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January 15th, 2020
Anime Relations: Nisekoi
The harem genre is definitely my guilty pleasure. Every time I read one I think about everything else that I could be reading, but I always end up finishing and enjoying at least a large majority of them. I can't get over how poorly a lot of them are written but that has never stopped me. So with that being said, it should be no surprise that I have quite a few series under my belt, so I wanted to see how they stacked up against one another. These rankings are more based on how much I actually enjoyed the story rather than how good I thought they were, though there is a pretty strong correlation for those two. Anyway, let's see how these series match up with each other. We'll start of at the bottom and break the list up into relative tiers for how good I think they are.


The bottom tier is made of two series that I actively dislike for one reason or another.
31. Rental Girlfriend
Now, for most harem series, I usually just feel like I wasted time reading them, but with this one I actually felt upset for reading it. What initially drew me in was the interesting art style, and even though the premise sounded a little unappealing I wanted to see if this series had anything to bring to the table. What I inevitably ended up with though was probably the most infuriating MC I have ever read. I honestly can't fully explain how much the MC drags down the story with his stupidity and cowardice. Now, while I do realize that it is a harem series, which means I shouldn't expect too much from the MC, there is only so much I can handle. It really reminds me of Bojack Horseman, but in all of the worst ways. The worst part is, the main girl is decently well written and interesting, but that doesn't even matter because she's always stuck with a terrible MC. This is probably the only manga that I actively dislike, though the next entry does come close.

30. My Love Tiger
This one is actually a Korean story, which comes with a bunch of personal factors that make it hard to read from the outset. I'm not gonna lie, it's really hard for me to remember Korean names, so I only half knew what was going on the entire time (not like the story really made me want to read it anyways). That's not the main reason why I don't like this manga though: no, the problem lies so much more with the characters and the plot. Besides the MC you have the loli thousand year old tiger girl, the busty, tsudere childhood friend and the tiger girl's deadpan servant. Out of all of these, the servant is the best by far so obviously she gets to have the least screentime. The other two are just so devoid of personality other than their stereotypes that I just can't see them as real characters. The plot is also paced super poorly, with random things happening just because and with plot points rarely tying together. I felt like I wasted my time reading this more so than any other series on this list, which is what makes it land in this spot.


The next tier is made up of series I felt just wasted my time for no real gain.
29. To Love Ru
I'm pretty sure a decent amount of people actually like this series for some reason, but I found 0 appeal in it. None of the characters were really that interesting, there was no real plot, and the ending was terrible. The entire story was just full of half baked characters that fall into general stereotypes with no other personality. Also a lot of nipples. It looks like they tried to censor it in the beginning for a bit and then just stopped trying altogether. I'm not going to say that I'm not a fan of some ecchi in these manga, as you will see from some of the top placements, but when your story is there just to show some topless girls and a spineless guy accidentally groping them, I become hesitant to even call that a story to begin with. None of the girls even had chemistry with the MC and the main girl was pretty annoying. Overall not a good look.

28. Ghost Inn of Yuuna-san
Everything I just said about To Love Ru applies here too. Same story, different characters and setting, but same effect. The one thing that this manga does better though, is that it at least attempts to have a plot. It's not a very good plot, but at least they tried. I also kinda liked the ninja girl in this one so she made it slightly tolerable.

27. Kunoichi no Ichi
Nothing happens here. Like, honestly nothing happens. I didn't find any of the humor funny, none of the characters are that likable, the plot is barely there, etc. I don't know what else to say about it.

26. How My Room Turned Into a Dungeon Test Area
The only isekai I put on this list because it sums up my feelings on most of the isekai harems. It's just not good. The girls aren't interesting, there is no plot, even the fan service isn't great... I'm just glad that it was pretty short.

25. Asmodeus Will Not Give Up
This is pretty similar to the previous one, only with more girls. Instead of a monster of the week like in shounen, this series decided to do a girl or two of the week and pinned it with a lackluster MC and plot. I hope you're starting to see a trend go down here.

24. OreImo
The last one in this tier is the most recent one I read, and I can't say that it was a good choice. The plot was super rushed, most of the characters didn't get time to ever become real characters, and the ones that changed were so abrupt they made 0 sense. The art was also kinda funky. If all the series before were bad because they were missing major portions of a decent story, this one is bad because it did every piece of the story poorly. At least it tried.


The next tier is of things that were neither bad nor good. They were just.. there.
23. The Young Lady's Servant
This gave me lots of vibes of My Love Tiger, but at least they tried to make sense. Once again, the servant is the best character and once again she gets the least screentime. That being said, none of the characters here are that offensive, but they're not that great either.

22. Maga Tsuki
I honestly can't remember anything that happened in this manga, but I'm not about to go read it again. The only thing I do know is that some of it is really dumb, but nothing was horrible. You do get a true harem ending though, which is pretty rare to see

21. Trinity Seven
This one is guilty of just way too much ecchi for the tone the story is trying to set. It actually has a pretty decent plot for the most part, but the tonal issues of a serious plot and tons of ecchi just don't mix super well here. The girls don't get too much time to develop either since there are so many of them, but they all get at least a little something here and there.

20. Domestic Girlfriend
I couldn't resist reading about such a spicy plotline, but was it worth it? Eh, not really. This one actually has a story and characters, which is a first for this list, but there was just so much unneeded drama that it killed the story for me. Dramas have never been my favorite genre, so a convoluted and honestly not great one was just a no go for me.

