What Is A Reverse Harem Romance?
You’ve probably heard of harems…the situation in which a man is surrounded by multiple women there for his sexual gratification. But have you heard of reverse harem romance books?
If you’re just starting out in learning about reverse harem romance books, this article is for you. We’ll cover all you need to know about reverse harem romances, from key terms to know to controversies within the romance sub-genre, plus an inside look at what reverse harem romance writers and readers think about these spicy stories. Then we’ll close with a few book recommendations for you to dive into reverse harem romance. Shall we?
What Is a Reverse Harem Romance? Terms to Know
In a reverse harem romance, the protagonist has multiple partners to choose from. That doesn’t necessarily mean they all have to feature heterosexual scenarios; plenty of reverse harem books have queer situations, with multiple genders or gender identities being part of the harem and with male-on-male action.
Here are the key terms you’ll want to know to understand reverse harem romance, as stated in a previous Book Riot article:
- “Polyamory: the technical term for reverse harem relationships.”
- “Polyandry: the woman is married to multiple men.”
- “Polyfidelity: the concept that sex is restricted to within the group — this isn’t a free-for-all, and cheating can still exist within a reverse harem context.”
According to our previous coverage, the term “reverse” harem comes from anime, where reverse harems are common.
In fact, let’s look at genre terminology in more detail. According to The Naughty Book Box, there are additional reverse harem words to know, like:
- Male harem: the focus is on a female protagonist who has at least two male partners and only male partners. The male partners might be but aren’t necessarily involved with each other.
- Mixed harem: a female protagonist has multiple partners of mixed genders with the focus still being on the heroine.
- Polyandrous Male Harem: The female is the protagonist and has an all-male cast of suitors. There is no crossover between the male partners.
If you’re reading a book that claims to be a reverse harem romance, and there aren’t multiple partners, it’s probably not a true reverse harem romance novel. And although these books often come in series, standalone books, like With a Bite and a Howl recommended below, do exist, too.
Writing Reverse Harem Romance
I was fortunate to talk to reverse harem author Smauggy, who has written the popular Eternals series, about writing reverse harem romance.
I asked Smauggy how she got started with writing reverse harem stories, and she shared that her interest began as she emerged from an abusive relationship: “It actually wasn’t intentional. A few months prior, I had left an abusive relationship and was dating my now husband and had some challenges dealing with past trauma. I found a reading app that I used often to distract myself and then I started writing on there. The story projected a lot of my own life experiences (will never make this mistake again! haha) until I realized there was a healing element to writing.”
Smauggy’s story also featured a woman trying to move on from an abusive relationship: “The story started off with a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship while trying to keep her career and personal life together, and she ends up reconnecting with her childhood sweethearts, who also happened to be brothers. The story kind of spiraled into a reverse harem mafia romance from there.”
Smauggy’s start with penning romance stories was part of a healing process. Along the way, she learned there was a name for what she was writing: “reverse harem romance.” Smauggy said: “I didn’t even know reverse harem was a thing by the time I had finished the first half of the series until other authors reached out to teach me about a genre I didn’t realize I was writing in!
But the sub-genre felt like a good fit, she said: “Eventually, I decided to stick with writing only reverse harems because I absolutely love writing about Black women being doted on by several men. Writing is my escapism from a violently misogynistic and racist world that renders Black women invisible. Writing reverse harems allows me to portray Black women in a way we’re never seen and that’s unapologetically loved and fiercely protected.”
Now Smauggy loves writing reverse harem romance: “I know people tend to love reverse harems because of all the smut and multiple sex positions…but honestly, what is the most fun and rewarding for me is writing the unique dynamics among my male characters, with each other and with the woman they fall in love with. Some of them are brothers who hate each other, brothers who love each other, childhood best friends, sworn enemies, and lovers themselves.”
For Smauggy, it’s the characters that keep her coming back: “I enjoy creating this relationship dynamic where the men don’t just seek love, comfort, and friendship from the female protagonist, but they form these deep emotional bonds with each other as well that make me grow attached not only to the characters but them as a whole….I get to show a different side of raw humanity and a version of love that isn’t just romantic. And I love that.”
Reading Reverse Harem Romance
So what’s it actually like to read reverse harem romance? What do readers like about reading them? To investigate, I chatted with Book Riot writer and author Jessica Pryde.
Pryde told me her love of reading reverse harem romance started as escapism: “I actually started reading romance stories with more than two people when I was drowning my grad-school sorrows in Twilight fan fiction and was fascinated by not only how romance would work in that situation, but I’ll admit it, the sexytimes too.”
Getting an eReader meant that Pryde could read more reverse harem romance: “When I got an eReader and started to explore what was available in the romance sector, I was delighted to find some there as well. Back in those days, it was almost always menage — MMF or FFM — and it wasn’t until a few years later that I picked up something that had one woman with multiple male partners that weren’t all in love with each other.” Pryde found that some of the early reverse harem romance she read had an emotional connection that was incredibly compelling.
But overall, Pryde said, she has become a fan of the positivity in these romances she has read because: “I think for me the draw of stories like this is just being able to see so much love going around. I know a lot of people, especially when they read stories where there is one person with multiple partners but not one big puppy pile, like to think of the fantasy of having so many people worship and adore you, but I don’t read it for the fantasy, I just like reading about successful romantic relationships that much. And honestly, logistics! If I can read something that seems to make total logistical sense as far as sharing time in and out of bed? That just sounds amazing and delightful.”
