In my time I’ve watched a few CGDCT shows as well as their Cute Boy counterparts and I find the comparisons between the two amusing and occasionally eye opening. I’m not sure how many of you routinely watch both genres. I was curious to see if those that do noticed the same things as me.

First let me start with a HUGE DISCLAIMER. I have some more sensitive readers (especially when it comes to this subject for some reason) so I want to make this very clear. This is observation, not judgement. I don’t think one type is better than the other in any way. Both have brilliant and horrible examples of their respective genres. Moreover, I don’t think these observations tell us anything at all about the fans. The only conclusion we could possibly draw is that the studios that produce these shows think their audiences like certain tropes.

anime ready
ready!!??!! Here we go!

We can’t deny that in conception and marketing, both CGDCT and CBDCT shows are created to appeal to a particular demographic and in a particular way. There is an idea of non-explicit sexual appeal that’s always present. Again, I’m not saying that’s what you enjoy in them. And if it is, I don’t see anything wrong with that. I watch both genres and there’s a reason I chose these shows entirely on visuals and never even bother to read the synopsis. Finally, (this post is going to be ¾ disclaimer) these are general observations. Of course, exceptions exist. And my perception, like everyone else’s is subjective.

I almost feel obligated to write something deeply offensive now. After all that, the rather innocent and neutral post I have in mind seems like a bit of a letdown.

So here are the general commonalities I’ve noticed :

go on…carefully….

Reasonable expectations

Most cute girls shows I’ve watched center on characters that have fairly realistic goals and adventures. School girls with club activities that could conceivably exist IRL for the most part. Even when it’s more outlandish, it does at least seem potentially possible. Their goals are often in line with those expectations. Win a pageant or festival. Give a great performance. Have their club recognized as official. Get good grades and make friends. The mindset of the characters is generally realistic and the type of thing you could expect out of the “average”.

Even in something such as Gabriel Dropout which features angels and demons, the preoccupations are how to get your parents off your back and do decently at school while spending most of your time playing video games… relatable!

By contrasts, cute boys want to take over the world! They’re not just joining a school music club, they are international best-selling idols who are going to dominate the pop charts in every country. Their plans are intricate and complicated and completely out of reach for the common man.

And even if they are not peculiarly impressive (and they are, more on that later) their aims are still lofty. They can’t simply get good grades, they have to get the best grades, then leverage that to gain control of a multinational company, so they can use the almost unlimited resources to search for a cure for their long-lost sister. Some anime exec somewhere saw a soap opera and thought – girls like exaggerated, we’ll give them exaggerated!

track and field club: princes! – tennis club: princes…

Girl next door vs Prince charming

This understated vs completely overblown approach also seems to apply to character concepts. Cute girls generally opt for an idealized version of the everygirl trope. They’re beautiful (because all anime characters are generally beautiful) but within the context of the story they’re cute, and most of their friends are just as cute. They come from average backgrounds and have the types of life that seem common in Japan. They are special in how normal and down to earth they seem.

While the boys are…well…extra. They are super rich, artist, play boy geniuses. Or angelic innocents with a heart of the very purest gold. They routinely save orphans from burning buildings. They are extremely talented at everything. They also always have difficult family situations. Very very difficult ones.  Forget everyboy they aren’t any boy you’ve ever met. 

or don’t, it’s ok…


It’s no secret that cute girl shows routinely feature heaps of fanservice, implied or explicit Yuri and occasionally stray into eroge territory. By now, this is almost a specific feature of the genre. Even the most innocent offering will usually find a way to show underwear or bathing scenes.

Traditionally cute boy shows tended towards non-physical fanservice. By this I mean the characters act in ways that are in line with audience fantasies rather than getting caught in various states of undress because anime. This is in fact slowly changing. More recent shows follow the cute girl formula more closely and series find excuses to show us muscled young men shirtless or add in onsen scenes. There are still slight differences in presentation (most commonly agency usually remains firmly with the characters) but the trend is definitely towards equal opportunity objectifying.

However, in many ways the shows are also incredibly similar. True, shows aimed at women tend to be more traditionally comedic with jokes and punch lines meant to make the audience laugh while those aimed at men tend to be more cute, with images and situations meant to make you go awww. But a lot of tropes and base storylines are common.

Wether it’s true or not, these shows represent what production companies think we want in romanticized partners. They are supposed to represent an ideal. We can parse this and try to ferret out the sociological basis. However, what’s been trotting in my head lately is what this means when applied to the harem genre.