19. There's a Demon Lord on the Floor
Just think of what Devil is a Part-timer would look like it there were more monster girls. I have to admit, I kinda had fun with this one even though I feel like I shouldn't. The main girls is pretty decent, and her mushroom friend is kinda cute. The MC isn't trash either, so all around a decent experience.

18. Renai Boukun
This one is another one I don't remember too much of, but I think the girls were pretty fun. The plot was also at least kind of interesting, albeit pretty dumb, so I had fun for the most part. There's a few chapters left untranslated so I don't know if I'll ever finish it, which is kind of a bummer.

17. To Love Ru Darkness
This is so much better than the original because it actually has a plot. However, the same problems with the original are still here, but I enjoy the characters a lot more in this sequel. I particularly liked Darkness and Nemesis in this one, but it kinda gets negated because we're stuck with one of the thirstiest and most annoying girls in the whole series for a majority of the time too.

16. Midnight Harem
I literally don't remember this but I do remember enjoying it. Some of the humor lands decently, the girls are decent, MC is decent, overall decent I would say.

15. Devilchi
Maybe I should have reread a lot of these series before making this list, but once again I don't remember much. The main girl was pretty decent though, and all the side characters were nice in their own way, so I can't say that its that bad.

14. Today's Cerberus
Don't remember much about this, but the 3 girls in 1 hook it has was pretty interesting to say the least. None of the girls were that bad, the plot was okay although you could see the ending coming from a mile away, and overall it was just a fun little story. I enjoyed reading it.

13. Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches
It doesn't feel fair to put this series here since it isn't really a harem in the truest sense, but it fills the requirements for having 3 or more girls in love with the MC and has a focus on romance too. This would easily be a lot higher if it ended after the first arc. Or the second. But having at least 3 arcs while using the same names for each of the special characters is too much. It got too confusing by the end which really brings it down. Overall though, the characters are all pretty decent for the most part, and the plot is compelling enough to have made me want to finish it so props for that.

12. Monster Musume
Remember how I said that I didn't dislike ecchi? Well that's only if the story knows how to use it right. Monster Musume is a great example of a story that doesn't take itself too seriously, which is why its use of ecchi is fine. A lot of the jokes I found pretty funny and a decent amount of the girls are likable too. The MC literally has no personality, but that's honestly fine for a story like this. It's just some nice, ecchi fun. Suu best girl by the way

11. Mayo Chiki!
I actually had a lot of fun reading this for the first time since the characters were all pretty fun and had decent interactions with each other. Upon revisiting it I didn't like it as much. The plot is just too randomly thrown together to be that good, even if the characters are good. Either way, it still does better than most of the other series on this list for its good characters and some sort of plot.


The next tier kicks off the top 10, and they are stories where I really enjoyed at least a part of them them, even though some parts are lack luster.
10. Senryuu Girl
At the beginning, this was probably one of my top 15 favorite manga, but as with all good things, it will never end. The longer the series goes on, the more it turns into a harem series even though everyone knows who the MC will end up with. I can't see the story ending anytime soon either, which is a tragedy. I really enjoy the comedy and the overall happy nature of the entire series which was what drew me in initially. The artwork is also really unique, which is a plus.

9. We Never Learn
Honestly, this series is just like a series that is further up on this list, only worse. With that being said though, it's a pretty typical slice of life romcom harem series. I actually like a majority of the girls in the series, and the ones I don't like as much aren't that bad either. The story does a good job at putting in more heartfelt scenes for character development, so none of the characters feel flat. They also have their own goals and aspirations they want to achieve, other than getting the guy, so they feel a lot more real. There is also a larger, overarching plot to the whole series that gives it direction, so you can see the end coming. Overall just a pretty well done harem series.

8. Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa
This story was what prompted me to want to write this post since I wanted to figure out how I felt about it. To start off, I don't really like the art style, but it wasn't too big of a drawback. Everyone just kinda looked the same. I also didn't really like the main girl, and a lot of the running gags fell flat after the first few times. Nothing big that happened in the story was ever actually permanent either, so I could never take anything seriously, which is a part of the greater tone problem that the series had. But with all that aside, the story was pretty funny overall. A few of the character interactions were really funny or heartwarming, some of the running gags were funny (really only just the teacher and principal one), I really enjoyed some of the characters (class president and teacher), and when the story wanted to be touching it was. The characters are really what make the story what it is, which is great because most harem series are majorly lacking in that department. So even though there were a lot of flaws in the story, I'm overall glad that I read it.

7. Toradora
Toradora is a little weird in that you knew who was going to win in the end, but it still classifies as a harem technically. Now, I thought I really liked Toradora because so many different moments stood out to me as being really well done, but then I decided to watch it again. Needless to say, Toradora, more than almost anything else I've read or watched, is a series marked with high highs and low lows. A lot of the drama that arose felt so petty and were really hard to watch a second time through, and a lot of my favorite moments still stood the test of time, even after consuming hundreds more series. I enjoy both main characters a lot, and their interactions are always fun, though I can't say that much about the rest of the characters. I'll always say that I really enjoy Toradora, though I probably won't be watching it again anytime soon


The last tier is made up of stories that I thoroughly enjoy. I probably have or will reread most, if not all of them again when given the chance.
6. Murenase! Seton Gakuen
Now, a story about anthropomorphized animals in a harem setting sounds like a recipe for disaster, but this is actually a really fun manga. I loved animals growing up, so seeing as though that is one of the major comedic points of this story made it really fun. A majority of the jokes landed for me, though I could do without a lot of the running gags. It also is pretty light on romance which allows for more tolerable interactions between all the characters. Most of the side and main characters are enjoyable, and the plot doesn't take itself too seriously. All around a great package of things to have in a story.

