With the current state of the anime industry I’ve noticed that a lot of similar generic harems are coming out that aren’t very good, giving the genre an unfairly bad reputation. Whilst I do agree that the harem anime releasing recently have been horrible, I do believe it’s unrepresentative of the genre as a whole. This is because I notice that some of my favorite harems do things that many of the new shows don’t even touch upon creating a less enjoyable experience. One of these faults is due to the male protagonist who often ruins the show so I feel it’s important to recognize the differences between each kind of main character and the subtle changes needed to turn a bad character into a great one.
Before getting into specifics it’s important to say that characters who sound good in concept don’t always translate into interesting characters. For me to enjoy a show interesting characters are needed with little exceptions so a characters that you can summarize in a sentence generally isn’t going to cut it for keeping my interest. Tropes aren’t always bad as you know what your coming for however once you’ve seen the same trope twice the interesting part of the “interesting character” starts to vanish and starts to be replaced by a predictable drawing with fake personality.
Not to say that tropes are always bad, good examples of subverting tropes and expectations is during “The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya” where everyone appears to just be an anime trope yet they’re able to make the show interesting by adding depth and details to the characters to make the fact that they’re all anime tropes funny. The show “The Fruit of Grasaia” uses similar tropes in an interesting way. The character of Matsushima starts off as a tsundere but the character development and time that they give to the interactions make that trope interesting. The only thing that I feel lets “The Fruit of Grasaia” down in the regard of tropes is the way the main character acts.
When a main character has a decent backstory like in “Fruits Of Grasaia” it can make a boring character interesting however their is an important word in that sentence named “decent”. Backstories aren’t always interesting so it becomes apparent when a show tries to hide the characters lack of personality with a backstory: “blank was the seventh Prince of the blank Empire. He often played with his childhood friend blank. A year later, about six years before the story, he became the youngest in the Empire to obtain a Drag-Knight license at the age of 12.”. And as you can tell this doesn’t always work, this backstory is from the worst harem show I’ve had the misfortune of watching (I’ve seen the asterisk war) and it just sounds boring. Yes being a prince might be cool but becoming an overpowered protagonist is just boring especially when the premise doesn’t execute on the idea at all.
I suppose interesting backstories are only as interesting as the characters. If you don’t care about a character you won’t find their backstory interesting yet if you like the backstory it’s still all about how the anime and character use the concept to deliver am entertaining story. So what can make a harem character interesting? The stereotype of the “nice guy” is made interesting by his backstory and having a good reason for being the way he his. After all, a character raging about friendship is only believable if the protagonist has a decent enough reason to be nice. An example of this is the friendship speeches of fairy tail as the characters have had enough time to get on well with each other whilst an example of this done wrong is in “Is It Wrong To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon” when Bell decides to try and fight a monster way above his level risking his life because… because… He’s just that kind of guy. Boring.
Another kind of protagonist is the pervey main character. The most effective ways that these are used is in comedy like in “Seitokai no Ichizon” where it’s made fun of or like the start of “high school dxd” where Issei’s lack of a relationship is used for comedy. This may sound like one of the better tropes but it can be done horribly like in “School Days” where the pervey side of Makoto completely ruins the show due to the way he acts around the rest of the characters
Then theirs also my favorite kind of anime harem protagonist with a wacky fun character, commonly referred too as “the guy with the thing”, it can be used very well to create a funny scenario like in “Sakomoto” or “Handa kun” however these don’t often get to become anything but comedy which is what I think anime harems should be. So they don’t work in every scenario but can still come together to make something good.
Overall an anime doesn’t need a good main character to be good however it helps to add interest and either believebility or comedy depending on the type of harem. And the best character may just be a character that doesn’t fit into any of these as originality and difference can create intrigue and entertainment.