See the (reverse)harem genre covers a lot of the same ground and often we can see parallels in the characters. As such, I am really intrigued by how Harem MCs compare. In my experience, reverse harem main characters are actually pretty close the the cute girl prototype. A little shyer and less proactive but generally, they are good humoured, optimistic girls, incredibly devoted to their friends and quite single minded in their goals which tend to be reserved when compared to the boys around them. Even in visual design, they would often fit in a CGDCT show with very little alteration.

On the other hand, harem protagonists are nothing like cute boy characters. Even interestingly fleshed out ones like Hachiman or best boys like Ryuuji and Yūta, are archetypes we either don’t see at all or that are relegated to barely there supporting roles. And looks wise, they would simply not make the cut at all. After all, harem mcs are everymen and everymen are plain. (Is it just me or do they often “look like delinquents” for some reason…) Cute boys are the visual definition of elaborate. They tend to be so detailed and ornate in design that I occasionally get a little fatigued looking at them.

why does he have a dog collar over his tie?

So what does this mean. Well in my original conversation, I had dumbed down my take away as this (warning, this may be super insensitive, it’s what got me in trouble). Production studios seem to think that boys want-expect little to nothing of girls beyond agreeableness, while girls want-expect absolutely everything. Mind you this isn’t a morality call, I don’t think either is good or bad. I also don’t think either is particularly accurate. But it’s an intriguing assumption to base your stories on. Especially if entire genres get dictated by those base assumptions.

This becomes particularly interesting with the cross gender disconnect. Why would one archetype be considered perfectly fitting for an audience surrogate and not the other. Pretty much all reverse harem fans I know (all 2 of them) will agree the the protagonists are nonsensical unless they are parodies of the genre (shout out to Haru and bestest girl Chyio). But they also aren’t particularly bothered by these characters.

We could speculate all day about why these character choices are made and so consistently enforced and how they affect storytelling and fan reaction. maybe someone better suited could even theorize on how they affect our real life interaction and expectations. I warmly invite any of you with an interest in the subject or a love of researched and analytical posts to share your own thoughts. For now, I will leave it at this.

These are my personal observations from my very limited sample size. I’m not entirely sure what to make of them yet but I do believe that people who like one genre should give the other a try. They may be surprised!

Blend S
great cleavage


30 thoughts

  1. Now that I’ve spent 2 minutes just staring at Ryunosuke and wondering whether that’s a belt buckle in the wrong place or a dog collar…nup. I got nuthin’.

    That image of AKB0048 reminds me it’s pretty outlandish if you were to compare it to Idolish7…after all, it’s idols in space riding hoverboards, fighting evil and giving performances at the same time.

    Maybe having a bunch of ordinary but cute girls who want to fight over you is a sign of reaffirming male superiority…not really in the “peacock principle” way as someone else said, but in that “inflating the male ego and reminding the ordinary male viewer that he is, in fact, not a loser and he’s still sexually desirable” way. Or maybe that’s just a bit too much of my humanities-based studies (plus episodes of the local version of Beauty and the Geek) clouding my thoughts…

  2. “why does he have a dog collar over his tie?”
    Because having a dog collar under his tie would just be silly!

    OK, bad dad jokes aside, I do like both types of shows, especially if it has an air of self-awareness surrounding it. Those are the best, the ones that fully dive into ridiculousness.

    1. The self awareness importance cannot be understated. For me it’s the difference between trash-watch (when you’re feeling a bit brain-dead) and actual full-blown engrossed.

  3. There’s generally a difference between harems and CGDCT shows: the former are basically romance-partner buffets, while the latter are more about fly-on-the-wall voyeurism. Harem girls thus service a fetish and either take of you or make you feel good about themselves by being helpless without you. CGDCT show operates under the pretense that girls are aliens and you look in on what they’re doing when you’re not around. Except of course you don’t really care, so they’re not allowed to talk about boys or periods. Instead they get to fondle each other (which is “okay because they’re girls”, and this has to be said, because the girl on the receiving end has to be embarrassed). That sort of yuri tease is optional, though; the alernative is that they act like your cute, bright-eyed little daughters who give their best at whatever they do while they have the time (they’ll be wives soon enough, anyway).

