The Ultimate Guide To Romance Fiction
A Roadmap to Heartthrobs, Heartbreaks, and Happily Ever Afters
Romance isn't just about stolen stares or pebbles thrown at windows anymore. The genre's grown up, donned its stilettos, and ventured into uncharted territories. But readers can feel a bit overwhelmed in this new, vast landscape. So I crafted this guide to lead you through the intricate twists and turns of the romance genre. By the end of it, you'll be able to tell an enemies-to-lovers trope from a second-chance romance without batting an eye.
At its core, romance fiction is built on two pillars that are as timeless as that little black dress hanging in your closet:
A Central Connection: This isn't just about two people meeting at a bar. It's about their journey, their doubts, and the electric charge that draws them together. Raw, human connection is at the heart of any good romance novel.
An Emotionally Rewarding Ending: Whether it's a tear-jerking climax or a heartwarming resolution, you’re assured of a happily ever after (or at least a happy-for-now) conclusion that'll leave you scrabbling for the sequel.
But if you're assuming these elements render romance predictable, think again. Believe me, there's a blend of genre, trope, and sizzle out there that'll give your cheeks just the right shade of intrigue.
Wondering How Many Romance Sub-Genres are there?
It honestly seems like more are popping up every week, but below are the main staples of the genre (and a few notable mentions). It can be a little overwhelming so here’s a little breakdown first.
Period pieces transport readers to a bygone era, where societal constraints, cultural norms, and historical events add layers of intrigue to the relationships. These novels meticulously recreate the past, immersing readers in the intricate details of the chosen time period.
Historical Romance was the poster girl for Romance Fiction for years, and for good reason. Below are some popular periods in chronological order.
- Ancient Civilisations: Egypt, Greece, Rome
- Medieval / Middle Ages / Dark Ages (5th - 15th Century)
- Anglo-Saxon (5th - 11th Century)
- Viking age (8th - 11th Century)
- Crusades (11th - 13th Century)
- Renaissance (14th to 17th Century)
- Colonial America (late 16th to 18th Century)
- Scottish Highland Romance (17th Century and Stuart Era)
- French Revolution (late 18th Century)
- Regency England - honestly a complete subgenre on its own- (early 19th Century)
- Victorian England (19th Century)
- American Civil War (mid-19th Century)
- American Western Expansion (19th Century, post-Civil War)
- Early 20th Century (Particularly WWI and WWII)
Contemporary romance captures love stories set in the same time period as when the book was written. This genre often touches on modern-day issues or trends, making it an interesting looking glass through which readers can peek at different eras in our time.
Speculative Romance combines fantastical elements with the core romance narrative. Imagine star-crossed lovers separated by time travel, passions ignited under alien skies, or enchanting romances shadowed by magic and myth. The speculative twist adds layers of complexity and intrigue, heightening the romance’s suspense and thrill.
Sci-Fi Romance fuses the speculative elements of science fiction with the emotional core of romance. Picture love stories set against the backdrop of distant galaxies, futuristic societies, or even parallel dimensions. Whether it's a human falling for an alien, star-crossed lovers separated by time travel, or a romance that blooms amidst a robot uprising, the genre offers a playground for both imagination and passion.
Set in magical lands, the distant past, or an alternative version of our own world, this genre is known for intricate plots, political relations, and the use of enchantments to test the extent of love’s resilience. Beyond spells and sorcery, the genre is enriched by the romantic allure of fantasy races, whether elves, witches, or steamy barbarians.
Closely related to Fantasy Romance, Paranormal Romance puts the spotlight on relationships with the otherworldly. Think sultry vampires, enigmatic fae, brooding werewolves, elusive shapeshifters, seductive demons, and even ethereal ghosts.
Urban Fantasy Romance
Urban Fantasy Romance melds the gritty, contemporary settings of urban life with elements of fantasy. Think bustling cities where humans coexist with vampires, werewolves, witches, and other fantastical beings. It's not just about the presence of these magical elements, but how they intertwine with the modern world.
Inclusive Romance fiction celebrates love stories aiming to be representative of a wide range of identities, backgrounds, and experiences.
