes as earnestly as they can. How? Well, dating IRL might work!
This ended up being so heart-warming. As a dating sim fan, this anime was a treat!
10. My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
Is that title a mouthful? Yes. But I promise the anime is worth it.
Catarina Claes is the villainess in a game called Fortune Lover, until one day she regains her memories of her past life as an otaku obsessed with the game. She remembers that every route taken leads to her doom, and she needs to do something, quick.
However, this deviation from canon starts affecting her relationships with the characters in the game, leading to a wild ride where the villainess gains a harem of her own!
I discovered Hamefura back in 2020, and it was just the comedy hit I needed to keep the depression at bay. It’s so corny, I love it!
So, what do you consider the best harem of our generation? Or is the fanservice not your cup of tea? Sound off below!