Part of the reason why I stopped watching harems was that I found that they took what the viewer already knew for granted. It trusted that the watcher was genre savvy enough to realize that the harem happened “because harem” and not question it because they knew what type of show you’re watching. To me, this is simply not good enough.
It’s not that an anime needs to be believable or relatable for me to believe that the harem happened naturally. It’s just that once an anime tries to create a high tension or meaningful scenario having the characters meet “because harem” often ruins the moment or makes it less good than it would have been if the characters had a good reason to be in a harem.
It’s not just the moments that suck though, the quality of the characters also falls. I always think less of a characters personality if they just fall in love straight away. It makes them seem less like a character that an artist has created for the purpose of expressing a good narrative and more of a simple drawing which nobody, not even the artist cares about. Yes, an artist may want a “love on first sight character” or for a harem to start so that he/she can get to the main point quicker but that just proves my point. It demonstrates that the writer just wants to create a meaningful story yet not meaningful characters. Narratives like this can work however my opinion is that it can’t hurt to flesh out the characters a little bit more.
One of the most satisfying things that I see happening in harem is when the main character has to really work to create it. It feels satisfying when a harem feels earned instead of put their to start with. An example that shows what I mean is the show Infinite Stratos where the characters fall in love with him for completely stupid reasons: “He’s my child hood friend”, “he beat me in a fight”, “He’s the strongest”.
It’s hard to remember a positive example as part of the reason why I felt the harem was earned was because of the fact that I didn’t know about the genre so I’ll use a specific example where I talk about one character where the harem was earned. Chitoge in “Nisekoi”, didn’t appear to be a tsundere to me, I found it easy to believe that a boy and a girl forced to go out with each other wouldn’t create love instantly, therefore when it turned out that she did love Raku it was satisfying as she had good reason to like him. They’d been going out for a very long time and they eventually started liking each other because of this. If I watched it again I would probably notice this and find Chitoge a worse character however at the time it felt earned.
And that’s all a harem really needs to do: “feel earned”. On paper a character may love another for no apparent reason yet if it feels earned to you, then that’s good enough to make it seem good and make the characters seem good. If you don’t care about how the characters meet and just want to see girls flirt and fight then that’s fine, I’ll just be over here keeping well away from you.