LGBTQ+ romance celebrates love stories that center around characters from this diverse community. These novels delve into the complexities, joys, and challenges of queer relationships, offering representation and narratives that resonate with diverse experiences. Popular subgenres include FF lesbian/sapphic romance books and MM/gay romance books, but the genre also encompasses stories of bisexual, transgender, non-binary, and other queer identities.
Cross-cultural & Interracial
In cross-cultural romance books, love interests bridge the gaps between race, ethnicity, culture, and religion. These novels often illuminate the adversity, deep connections, and nuances of interracial bonds.
#OwnVoices Romance stories are penned by authors who share the same marginalized identities as their characters, whether it be in terms of race, sexuality, disability, or other aspects of identity.
Age-based romance fiction focuses on love stories concerning characters of a particular age group or life stage. It explores the unique challenges, experiences, and relationship dynamics that can arise during specific periods of life, allowing readers to connect with the complexities of these relationships.
The Young Adult Romance genre focuses on love stories featuring teen protagonists, typically aged between 12 and 18. These tales capture the essence of youthful passion, often set against the backdrop of high school drama, family issues, or coming-of-age adventures. The genre is not always confined to locker rooms and band practice though and branches out into other popular subgenres like Young Adult Fantasy Romance.
The New Adult Romance genre focuses on protagonists typically in the age range of 18 to 30. It bridges the gap between Young Adult and Adult Romance, delving into themes relevant to this transitional phase of life. The stories often explore the complexities of college life, early careers, first serious relationships, and the struggles of independence and identity. While it shares the emotional intensity of Young Adult fiction, New Adult Romance doesn't shy away from more mature content and themes.
Sensual and Explicit Romance
Sensual & Explicit romance fiction explores love and passion in more intimate and explicit detail. It places a strong emphasis on the physical and emotional connection between characters, often featuring steamy and detailed love scenes. These stories are known for their sensuality, vivid descriptions, and frank exploration of sexual desire and attraction.
Dark Romance plunges readers into tales saturated with mature themes and intense content. Morally grey characters often tread murky waters, and the plots are laced with both trauma and abuse. These can be alluring, but pay attention to content and trigger warnings before committing.
Not just about steamy scenes, Erotic Romance delves deep into the emotional side of relationships and sexual exploration. It's characterized by explicit, well-written love scenes integrated seamlessly into an engaging narrative.
Sweet & Clean Romance
Sweet & Clean Romance delivers heartfelt love stories without the detailed intimate scenes or coarse language. These tales lean into emotional bonds, hand-holding, gentle kisses, and the charming path of love’s development.
Staples of Romance Fiction
Some subgenres are so integral to Romance Fiction that it feels redundant to list them, but I can’t skip over these two classics.
Any good Rom-com boasts witty banter, hilarious misunderstandings, quirky characters, and often a series of comedic mishaps that draw our protagonists closer together. Romance Comedy is all about ugly-snort laughs and fuzzy feelings, making it an ideal feel-good read.
While love is still at the core of Romantic Suspense, these tales feature elements of danger, intrigue, and suspense. The stakes often transcend matters of the heart as protagonists navigate both their feelings and the perils of daring rescues and dark mysteries.
While these categories are more typically sub-sub-genres, they are just too fun to skip over.
Holiday romance novels center around love stories that unfold during festive seasons or holidays. These range from Christmas Romance books, Halloween Romance Books, Valentine's Day Romance Books, and everything in between.
Sports Romance (Athlete Romance)
Sports Romance is a surprisingly big subgenre where a romance unfolds in the sports world. Key elements often include intense training sessions, high-stakes games, team dynamics, and of course, the challenges and triumphs of love both on and off the field (or court, or rink). The backdrop of sports adds layers of tension, camaraderie, and drama, making the eventual romantic payoff even more satisfying.
The Office Romance subgenre focuses on love stories that unfold in a professional setting. Think CEOs and secretaries, coworkers navigating the fine line between personal and professional, or even rivals who discover they're competing for more than just a promotion.
Rockstar Romance focuses on the inherent allure of musicians. The backdrop is often one of sold-out concerts, backstage passes, and the rollercoaster of fame. The stakes are often high in these tales, as protagonists choose between upholding public images while putting their hearts on the line.
