I just realized tiers can be inferred from the Gelbooru data:
Chihaya, Yayoi, Iori, Makoto
Azusa, Ritsuko, Yukiho
Takane, Ryou, Mami, Ami, Hibiki, Kotori
Anzu, Rin, Reiko, Kanako, Kirari, Shizuku, Riina
1) It is, though I feel the asymmetry weighing down on my choice. [/personal opinion]
Blasphemy! Remember that cosmetic surgeon from Bioshock? Asymmetry is the future!
2) *insert stereotypical otaku=loner image here* + busty hopeless romantic searching for a special someone = satisfaction guaranteed.
I'm not sure what you mean, everyone is searching for a wonderful girl like Azusa, whether they are lonely otaku or stylish popular guys, if they are sensible they'll realize that she's an absolute treasure, and really that's one of the things in life that you can't buy and can only pray and hope for, a mate that's so wonderful like that. Some people seem great but then... you know. If anyone has the extraordinary luck of finding someone as wonderful as Azusa it would be wise on their part to cherish her and accomodate her as much as possible. If she likes to laugh, then watch comedy shows and work on your comedy, if she likes guys who can cook then learn to cook, if she loves the ocean then work hard and buy the two of you a boat, etc.
3) Never been exactly 'there', so can't help you there.
lol why is there in quotes?
4) Haruka's quirk? One way of looking at it is that you can argue that it's nothing. And that's exactly her appeal. She's not lacking nor too much of anything, she's normal. Given her personality and how she was portrayed back since the Arcade version,you will see why everyone likes her. *insert Ryu joke here*
Another way is that before Miki, Haruka was, and still is, the targeted main heroine. And like most people, they fall under what I like to call the "Protagonist Syndrome", in which whoever is the protagonist, people will like (since the story's about him/her). Adding to that is her cheerful, girl-next-door personality who'll do what it takes with P (a.k.a. you). (Could also explain the Miki hate, but that takes more space)
What!? When did Miki become the protagonist? And I was reading about Haruka yesterday that she might be pretending to be clusmy just to endear the producer... that's kind of off-putting... but I guess it makes sense if she really likes him a lot...
5) Ryou's reveal as a trap came as a surprise to many. When he first showed up, people assumed he was a girl along Ai and Eri, until that one PV that boosted his popularity. And because this is something big (aka a first in iMAS), people acted upon it- they made fanart, doujins, etc. Trust me, if he was revealed flat out as a guy in the beginning, his popularity wouldn't be this big.
I don't know... from what I've experienced of otaku markets I think they would be quite receptive (pun intended) to traps... but I think you're right that if he were introduced as a definite manly guy he would've been not as popular. Still, someone has to know why Ami and Mami are so unpopular!