Star-crossed lovers, dramatic settings, beguiling characters: the best romance novels of all time

Consult this list for the best romances of all time including new releases, novels for young adults, LGBTI and anyone who is a romantic at heart.

Really, is there anything better than a story that sweeps you off your feet?

While romance novels are sometimes maligned as “fluff” novels, romance is among the most popular fiction genres, and successful titles are read in the hundreds of thousands. That’s because romance novels explore themes that are universal to the human experience: love, loss and companionship. Their authors are wildly popular and really know how to tell addictive stories filled with intrigue, emotion and genuine suspense.

As a genre, romance novels are generally characterised by a central love story and an optimistic ending that sees the characters you love and root for live happily ever after. Many have an erotic component, but not all.

Traditionally women-centric romance was the first genre to tell stories about the feminine experience. In fact, the classic romance story structure can be traced back to some 19th-century literary greats, who were decades ahead of their own society by putting women’s desires, agency and inner worlds in the forefront.

These days, the popularity of the genre has allowed for an explosion of form and romance novels are now written for a diverse audience in mind. If you need some inspiration or guidance for what to read next, consult this list to find out the best romance novels of all time.

Best romance novels of all time

Who could forget the timeless story of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet who, after a bumpy start, come to realize their undying love for each other. Pride and Prejudice is classic literature and widely regarded as the first romance novel.

Even if you are unfamiliar with the romance genre you probably recognise the name: Danielle Steel. Steel is a prolific writer who has written more than 140 titles in the fiction and romance genres. While she never received much critical acclaim, and is often dismissed as a writer of “beach reads” Steel has sold more than 650 million copies worldwide and is the fourth bestselling fiction author of all time. The Promise is one such bestselling novel that follows the story of a young couple, architect Michael Hillyard and artist Nancy McAllister, who vow to never be apart.

You are probably familiar with the classic uplifting and tear-jerking, romantic film The Notebook. If you are a fan, the book is not to be missed. It’s a beautifully-told tale of true love’s timelessness that made its author Nicholas Sparks famous.

Gone with the Wind is the classic story of Scarlet O’Hara, the original Southern Belle, set against the American Civil war and restoration era. The novel is rather classified as a historical romance novel by modern standards because it does not include all aspects of the romance genre, but it is considered to have been one the first to include elements of erotica. It won a pulitzer for fiction and one of the bestselling books of all time.

This heady, erotic book broke all records for self-publishing when it was released. It’s not exactly regarded as well-written literature but the fantasy aspect is unmatched, and E.L. James boasts legions of dedicated fans who can’t get enough of the dramatic adventures of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey.

Julia Quinn is well-regarded within the romance genre and the Duke and I is one of her all-time bestsellers. The story of Daphne and Simon is the first book from the wildly popular Bridgerton Series and is considered a romance staple.

Best newly-released romance novels

This novel follows the sensational journey of Copper Reilly as she breaks free from the prison of an unfaithful marriage and befriends a designer from a decaying fashion house whose reluctance for fame clashes with the bold brilliance of his designs. His name is Christian Dior. The Designer has hit the top spot on Amazon’s current bestselling list.

This second-chance romance novel is storming through the charts. It all happened once upon a Tuesday. Told from a male perspective, this saucy, sexual and sensual read develops fast “from a single innocent kiss into a hundred dirty ones”. Live and breathe the emotional turmoil of a our hero as he falls in love, has his heart broken, and then is offered a second chance.

This contemporary romance novel follows Fawn, who has kissed one too many toads and has finally concluded that Prince Charming doesn’t exist – at least until she meets Levi Fremont, a homicide detective new to New York City. A series of laugh-out-loud mishaps push the two characters together, but will they finally give in to desire and live happily ever after?

A traumatic illness robs Rose Davenport of her looks, thwarting her dreams of marriage until she is matched with the heir to the Earl of Stanhope. The marriage seems doomed from the start as her new husband, Gil Truman, can’t stand the sight of her and has been forced to agree to the marriage to recover the family fortune. Bitter and heartbroken, Gil deserts his new bride. When Rose uncovers the truth of Gil’s misfortune, her appetite for revenge dissolves, but she can’t stop the seduction now. With such a bad start, can Rose and Gil ever build a healthy relationship?

Best romance novel for young adults

The Twilight series is probably best characterised as a phenomenon. The intensely romantic, paranormal story of Bella Swan and the vampire Edward Cullen take the reader on a breathless journey of self-discovery. Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn are must-reads for romance lovers.

If you read the TwilightSaga and need more vampire stories, then this series by Bella Forrest, written from the perspective of a 17-year-old girl named Sofia Claremont, is the next title you should pick up. It begins as Sofia is kidnapped and bundled off to The Shade, an island where the sun never shines. Her one chance for survival is to win the heart of Derek Novak, the dark royal prince.

Inception is an Amazon bestseller in the time-travel, paranormal-romantic, mysteries and thrillers, and contemporary-fantasy categories. It is a perfect choice for teens and young adults looking for a gothic novel in a similar style to the Twilight novels.

This groundbreaking novel explores love, mortality, compassion and friendship through the emotional romance of two seriously ill teenagers, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. A New York Times bestselling title, The Fault in our Stars was made into a movie released in 2016.

Best LGBTI romance novels

K.J. Charles is a master at deconstructing the complicated social rules and norms in Regency England, when gay men and women had to keep their sexuality hidden out of fear for personal safety. This is the heated story of Lord Richard Vane and his valet, David Cyprian who must overcome incredible obstacles to be together.

Roller Girl is the story of Tina Durham, who is trying to pull herself together after a recent divorce. When she meets Joanne “Joe Mama” Delario, she immediately gets swept up in an unexpected. Now she has to decide whether she is ready to face her fears and commit to a new relationship.

Hostage Moon is a thrilling mystery-romance novel that follows the story of high-flying multi-millionaire CEO Hunter Roswell who is being stalked by a serial killer. The woman put onto the case, former FBI profiler Sara Wilder, must get close to Hunter to solve the mystery.

Sarah Waters is a critically-acclaimed novelist, and Fingersmith is one of her most popular novels. Set in 1860s in a place of questionable character, the Borough, and best described as a thriller-romance this book is a real page-turner with all the satisfaction of a passionate love story.

Can’t put romance novels down?

Are you a romantic at heart? Yearning for a story filled with lustful desire or one that will break your heart into a million pieces and then put it back together again? If you’ve exhausted all of our suggestions and are still hungry for more, take a look at The Book Depository's complete bestselling romantic reads here.

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