When you think “romance novels,” what comes to mind? Book covers featuring heaving breasts and men with deep v-neck shirts and flowy, Fabio-esque hair? Mainstream kink like Fifty Shades of Grey? Time-traveling, sex-filled epics? Wonderfully weird, paranormal/horror/sci-fi thrillers featuring a cast of characters who all bang like bunny rabbits? Tragic love stories in which at least one of the leads is almost definitely going to die in a deeply heartbreaking way in the final chapters? Lighter fare with movie-worthy meet-cutes and pure, true love, the likes of which seems frankly too beautiful and too pure to exist in the real world? All of the above?
If you answered “all of the above,” then congratulations because you really get romance as a literary genre. But, honestly, if you answered anything else, there’s still something for you in your own little corner of the romance novel universe. Because here’s the thing: Romance novels are not just one thing. Romance novels are as varied as the uniquely wonderful people who write them and the sexed-up/loved-up/anything-ed-up people who read them.
Here, we’ve gathered a list that highlights the wide, weird, and wonderful range of stories that fit within the “romance novel” umbrella in 2020. Whether you’re looking for 250+ pages of highly-descriptive sex scenes or something tamer that taps into your inner romantic, there is something (honestly, probably several somethings) on this list that will speak to your heart, soul, and loins.
The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez
For anyone who believes in the magic of true love—and the magic of dogs.
The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon
In addition to being a hilarious rom-com, The Boyfriend Project also highlights some incredible female friendships—you know, for when you want a romance novel that can also pass the Bechdel Test.
You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria
This awesome, LGBTQ romance is about a guy who enlists the help of a fake boyfriend to help his public image—only to end up falling for said fake boyfriend. As you do.
A Sweet Mess by Jayci Lee
Korean American author Jayci Lee is on metaphorical fire this year and A Sweet Mess will make you want Netflix to hire her to write a slate of witty rom-coms, STAT.
Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan
Ryan’s latest romanc-terpiece is as sexy and steamy as it is heartfelt and real.
If I Never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane
The best romance novel protagonists make you feel empowered and better about yourself and the world than you did before you started reading. If I Never Met You‘s Laurie is that kind of protagonist.
Well Played by Jen DeLuca
Finding love at a comic book convention? Talk even nerdier to me.
How to Fail at Flirting by Denise Williams
Love a good “meek girl decides to spice things up” story? Then click “add to cart” immediately.
The Heir Affair by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan
If you’re obsessed with Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and generally all things royal, this series is the escapist dream you need.
Never Kiss a Duke by Megan Frampton
If you prefer romance novels of the Fabio-cover variety, try Never Kiss a Duke, which is downright titillating.
Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas
And if you’re into dreamy, historic romance, it doesn’t get much dreamier (or steamier) than this series.
Inappropriate by Vi Keeland
If inappropriate workplace relationships is a taboo that gets you going, meet your next indulgence.
Real Men Knit by Kwana Jackson
Sexy. Knitting. Men. ‘Nuff said.
Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo
This book, about a Nigerian woman who ends up forced to choose between her family’s expectations and her heart’s true desires, is emotionally gripping and deeply moving.
The Trouble with Hating You by Sajni Patel
This book follows a fiercely independent woman who bails on her parents’ attempts to set her up with a future-husband—only to meet and fall for him later when he gets a job in her office.
The Falling in Love Montage by Ciara Smyth
Yes, this is a YA romance. But what it lacks in steamy, steamy sex scenes, it makes up for in genuine heart and aww-worthy moments. The book follows two teenage girls who start dating and attempt to avoid things getting too serious by spending their summer fling going on a series of cliché movie montage dates. Spoiler alert: Things get serious.
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
This #OwnVoices book is the latest from Mia Sosa, who is genuinely a master of the modern romance novel.
Christmas Charms by Teri Wilson
If you spent a bigger portion of the year than you’d care to admit counting down to the release of the year’s wave of new, wonderfully cheesy made for TV (or streaming) holiday movies, then order this book, which is literally a Hallmark movie in book form.
Alpha Night by Nalini Singh
Wolf magic and sexiness? Yes. Please.
Angry God by L.J Shen
The sex scenes in this series are always over-the-top and sometimes that’s all you need from a romance novel, right?
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver
How do you choose between two lives and two loves? This impossibly-romantic book sets out to answer that question.
House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
If supernatural sexiness is your romance novel vibe, just follow everything Sarah J. Maas does.
The Sinner by J.R. Ward
If you obsessed over Twilight back in the day and still crave the NC-17 version of sexy vampire storytelling, J.R. Ward’s steamy Black Dagger Brotherhood series is for you.
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