12 Romance Books with the Biggest Impact on the Genre

The romance book genre has been a staple in publishing for decades but its popularity has skyrocketed in recent years with no end in sight thanks to several romance books that have had the biggest impact on the genre.

You only need to take a look at the New York Time’s bestseller list to see how popular the genre has become with many titles taking their place in the top 15 each and every week.

While the pandemic and #Booktok are both recent contributing factors for this resurgence of the romance genre and the emergence of millions of new fans, there are also several romance books that stand out as having the biggest impact on the genre’s success.

While this list of romance books with the biggest impact on the genre is purely based on my assessment and observations, there are many, many books that have all played a role in the genre’s ascension and continued success.

Of course, the giants of the genre like Nora Roberts and Judith McNaught have all had their impact, but the books in this list have all played a special, particular role to highlight.

Have a strong opinion on which romance book had the biggest impact on the genre? Share it in the comments below and let’s discuss!

Podcast Episode 53: Romance Books with the Biggest Impact on the Genre

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Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

Pride & Prejudice
by Jane Austen

When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever.

In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows us the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

Pride & Prejudice is without a doubt one of the romance books with the biggest impact on the genre since it is still widely known today, two centuries later after it was first published in 1813. Talk about a romance book that has stood the test of time!

It’s the ultimate enemies to lovers romance which is such a popular trope today among romance fans. Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most popular novels in the English language.

It is such a classic but truly one of THE books to influence and impact the genre because of its popularity, longevity, and staying power through the years. While this romance books stands out the most to me, all of Jane Austen’s books arguably have had a huge impact on the romance book genre.

Read Pride and Prejudice: Amazon

The Notebook is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

The Notebook
by Nicholas Sparks

Every so often a love story so captures our hearts that it becomes more than a story-it becomes an experience to remember forever. The Notebook is such a book. It is a celebration of how passion can be ageless and timeless, a tale that moves us to laughter and tears and makes us believe in true love all over again…

At thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. At twenty-nine, socialite Allie Nelson is about to marry a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. Thus begins the story of a love so enduring and deep it can turn tragedy into triumph, and may even have the power to create a miracle.

The Notebook is such a wonderful second chance romance that catapulted Sparks’ popularity. Since publishing The Notebook, all of Nicholas Sparks’ books have gone on to be New York Times bestsellers, with over 130 million copies sold worldwide, in more than 50 languages, including over 92 million copies in the United States alone.

The Notebook really made Sparks one of those iconic romance authors of the time when it was really just a few big names who kept churning out the traditionally published romance books. I’m looking at you Nora Roberts!

Of course, the 2004 film starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams is just as famous as the book and remains the most lucrative Nicholas Sparks adaptation to date. Plus, all these years later after its initial release, you can now experience Noah and Allie’s epic romance as a Broadway musical.

Read The Notebook: Amazon

Twilight is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

Twilight
by Stephanie Meyers

Isabella Swan’s move to Forks, a small, perpetually rainy town in Washington, could have been the most boring move she ever made. But once she meets the mysterious and alluring Edward Cullen, Isabella’s life takes a thrilling and terrifying turn.

Up until now, Edward has managed to keep his vampire identity a secret in the small community he lives in, but now nobody is safe, especially Isabella, the person Edward holds most dear. The lovers find themselves balanced precariously on the point of a knife — between desire and danger.

Deeply romantic and extraordinarily suspenseful, Twilight captures the struggle between defying our instincts and satisfying our desires. This is a love story with bite.

Twilight is without a doubt one of the romance books that has had the biggest impact on the genre. Released in 2005, this young adult paranormal romance is considered a literary phenomenon that redefined romance for a generation according to the New York Times.

The Twilights series became an international bestseller, with more than 160 million copies sold as of 2021. Twilight also sits 5th among the 150 best-selling print books between 2004 and 2021, according to Publishers Weekly.

USA Today declared Meyer “Author of the Year,” citing that she had done something that no one else had in the 15 years of the USA Today bestselling book list– she swept the top four slots in 2008. And she did it again in 2009.  All together, her books have spent over 303 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List as well.

Plus, the Twilight series books were adapted into five blockbuster movies, which grossed $3.4 billion worldwide.

Not only is Twilight one of the romance books to have the biggest impact on the genre because of the number of books sold, but because of its impact on the young adult genre.

Some say it is THE book that made the young adult genre and young adult romance genre what it is today and why one even exists. It was one of the first books to bridge the gap between children’s chapter books and adult books and create this new subcategory of books that has taken off among readers of all ages.