    CBDCT shows are rarer and more diverse: Token Ranbu (which I’ve seen only one episode of so far) and Orenchi no Furo Jijou are pretty close to CGDCT shows, actually, but shows like Daily Lives of Highschool Boys and Kimi to Boku are actually targeted at boys, and serve either as nostalgia for school days or coming of age stories. Men are more likely to see themselves in those shows than girls in CGDCT shows.

    Reverse harems do indeed operate under the peackock principle: stand out as well as you can to attract your mate. And the harem lead tends to take pleasure in being their emotional backbone. The complication here is the attitude towards sex that people are allowed. There are openly perverted harem leads in shows like Tonagura or Sora no Otoshimono. You’re very rarely going to find this in reverse harems. The only openly thirsty female lead I can think of comes in Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyou, which has a mixed gender cast, and she’s friends with the boys and openly lusts after all the girls (she wants to found the Surround-Ichinomiya-Eruna-With-Cute-Girls club). A protagonist like that stands out, though.

    As a result, there are plenty of pushy guys in reverse harems (because the girls rarely take the lead), and things like wall-slams, or grab-the-wrist-and-run scenes are apparently romantic. When they get a bit rough and overstep boundries, it’s often because they love you so much that they can’t control themselves (same logic often at work in female-targeted boys-love shows). I have this theory that a lot of this plays creatively with the gap between showing what you’re expected to want and what you really want. I imagine there’s some interpretative leeway in the honne/tatamae constellation, so that the same scene can appeal to masochist and a relief-from-purity-expectation fantasy (I get some body-proximity, and he takes the blame – like a real man). But I’m far from an expert. And I expect this to work a bit differently in the west.

    i think the anime gender relations default expectation (which is more a loose should than a must) is best illustrated by your avarage shounen sports show, if it involves an athletics club: the boys are the players, and the girls are the managers. I have a hunch you can transfer this both types of harem shows, though it’s sometimes hard to do the initial mapping (especially if it’s all about personal drama), and often not easy to interpret either way. So that’s a rather dodgy hypothesis; it just sort of rings plausible to me.

    1. I was trying to map out an image of the marketing research rather than gender relations but that sounds like a super interesting post as well

      1. I find, though, that the idea of the breadwinning protector taking care of his supportive, devoted wife is fairly compatible with “Prince Charming vs. Girl Next Door”. I’d say, for example, that the girl makes food for the man in both harem types. (That it’s the other way round in the Toradora, for example, is the show’s gimmick. And, also, you can’t cook for a friend of the opposite gender: according to Ami, “voice of perceived gender reason”, this is “playing house”. The plot bears this out. I actually like Toradora, but I’m uncomfortable with that aspect.)

        I’m not sure what marketing research the production committees engage in. Sales analysis for sure. They probably pay attention to popularity polls in magazines, and some pay attention to social media (but how much, I don’t know). I have no idea whatsoever to what extent they conduct their own research (do they sponsor specific magazine polls, for example? – I don’t know).

        CGDCT shows are generally voyeuristic fantasies of post-teen males about what they’d like girls to be like. Some of the most infantilised female characters are here, not in harems.

        1. You may have a point although there are often uncomfortably infantalized lolita fantasies in harems as well

          1. As a character-type, definitely. I was talking design-concept of the entire cast (character design and voice direction mostly, but also behaviour to a degree). To go from one extreme to another, compare this season’s Tonari no Kyuketski san to Seishun Buta Yarou. But even more childish looking harems like say Masamune-kun’s Revenge or Mayo Chiki don’t tend to reach all the way down to Slow Start or Hinako Note. There’s a lot of overlap in the middle, though. I’m fairly sure I have a point, but I’m not sure how big a point it is. I might overestimate the extent by imagining extreme.

            I’ve actually wanted to try the following: show non-anime-watchers pictures of the girls from Mitsuboshi Colours (children) and Slow Start (teens) and then ask them who’s older. The results should be interesting (in that I honestly can’t predict them).

  4. I really find cute girls stories really dull. The characters themselves I could take or leave, but generally the plot and pacing does nothing for me and I end up dropping them or passing entirely on the story (there are exceptions). Then again, I’m not much for cute boys stories either unless I’m actually interested in what they are doing. Though there are certainly more of them that have made me interested in what they are doing. And yeah, male designs in these shows do tend to get really overdone but at the same time that is kind of what makes it more interesting to watch. Okay, I play final fantasy games so unless the cast look more overdone than one of those characters I don’t tend to mind.
    Interesting post to read with plenty to think about.