Where late-night study sessions turn into early-morning confessions, College Romance stories are set against the bustling backdrop of campus life. Characters struggle to juggle their studies, self-discovery, and often their first serious relationships.
Mafia Romance delves into love stories set in the perilous, often morally ambiguous world of organized crime. This isn't your garden-variety romance; it's a high-stakes game where the currency is power, loyalty, and sometimes, violence. Expect darker themes, life-or-death situations, and a romance that develops amidst the looming shadow of danger.
What are Romance Tropes?
While a trope can refer to any plot device or theme, Romance tropes typically refer to specific relationship dynamics that are commonly seen throughout the genre. While we all have our favorite genres, it’s often the tropes that readers are really after. Below is a list of a few fan favorites.
Academic Rivals to lovers
A sub-category of Enemies to Lovers, characters in this deliciously competitive trope start off as intellectual adversaries—think debate partners, scholarly competitors, or even professors and students locked in a battle of wits.
As the story unfolds, these rivals find that their intellectual sparring is a mask for a deeper, more complicated connection. The debates grow heated in more ways than one, and the line between rivalry and romance starts to blur.
Enemies to lovers
A multifaceted trope that never truly goes out of style. It's a deliciously slow burn, where animosity gradually gives way to mutual respect and, eventually, love.
As the story unfolds, enemies find themselves in situations where they’re forced to see beyond their preconceptions, revealing vulnerabilities and sparking unexpected attraction as complex feelings unravel.
Other tropes are often specific derivatives of an overarching Enemies to Lovers narrative, such as Bully Romance (more intense, Stockholm-Syndrome rivalries) and the more vanilla Friends to Lovers.
The Alpha Male protagonist exudes confidence, control, and often a level of possessiveness that's as alluring as it is intense. The twist lies in that beneath his tough exterior hides a vulnerable heart. While he knows exactly what he wants, what he truly needs is the elusive love he's yet to find.
Best Friend’s Brother & Brother’s Best Friend
Two sides of the same delicious coin, these tropes often carry an it-was-destined feeling. In "Best Friend's Brother," the protagonist finds herself falling for her best friend's sibling. The allure lies in the taboo of crossing that friendship boundary, all while navigating family dinners and awkward holiday gatherings.
On the flip side, "Brother's Best Friend" centers on a protagonist who's got eyes for her own brother's closest pal. Here, the tension is ratcheted up by the close proximity and the fear of betraying her brother's trust.
Anyone else seeing the perfect setup for an MM romance, dual POV crossover book between these tropes?
In Bodyguard Romance the protagonist and their protector are caught in a forbidden dance of duty and desire. Action-packed and clandestine, the emotional payoff is always irresistibly intense.
Falling primarily under the Office Romance sub-genre, lovers struggle with the intoxicating mix of power dynamics, professional boundaries, and personal desires.
With careers and reputations on the line, every stolen glance and secret rendezvous is that much more thrilling.
A notable associated trope is Nanny Romance where office drama is swapped for family dynamics and infidelity.
Fake Dating/Fake Relationship
In this delightful scenario, characters enter into fake relationships for some practical gain—be it to make an ex jealous, to secure an inheritance, or even to ward off nosy relatives. As they continue fake dating or playing house, they find themselves wrestling with genuine feelings.
Found Family Romance
Not an exclusively romance fiction trope, Found Family adds a heartwarming element to the narrative as characters discover a sense of family and belonging outside their biological ties, often through romantic relationships.
It's about a love extending beyond the couple, creating a network of meaningful connections that feel like home. The stakes may not always be life-or-death, but they're soul-deep.
Grumpy Sunshine (I’d like to petition to rename this the New Girl Trope)
In this delightful setup, one character is the embodiment of sunshine—optimistic, cheerful, and irresistibly charming. The other? A grump, often brooding and reserved.
It’s the perfect slow burn when characters navigate life's ups and downs and discover that they're each other's counterbalance.
An age-old narrative where the protagonist finds themselves irresistibly drawn to two different characters, each offering a unique set of abs perspective on love and life. It's all about the emotional tug-of-war, the what-ifs, and the tantalizing possibilities each suitor represents.
Relationship Coach Romance
In this playful setup, one character takes on the role of a love guru, helping the other navigate the intricacies of seduction and romance—be it for dating, a specific crush, or just general romantic improvement.
