What’s Your Kink? The 7 Types of Romance Novels

types of romance

Whether it’s realistic or fantastic, modern day or oldenday, sugar sweet or habenero hot, you’ll find your kink in at least one of these seven subgenres of Romance!

When I tell people I’m a romance writer, I can pretty much expect one of three basic reactions: “Oookayyyy…” “Ohhh hayyyy 😉 ” and “Wait… like… 50 Shades of Grey?”

All three make me laugh – I love what I do! 

And after we’re all done having a good laugh picturing me writing shmexytimes at a library, café or my dining room table, they want to know what kind of romance I write. It’s a great question, since when most people think of “romance novels” they picture the small white books with Fabio ravishing a busty lady on the cover. In fact, most people give me a guilty look and tell me romance “just isn’t their thing” when I tell them my books are a blend of romance, chick lit and erotica.

Hmm, that’s cool. That’s cool.

BUT THEN, I ask, when was the last time they actually read a romance novel? To which they almost ALWAYS reply, “Well, I’ve never actually read one…”

Y’all, there’s a reason the saying “Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it” is relevant to everything from broccoli to butt stuff. The wisdom, the hilarity, the suspense, the imagination, even the prose you can find in the romance section of Barnes & Noble is, at times, totally mind-blowing. And honestly there are so many types of romance novels if you can’t find anything you like I have to assume you haven’t tried.

So I’m here to help you out!

First, there are Two Rules you can expect when venturing into the Romance genre: 

1. The main storyline will be about the relationship (although there’ll often be an exciting secondary storyline that varies depending on sub-genre)

2. The story will end happily (either “ever-after” or, at least, “for-now”)

Beyond this, “Romance” as a genre can be split into seven subgenres. Many blend, bend and extend these basic categories, but for the sake of helping you find just one to try, let’s say the 7 Types of Romance Novels are these:

1. Contemporary Romance

Contemporary is my personal fave and, accordingly, my own subgenre. Basically, contemporary romance describes any modern love story that takes place in the present. The characters talk, walk, play and lay just like us, making it an enormously popular space in which to be. Within the genre you can find your billionaire boss stories, your small town homecoming stories, your rival bakery stories, your modern princess stories, your professor-student stories…

Because this subgenre is so popular it can be overwhelming and, at times, kiiiind of cliché IMBHO (in my brutally honest opinion). Luckily the genre has been evolving over the past few years to not only include more interesting storylines, but also to be more inclusive, period. Diversity in race, ability and orientation is skyrocketing at the moment, and making for a much richer reading experience.

types of romance
Some personal favorites of mine are: Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert; Intercepted by Alexa Martin; The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang; Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston; Royally Screwed by Emma Chase

2. Historical Romance

The RWA (Romance Writers of America) define historical romance to be any love story that takes place before 1950. Here you’ll find your dukes and duchesses, your emperors and concubines, your Scottish lairds and Wild West gunslingers, your swashbuckling pirates and fierce gladiators. It’s a fun, transportive sub-genre, filled with scenarios, occupations, outfits and, of course, language/diction, not found in today’s society.

types of romance
Some examples are: Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore (1800’s England); Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin (Chinese Tang Dynasty); Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn (ancient Roman empire); Brazen by Susan Johnson (1800’s Steamy England); Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare (1800’s England)

3. Romantic Suspense/Mystery/Thriller

If you’re a fan of heart-pumping, palm-sweating, can’t-put-this-down-because-someone’s-definitely-gonna-kick-on-the-next-page stories, this is the subgenre for you. In these books, the “thrilling” storyline will weave intricately with the romantic storyline until it inevitably jeopardizes the relationship in some way. I’m an escapist reader, myself, so I’ve only read a few light versions of this sub-genre. However, I have managed to pull a few recco’s off of Goodreads!

types of romance
Code of Conduct by April White (Light Suspense); I See You by Mary Burton (Mystery); The Obsession by Nora Roberts (Thriller); Connections in Death by J.D. Robb (Suspense/Mystery)

4. Erotic Romance (aka “Erotica”)

Oh, yeah. Get it, girl. If you’re looking for sexytimes look no further than this subgenre, often known as simply “Erotica.” While most romance books have at least some kissing, these books are all about the kissing to the point that the plot would pretty much crumble like a stale cookie without it, being much too simple to hold its own (again, IMBHO). 

Now this isn’t to say the characters, themselves, are simple. Often they have rich backstories that fuel the sexual chemistry: an uptight librarian-type is introduced to the world of BDSM, two male Doms share a female Sub before confessing their long-existing love for each other, sex workers with damaged pasts fall for unlikely upper class clients. The sex is hot, graphic and frequent. And I know you’re curious, so why don’t you do warm yourself up this winter with a steamy read?

types of romance
The Master by Tara Sue Me (BDSM); The Devil by Ashley Jade (Queer/Ménage – MMF); Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin (allllll kinds of kink); Bared to You by Sylvia Day; Sweet Possession by Maya Banks

5. “Speculative” Romance (Paranormal/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

While this subgenre covers a lot of ground, all of its stories include some form of “not real.” So we can group them for the purposes of (slighty-over)-simplifying, right? 

Paranormal romance deals in romantic relationships with supernatural characters. Here you’ll find your vampires, ghosts, angels, witches, etc. If you miss True Blood and Vampire Diaries, you’re gonna wanna check this out.

Fantasy romance takes place in a world separate from the one in which we live, complete with settings, creatures, social systems and magic we’re (obviously) unfamiliar with and must learn through the story. Think elves, dragons, gargoyles, ancient protectors, dragon slayers… all of that deliciousness.

Sci-Fi romance is often set in the future (near or far). And while we may recognize many elements of the story world, there are some elements we will not recognize at all. Cyborgs, blue aliens, interstellar hanky-panky? If that’s your kink, look no further!

types of romance
Have a look/taste/bite: The League series by Sherrilyn Kenyon (Sci-Fi); Rebel Belle by Rachel Hawkins (Fantasy); Drop Dead Gorgeous by Juliet Lyons (Paranormal); The E.T. Guy (Sci-Fi Rom-Com); Mrs. Caliban (Magic Realism for fans of The Shape of Water)

6. Inspirational/Religious Romance (aka “Inspys”)

RWA defines Inspirational Romance as having “religious or spiritual beliefs [that] are an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development, that could not be removed without damaging the storyline.” This religious element is present in every part of the story, from plot to characters to (lack of) kissing parts. Interestingly the story can take place at any time, so there are stories from biblical times, stories from colonial America, and stories from now! 

But… I have a confession: I’ve never picked up an Inspy. I’ve been meaning to. In fact, next time I go to B&N I promise I’ll grab one. Where my parents live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the section is surprisingly large so I’m bound to find something that piques my interest, right?

types of romance
A roundtable discussion from All About Romance puts forward these recommendations: An Elegant Façade by Kristi Ann Hunter (Christian); Invisible Lives by Anjali Banerjee (Hindu); Love Comes Later by Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar (Muslim); Valley of Choice series by Olivia Newport (Amish)

UPDATE: I read Accidentally Amish… and I didn’t hate it! It was sweet and well-written, I loved the dual timeline between present day/when the main characters’ relatives immigrated from Europe, and the author didn’t beat me over the head with a preachy message of “faith conquers all” like I expected. Consider my curiosity piqued! I won’t shy away from grabbing another Inspy in the future 🙂

7. Young Adult Romance

YA romance is a burgeoning subgenre I feel deserves mentioning especially in today’s market. Let’s face facts, here: Today’s teens aren’t the teens of our parents’ generation, nor even of mine. With so much information and, more importantly, access to that information, on the whole they’re becoming mature adults with mature opinions and mature experiences earlier. So, naturally, there’s a market for Young Adult romance.

This genre is often less explicit, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of sexual tension (hey, we all remember what it was like to be a teenager, mmkayyy)! The books feature aspects of teen life and relationships – school, friends, parties, vacations, deflowering – alongside deeper themes like coming of age, finding/accepting who you are, following your dreams. I’d also add that today’s YA romance market is serving up a lot of really great LGBTQ+ literature, and I’m so here for it!

types of romance
Autoboyography by Christina Lauren; Pretty Reckless by L.J. Shen; The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson; To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han; Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Of course, the beauty of the Romance genre is in the blending.

I love a love story that defies categorization and so, too, do many romance authors! Christina Lauren’s Beautiful series (aka the series that inspired me to write the kind of romance I do) is gorgeously written Contemporary/Erotic. Diana Gabaldon’s hugely popular Outlander series (now an excellent TV series on Starz) is Historical/Speculative (Time-Travel). Piper Huguley’s highly rated The Preacher’s Promise is Historical/Inspirational. Robin Jones Gunn’s sweet Christy Miller collection is Inspirational/YA. Can You Keep A Secret? by Sophie Kinsella is chick-lit/rom-com.

types of romance

There are also books that don’t easily fall into categorization because they’re just so… ahem… different. Amo Jones’ Elite King’s Club series is dizzingly dark, tense and volatile (if you’re into that). Tiffany Roberts’ Treasure of the Abyss serves up sexytimes between a human woman and a… half-Kraken alien. Bear by Marian Engel has her heroine literally – like literally, literally – doing it with a (literal) bear. And then there’s Chuck Tingle.

types of romance

But as you can see all of these types of romance novels have something unique to offer. So before you dismiss Romance as “not your thing,” I hope I’ve convinced you to dip your toes into at least one of them! 

I’ll bet you a velvety glass of red you’ll be pleasantly surprised. 


A Note about Category Romance

So you used to sneak under you mom’s, aunt’s, older sister’s, grandma’s, or great-grandma’s bed to steal their Harlequins, eh? Of course you did! The books you most likely found down there are known as “Category Romance” novels. They’re short (~250 pages) and sweet, often the kind of story you’ve read a hundred times but, hey, you don’t care because you just want to turn off your brain and fall in love for a few hours! They can feature stories from all of the subgenres (besides YA) listed above, and you’ll recognize them because 1) their titles are pretty much their plots and 2) their covers often group them in easy-to-find categories.

Seriously, it’s like SEO for the bookshelf. 

types of romance
The Cowboy Upstairs by Tanya Michaels (Harlequin “Western Romance”); A Christmas Miracle by Amy Andrews (Harlequin “Medical Romance”); The Sheikh’s Convenient Princess by Liz Fielding; Awakened by the Scarred Italian by Abby Green


[P.S. For more romance recommendations and fun book reviews, check out Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, Dirty Girl Romance, and Romance Junkies!]

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