Without a doubt, Twilight, will forever be a romance book that had a huge impact on the genre that continues today.

Read Twilight: Amazon

Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

Fifty Shades of Grey
by E.L. James

When literature student Anastasia Steele goes to interview young entrepreneur Christian Grey, she encounters a man who is beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating. The unworldly, innocent Ana is startled to realize she wants this man and, despite his enigmatic reserve, finds she is desperate to get close to him.

Unable to resist Ana’s quiet beauty, wit, and independent spirit, Grey admits he wants her, too—but on his own terms.

Shocked yet thrilled by Grey’s singular erotic tastes, Ana hesitates. For all the trappings of success—his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving family—Grey is a man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control. When the couple embarks on a daring, passionately physical affair, Ana discovers Christian Grey’s secrets and explores her own dark desires.

Fifty Shades of Grey is an iconic romance book that brought erotic romance and BDSM romance to the fore when readers fell for Christian Grey and his particular, erotic interests.

When Fifty Shades of Grey released in 2011, it became an instant #1 New York Times Bestseller. The Fifty Shades trilogy has sold more than 165 million copies worldwide, has spent 133 weeks on the NY Times bestseller list, and of course was adapted into a popular movie franchise series.

Fifty Shades of Grey also sits in the #3 spot of the top-selling book from 2024-2021 according to Publisher’s Weekly –  just a few spots above Twilight.

This book forever changed and impacted the romance genre for two main reasons. One, this book brought a huge focus to fanfiction. Fifty Shades of Grey began as a work of Twilight fanfiction which she initially titled Master of the Universe. With Fifty Shades of Grey’s publication, James became the most commercially successful fanfiction author of all time. 

Plus, Fifty Shades of Grey helped popularize aspects of BDSM practice and brought erotic romance into the commercial and cultural mainstream. It proved that readers want a love story with some spicy elements and they weren’t afraid to show it. So, without a doubt, Fifty Shades of Grey has had a huge impact on the romance genre.

Read Fifty Shades of Grey: Amazon

After is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

After
by Anna Todd

Tessa goes off to college with a dependable boyfriend waiting at home and her life and career neatly planned out. On her first day on campus, everything shifts when she encounters Hardin. With his disheveled brown locks, cocky British charm, and a canvas of tattoos, he’s a stark departure from her familiar world.

But Hardin’s rudeness borders on cruelty, and Tessa resolves to hate him. At least until they share a charged moment alone—and suddenly, Tessa is questioning everything she’s ever known about herself.

Despite his hot-and-cold attitude, Tessa is drawn to uncover the hidden layers within Hardin. In the midst of her newfound independence and electrifying uncertainty, Tessa’s connection with Hardin feels like the passionate love she’s been looking for. With her carefully laid plans forever disrupted, what comes after?

After is another romance book to have a huge impact on the genre because it not only jump-started the new adult romance category but it also became the Wattpad platform’s most-read series with over two billion reads.

In prior years, the only romance stories available to read were romance books published by traditional publishing houses. But with the rise of fanfiction on the internet with platforms like Wattpad, the romance genre became more widely available, more diverse and widespread which is why After is an important romance book to impact the genre.

Read After: Amazon

A Court of Thorns and Roses is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

A Court of Thorns and Roses
by Sarah J. Maas

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre takes the life of a wolf in the woods, a terrifying creature arrives to demand retribution. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she knows about only from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not truly a beast, but one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled her world.

At least, he’s not a beast all the time.

As she adapts to her new home, her feelings for the faerie, Tamlin, transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But something is not right in the faerie lands. An ancient, wicked shadow is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it, or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

If you ask a romance book reader to name one fantasy romance book, I’m sure you’ll get the answer, A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sarah J. Maas is THE fantasy romance book author with several New York Times bestselling series including Throne of Glass, A Court of Thornes and Roses, and Crescent City.

This book earned her a Goodreads Choice Nomination in 2015 for Best Young Adult Fantasy & Science Fiction but this book and all of her fantasy romance books have captivated young adult and adult readers alike with no end in sight for her book sales.

Even nine years after its publication, A Court of Thorns and Roses, again landed on the New York Times bestsellers list along with each book in the series because readers can’t get enough. It’s no surprise that any book Maas publishes is an instant bestseller for years to come.

Her books have spurred on the fantasy romance category unlike any other having a huge impact on the romance genre as a whole.

Read A Court of Thorns and Roses: Amazon

It Ends With Us is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

It Ends With Us
by Colleen Hoover

Lily hasn’t always had it easy, but that’s never stopped her from working hard for the life she wants. She’s come a long way from the small town where she grew up—she graduated from college, moved to Boston, and started her own business. And when she feels a spark with a gorgeous neurosurgeon named Ryle Kincaid, everything in Lily’s life seems too good to be true.