      1. I think improved. The world is a little dull, we should definitely liven it up with a thousand unnecessary belts, buckles, layers and colours.

  5. I prefer Cute Girls Doing Difficult Things. I think Encouragement of Climb is a good example. If you show it to a younger shoujo audience, there are a lot of important life lessons in it.

    Now, a pedophile might watch this and see all kinds of things to get turned on by. Doesn’t matter. I don’t judge a good show by the desires of bad people. Better to have them locked in place in front of a monitor than at the playground.

    “Fruit of Grisaia” is a harem done right. The guy is not a loser. Each young girl grows into something powerful. His deepest love is for an older woman. There is tragedy. “Tenchi Muyo Ryo Ohki” is another harem done right, only in a comedic adventure genre instead of a dramatic adventure.

    In “Yona of the Dawn”, she starts out as a weak girl but grows into a powerful warrior. And then the show doesn’t get renewed. That may tell us more about anime fandom than anime.

    1. Fruit of Gersia was such a dirty porn game (not in a bad way). I know the anime is cleaned up, maybe I should try it sometime.

      So what do you think we can learn about the comparaisons between harem Main Characters – suppose to be audience surrogates in romantic stories and cute girl/boy antics, suppose to represent romantic (not necessarily sexual) ideals of the oppisite gender?

      1. I think I’d hate to be as dismal as most main characters in most harems. They make them idiots so that every otaku in the world can smugly say, “I’m better than that!”

        A good harem should have a powerful MC (or one who grows into power) and powerful women/men (or girls/boys who become powerful). Otherwise the MC is simply not worthy of the harem. Even as a kid that was my ideal. I wanted Modesty Blaise, Emma Peel, Irene Adler, and Agent 99 in my harem not ditzy teenage girls. (I realize how much that dates me.)

        At least Yona was growing into power. I wouldn’t want her pissed at me. Someday she will deserve Hak.

        Grisaia starts with a damaged MC who grows into power before he gets his harem. He is in a long term love relationship with a powerful woman who heals him and there are other women (not girls) he has relationships with. Then he meets his harem who are a group of troubled girls soon to become women. They want his body but he isn’t interested in sex with them. Instead he helps them heal their wounds.

        When he lands in trouble over his head it is the turn of the newly empowered girls to save him. There is a lot of tragedy and healing going on. And some siscon at the end with a sister that is supposed to be older than him but doesn’t exactly look mature. That was the only part that really surprised me because it didn’t follow the tone of the rest of the anime.

        I haven’t played the game or read the manga so I can enjoy the show as a stand alone product. I think it gives a better experience.

        1. Harem shows feature multiple girls going after one guy. Exactly what attracts even one girl, let alone multiple girls, is a complete mystery, so the harem lead is bland. Then, in reverse-harem shows, we have multiple guys trying for the attentions of one girl, so they have to actually outdo each other in every possible way and hope luck favors them.

  6. It occurs to me that I don’t think I’ve actually watched many (any?) CBDCT shows. Does Ouran High School Host Club count? Regardless of whether or not it does, any recommendations? I’d be interested to compare and contrast as a card-carrying fan of CGDCT.

    1. I’d say Touken Ranbu is a pretty good start. It’s not extraordinary but it really hits all the tropes making it an excellent example to compare with. If you don’t want to invest too much time Orenchi no Furo Jijō is a weird little short program to simply changes up the monster girl premise.
      I actually would love to read your views on the comparaison.

  7. Oh harems… You are right we tend to see the same type of characters and it is has to be a bit based on what they think men and women want to see in their partners.
    I can probably count on two fingers the Reverse harems that I think are “good character and story” and even less for harems.
    Sure I get that they can be fun maybe fantasy fulfilling things to watch with a turned off brain. I will look at a hot 2D guy for a long time before turning off a “bad” anime. Yeah, I have my super shallow moments haha.
    I think it is funny that I can get so offended that people can fall in love with a potato lead character. But I guess that fantasy of a group of hotties falling for a “normal” person is a bit cool.
    Good story? Not really. Eye candy? Yeah.
    Also yeah, what is with the dog collar? lol

    1. There are a lot of Harems I really enjoyed…obviously both seasons of Steins;Gate and KonoSuba. So I am a little more inclined to give the genre a chance. But generally speaking I completely agree with you.
      I sort of want to try to convince some of the partners here that dog collar over tie is the new way to go…

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