5. Boarding School Juliet
Another one of those stories where the main couple is set from the beginning, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't a chance for any of the other girls. The plot is pretty typical, but it was accomplished very well. The characters all had their own personalities and goals in mind, and mounting tensions across social lines made the story interesting. I thoroughly enjoyed a majority of the characters, both guy and girl in the story, and the very shounen pacing made it easy to read. A decent amount of comedy landed and the running gags weren't that bad either. I'm definitely looking forward to rereading this series in the future.

4. Nukenai Seiken-chan
I can't believe this series made it this far, but it's a total riot. It takes itself even less seriously than Monster Musume, but it gets even raunchier. I actually just find this series so fun to read since it's so outrageous. I honestly don't know what more to say about it. I do wish that some of the characters became more of a character, but honestly, it doesn't matter too much in the end.

3. Gather! Mystery Research Club
I honestly never realized this was a harem series until someone mentioned it to me. I just really like the lighthearted mood this series sets. It has light comedy and romance, and is probably the first series where I like all of the main 4 characters, including the MC. Seeing them get into different situations and finding their way out just makes me really happy, which is why it is so high on this list.

2. Quintessential Quintuplets
This story is probably the most fleshed out of any story on this list (though that isn't hard to do). Each character is positively their own character, with their own personalities, desires, goals and methods for achieving those goals. It's a harem series that is not as much concerned about who gets picked in the end, but rather chooses to focus on how each character has grown. As each character goes through school facing new challenges and fighting over the MC, they learn to be who they want to be, and learn to grow as a family. Having the main girls be quintuplets really adds more to the story thematically than it would for some weird kink: you get to see how these characters balance their own wants with the good of their sisters, which is a struggle I haven't seen up till this point be explored all that much. I really want to reread this whole series once the ending drops to see how all the pieces like up, since the plot was made in such a way that the audience is told a lot of stuff throughout the story, with none of it fully making sense until the ending is revealed. Overall a super well written story in its own right.

1. Nisekoi
Nisekoi has no right being this good, but I love it so much. It's not a perfect story by far, but there's just something about it that is so alluring. I like 80% of the characters a lot, the MC isn't the worst, the small plotlines for each of the characters were all heartwarming, all the characters were well fleshed out, there was an overarching story that tied the whole thing together... Basically everything good about every story that was mentioned before this Nisekoi has. I don't know what else to say other than it was really enjoyable, but it's probably the only story that makes me want to read it again whenever I look at the cover.


The harem genre is so bad, yet can be so good. I'm probably going to end up reading more and adding them to this list, but for now, here is the whole thing:
1. Nisekoi
2. The Quintessential Quintuplets
3. Gather! Mystery Research Club
4. Nukenai Seiken-chan
5. Boarding School Juliet
6. Murenase! Seton Gakuen

7. Toradora
8. Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa
9. We Never Learn
10. Senryuu Girl

11. Mayo Chiki!
12. Monster Musume
13. Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches
14. Today's Cerberus
15. Devilchi
16. Midnight Harem
17. To Love Ru Darkness
18. Renai Boukun
19. There's a Demon Lord on the Floor
20. Domestic Girlfriend
21. Trinity Seven
22. Maga-Tsuki
23. The Young Lady's Servant

24. OreImo
25. Asmodeus Will Not Give Up
26. How My Room Turned into a Dungeon Rest Area
27. Kunoichi no Ichi
28. Ghost Inn of Yuuna-san
29. To Love Ru
30. My Love Tiger
31. Rental Girlfriend
Posted by GGShang | Jan 15, 2020 12:08 PM | 0 comments
October 14th, 2019
Originality in the world of manga and anime is a difficult thing to come by. It's hard to find things that are truly new and fresh, and most importantly are good. Many manga end up having very similar plot themes and points to other ones, with each having various degrees of success. This is really prevalent in action shounen, isekai and harem manga, where each series just feels exactly like every other series in the genre. But just because a series isn't original doesn't mean that it can't be good. I want to take a look at three fairly well known series and talk about three other ones that are very similar, but in my eyes are better.

The first two manga I want to talk about are Assassination Classroom and GTO. Assassination Classroom is a pretty popular series that quite a decent amount of people have probably heard of, but GTO is probably a name only older manga/anime fans know. Assassination Classroom is an action filled, kind of slice of life like story about a class of reject kids tasked with the job of killing their homeroom teacher, who happens to be an alien that will destroy the world in a year. As the story goes on, the teacher teaches each one of them individually, bringing out their talents while showing them how to work together as a class, all for the end goal of finally killing him. It's a nice story where you see each individual student's struggle and how the teacher cares for them, despite their history. It explores its key themes well and has a great, emotional ending to it too, which is why a lot of people enjoy the series.
Similarly, GTO is a story about an ex-biker gang leader who wants to become a teacher to hook up with high school girls, but after being put in charge of the worst class possible, full of students that hate teachers and actively try to get them fired, he befriends each of them and teaches them how to walk through life. It's premise is strikingly similar to Assassination Classroom, though without the whole alien assassination part, and it explores very similar themes. That being said, I found GTO to be a much better series for a few reasons. The first is that it deals with heavier topics. The struggles the students face in Assassination Classroom are things like not being seen as good enough to be on the school baseball team, or that they can't control their anger when someone insults them, while GTO has students dealing with things like bullying to the point where they want to commit suicide or having their darkest secrets being exposed to the whole school. The stakes in GTO are much higher, and that makes it a bit more compelling. The main character also feels more real in the sense that he is not perfect. He's actually quite the opposite: he's rough and perverted, but he has a good heart. Because of that, I feel like I can relate much better to the teacher in GTO rather than Assassination Classroom. The last big thing is the length of story arcs. Assassination Classroom painstakingly takes time to go through every student, which means that there are like 30 different small stories comprising of around 1-3 chapters for each one. That slows the plot down a lot, especially if you don't really care for the stories of each specific student. There are also slightly longer arcs that show the class working together interspersed in between, leading to more fragmented pacing. GTO pretty much only explores 10 or so characters, with each one getting a decent story arc of a few chapters, with the last 2/3rds of the series comprised of three big story arcs. Because of the structure of the story, it keeps the reader sucked into the story much better than Assassination Classroom.
With all that being said, both are great reads targeted towards slightly different audiences, with Assassination Classroom being for younger ones and GTO for older ones.