Ryle is assertive, stubborn, maybe even a little arrogant. He’s also sensitive, brilliant, and has a total soft spot for Lily. And the way he looks in scrubs certainly doesn’t hurt. Lily can’t get him out of her head. But Ryle’s complete aversion to relationships is disturbing. Even as Lily finds herself becoming the exception to his “no dating” rule, she can’t help but wonder what made him that way in the first place.

As questions about her new relationship overwhelm her, so do thoughts of Atlas Corrigan—her first love and a link to the past she left behind. He was her kindred spirit, her protector. When Atlas suddenly reappears, everything Lily has built with Ryle is threatened.

It Ends With Us is a romance book that had a huge resurgence thanks to the pandemic and #Booktok and that really launched Colleen Hoover as THE romance author to read in 2022.

Hoover has sold over 20 million copies of her books, including It Ends with Us, and by the end of 2022, Hoover held six books out of the top ten in the New York Times bestseller paperback list. She even made it to the Time Top 100 Most Influential People list in April 2023. 

This book and Colleen Hoover, given the amount of books she’s sold, really spotlighted how much people were reading romance and how many books were flying off the shelves when other genre sales were decreasing in 2022.

The success of It Ends With Us, I think, also helped to open doors to other independently published authors with so many indie authors being picked up by traditional publishers and having their books in bookstores within the last year alone.

Plus, It Ends With Us and Colleen Hoover really influenced the romance genre in how authors use social media to sell their books and how social media can really make or break a bestseller.

Read It Ends With Us: Amazon
My Book Review of It Ends With Us

The Duke and I is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

The Duke and I
by Julia Quinn

Can there be any greater challenge to London’s Ambitious Mamas than an unmarried duke?—Lady Whistledown’s Society Papers, April 1813

By all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend’s sister—the lovely and almost-on-the-shelf—Daphne Bridgerton. But the two of them know the truth—it’s all an elaborate ruse to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable.

But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it’s hard to remember that their courtship is a sham. Maybe it’s his devilish smile, certainly it’s the way his eyes seem to burn every time he looks at her . . . but somehow Daphne is falling for the dashing duke . . . for real! And now she must do the impossible and convince the handsome rogue that their clever little scheme deserves a slight alteration, and that nothing makes quite as much sense as falling in love.

The Duke and I released in 2000 and became popular at that time with Julia Quinn known as a must-read historical romance author to those who loved historical romance, but it’s had a huge influence on the genre with its success as a TV series.

After Bridgerton debuted on Netflix in December 2020, the steamy drama became the number one ranked title globally. In its first 28 days, Bridgerton was watched by 82 million member households. That means roughly 40% of Netflix subscribers watched it and as a result, at the time it had the biggest-ever debut for an original series on a streaming service.

The show’s successful debut of course can partly be attributed to timing given we were all homebound in December 2020 due to the pandemic and binge-watching TV, but it also became popular because Shonda Rhimes really championed having a diverse cast.

The show’s success, I believe,  has only improved the romance genre’s appeal across readership and it’s proven that romance book-based TV series can be widely successful.

So much of TV has been sci-fi and fantasy as of late, but the Bridgerton series is just as or if not more so successful which is why so many other romance books have been picked up for series and movie adaptations in recent years since the show’s debut. 

Read The Duke and I: Amazon

Ice Planet Barbarians is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

Ice Planet Barbarians
by Ruby Dixon

You’d think being abducted by aliens would be the worst thing that could happen to me. And you’d be wrong. Because now, the aliens are having ship trouble, and they’ve left their cargo of human women – including me – on an ice planet. And the only native inhabitant I’ve met? He’s big, horned, blue, and really, really has a thing for me…

Ice Planet Barbarians was originally self-published in 2015 and has since spawned 20+ books and spin-offs. Given its huge success and popularity on Booktok, Ice Planet Barbarians had reached the fifth most-sold book on Amazon before it was picked up by Berkley and made available in bookstores.

I believe this romance book deserves a spot on this list because what its popularity has done to spotlight the variety of stories in the romance genre.

You don’t have to publish a contemporary romance, a historical romance, or even a young adult or erotic romance to become a hit with readers. You can write an alien romance book and readers are going to grab it, love it and make it hugely successful.

This book has not only showed how popular independent publishing has grown and where it can lead, but also that the romance book genre doesn’t fit just certain boxes. It can include alien and monster romance, omegaverse romance, and so much more.

