The concept of Harem has been around for ages, carrying many societal and cultural connotations on its back. Even though such a thing would feel like a rare occurrence, there’s no denying that every king in those ancient stories had his own horde of women. The practice died down eventually – though today’s open-mindedness is opening that door again. The effect? The concept trickled down in literature; the genre of harem or polygamy popped up every now and then for the readers to understand and quench their secret fantasies. Naturally, the genre got its own branches and one of those – Reverse Harem (RH) – caught the flames of popularity rather quickly.
What is Reverse Harem?
This genre, called Reverse Harem, shows the complete opposite of whatever harem depicts. In Reverse Harem, we see one female protagonist who is sought after by more than three male love interests. However, instead of the usual stories – where the protagonist heart-wrenchingly chooses one of them – we see her choosing, well, all of them at the same time! And a polyamory relationship is birthed.
Reverse Harem stories first were displayed in Japanese anime and East Asian drama, with the earliest known example being Fushigi Yuugi, i.e. The Mysterious Play. This manga, which was published in 1995, shows an ordinary middle school girl who gets sucked into a book featuring ancient China. She soon realizes that to return back home, she needs to gather the seven Celestial Warriors to summon the God Suzaku, who’ll fulfill her wish. She plays along and gathers the warriors – and the rest is history.
Reasons for its rise in popularity
The emergence of the concept as a genre can also be attributed to how people were tired (maybe still are) of the most-used love story pairings, i.e. a hero and a heroine. After all, how differently could you write a love story with the exact same couple dynamic? The stories lacked that spice, that interesting element that held the readers’ attention. When RH stories spread through the world, everyone might have deemed these stories rather outlandish at first. The country where it originated from, however, had a strong grasp on how fantasy is starkly different from reality. They just shrugged at this new thing – and continued coming up with even more RH stories.
Such an inclusion also ensured that the percentage of the content’s audience swelled considerably. The usual harem stories catered to the male gaze, letting the men involve themselves in the story filled with beautiful women. It would definitely not impress the women audience – and that’s where RH stories come into play. It ensured that the female gaze was taken into consideration too; the female audience, through the main protagonist, could imagine how it feels to be loved by a handsome, successful group of men with varied personalities.
Reverse Harem gave the people a new feel, a rare but tempting possibility – not in reading, but also in reality. It encouraged the masses, especially women, not to stay in their secluded boxes of love. instead, they were inspired to step out of it and experience love in a new, more intense way. This new development, in real life, influenced the fiction too – and the cycle continued and still continues, even to this day.
Tropes you find in a Reverse Harem story
The subgenre’s presence in western romance fiction was observed around the early 2010s when C.L. Stone wrote the Ghost Bird series. More books followed – that did borrow particular tropes (that may or may not irritate the readers after a point) from the anime stories. Some of these are –
1. Mary Sue Female Protagonist:
Any Reverse Harem story always displays a heroine who has a Mary Sue personality. This heroine always has all the ticks on the checklist – she’s beautiful but unaware, believes she doesn’t really deserve love and in her harem’s eyes, can never do wrong. Because she has visibly no flaws, readers can’t really relate to her. However, this design of the heroine is purposeful – it ensures that readers focus more on the sexy harem in front of them, rather than the heroine. And as a reader, I assure you that’s exactly what happens!
2. The villainess:
It’s not specifically an RH story trope – because it’s present in most romance stories – but you always see the villainess around. She’s mostly driven by the fact that the heroine is close to ‘the boys’ when she’s been trying for so long. So, the villainess usually brings much-needed conflict to the story. It’s usually in the form of bullying or scaring the heroine and, in extreme cases, even murder. The villainess is actually the easiest way to introduce and maintain conflict in RH stories!
3. Love interests are always popular:
The protagonist almost always – let me stress on always – stumbles on a group of boys who are popular, rich, and of course, good-looking. It’s not surprising to see the protagonist meeting them; how else will the story move forward, anyway? The unrealistic part is how they all are sexy, unbelievably famous in their little worlds, and have the same ideal type, i.e. the protagonist. I guess that’s how you can tell RH stories apart from reality.
Some amazing Reverse Harem stories
Understandably, not every reader would be comfortable with such an interesting and open-minded genre. And when these readers go for any random RH story – it’s just a disaster waiting to happen! To get those readers – as well as everyone else – out of that slump, here are a handful of recommendations that would appeal to you. Maybe even make you like the genre, just saying!
1. The Reverse Play – Julie Clarke:
Julia Clarke nailed the Reverse Harem story in The Reverse Play! The protagonist, Blake, is passionate about football – even played in the Olympics – and now dreams of coaching. She, fortunately, gets the opportunity to coach the Boston Rebels… but it brings three really really hot guys in front of her. She tries her best to keep everything professional – but Colton, Xavier, and Tristan are too perfect and amazing and hot to resist!
2. Her Fantasy Men – Shayla Black:
Even the book’s title Her Fantasy Men is enough to tell what exactly Shayla Black’s book is about. You meet Kelsey Rena, the protagonist who can’t be fitted into one mould. And her sex life? Even more mysterious. But it all makes sense when we’re introduced to the three men she is trying to choose in her life – Rhys, the hot fireman next door, Jeremy, her sexy, active-in-the-BDSM-community boss, and Tucker, the sweet childhood BFF. Kelsey finds it hard to choose one – so she just goes for all three. The result? Really hot menage scenes!
3. Lilac – BB Reid:
Readers love a slightly bitchy, badass, and determined protagonist – BB Reid’s Lilac delivers just that! Braxton Faun gets the big break of her life when she gets accepted as the new guitarist of a rock band. The members of the band – three boys, not-so-coincidentally – are taken by this fiery storm almost immediately. Braxton’s Harem found its sexy alpha in Houston, a sensitive playboy in Loren, and a quiet mystery in Jericho. This book would make you happy, have you scream in excitement or you’ll sob your eyes out – but don’t worry, because the amazing sex scenes (believe me, their chemistry is hot) would more than makeup for the rollercoaster of emotions.
Reverse Harem is definitely an interesting genre to explore, something that’ll make you broaden your vision and open your mind to the different possibilities love has to offer. You only have to give it a try, hmm?