The next two I want to talk about are The Pet Girl of Sakurasou (shortened to Sakurasou to save time) and Honey and Clover. I wanted the anime of Sakurasou, but the comparison still stands. The amount of similarities in the setup for both of these is even closer than that of the previous two. Both are set at an art school where the main characters live in a dingy apartment slightly off campus. Both have very average main characters when compared to the rest of the cast, with their mediocrity playing a major role in the story. Both have a really talented but aloof girl coming into the mix to kick off the story. Both have really talented side characters that overshadow the main character. Both deal with the themes of romance and talent. So then what separates the two series? Well Sakurasou plays more into the characters working together as a team and using their individual talents to make something great. So in that way, the core message is that you may not be as talented as someone else in a particular thing, but you are talented in other ways and can leverage your unique talents to make something great. It's overall more streamlined and simple in its plot, progression, themes and characters.
Honey and Clover on the other hand, is essentially a really big character drama that deals with a ton of themes at the same time. What do you do with unrequited love, what if you feel called to do something that you didn't expect, do the truly talented and hard workers live in the same world, etc. It is more fragmented, with the main cast branching off to develop their own individual themes to the point where they are never really together at all in the manga. It's a whole lot more character driven and drama filled than Sakurasou, but because of the increased complexity of the situations, more interesting themes and character interactions can be explored. To sum it all up, it feels like a more grown up version of Sakurasou.
With that all being said, I actually found Sakurasou to be really boring in the middle, though the ending was kinda nice I guess, and Honey and Clover is super drama filled and dedicates a lot of time to things that I didn't really care much for., but both are alright I guess. I definitely liked Honey and Clover a lot more since it gave me a lot more things to think about thank Sakurasou, so I'd recommend it more.

The last two I want to talk about are a bit further apart from a strictly story perspective, but the heart behind each are the same: Anohana and Orange. When you break down both of the stories you get a group a friends having to come together to deal with the death of a friend. Only, in Anohana the friend is already dead, but they come together to fulfill her last wish while in Orange the friend dies in the future and their future selves are trying to prevent his death. Because of the similarities, they both end up dealing with the themes of friendship and changes with the passage of time. There are some pretty key differences in the two though. Anohana is more about remembering and restoring friendships and dealing with grief while Orange is more about being cognizant of other people and learning to make your own future. Orange is also a bit more love story than Anohana.
I really enjoy both of these stories a lot, with both of them being pretty emotional all the way throughout. Anohana felt a bit slower in the beginning, but the ending payoff I felt was a little better than Orange, so I enjoyed it more.

So many stories follow the same type of structure in terms of either general or specific plot points as other series. However, what makes them stand apart is their specific 'catch' like the assassination theme in Assassination Classroom, the specific themes they choose to explore out of the ones available, or the standpoint that they take when showing the story. Every story has its merit, with some being more appealing than others, but if this post has any real message behind it, it's that even very similar stories in terms of plots and themes can be special in their own right.
Posted by GGShang | Oct 14, 2019 7:43 PM | 0 comments
October 9th, 2019
When you have a medium that has so many different titles and series as the anime/manga does that is both easily accessible and quickly consumed, it becomes a real dilemma trying to figure out what to read or watch. No one wants to waste their time reading a bad or even mediocre manga when there are so many amazing reads out there to find. This is why people love to watch reviews and recommendations for different series, so that they can know what to read or watch without having to deal with the hassle of finding things themselves. And it's become of this reason that we find ourselves with the problem of works being 'good' and works being 'enjoyable'. These are the two golden standards that are brought out whenever anyone talks about any piece of media, whether it be books, movies, art or music. We find these things out really quickly in any typical English class: we're always told books like To Kill a Mockingbird, Great Expectations or Of Mice and Men are 'good' books, but I doubt everyone thought of them as enjoyable as they read them. So what's the difference between good and enjoyable? Do they always have to be different? How should we be recommending manga and anime that we've seen to others?

Honestly, it's all up to personal taste at the end of the day. But that being said, we need to be able to see both sides of the story to get a good idea of the positives of each. I personally really enjoy learning and talking about the things that make a manga good. This probably comes from the fact that I've been really into movie reviews recently which look at movies through a critical lens. That means that I enjoy talking about plot devices, character growth and development, overall plot and themes and the like. For me, what drew me in to these types of analyses was trying to explain why I felt certain pieces of work just felt better in a sense than others. Why did something like Hunter x Hunter feel so much better than something like Shaman King. And there was no way to do this except through a more critical look at the story at large. Now that doesn't mean that I don't enjoy the things that I read or that I read just to analyze good stories, in fact, I find it super taxing to just read a good story that I don't like.