Read Ice Planet Barbarians: Amazon
My Book Review of Ice Planet Barbarians

Beach Read is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

Beach Read
by Emily Henry

Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he writes off his entire cast. They’re polar opposites.

In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.

Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel.

She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.

Beach Read and all of Emily Henry’s books have had a huge impact on the genre because her books appeal to a wide range of readers. People who say they don’t read romance will read whatever Emily Henry publishes each year, thus making romance mainstream for so many readers.

Emily Henry has sold at least 2.4 million books with her books spending weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list. Three of her books have also been optioned for films and readers cannot get enough of her.

Beach Read also stands out as one of the books to really change the look of romance book covers which has had a huge impact on the genre. Its yellow, graphic cover ushered in a wave of romance book covers embracing this trend, moving away from model covers.

This trend in book cover design, I believe, has made it easier for more readers to pick up a romance book who otherwise wouldn’t grab a romance book because of its cover. It’s proving in a way that people do judge a book (and genre) by its cover and how a cover can really appeal to an atypical reader and increase the success of a genre.

Read Beach Read: Amazon

Red, White & Royal Blue is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

Red, White & Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House.

There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined.

Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

McQuiston’s debut, MM romance released in 2019 and became an instant New York Times and USA TODAY bestseller. It was a Goodreads Choice Award Winner for Best Debut and Best Romance of 2019 and made many best of the year book lists including my own for 2019.

I had to include Red White & Royal Blue on this list because I think it really had an impact on the rise of queer, LGBTQ+ romance books in the genre. Yes, there were queer romance books before this book’s release, but ever since 2019 there has been a significant increase in queer romance books that are traditionally published.

It’s phenomenal how much easier it is to put together my list of new queer romance book releases for the year in recent years because there are so many books to choose from.

The Red, White & Royal Blue movie, which released in 2023, also increased the notion that romance books are great material for TV series and movies which we will hopefully see more of in the future. If my list of romance books to movies in the works is any indication, we absolutely will.

Read Red, White & Royal Blue: Amazon
My Book Review of Red, White & Royal Blue

Fourth Wing is one of the most popular romance books that has had the greatest impact on the romance genre.

Fourth Wing
by Rebecca Yarros

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, the threat of losing your life is only a heartbeat away…because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would end Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would end her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the battle outside grows more dangerous, the kingdom’s protective wards are failing, and the loss of life continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.


There have been many young adult fantasy books that readers have adored before Fourth Wing but the success of this romantasy has blown others out of the water.

Fourth Wing is still on the New York Times bestseller list as is the second book in the Empyrian series, Iron Flame as of May 2024. I’m sure both books will stay on the list through the rest of the year and into 2025 until book three, Onyx Storm, releases in January.

This book has had a huge impact on the romance genre because it really put romantasy on the map and even helped coin the term. Fourth Wing has made people not familiar with fantasy romance stop and take notice.

I cannot tell you how many readers I’ve heard say that they don’t typically read fantasy or fantasy romance but they loved Fourth Wing. So to say that this book has had a huge impact on the genre is an understatement.  As a result, we are going to be seeing more and more romantasy titles published for years to come.

Read Fourth Wing: Amazon
My Book Review of Fourth Wing

So many books have played their part in building up and impacting the romance genre but these 12 books really stood out to me for the role they played and continue to play in drawing in new readers to the genre, legitimizing the genre in the eyes of other readers, selling millions of books, and keeping romance very well represented on the New York Times bestseller lists.

I have been reading romance for so long, I cannot wait to see which books are going to have just as much of an impact on the genre as these or even more so in the future to come.

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Leslie Murphy is the owner and writer of She Reads Romance Books.

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Leslie is the founder, writer, and producer of She Reads Romance Books (and the She Reads Romance Books Podcast), an online book community focused on romance books and the readers who love them because life is better with a love story.

Leslie reads 150 romance books a year and has been called a "book expert" by CNN. Reading romance is her passion and she cultivates her book lists with the best books worth reading in the genre. Leslie graduated magna cum laude from Davidson College where she honed her writing skills and also holds two Master's degrees. Join her community in the She Reads Romance Books Reader Lounge.

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2 thoughts on “12 Romance Books with the Biggest Impact on the Genre”

  1. I can’t believe Sarah J Maas isn’t on this list. I feel like she spurned on the romantasy genre with A Court of Thorns and Roses long before Fourth Wing came out!

    Reply
    • Sarah, funny you should say that as I was putting my list of New York Times bestsellers together I thought…I don’t think I included ACOTAR on this list of books that impacted the genre! Will update!

      Reply

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