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Harem (ハーレムもの hāremumono, "harem works") is a subgenre of Japanese light novels, manga, anime, and video games focused on polygynous/polyandrous relationships, where a protagonist is surrounded by three or more love interests or sexual partners. A male-heterosexual or yuri harem series is informally referred to as a female harem or seraglios, while a female-heterosexual or yaoi harem series is informally referred to as a male harem, reverse harem, or gyaku hāremu (逆ハーレム).
The word derives from Harem, which was a term used to refer to the most private rooms of a household in Middle Eastern culture, especially among the upper class where only women and close relatives were permitted inside.
Because romance is rarely the main focus of an entire series,[a] a harem structure is ambiguous. The most distinguishable trait is the group of polyamorous females or males who accompany the protagonist and, in some instances, cohabitate with the protagonist. While intimacy is just about customary, it is never necessary. When it is present, it is always a minimum of three supporting characters who express sexual orientation or the romantic orientation interest in the protagonist.
Sociosexuality amongst each individual participants range from restricted to unrestricted. Some characters are portrayed as asexual, prudish or otherwise less willing to engage in casual sex. Some characters prefer greater love, commitment and emotional closeness before having sex with romantic partner(s). Some characters are inherently monogamous cuckolds/cuckqueans, and either accepts or encourages their partner's infidelity in having other intimates as well. Some characters are portrayed as pansexuals being comfortable engaging in sex as a recreational activity.
Although traditionally the harem is considered to be one of the most heterosexual genres of anime and manga, this condition is not mandatory, and work in the genre can contain characters of very different LGBT gender identities and sexuality, or even concentrate fully on characters of the one gender. Thus, harem work in the genres of boys love or girls love is not something impossible, although they are much less common than the classic heterosexual examples. In addition, recently there has also been a tendency to add futanari, bisexual or androgynous-looking crossdresser characters to the genre, allowing the use of queer content, while technically remaining within the boundaries of heterosexual romance.
The protagonist can be diverse. Because of different situations and plot devices in the story the protagonist normally end up discovering hidden aspects which make females and males within the "harem" more attractive while highlighting interesting aspects of their personalities, usually because of said protagonist's kindness, courage and the will to protect or support their friends or the world.
These protagonists usually end up with a harem accidentally, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time due to some unforeseeable circumstance or random chance. Most protagonists don't even want the harems they start, as they mostly only have one main love interest and all other members of their harem simply fall in love with him or her because they deeply admire some part of their personality, and the protagonist can't bring themselves to tell them to leave.
Harem endings typically follow two different routes; American erotica does not follow this pattern.
Other series have a route where the story concludes with a multi-marriage ending.