And now with that out of the way we can segue into the other camp, those that talk about series based on pure enjoyment value. This to me feels like a more base level of analysis just because it is so subjective. Many people will enjoy the things I don't and I'm gonna enjoy a lot of things other people don't. People have different tastes, so by that vein people are going to enjoy different things differently. That being said though, enjoyment is the biggest factor for why people continue to consume a certain media. I'm going to keep on listening to a band as long as I keep on enjoying their music. Rating things on enjoyment is actually not that bad of an idea either, so long as you are consistent in it. If you can develop your taste sufficiently, then people can tell whether or not they will like a series that you like based on your previous experiences with similar titles. It's a similar argument to what videogamedunkey said on his video on game reviews if you want to check that out.

When I started reading manga/watching anime I'd always heard of certain series talked about as being really well done or really interesting. Until recently though, I never really took time to take a look at older series since there was so much new stuff coming out that caught my eye. And when I finally came around to reading some of the classics, I found myself slightly disappointed at a decent amount of them, hence why I started the whole "are the classics worth watching" series. In a lot of them though, I can appreciate what made them good and why people like them. But that doesn't mean that I necessarily liked them. I had to force myself to read things like Vagabond or Spirit Circle, and shows like Gurren Lagann weren't too fun to watch either. I tend to really enjoy lighter things like slice of life romcoms, but because I wanted to learn more about the history of the medium and to be more well rounded I subjected myself to a lot of random stuff, which I kinda regret doing after the fact. It's draining and makes it difficult to start anything new after.

So then what should you do? Do you read only what you enjoy and have fun, but not learn about the medium as a whole or do you forsake enjoyment to just be more well rounded and competent? I think my balance is to read one or two 'good' manga for every few enjoyable ones I find. That way I find time to rest and relax between heavy reads. For other people it's going to be different, but in the end, you need to encompass both parts to have a full experience with anime and manga.
Posted by GGShang | Oct 9, 2019 8:16 PM | 1 comments
October 6th, 2019
The harem genre is generally seen as one of the lowest quality, bottom of the barrel appealing, trope filled genres around. It's uncertain if anyone actually enjoys these series for the 'plot' or hook they try to offer, but the answer is probably a resounding no. So what makes the harem genre so bad and is there any way to make it better? I recently took a deep dive into the genre in order to see if there was anything salvageable out of it and am now here to tell you all about the ins and outs of harem manga.

Well before we dive into the question, I think it's a good idea to define what the harem genre entails. Now a harem is essentially a group of girls all sharing the same love interest in one guy (or multiple guys liking one girl, called a reverse harem), but the definition goes a bit deeper than that. For now, we can go with the simple-ish definition that a harem manga is anything that has three or more potential love interests for the main character. This allows us to take a look at a broader range of things that are 'harem like', but that I don't necessarily consider harem.

So first let's talk about pure harem and the fatal flaw in it. I define pure harem as any story where the harem itself is the primary or one of the primary focuses of the entire series. This means that what goes on with the characters in the harem are the main focus: so major plot points are new people being added to the harem or infighting among the harem. This is where I think most people have a problem with the genre. This is where we get the stereotypes and tropes and cookie cutter characters. However, this is not necessarily the author's fault, but rather an inherent flaw in the design of harems: to keep a harem manga going, every girl must have a somewhat equal chance to be chosen in the end.
For a lot of people, including me, characterization and development are of upmost importance in any good story. If you have dull or uninteresting characters, then how can you expect to draw the audience in? If you can't differentiate yourself from the crowd, why should people read your work? Because harem manga need to keep audience retention, it has to spend a lot of time on each girl it decides to add, which means you don't get time to fully develop any one of them. Most good stories have either a tight cast of a few characters or a long run time with a larger cast because this allows the audience to get acquainted with every part of the character. When we spend time with them and see them struggle and grow, we feel empathy and become attached to both them and the story, which should be the goal of every manga that takes itself seriously. But when you take a character and you whittle them down to having the singular goal of winning the main character's heart in the end, and put that character along side 5 other ones that have the same idea, then can you really make the audience feel empathy for or relate to that character? The answer is no. The same goes for the main character. A lot of harem MC's tend to either be the most bland and generic 'self-insert' characters that the reader can put themselves in the place of, or they get no time for development themselves. All the focus is on the girls in the harem so the MC won't get a chance to change or grow either. So now that every character is underdeveloped, how can you draw any attention? The answer is that you use tropes.
Now, if you go up to anyone who has been around the manga world for a while, I'm sure they could tell you all the harem stereotypes: the tsunderes, the innocent girls, the younger sisters, the well endowed older sisters, the childhood friend, the lolis, the yanderes, the airheads, the super thirsty girls, the 'tries to be pure' girl, the really kinky girl, and the list goes on and on and on. Harem manga need to employ tropes so that people can instantly latch on and see their favorite trope with some small twist. It's pretty much clickbait if you want to think of it that way. Now using these tropes and cliches are not necessarily bad in their own right, and can be used to good effect as long as you build upon those templates, but the problem is that harem manga rarely do this. This is caused by the problem I talked about earlier where there are too many girls with too few end goals in mind to give ample development in most cases.
In the vast landscape of harem manga, one is often hard pressed to make something that stands out from everyone else, so a lot of authors tend to implement rather contrived plot points and schemes to make them stand out. These can include things like getting stranded on an island, having the MC turn into a baby, having a family member kidnapped so the characters have to act a certain way, etc. These seem like good ideas, but they all just fall flat most of the time and make the series look like it is trying too hard. These problems generally come out in the middle of the story when the novelty of whatever idea they were running with in the beginning finally begins to wear out.
Another problem that harem manga tend to come up against is pacing. To give each girl a time to shine, time needs to stand still for the characters in the manga, leading to a really stagnated feel. A lot of chapters go by without anything major happening because every girl needs to be given a chance. This is why manga like Nisekoi can go for up to 240 chapters when the plot could have been neatly finished in 50-100. If the chapter you're reading doesn't contain your favorite character, then it'll often feel like filler, which generally is what kills a lot of manga. So when you're looking at a cast of 4-7 girls, with all but one feeling like filler, you come up with a manga that feels like 60-70% filler. There's a reason why no one praises the last arc of Naruto or the last few arcs of Bleach. People don't like it when nothing happens, but when you try to appeal to a large audience by using so many characters,then that's the risk you have to run. Pacing difficulties also lead to characters who get introduced later to be largely irrelevant to the story. Many times they'll just feel like unneeded drama (which they probably are) and are generally not really even considered as a contestant in the harem contest.
And this directly leads to a problem even hardcore harem fans will run into: the problem of the first girl. This is actually something that I don't mind too often, just because in terms of the story, it makes the most sense. The problem is basically that the first major girl that is introduced ends up becoming the one the MC chooses in the end. A lot of people don't like this because first girls tend to feel more generic than ones introduced later, so a lot of people's favorite character doesn't end up winning in the end. I would argue that the first girl should definitely get more of a chance of being the winner in the end just because they are probably the first piece that gets the story rolling. This means they should be more important to the main character, which gives them more favorable odds. In the end though, this is more up to preference than anything else

