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Harem manga — the genre in which a helpless young man is surrounded by hot, hot girls who keep getting naked and climbing in bed with him, despite his strong wishes that they not do so — is totally passé, according to manga-ka Ken Akamatsu, who created two of the most popular examples, Love Hina and Negima. Over at Robot 6, Brigid Alverson examines this Akamatsu blog post translation which gives the reasons for the declines of harem manga and moe:

Certainly, the moe boom is finished, and from last year on I think we’re seeing the following phenomena:

1. Male protagonists are absent
Many anime are now nothing but girls, and the role of the “male character being excited by female characters for viewers to empathise with” has disappeared.

2. Male buying power has reduced
Now women buyers of both anime and manga are predominant. Oricon comic rankings show most of the top titles are women-oriented.

3. Male viewers can now empathise with female characters
The number of male fans who simply don’t view female characters as objects of sexual desire at all is increasing, even in titles like “K-ON!”. No more are they just thinking “I want to be part of that circle,” now they are getting into the characters themselves.

In the comments at Alverson’s post, WebComic Overlook’s El Santo comments:

As a fan of this stuff since Tenchi Muyo and especially as a big fan Love Hina, I’d say that Ken Akamatsu is right. It may not be for the reasons he’s listing, though. I’d say that part of it has been the steady degeneration of the male lead from a normal everyday guy with a heart of gold into a creepy little weirdo with few redeemable attributes beyond, “Hey, he’s an ugly nerd like us!”

Like Brigid, we can’t imagine the concept of a male viewer surrogate surrounded by wiling and able women suddenly going away completely. But it is a reminder, that when female shopping patterns begin to dominate any industry, for some people, it’s just no fun any more.

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  1. “the genre in which a helpless young man is surrounded by hot, hot girls who keep getting naked and climbing in bed with him, despite his strong wishes that they not do so.” – WHO knew? (Man, there is a genre for EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. LOL)

  2. I noticed this last year.

    However, I wouldn’t say moe is dead in Japan, merely redefined. Japan has dozens of dedicated TV networks (much like our cable system) where niche needs and time slots are filled appropriately (also don’t forget their genres are far and wide).

    But yes, it may not drive the larger public’s interest this year. However, recently I have seen the harem platform tweaked for a dynamic story giving more balance to both genders — which makes a somewhat hybrid. Basically, they are trying to have their cake and eat it too (High School Of the Dead, Amagami SS, Asobi ni ikuyo, Ookkami-san, et.). It’s still a harem however the story elements deal more with the women’s side of the story. I think this is a shift to build a 4-quadrant audience and not toss one buying group for another.

    Attention grabbing headlines are nice, but in reality there’s still a LOT of life left in this particular genre

    Side Note: I recall that Amagami SS wasn’t based on manga, but rather another genre that was also announced “dead” several years ago… the video game Dating Sim.

  3. I’m actually surprised by Number 3. Maybe it’s because I’ve enjoyed many different mediums with strong female characters in the past. I guess I didn’t know that this was such a big factor for this genre.

  4. Jon, I’m with you… however, when thinking about Japan’s market-driving forces the idea of idolizing characters as they have is nothing to sneeze at. Folks like you and I are the exceptions when it comes to mass-market affairs. It is a big factor, indeed. In fact, I think it’s too big to fail. It may go out of style, but it won’t be gone off the charts. Money will still be made using the harem concept, but publishers and anime studios might be looking elsewhere for flagship titles and projects.

  5. I’ve read all of Love Hina and Akamatsu’s previous manga A.I. Love You. Both of which were utterly delightful. But with Negima (think Harry Potter meets Love Hina, as pictured in the article) it just dragged on too long and the cast got too damn big. So, I dropped it.

  6. “To bad they don’t have a gay version of this genre! No wait, that would never actually happen…”

    I thought “helpless young man is surrounded by hot, hot girls who keep getting naked and climbing in bed with him, despite his strong wishes that they not do so” was a gay genre. I had nightmares like that as a pubescent fag.

  7. Jimmie – For whatever reason I didn’t even think of the differences in culture between Japan and other countries. I certainly agree that it won’t disappear, it’s difficult for any genre to fully disappear since there will always be people who love it.

  8. I never got the harem genre. It just seemed too pandering. Love Hina just left me scratching my head. I can take some shonen romance, but that was just too over the top. Well, I guess I did enjoy Tenchi Muyo to a point.

    Meanwhile Akamatsu’s comments 1 & 2 confuse me. Wouldn’t women want male characters? I thought series like bishonen series Black Butler or Hetalia were all the rage? Okay, America may be a little bit behind Japan, but I’m certain female readers like series full of male characters. Sure some female characters are nice and series like Haruhi do get female followers. You even get stuff like Fruits Basker which gets called reverse harem. (Though I never thought that pandered like the shonen harem craze.) I just don’t see all female series being more popular among female fans.

    Then again this is a guy who’s been writing shonen harem manga. So his views of female readers are undoubtedly skewed. This is only from the male point of view and doesn’t really look into what the large female readership in Japan wants.

    Also, this may say something very strange about Japanese male manga and anime fans. They’ve gone from associating themselves as totally nerdy guys surrounded by girls to actual female characters. Take from that whatever gender identity issues you will.

  9. To answer your question, female readers, very much like male readers, tend to identify more often with leading characters that are of the same gender as themselves.

    That being said; I doubt that’s the reason for the steady shift towards increased female consumption. Women dominate the entertainment market in the USA. They buy more movie tickets, books, magazines, watch more TV, and the list goes on.. so I’m not surprised the same thing has happened in Japan.

    It might come as a shock, but female readers don’t mind classically male fantasy scenarios like harem, and yuri (lesbian) themes in manga/anime. To them, it’s all about relationships and character development. Although, I will say that shoujo, and shonen-ai (boy on boy) themed titles generate the most female centric audience. I agree that the larger numbers of female otaku is the reason for the shift in marketing. But I must disagree in the assumption that the genera will go the way of the Dodo. Tenchi Muyo and Love Hina, have probably more female fans then male now. If a manga artist is smart, they’ll focus most of their story on the relationships between characters, and have the gratuitous amounts of fan-service be just a bonus instead of the raison d’etre of the title. With those ideas in mind, there shouldn’t be a reason for a decrease in harem manga or anime.

    Anyway I thought I’d add a genuine female opinion to the topic discussion.

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