Smauggy also had thoughts about what draws readers to reverse harem romance: “I think readers love the idea of being loved and doted on by multiple men. I think they also love the idea of having multiple men with varying personalities and seeing how they engage with each other as well as with the female protagonist. How you can have the grumpy one and the golden-retriever one who have their own dynamics between each other that completely changes when they’re engaging with the female protagonist. It also allows for some great backstories and world-building. Also, for readers who gravitate towards boy love stories with queer male characters, it speaks to the fantasy of being romantically involved with men who enjoy both men and women. You’ll find there are a lot of readers who enjoy boy love and yaoi books who also like these types of stories.”
The Popularity of Reverse Harem Romance
Reverse romance novels seem hotter than ever. A Goodreads list of the “Best Reverse Harem Books of 2022” logs 192 books. In the “Best Reverse Harem Books of 2023,” there are 140 books listed, and it’s not even halfway through 2023. Readers looking to find new reverse harem novels would do well to check out these Goodreads mega-lists that are chock full of the best new releases in the reverse harem sub-genre. Paranormal stories and dark romance stories are well-represented in these lists, hinting at current trends within the sub-genre’s own sub-genres.
Since paranormal romance abounds in reverse harem stories, these books often have “A/B/O” dynamics. This is called an “Omegaverse,” in which, according to Mashable, characters are either alpha, beta, or omega, and these hierarchies help determine the sexual dynamics of a story. As Mashable writes, Omegaverse books are extremely popular right now, with tons of TikTok book recommendations for Omegaverse stories.
Controversies within Reverse Harem Romance
Perhaps the main controversy is with the very term itself. Heated debate within the romance community about the term “reverse harem romance” abounds, as in this Reddit thread, that asks whether reverse harem romance should be called something else, like polyamory. The general consensus, though, seems to be that polyamory and reverse harem generally have different feelings with the relationship(s) depicted in the books. Many readers who responded to the Reddit thread indicated that “polyamory” definitely is a separate kind of story than a reverse harem. “Polyamory” refers to a relationship that one might see in the real world whereas a “reverse harem” whatever its issues, refers more to a romantic and/or sexual fantasy.
Other objections to the term “reverse harem” are varied. Some readers point out the problematic use of the word “harem.” At least one person has brought up how the traditional term of “harem” in Arabic has to do with women and children within a household, not “sex slaves” like “reverse harem” implies to some. Pairing up a sheikh with a group of sex slaves, then, could be seen as racist. The genre’s lineage is also inseparable from its Orientalist past. Today’s Western reverse harem romances break from the harem novels published and popular from the 1970s on, wherein common themes were abduction and slavery, according to Duke University. As Duke points out, the current reverse harem novels have broken from their Orientalist ancestors; for example, whereas “Oriental” harem novels were set in the Middle East, today’s reverse harem romances are not typically told in a Middle Eastern setting. The relationships in reverse harem romances are also more complex than simply pairing up sex slaves with a wealthy man. Of course, even the term “reverse” harem distinguishes itself from the harem novels by virtue of the lead typically being a female. The question remains, then, whether a new moniker can be found for these romance stories that doesn’t draw on the same Orientalistic roots while still staying true to the spirit of the sub-genre.
An alternate term is #WhyChoose, as in why choose between two or more partners, but that isn’t unanimously accepted and embraced, either. What does seem to be clear is reverse harem romance is definitely a very specific thing. When you tag a romance as reverse harem, you’re fitting it within an established sub-genre with conventions and expectations of its own.
Get Started with Reverse Romance with These Reverse Harem Novel Recommendations
Ready to jump into this sub-genre? Here are some reverse harem novel recommendations. Start with these six books:
Brutal Winter (Brutal Winter #1) by Quirah Casey
Winter signs away her life to Giovanni, a Mafia member, to release her brother from a burdening debt. But Giovanni —and the men surrounding him — are more than dangerous men, they’re dangerously seductive. When Winter surrenders to them, a beautiful thing happens…this reverse harem romance sees male-on-male action.
Four Psychos (The Dark Side Book #1) by Kristy Cunning
This paranormal romance has a cult following. Four Psychos features a heroine who’s a ghost who just happens to fall for the four men she’s been haunting. Can she make them — make them all — feed her needs? You’ll just have to find out. Four Psychos is for sure a classic reverse harem romance.
Gryphon’s Pride (Gesa’s Menagerie Book 1) by Kaye Draper
This queer reverse harem fantasy romance stars an unforgettable hero, Gesa Lionheart, a shifter who can change into a gryphon. Gesa is a badass for sure and a bounty hunter. She might be tough, but when she finds herself in a romantic and sexual twist, Gesa must learn how to navigate relationships. Fantasy reverse harem novels are popular, and you just have to read this one to find out why.
Lola & the Millionaires: Part 1 (Sweetness) by Kathryn Moon
This queer paranormal reverse harem romance with male-on-male sexual action is sure to draw you in. Lola is trying to avoid making the same mistakes, such as falling for yet another alpha who will throw her aside because she’s a beta. But one alpha pack might change her mind….This book is an “Omegaverse” romance.
With A Bite and A Howl by Tierra Cox
In this reverse harem romance, Basil discovers she’s from a long line of werewolves just as the world crumbles around her. When she emerges in this new existence, she encounters two sexy men, who happen to be werewolves, who happen to be brothers. This is a spicy paranormal fantasy reverse harem romance you won’t want to miss.
Damaged (The Reverse Harem Marvelous Three Saga: Sons of the Elite Book 1) by Smauggy
Gabrielle Johnson has it all…a successful career as a surgeon, amassed wealth, and love with an engagement to an acclaimed artist. Then she returns home to rural Pennsylvania after the death of Steve Richardson, a friend of the family and father of two sons who are Gabrielle’s friends. Now Gabrielle must contend with her feelings for the brothers. Starting with this steamy story is a great way to get into the sub-genre.
For more great romance coverage on Book Riot, check out the links below: