The Harem Dilemma
The Harem Dilemma is the label I use to address the ultimate dilemma with Harem anime: how should they end? The problem with Harem anime is that they can’t end with the protagonist “marrying” all the characters. A least not all at once. You see, most harems form without much effort from the protagonist. He/she doesn’t have any agency in the decision. And, by design, they can’t have too much agency while in a harem situation. As stated above, should the protagonist ever realistically act and try to have sex with any of the supporting characters, they they cross the line from goofball to sexual predator. For a harem story to work, the supporting cast have to be the active participates.
Where does that leave the protagonist? Well, not having the agency to form or act on the harem, the only other decision they have left is choosing which supporting character to actually be with. This was the ending for Love Hina, Ouran Host Club, Fruit Baskets, and Clannad. The other choice is usually a polygamous one. While harem shows explore relationships with 4-5 characters, most manage to narrow it down to two main love interests. The new girl and childhood friend are the usual suspects. One version of Tenchi Muyo ends like this. Of course, there are the shows that try to get away with the protagonist marrying everyone, like Tenchi Muyo GXP. The show Mabuharo actually had a pretty ingenious solution, where the protagonist is magically cloned, so each love interest technically ended up with him. I called this a dilemma because harem shows are about one person with multiple people, but it can’t end unless one person ends up with one person, thus the dilemma.