Wow so that was a lot on the problems of harem manga, but is there any examples of good harem manga? Well, I honestly can't think of anything that I would say is critically that great, but there are a few that stand out, and all for different reasons.
The first way to make a good harem manga is to make the focus not on the harem. This sounds like cheating, which it technically is, but it works out. Take for example Akatsuki no Yona. It's an adventure story of a runaway princess traveling around her country with a group of powerful men helping out the poor and needy. All of the men she travels with are interested in her, so you could say that it is a reverse harem. However, the focus of it is not on that front, but on the unfolding story between her, the current king and the people of the land. In fact, the story is more of a romance between her and one of the members of her group rather than a harem, because she doesn't show any interest towards the majority of the guys there. In this way, Akatsuki no Yona succeeds at being a harem manga by just being a good manga that happens to have a harem in it.
Another way is to give the characters actual goals instead of just trying to get the guy in the end. Quintessential Quintuplets is probably one of the best, almost pure harem manga out there, and a great reason for its success is because of the uniqueness of the characters. The main harem consists of a set of quintuplets, which actually helps differentiate them more so than not. This is because since they share a common history, you only need to tell it once or twice to set them on the same stage. From there, each character moves forward, allowing them to develop into fuller characters in the process. This means that they can have goals like wanting to graduate to become a baker, idol, teacher, or anything else, and not just get the guy. The story develops in a way so that, even when a girl doesn't like the guy at first, the audience still learns about them beforehand and can start caring about them from the beginning. By setting more goals for the characters, they feel more developed, leading to a more captivating story.
An interesting way to make a harem manga work is to introduce the harem later on in the manga rather than at the start. Good examples of this are Senryuu Shoujo and Seitokai Yakuindomo. The first starts out as slice of life romcom while the other is a slice of life comedy, but both end up developing into more harem territory after the halfway mark. The series don't give off a harem feel despite having harems because the audience already sees it as a different genre. It's tricky, but it can work if you do it right. That being said though, a lot of times these types of manga can lose their audience if they stray too far from how they started, so it's risky.
The next way to make a good harem manga is to make the main couple relationship obvious from the start. Now, this may defeat the purpose of a harem manga, but I think it helps shake off the bad baggage that the term carries with it. A good example is Toradora. While there are technically three different love interests in the story, and the anime really tries to make you think that the other two girls might have a chance, there's just no way you don't see the main couple forming from the first few episodes. No other girl is given nearly as much screentime as the main girl, which makes the story feel like a normal romance when it can be technically seen as a harem. Boarding School Juliet is also a great example of this.
The last way big way to make a harem manga work is to fully embrace the fact that you are not going to be taken seriously. The worst type of story is a bad one that thinks that it's good. So when you know that you are in a genre for people of the lowest common denominator, you try your best to just hit that demographic and have fun with it. My favorite example of this is Monster Musume. It doesn't even try to make itself into any sort of cohesive story, but just plays with the different monsters you could potentially turn into a hot girl. It has fun with its concept and plot, and it gives off the feeling that it's just gonna do what it wants to, and it doesn't care if you read it or not. It's similar to the feel that Seitokai Yakuindomo or JoJo's Bizarre Adventure give off.

So that was a study on harem manga. Now what was the takeaway from all of that: to be a good harem manga, you have to be as far from a harem manga as possible, or give up on being good. The essential formula for harems just are too different from traditionally good story writing to the point where only a very few select harem manga can ever even come close to being considered as well written. But in the end, harem manga were never meant to be looked at critically, and should be enjoyed for what they are in the end. After all, you can't live off of fast food, but you can't deny the fact that it is tasty every once in a while.
Posted by GGShang | Oct 6, 2019 10:01 PM | 0 comments
Anime Relations: Grand Blue
There are so many new manga coming out every single week that it's impossible to keep track of it all. While this does mean that there is always going to be new things to read and enjoy, finding quality manga in a sea of mediocrity is a hard task to do. This along side the fact that there are so many completed or long running manga that have already been established as being 'good' makes hunting for newer manga a bit unpleasant. That being said though, if you never look, you'll never find, so I've taken it upon myself to dig up some nice, newer manga that have caught my eye. So far I really enjoy the premise of each of these and I'm excited to see more of what's in store.