As the lessons progress, the coach desires to be the object of their student's affection. Professionalism crumbles as the coach's own unspoken feelings come to the forefront.
In these stories the taboo of crossing a line that society has clearly drawn becomes all too alluring as teachers and students plunge into choices that set their reputations, careers, and futures in jeopardy.
Reverse Harem Romance
Reverse Harem refers to when a female protagonist finds herself the object of affection for multiple male characters (at least 3). Also called a “Why Choose Romance”, the protagonist attempts to navigate a complex web of relationships without losing her sense of self—or breaking too many hearts along the way.
Virgin Romance refers to a narrative where one of the characters—often the protagonist—is a virgin, discovering the thrill and excitement of first touches and the vulnerability that comes with unexplored territory.
These stories revolve around more than just a physical act; it's an emotional journey, often laden with societal or personal expectations.
Cultural and Societal dynamics
Age Gap romance
The Age Gap romance trope ties characters with a significant age difference into a romance that flies in the face of societal judgments and the ever-present question of long-term compatibility.
Where “I do” comes before “I love you”, the Arranged Marriage trope features characters forced into marriage by external forces—be it family, duty, or even political alliance.
Unexpected emotions blossom despite the confines of a pre-determined relationship and the couple learn to face their shared burdens together.
Forbidden Romance & Taboo Romance
While both the Forbidden Romance and Taboo Romance tropes dance on the edge of propriety, one takes a deeper plunge into the abyss.
"Forbidden Romance" involves relationships that are frowned upon—think doctor-patient or boss-employee. The allure is all about the thrill of entertaining a romance better left behind the curtains.
On the other hand, "Taboo Romance" dives into truly inappropriate, often morally complex relationships. Aligning more closely with the Dark Romance genre, it ventures into territories that are not just frowned upon but often outright condemned.
Starting off on a low note, the Jilted Bride trope shows our protagonist ditched at the altar. It quickly turns into a feel-good story as she journeys from heartbreak to healing.
The satisfaction from watching her rebuild her trust and self-esteem, all while navigating the emotional minefield of love lost and love found is definitely worth the slow burn.
In this narrative, the bride herself bolts, leaving her groom – and often societal expectations – in the dust. The allure lies in the thrill of escape and the promise of a love that's worth running toward, not away from.
Marriage of Convenience
In the Marriage of Convenience trope, characters tie the knot for practical reasons—be it money, social standing, or a green card. Look forward to slow-burning emotions catching them off guard, turning a transactional relationship into something genuine.
In truth, it’s the love child of the Fake Relationship and Arranged Marriage tropes, but it’s a fan favorite in its own right.
In the Forced Proximity trope characters find themselves stuck in close quarters due to circumstances beyond their control—think snowed-in cabins, long road trips, or even office lockdowns.
Tension builds when escape isn't an option, forcing them to confront their feelings. Anticipate emotional revelations that hint at the potential for love—or disaster.
Roommates to Lovers
In this cozy setup, accidental brushes in the hall and TV binge sessions might leave roommates sharing more than living expenses and fridge space.
In a classic “will they, won’t they” the potential lovers have to weigh turning a comfy home into an emotional war zone—or a love nest.
Neighbours to Lovers
With nothing more than a few steps and a picket fence separating them, characters in the Neighbours to Lovers trope follow an enticing slow-burning romance arch.
It's the ease of proximity and shared glimpses into each other's lives that gradually answers whether familiarity truly breeds affection—or contempt.
Small Town Romance
Who can resist a quaint, tight-knit town, far from the hustle and bustle of big cities? In the Small Town Romance trope the charm of familiar faces, shared traditions, and a sense of belonging lead to heartfelt connections—often nudged along by the townsfolk.
The BDSM trope (Bondage, Discipline, Dominance, Submission, Sadism, and Masochism) forces characters to explore trust, boundaries, and intimacy while often delving into the psychology of desire.
Billionaire Romance/Secret Billionaire
Whether male or female billionaires, the use of this trope forces characters to see past the opulence, secrets, and societal expectations of their lives to uncover the true nature of connection.
