A Guide to Romance Subgenres
There are so many subgenres of romance, and it's difficult to decide where exactly your book fits. However, if you're going to successfully pull in your target audience, you have to know who they are, what they want, and what they expect from a book in a particular subgenre.
I've rounded up some of the most popular romance subgenres and written quick descriptions about each. At the end of each section, I also provide a few examples to give you a bit more context.
Romance Subgenres and Examples
Historical romances are set at any point in history. There are some sub-subgenres of HR too that are a bit more specific. But historical romance overall can include anything from early America to medieval times to whenever in history you want to be.
Historical romance is a bit of a bear to write if you’re not already very interested and educated in a particular era. Readers of historical romance can be rabid about factual accuracy, but if you can get the worldbuilding right, it can be magical.
(Granted, there are times when you can really play with historical romance and don’t have to strictly follow the rules of that world. Some readers might love that. It might turn others off.)
Some popular examples of historical romance include:
Regency romance is really its own subgenre, but it fits under the umbrella of historical romance. These stories need to be set specifically during the Regency era of England, which was around the late 18th/early 19th centuries.
These types of romances typically focus on how people move around in society. This subgenre especially is one that readers are very particular about, so it’s important to do your research on the rules and etiquette of that time.
Examples of regency romance include:
Another particular historical era you can write in is gothic. Gothic romances often overlap with paranormal in that they can include supernatural creatures like vampires, werewolves, etc.
In gothic romances, the setting is practically a character of its own. Picture castles, ruins, remote locations, and dreary weather. There’s often an air of mystery or suspense around one or both of the main characters.
Examples of gothic romance could include:
Western romances can be historical or they can be contemporary as long as they take place in the American west. You can go all the way back to the early to mid-1800s if you’re looking for that pilgrim, cowboy, life-or-death kind of western vibe. If you write in the present day, try to incorporate the feelings of isolation and “roughing it” to give it a particular flavor that sets it apart from other contemporaries.
These types of romances require a delicate hand, especially if you’re writing in a historical setting. There are many sensitive topics, such as the treatment of native people, spousal abuse, alcoholism, etc. However, the conservative ideas often associated with the American west typically lend themselves well to faith-based or religious romance.
Some examples of western romance include:
Contemporary romance is kind of a broad term for anything set in the present day. A lot of times, they have the lightheartedness of a rom-com, but they can also deal with heavy issues. How dark you want it to be is up to you, but contemporary usually leans more toward a fun escape.
These sorts of romances usually take place in very relatable settings, like the workplace, home, friend circles, or maybe a vacation (but can also be a bit more fantastical). The story is usually a bit subdued, focusing more on the internal growth of the characters (character-driven over plot-driven).
I could list a thousand contemporary romance books, but here are some of my favorites from the last couple of years:
Erotic romance is a subgenre of romance where sexual encounters are integral to the plot of the story. In these cases, sex scenes can happen early in the book and will likely happen often (compared to many contemporary romances where there may only be one sexual encounter and it’s about ¾ of the way into the story).
However, there is more to the plot than sex. Often, character growth or the development of the relationship is expressed in emotional moments during sexual encounters.
Erotic romances can also double up with many other subgenres, like contemporary or paranormal.
Examples of erotic romance include:
Like historical romance, speculative romance is a bit of an umbrella category. It includes a supernatural or science fiction element. Because it’s too broad to give more information at this level, let’s break it into more specific examples of speculative romance:
Paranormal romance is a category you’re likely familiar with post-Twilight. These stories include non-human characters like vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or something similar. The conflict of the story often stems from the fact that one character is human while the other is not, and some aspect of that keeps them apart.
Often, the world of the paranormal character is also dangerous, so they have to protect their human love interest from those dangers and may also feel guilty about dragging them into it.
Examples of paranormal romance include:
Science Fiction Romance
Science fiction romance is what it sounds like: it includes some element of advanced science that sets the world apart from our own. This could be a literal other world with a love interest from another planet. One character is somehow transported to this other world and falls for one of its inhabitants.
The science-fiction element could also be something like time travel or advanced technology. In these situations, the two main characters are both human and are simply working around some science fiction phenomenon. Readers are engaged by this element changes the way that the relationship is handled.
Examples of science fiction romance include:
Okay, technically, this could go under the banner of speculative romance, and there’s often some overlap between fantasy romance and paranormal romance. HOWEVER. Fantasy romance is such an insanely popular subgenre right now that I really felt like it deserved its own category. Fantasy romance can include fantastical creatures, magic, and sometimes the paranormal creatures that were previously mentioned.
Currently, fantasy romance has a really heavy focus on fae people. There are just loads of fated mate fae romances out there, often with one human main character and a fae main character. These stories also typically involve some kind of epic journey, good-vs-evil tropes that we’ve come to know and love from the fantasy genre as a whole.
Popular examples of fantasy romance include:
Romantic suspense books have some element of mystery — usually an unsolved crime. Often, the two main characters meet when one investigates the incident that happened to the other. As the story builds around solving the mystery, the tension around their relationship builds as well, and the two storylines often wrap up at the same time.
While there are many mysteries and thrillers that include a romantic element, the romance must be front and center for it to be romantic suspense (and don’t forget the happily ever after).
Examples of romantic suspense include:
Inspirational romance usually has spiritual or religious themes, guiding the characters on a journey toward self-improvement in some way. As these books are often written for Christian or similarly conservative audiences, the steam level is fairly low. The story works its way up to a first kiss or an expression of feelings.
Whatever faith or spiritual elements you choose to include, the characters are often guided by that element. For example, a Christian romance might feature a character who has accepted the faith but walked away from it years ago. As they get closer to their romantic counterpart, they also begin to embrace that faith again.
Some examples of inspirational romance include:
Military romance is pretty self-explanatory. It can include one or both characters being active-duty or former members of the military. These storylines can get pretty heavy as they often include life-or-death situations or a character who is dealing with past trauma.
If both characters are on active duty, these stories can also include some other element that is keeping the couple apart, like one person being in a position of authority over the other or a same-sex couple while “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was still active.
If only one is serving while the other is home, the story can focus on how they manage long-distance relationships. If one or both characters are retired members of the military, stories will often focus on dealing with past traumas, current mental health struggles, and learning to live a “normal” life.
Examples of military romance include:
Holiday romances typically revolve around whatever the “biggest” holiday in that culture is, like Christmas, Diwali, or Hanukkah. While there are other romance books that include holidays, the holiday isn’t happening throughout the entire story as it usually is with those three.
These kinds of romances are usually the coziest, softest romances you can find. It’s all about remembering the importance of family, sharing traditions with the ones you love, and mending broken relationships.
The romance element can be full-Hallmark — a city person coming to the small town and falling in love with some wholesome resident of the area. Or it could be a bit more contemporary — like a second-chance romance trope where a character comes home and reignites something with an old flame. But the important part is that the story is full of holiday traditions, food, celebrations, and hope.
Examples of holiday romance include:
Sports romance could probably fit within contemporary romance (as most of them are set in the present day), but there are so many of them and they’re pretty popular, so I felt like it deserved its own category.
Sports romances, as you may have guessed, revolve around one or both characters playing sports professionally. If only one character plays, the other character might have some sort of related job, like working in the stadium, working as the team’s physical therapist, or covering the games as a sports writer.
Like the suspense romance genre, many writers use sporting events to build tension alongside the romantic relationship. The team may be working toward a big tournament, a player might be trying to break some long-held record, etc.
Examples of sports romance include: