This guide to the romance genre and romance tropes is designed to help you learn more and clarify any questions you may have about the romance genre.
This guide will give you a general outline that describes:
- What is the romance genre?
- What are the romance sub-genres?
- What are romance tropes?
By the end of this post, you’ll have a firm understanding of what the romance genre is all about and the types of stories and plotlines that you can find in this wide and diverse form of literature.
Within each romance sub-genre and trope below you’ll find links to book lists that will give you recommendations of the best books worth reading within that category.
They will help you can get reading right away in whatever sub-genre or trope you like best.
Plus, after learning about all the categories in romance and romance tropes, you can take a fun quiz to determine what type of romance book you’d be based on your personality!
What is the Romance Genre?
The romance genre is defined by two aspects that can be found in every romance book or novel:
- a central love story between characters
- an emotionally satisfying, happy ending
As the Romance Book Writers of America states, romance books can “have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality – ranging from sweet to extremely hot.”
Regardless of the story or setting, as long as the book is centered around a love story and ends with a happy ending, you’ve got a romance book!
Why Should I Read Romance?
Besides reading a story with a guaranteed happy ending, there are several reasons to read romance and why I highly recommend it!
I actually share 20 reasons why I read romance novels so check out that post if you’re curious or need some motivation. I guarantee some will surprise you!
What Are the Romance Sub-Genres?
Within the romance genre, there are several sub-genres that organize romance books by specific categories.
These romance sub-genres give an overarching categorization to the romance book and include the following:
Contemporary romance includes romance books that are contemporary with the time the book was written.
Cross Cultural Romance
Cross cultural romance books feature diverse characters of different ethnicities, religions, or races that fall in love. They also include interracial romance books.
Dark romance is a category of romance books with more mature themes that are often trigger or content warnings for some readers.
Main characters often portray morally grey behavior which may include violence or abuse.
Erotic romance is the category of romance book in which the intimacy between characters is central to the main characters’ growth and relationship. Without this intimacy, the storyline of the romance book would be damaged.
Fantasy is a romance subgenre that includes fantastical, magical, supernatural and/or science fiction elements that are integral to the story, setting, plot and characters.
The setting of fantasy romance books typically takes place in a different world or alternative universe though some fantasy romance books also take place in our contemporary world as well.
Young adult fantasy romance is very popular in this category.
The historical romance sub-genre includes romance novels where the timeframe of the novel takes place sometime before the 1950s. Historical romance book time periods may include:
- Medieval Period
- Viking Age
- 17th Century Scottish Highlands
- Colonial America
- Regency England
- Victorian England
- American Civil War
- American Western Expansion
- Early 20th Century
Holiday romance books include all novels where love is found around a holiday. These include New Year’s Eve romances, Valentine’s Day romance books, Halloween romance books, Thanksgiving romances and Christmas romance books, and Hanukkah romance books.
New Adult Romance
The new adult romance sub-genre includes romance books written about characters in the 18-30 age bracket.
This relatively new romance sub-genre was created to fill the gap between young adult romance and adult romantic fiction. It often includes romance books set in college but not exclusively.
OwnVoices romance books feature characters who represent the same marginalized identities as their author.
Paranormal romance books are centered around paranormal phenomena and paranormal characters. These paranormal creatures could include vampires, ghosts, shapeshifters, psychics, werewolves, aliens, demons or zombies.
The romantic comedy sub-genre includes romance books where humor is central to the progression of the storyline as well as the romantic connection and happily-ever-after ending.
The romantic suspense sub-genre includes romance books where there is a plotline of suspense or mystery to be solved within the plotline in addition to the overarching love story.
The sports romance sub-genre includes romance books that have a central theme of some aspect of the sports world. Usually, main characters in this sub-genre are athletes, coaches, owners, agents, etc.
Young Adult Romance
The young adult romance sub-genre fits into the young adult fiction that categories these books as those written for readers age 12-18.
Though young adult romance books are often books about teenage romance, some of these romance books are intended for a more mature audience.
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What are Romance Tropes?
In addition to romance books organized by categories by these sub-genres, they may also fit a specific romance trope.
A romance trope is a plot device or theme used within a romance novel giving a recognizable starting point to the story that a reader can recognize.
Though many romance books can use one common romance trope, it is their storylines and characters that differentiate each book using this common plot device.
Romance authors can use more than one romance trope within a novel and these romance tropes can be found within any romance sub-genre.
The most common romance tropes include:
Academic Rivals to Lovers
The academic rivals to lovers trope includes romance books where the main characters are rivals at school or at work but end up falling in love with one another. This trope is a different take on the enemies to lovers trope.
Age Gap Romance
The age gap romance trope features a love story between a hero and heroine who have a large age gap between them. These romances often also fit the forbidden romance trope.
The alien romance trope includes romance books where at least one of the main characters is an alien. These books may also fall into the fantasy or paranormal romance book categories.
The alpha male romance trope features romance heroes who are the epitome of an alpha male. They show characteristics of being strong, possessive, confident, and dominant among others.
The arranged marriage trope features romance novels where the main characters are forced into a marriage arranged for them by other parties, and is a marriage they did not choose to enter into themselves.
It is very similar to the marriage of convenience trope however often times the characters in those romance books choose to enter the marriage for specific reasons of their own.
The athlete romance trope features romance novels with at least one athlete as the main character.
Athlete romance books fall into the sports romance category and can cover a wide range of popular and unusual sports including baseball romance, basketball romance, football romance, hockey romance, soccer romance, and many others!
The BDSM romance trope features romance books where the main characters practice BDSM in their relationship or the setting of the romance book is a BDSM club.
Best Friend’s Brother
Billionaire Romance/Secret Billionaire
The secret billionaire romance trope is where the billionaire’s status is unknown to his or her love interest or other central characters in the story.
The bodyguard romance trope features a romance between a bodyguard and the person he/she is tasked to protect. These often fall into the office romance trope or even forbidden romance trope as well.
The boss romance trope is very similar to the office romance trope however things get a bit more specific.
The office relationship between the two main characters in the boss romance trope includes a boss and his/her employee.
Brother’s Best Friend
The brother’s best friend trope features a romance between a main character and their brother’s best friend. This is very similar yet a bit different to the best friend’s brother trope above.
The bully romance book trope encompasses any romance book where one of the main characters bullies another main character but despite that initial behavior, the two characters end up falling for each other.
The bully romance trope is very similar to the enemies to lovers trope but the antagonistic behavior is a lot more intense in bully romance. Many bully romance books feature young adult characters in high school or prep school.
The cowboy romance book trope includes romance books where at least one character is a cowboy or cowgirl.
The dirty talker trope focuses on a character in a romance book who is quite outspoken in and out of the bedroom with his or her words that inspire arousal.
Enemies to Lovers
The enemies to lovers romance trope skims the line between love and hate. The main characters may start out as enemies with either extreme hate or dislike actually hiding love and affection, but they end up overcoming that hate and falling in love.
Fake Dating/Fake Relationship
These romance tropes center around the main characters agreeing to start fake dating to carry on a fake relationship for beneficial reasons to one or both sides. In the process of faking their relationship in public, they end up falling in love.
The forbidden romance trope centers on a love connection between characters that in the eyes of others should not be together.
Examples could be doctor-patient, priest-layperson, older person-younger love interest, teacher-student, etc.
The forced proximity romance trope is when the two main characters find themselves forced to spend time around one another, often because they are stuck in one location either willingly or unwillingly.
The found family trope is when a group of unrelated characters bond together to form their own unit or family. The found family can include relatives or just a group of friends.
Friends to Lovers
The friends to lovers romance trope is exactly as it sounds. Two characters who have already established a friendship, either since childhood or later in life, and then cross the line between friends and lovers and fall in love.
The grumpy sunshine trope includes romance books where one main character is a bit of a grump in personality while the other main character is super happy, optimistic, and is just a ray of sunshine in everything they do.
This trope is similar to the opposites attract trope.
The jilted bride trope centers on a heroine who is left at the altar only to fall in love with someone related to or close to the groom or another hero in the story.
The love triangle romance trope explores a central character falling in love with two other people and the choice they make between the two.
The mafia romance trope includes those books where one of the main characters is tied to or involved with the mafia. It may overlap with the dark romance trope or romantic suspense.
Marriage of Convenience
The marriage of convenience romance trope is when the main characters enter into marriage before falling in love. It is similar to the fake relationship romance trope in that both characters enter the marriage to achieve a goal rather than because they love their partner.
Motorcycle Club/MC Romance
The motorcycle club romance trope, or MC romance trope, includes romance books with at least one main character who is a member of a motorcycle club or someone who is related to a member of a motorcycle club.
The nanny romance trope focuses on a love story between a nanny and her employer. This romance trope blends with the forbidden and office romance tropes.
Neighbors to Lovers
This romance trope focuses on a love story between characters who are neighbors who then fall in love with one another. It is closely related to the forced proximity romance trope.
The office romance trope involves two main characters who share a connection in the workplace be it sharing the same office or working together in the same company or on a similar project.
If the office romance is between boss and employee, it can also fall within the forbidden romance trope.
The omegaverse romance trope began from fanfiction and includes books set in an alternate universe where there are three “classes” or categories of beings: Alphas, Betas and Omegas.
Opposites Attract Romance
The opposites attract romance trope includes books where the two main characters have at least one significant difference that sets them apart from one another.
They could be opposites in personality, life circumstances, socio-economic status, or other differences.
Relationship Coach Romance
The relationship coach romance trope centers on two characters who become intimate in an effort for one to teach or “coach” the other on some aspect of seduction or intimacy.
As a result of their coaching sessions, they end up falling in love with each other. This trope can also align with the friends to lovers trope and the virgin trope.
Reverse Harem Romance
The reverse harem romance trope centers on polyamorous relationships that involve one woman and at least three or more men.
Rock Star Romance
The rock star romance trope focuses on a rock star as one of the main characters.
Roommates to Lovers
As this romance trope suggests, the main characters in this romance start out as roommates who gradually become lovers and fall in love. It has many similarities to the forced proximity romance trope.
The royal romance trope typically includes one member of a royal family as the main character or some aspect of the royal kingdom as its focus.
The runaway bride trope centers on a heroine who runs away from her wedding only to fall in love with the hero of the story.
Second Chance Romance
The second chance romance trope centers on the reunion of two main characters who were once in a relationship that fell apart but who find love again with each other.
This romance trope centers on a hero finding out that the heroine of the story had his baby.
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The shapeshifter romance trope includes characters who are humans that can shift into animals. Shapeshifters can be werewolves, bears, mountain lions or other animals.
Single Parent Romance
This romance trope centers on at least one of the main characters being a single parent and often juggling romance with parenthood. They can be single dad romance books or single mom romance books.
Slow Burn Romance
The slow burn romance trope is when the love connection between the two main characters develops in a slow and gradual manner.
Small Town Romance
The small town romance trope centers on a small town and its inhabitants playing central roles in the story and relationship of the main characters.
The surprise pregnancy trope focuses on two main characters who find out that they are going to have a baby and end up falling in love during or after the pregnancy.
The taboo romance trope includes storylines that cross the line of what is generally considered socially acceptable behavior.
The taboo romance trope is also related to the forbidden romance trope as it includes relationships between people that others deem inappropriate.
Teacher Student Romance
The teacher student romance trope centers on a love affair or relationship developing between a teacher and his/her student. This trope has similarities to the forbidden romance trope.
The Dare/The Bet
The dare romance trope includes a storyline where the main characters come to know each other and fall in love as a result of a dare that brought them together.
The bet romance trope is very similar in that the main characters come to know each other and fall in love as a result of a bet.
Time Travel Romance
In the time travel romance trope, the aspect of time travel is a central component to the love story and how the two main characters meet and fall in love.
The vampire romance trope features romance books with at least one vampire as the main character. These romance books are part of the paranormal romance book category but can have a contemporary or fantastical story setting.
The virgin romance trope centers on at least one of the main characters being a virgin and often entering a relationship and falling in love with the other main character in an effort to end their virginity.
The werewolf romance trope features romance books with at least one werewolf as a main character. This romance book trope falls into the paranormal romance book category. Werewolf romance books also fit the shapeshifter romance trope.
Why Choose Romance
The why choose romance trope is another name that’s gaining popularity for the reverse harem trope where the heroine of the story is involved with at least three or more heroes. Why should the heroine choose just one hero to be with when she can have more?
The witch romance trope features romance books with a witch as the main character. Witch romance books may fall into the paranormal romance category but an increasing number of witch romance books are contemporary romance books.
The wounded hero trope features romance books where the hero is suffering from something that is weighing him down. It could be an illness, a heartbreak, a past trauma or some other burden he’s carrying.
Where to Go From Here
New Readers to the Romance Genre
If you’re new to the romance genre and looking for book recommendations to get you started, check out my Romance Book Starter List which outlines several titles for new readers to the genre.
Check Out My Book Lists
Looking for something in particular? Use the search icon in the menu bar to search for a specific sub-genre or romance trope, or check out one of my many book lists.
Discover My Favorites
If you want to go straight to the best of the romance genre, then you’ll not want to miss my book list of the best romance novels of all time.
You may also want to check out the favorite romance books of my fellow romance book bloggers!
Check out the Podcast!
Don’t miss the She Reads Romance Books Podcast where I share the best book recommendations in favorite romance tropes and romance micro-tropes!
Take the Quiz!
Now that you have an idea of the various categories in romance and romance tropes in the genre, why not take a quiz to find out what type of romance book YOU’D be?!
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Each box gives you one or more romance books and fantastic book swag. Check out all of your romance book subscription options or consider one of my favorites, The Bookworm Box, which gives back to charity with every purchase.