The Secret Billionaire trope lends itself wonderfully to the Romantic Comedy genre as it leads to unexpected encounters and awkward situations.
Quite self-explanatory, the Dirty Talker trope features a character who possesses a skill for seductive and explicit communication. However, it often goes beyond this when the character is outspoken in public, establishing a claim that inspires intense arousal.
Motorcycle Club/MC Romance
Having one of the characters belong to a Motorcycle club introduces elements of camaraderie, loyalty, and danger to an already passionate romance. Expect to see a wilder side of love and the consequences that come from falling for a bad-boy charm.
Second Chance Romance
In this narrative, characters reunite after a previous failed relationship or encounter, often years later. The Second Chance trope offers the possibility of righting past wrongs, rekindling old flames, and exploring the growth that time has brought.
The Secret Baby trope weaves a web of misunderstandings, preconceptions, and pride into a romance that stands up against the shocking revelation of unexpected parenthood.
When a character finds they’re unexpectedly expecting, the story explores whether shock can turn to joy as the couple forge deeper connections despite the weight of responsibility threatening to tear them apart.
The Single Parent trope opens up a narrative that’s a heartwarming blend of family dynamics and the potential for a loving partner who embraces both the single parent and child.
Slow Burn Romance
Focused on teasing the reader with the anticipation of a passionate romance, the Slow Burn trope is the element of emotional edging that provides authenticity to many of the best love stories.
The Dare/The Bet (The How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days trope)
Lending itself to the Romantic Comedy genre, the Bet/Dare trope spices up romance with a dash of mischief. In this playful narrative, characters make a bet or dare that forces them together, leading to unexpected feelings and humorous situations.
Whether it's star-crossed lovers from different centuries or the chance to start over in simpler times, the Time Travel trope adds a dash of magic and mystery to the world of romance.
Species and Character types
Often featured in Sci-Fi Romance fiction, the Alien Romance trope blends the otherworldly with the passionate. The freedom to explore alien physiology opens a door for stellar sensual experiences.
Whether set in the old American West or contemporary times, the allure of a cowboy's rugged charm or a cowgirl’s untamed beauty promises a romance book filled with excitement and adventure.
The ethereal Fairy/Fae trope uses the ephemeral nature of these creatures to explore themes of fleeting love affairs and overcoming the boundaries between the mortal world and the mystical.
Werewolf Romance & Shapeshifter Romance
In Paranormal and Fantasy Romance, the Werewolf trope takes primal desires and the supernatural center stage. Characters transforming into wolves reveal a world of passion and danger, exploring primal instincts and the human-beast balance.
Now, the broader Shapeshifter trope goes beyond werewolves, featuring characters who become birds, lions, or bears, each with distinct instincts and social dynamics.
The Vampire trope introduces a seductive dance between darkness and desire. These stories often explore themes of eternal love, forbidden desires, and the intoxicating blend of danger and passion that comes with crossing the threshold into the world of the undead.
The Witch trope conjures tales of enchanting women with mystical powers. These stories often feature strong, independent female lead characters who harness magic to navigate love, life, and the supernatural.
Wounded Hero Romance
The Wounded Hero trope introduces characters who bear deep emotional scars or physical injuries that make them complex and alluring. It's a journey of healing where love has the power to mend even the deepest wounds.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some frequently asked questions that will provide you with more information.
What defines romance fiction?
Romance fiction is a literary genre where the primary focus is on the romantic relationship between two characters, leading to an emotionally satisfying ending.
What is the best romance novel of all time?
The "best" romance novel is subjective, but classics like "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen are often cited among the greatest.
What is a good romance novel?
A good romance novel engages the reader with compelling characters, evocative settings, and a heartwarming love story that offers a satisfying conclusion.
What is fantasy romance fiction?
Fantasy romance fiction combines elements of the fantasy genre, such as magic and mythical creatures, with the romantic plotlines and character development typical of romance novels.
Is fictional romance a genre?
Yes, fictional romance, commonly referred to as simply "romance," is a well-established literary genre focusing on romantic relationships.
What is dark romance genre?
Dark romance refers to romance novels that incorporate darker, more intense themes and undertones, often involving anti-hero protagonists, morally ambiguous choices, or challenging emotional scenarios.