The first one I want to talk about is Called Saihate no Paladin. Back when I started reading manga and started looking for new and updating ones, the whole isekai trend was booming. Every other new manga was some sort of isekai that all had about the same story, which, after about 5 or 6 series, made me wary of the genre in general. So when I found this highly rated isekai manga I was really wary at first and it took me a while to get around reading it, but now I'm really glad I got the chance to do so. Saihate no Paladin follows a much fuller story telling process than a lot of isekai manga out there: it doesn't info drop you everything about the world in the first few chapters, but rather spreads it out as it goes along, leaving a lot of questions unanswered until needed.
The story follows a boy who is raised by three monsters in the ruins of a ruined town where he learns to fight and fend for himself. I'll try not to talk about too much of the detail in the description, but the story doesn't really feel like an isekai while you are reading it. It feels almost pure fantasy, and it builds it's world and lore up well. In the first arc of the story, it shows that it's not afraid to show action and suspense veiled under mystery, but still slowing down to add a lot of emotional weight to characters and their actions. It honestly surprised me how much I cared about characters that I had only been with for a mere 15 chapters. That's a feat that not too many manga can say that they have succeeded in doing. With the pace that it has been going at, it wouldn't surprise me if Saihate no Paladin becomes a big splash on the community in the future. As of this post, there are 20 chapters of this manga.

The second manga is very different than Saihate no Paladin, and that is Oraka na Tenshi wa Akuma to Odoru. This one is a high school romcom featuring an angel/demon pair. Now, the premise might not sound very new or unique, and that's because it isn't. So then what is the catch, what makes it good? Well, first off, it does both the rom and the com very well. When it needs to be cute and fluffy it does so in a way that is fun and light hearted, but not to the point where it is really cringe. And for the comedy, it uses the same style that Grand Blue and Senryuu Shoujo does to great effect: overexaggerating facial features. It will flop from its regular style to overly exaggerated to underdrawn depending on the situation.
The other big thing that this manga has going for it is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. I think the author knows that it's just another romcom, so they don't ever try to make it seem like more than what it is. It honestly just seems like the author is having fun with the story, which in turn, allows the audience to have fun with it as well.
The only major gripe I have with it is that sometimes the translation is actually unreadable, to the point where I can't understand what is going on. I'm not sure if things are just lost in translation or what, but it can really take away from the viewing experience as a whole. As of this post, there are 24 chapters of this manga.

The last manga I want to talk about is a slice of life called Useless Ponko. It is again very different from the other two I've talked about so far, and is charming in its own unique way. It tells the story of an old man who gets a mechanical maid sent to his house to keep him company after the passing of his wife. We see the old man reject the robot constantly, claiming that he doesn't need help, and with good reason too, since the robot can't do anything well at all. That being said though, we see this clumsy robot slowly being to breathe new life into the old man and the town as each chapter goes by. It's a manga that can give a healthy dose of comedy and emotion, and it may just be a personal preference, but I always enjoy seeing stories where a jaded heart is made free again. Where this story stands out from others like it is that the main characters are both wholly likeable. The old man is irritable, but not to the point where it gets annoying, and the maid is clumsy, but not overly so. It's probably this balance of the characters that make it so enjoyable. As of this post, there are 15 chapters of this manga.

As a sort of honorable mention I want to talk about Yotsukoto. It's technically completed at 26 chapters, but only 15 have been translated so far. It's a slice of life about a young, airhead mage and a stone faced, jack-of-all-trades maid on their way to find their teacher. Along the way they meet various friends and strangers that help them learn more about their teacher and world. It's a cute journey with two great leads that play off of each other well. It's not an intense story by any means, but everything from the art style and character design to the way that magic works lends itself to a nice, warm story.

So there are four, newer ongoing manga for those that are looking for something new to read that isn't too mainstream. Whether it be action adventures, romcoms or slice of life, there is always new stuff coming out to explore, with just a few of them being gems. I hope you can check these out and enjoy them as well.
Posted by GGShang | Oct 6, 2019 4:52 PM | 0 comments
October 1st, 2019
A few weeks ago someone posted in a group that I was in that Eren from Attack on Titan was one of the best written characters in manga/anime this century. While the initial claim shocked me, what confused me even more was when someone else immediately said that Eren was definitely one of the top 3 best written characters this century. So then I started to question if I just read a different version of AoT than they did or if I just have no idea what I'm talking about, but after thinking it through I think that I'm on the right side of history for this one.
Now don't get me wrong, it's not like Eren was a badly written character, just not good enough to be called one of the best. He starts off very flat, with a single motivation to kill titans, gets like two pieces of development and disappears for half the story, then comes back with some contrived powers and is important again. Not too bad for shounen but that's all I can give it. So then this got me thinking: who is a good character and what makes them good? And I think I have come to a few early conclusions.

Two very well written characters I want to talk about are Rei Kiriyama from March Comes in Like a Lion and Rin Kokonoe from Kodomo no Jikan. Both of these characters come from dramas, which I think is pretty telling about what type of stories I tend to see good character writing in. I want to say that it's pretty hard to find good character writing in very plot driven stories as opposed to character driven ones, mostly due to the difference in focus. In actions and thrillers we don't need to see the characters growing all that much as long as the overall plot is moving forward. That's why most characters in shounen can be reduced to one goal, one tragic backstory and a combo of being either really nice, really strong, never giving up, fights for friends and is really dumb at first. Again, that being said, it doesn't mean that these series have bad characters. They all do their job fine and are likable, and would fit into their story better than some super fleshed out character. I just think you can't put them in the same tier as characters in stories that are focused solely on the growth of characters. I also tend to not find characters in romance manga to be all that interesting either, as they usually follow a similar set of growth patterns and backstory.

