One weakness that almost all harem shows share is that the main male character is boring and forgettable. They mostly serve as the prize the women are working towards, and as harem animes are focused on the women, the main character mostly just has to look nice, be nice and the rest will fall into place. This is why most male harem leads tend to blur together; they are nice guys, good guys and that is pretty much it. Harem animes don’t need to have a good male character for them to work or be successful, and several series like To Love-Ru, Date A Live, Isekai Smartphone and even (ugh) Shinmai Maou No Testament all have had success despite boring and forgettable male leads.
Yet there are some male harem leads who actually have enough development, personality and attention spent on them, that they actually not only feel like better characters, they actually improve the entire harem anime as a whole. After the cut let’s take a character dive into the main lead of High School DxD: Issei Hyoudou.
(DISCLAIMER: SOME OF THE CLIPS SHOW ARE UNCENSORED AND NOT SAFE FOR WORK, PLEASE WATCH WITH DISCRETION)
(DISCLAIMER 2: THE VIDEOS ARE NOT OF AMAZING QUALITY CAUSE YOUTUBE IS ASS, FORGIVE ME)
Issei Hyoudou at his core is like every other main harem male character: he’s a good guy who is thrown into a situation way beyond his control and finds himself the target of several different girls’ affection. However who Issei is doesn’t just end there like so many other harem leads. He’s a good guy yes, but he is also a human with needs, wants, desires and fears that are explored as best they can be in a series such as High School DxD.
Issei is, simply put a pervert. He loves women and he loves breasts and he wants nothing more than to drown himself in his teenage hormones. What makes it bearable though is that he’s not ashamed of it, and the show chooses not to show him in a negative light. He is very clear about the fact that his new life presents him the chance to become a harem king and that is the dream he wants to chase and achieve. That honesty is refreshing as most main characters show only a passing interest in the idea of owning a harem, less it upends the status quo of the girls fighting over him. While he may be a pervert though, Issei is not a sleaze bag, nor is he a fedora-wearing “nice guy” who believes he is entitled to the women around him and tries to control or dominate them.
Several times throughout the seasons of High School DxD, Issei is presented with real chances to engage in sexual relations with the women who make up the Gremory household. Not just the usual blueball antics of “we are about to kiss, but someone walks in” or “Your hands fell on my breasts, but that’s ok” but actual moments where women such as Rias or Akeno truly want to have sex with him or engage in sexual activities for comfort or pleasure. Yet while this never happens due to maintaining the status quo of the story (none of the girls can actually fuck him, because if they do the story itself is pretty much over or it becomes just a hentai), High School DxD actually gives a reason for this to happen aside from just being constantly cockblocked by the other girls for comedy, or having to play by authorial or television mandate.
When Akeno, after being confronted with her long-estranged father seeks sexual comfort from Issei, he wisely realized that this isn’t what Akeno needs at that moment and refuses her.
In the future light novels, when Koneko ends up going into heat and she tries to engage in procreation with him, Issei realizes that such an act could literally kill her and seeks to help her in another no sexual way. When the innocent and pure Asia tries to be more like the other girls to try and seduce him, Issei tells her that’s not who she is and he likes her for who she is now. And in season 4 when Rias finally confronts him with a “put up or shut up” moment in the sauna, Issei’s personal insecurities about his status in regards to her own, and being unable to understand her true feelings prevents him from giving Rias the affection she so clearly desires.
This ends up all coming to a head where later in season 4, Issei has a moment to pause and self-reflect on his relationship with Rias and where he wants to take it, if he should confess his feelings, and his fear that Rias’s love for him isn’t the same as the love he has for her.
And it is only through the relationships he’s built with the other girls, relationships where he sees them as people, and not notches on his belt, where he has built friendships and respect with them. That Issei is able to confront his trauma over what the fallen angel Raynare did to him and gain the courage to accept that yes, the girls actually do really love him and that he needs to get over himself and accept it.
Never in any other harem show have I watched has there been this amount of effort to actually show the male character as something other than just a plot device for the story or as the trophy for the female cast. Few male harem characters actually go through a character arc where they are forced to look into how they feel about their situation and even fewer have real legitimate reasons to not just have sex with the girls. It is things like this that elevate Issei from your usual standard “good guy” protagonist to an actual fleshed out and developed character and that is EXTREMELY rare for the shows in the harem genre, which only helps elevate High School DxD even further.
Of course, Issei isn’t perfect. The earlier seasons still lean a bit more into his perverted traits than later ones (though this does show his growth over time). The above mentioned PTSD is not as developed in the anime than in the light novels. He is still an anime character and much of his shtick revolves around the standard “I want to protect my friends” or “I want to get stronger so I don’t lose those who are important to me” tropes and that can be annoying if you are sick to death of that.
However, Issei remains at his core a good guy, but an even better man. The kind of man who would be first in the car to help you out with a problem. The kind of guy you’d love to have a beer and shoot the shit with. The kind of man who learns to admire and respect the women in his life for who they are as people, and not just their bust size. Few harems put in the effort to make their male lead anything more than “the guy”, but High School DxD benefits greatly from doing it, and it is just another reason why it is considered “the king” of the Harem genre.