Now, onto Rei and Rin. The reason why I find these two characters to be particularly well written is because they are multifaceted, have different, evolving needs as the story progresses, act reasonably because of the history that they've had, and also learn and grow and the story goes on. In other words, they act like real people.

-------Spoilers for March Comes in Like a Lion and Kodomo no Jikan--------

Let's start off with Rei. For a basic background, he is a high school aged professional shogi player that went pro in middle school. His family was killed in a car accident when he was young, and he was subsequently taken in by a shogi player. There, he outclassed the family's children and caused a rift in the family causing him to move out and live on his own. While living on his own, he runs into the Kawamoto family and builds a strong relationship with the sisters of that household. That's a pretty general summary of Rei's past and present. So initially we see him coming off with a few problems due to his upbringing: the loneliness that comes from not having a real family, the need to live off of his earnings which is primarily done by doing well in shogi, and reconciling the problems that he has with the family that adopted him. And these are the first few problems that he does face in the story. But as he was facing all these problems, life obviously did not stop for him and piled new ones on as well: learning how he fits in with the Kawamoto sisters that takes care of him, trying to figure out if he actually enjoys playing shogi and trying to find friends in school. None of his problems are ever just outright solved, but he goes on a process, learning more and more each day and coming closer and closer to a solution, much like how people act in real life. Things aren't easily solved and time doesn't wait for anyone. We just have to march along and figure it out as we go. In that sense, Rei feels so real and fleshed out.
Another great thing that we get to see is how he interacts with groups of people. There are four primary groups that he is in contact with: pro shogi players, the Kawamoto sisters, his adopted family and those he sees at school. In each case, we can see that he shows a lot of similarities when he interacts with them: he's awkward and doesn't really know if he belongs. Yet despite that we see nuance in how he behaves. He is different when he's with shogi players than with school friends. With one group he puts on the air of a competitor, learning and fighting alongside them, but with others he puts on the air of an awkward, lonely boy, a cuckoo bird that doesn't belong, or a visitor to a loving family. In each he is the same, yet different, again much like people. We act differently in different circles, but we can say that all of it is 'us' at its core.
Going further, we see the goals that Rei has and how it evolves. If we just look at his shogi career for instance, he starts it by merely wanting to prove himself to his adoptive father, but then sees it as his way of taking care of himself, which becomes a sort of trap he can't escape, and eventually all the way to a means of provision for the one he loves. In his relationship with the Kawamoto sisters, he first sees them as a family that has helped him out to a place where he feels at home to a place that he wants to protect. His views, aspirations and goals evolve and change as the story moves on, and all of it in a logical way.

If we look at Rin, we see very similar things. For her backstory, her father left her mother before she was born because it would have ended up causing a lot of complications for her mother, so Rin ended up growing up in a fatherless household. Her mother ended up taking her cousin in, only to end up in an intimate and sexual relationship with him. Her mother was the only person to show her love, and after her death, Rin's cousin takes on that job. However, he does it in a more twisted way, essentially grooming Rin to become a copy of her mother that he can then love when she gets older. In school, she was at first closed off until a teacher came by and got her out of her shell with the help of a few new friends. Keeping in mind the fact that she starts off in 3rd grade, most of her actions in the story are very reasonable. She grows immediately attached to the new teacher because of her previous interactions with a teacher she felt could help her. She shows her affection in highly sexualized ways because that was the only form of love she knew after her mother died. She is rowdy and rambunctious because there was no one at home to teach her not to be. Even though she realizes her cousin isn't the best influence on her, she doesn't speak up because she knows he loves both her and her mother. There is a sharp contrast between the way she acts with her cousin, friends and teacher based on the levels of trust and understanding built between them that change throughout the story.
Another interesting that Rin has going for her is the fact that she is a growing child that is constantly learning, discovering new things and asking questions. These all add to the believably of the character. Most of what I said earlier about Rei apply to Rin so I won't go over any more specific details.

Now I think that there is an important issue to bring up here: just because a character is believable and feels real doesn't make them a good character, nor does a well written character have to be one that you enjoy. Rin and Rei are cases where they happen to feel real and I happen to enjoy their characters as well. The main character of Kanojo, Okarishimasu is very believable: he doesn't have the guts to admit he doesn't have a girlfriend, but has too much pride to let that stand, so he has to face the repercussions of an ever growing lie. It makes sense that he can't admit the fact that he doesn't have a girlfriend, and it makes sense that he would lie and never learn anything, but I absolutely despise the character. He isn't well written because he never learns, He is believable but is flat as a brick, and unlikable to boot. On the other hand, Bojack Horseman is a great example of very realistic characters that I do not enjoy. The majority of characters are fairly well written, with each more or less acting solely based on their own desires and messing up in the end. I'll give them credit for being realistic and well written, but I would not really want to watch it all again.

So then, at the end of the day, what makes a well written character? I think the main part of being well written is being believable and real: having goals and desires, a history and past, relationships they pursue and change, and evolving and growing with the story. Characters that are flat and static will never feel like a good character in the long run. But with that being said, a good character is one that fits the story, one that the audience enjoys and wants to see more of, one that builds and adds on to the world and other characters. They don't have to be the most well written, but when they are, it becomes truly something beautiful to behold
Posted by GGShang | Oct 1, 2019 10:23 PM | 0 comments