Whether you’re first getting started as a romance writer or if you’re just plain unfamiliar with the genre, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the different types of romance. From contemporary to fantasy there’s a plethora of options, and each one has specific characteristics or expectations. And while we encourage you to simply pick up the pen and write, there’s merit in knowing your romance subgenres.
7 Types of Romance Genres
Whether you’re just starting out or looking to pick up a new read, this list can help you hone in on the type of book that suits your fancy.
Paranormal, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy Romance.
Young Adult Romance.
It’s important to understand the nuances that crop up in different types of romance. Read on for an in-depth look at key factors that play into determining genre.
1. Contemporary Romance
According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA), contemporary romance is characterized as modern novels, “set from 1950 to the present that focus primarily on the romantic relationship.” As more time passes, that date is subject to change (i.e., soon the ‘80s will be considered historical, so contemporary romance would be any story set in the ‘90s or later).
In general, contemporary romances focus on the developing relationship between two main characters with a satisfactory emotional ending. In other words, a Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN) is a must.
Here are a few common indicators you’ve got a Contemporary Romance on your hands:
- Modern setting, language, and diction
- Realistic scenarios or outcomes
- General focus on the emotional development of a relationship
Tone varies depending on the story, so expect to read (or write) anything from humorous to heart-wrenching.
While many authors dabble in a few genres, here are some Contemporary Romance authors (in no particular order) to consider adding to your reading list: Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Jill Shalvis, Sonali Dev.
2. Historical Romance
On the flip side of the coin, historical romances are novels set prior to 1950. In general, the same rules and characteristics apply as those found in contemporary romances, minus the time period shift. From the Victorian days to the Wild West, there’s a story for every era.
Like contemporary romance, historical romances can range in tone and subject matter, though you will find some clear distinctions:
- Dated setting, language and diction
- Characters occupying roles not found in common society (i.e., duke)
A Brief Note about Regency Romance
Regency romance gets its own special nod because, while it technically occurs in a historical setting, it is so commonly used that it could be considered its own subgenre. Often, you’ll find agents and readers who are strictly looking for regencies (and vice versa), but may or may not be interested in other facets of historical romance.
Regencies are set during the period of the British Regency, and often the story develops around the Regency society, as well as the unique dialogue and character interactions (sometimes leaving sex and other instances of sexuality untouched).
3. Romantic Suspense
It is what the name implies—romance novels where suspense, mystery or thriller elements are integral to the plot. From drug deals and murder to cyber crimes and more, you can satisfy your Law & Order hankering with a romantic suspense.
Generally speaking, romantic suspense tends to err on the side of serious, and you’ll find key characteristics, such as:
- Fast-paced, heart-pumping plot
- Some facet of crime that might jeopardize the romantic relationship
- Realistic details and a modern setting
Though there are some romantic suspense novels set in a historical time period (such as gothic), you’ll find that most of them focus on current crimes and scenarios.
4. Erotic Romance
Generally one of the more explicit types of romance, erotic romance is characterized by sexual interaction that is key to the story. Without the sexy times, the plot wouldn’t progress. Erotic romance can blend with other categories, though it is commonly found in a modern setting. It’s not just prettily packaged porn, either—expect well-conceived characters from varying backgrounds with unique and creative stories specific to their situation.
As with the other different types of romance, erotic romance has a few notable features:
- Graphically described sexual encounters/scenes
- Multiple sex scenes (typically more than one or two)
- Unique tropes (such as a ménage)
5. Religious/Spiritual Romance
Romance Writers of America says it best when it comes to Religious/Spiritual Romance: “Romance novels in which religious or spiritual beliefs are an inherent part of the love story, character growth and relationship development and could not be removed without damaging the storyline.” In much the same way the plotline won’t progress if you eliminate sex from erotic romance, the plotline won’t progress here if you remove the spiritual element.
Religious romances can incorporate any type of belief system, spirituality or culture, and they can mesh with other genres (i.e., historical Christian romance). You’ll find these key characteristics:
- Characters with strong religious convictions and/or who end the book with strong religious convictions
- Explicit sexual content is typically avoided (or light)
- Tropes dealing with issues of faith or belief
6. Paranormal, Science Fiction (Sci-Fi), or Fantasy Romance
While paranormal, sci-fi and fantasy novels can easily be divided into their own categories with their own specific set of parameters, in the case of paranormal romance, sci-fi romance, and fantasy romance, the common denominator is that each one’s respective features are integral to the progression of the plot.
That aside, there are different fantastical elements that alert the reader to the type of novel they’re dealing with.
For Paranormal Romance:
- Typically set in the modern world with slight differences (i.e., instances of magic, either known or unknown to the general public)
- Romantic relationships with supernatural beings, including but not limited to: vampires, werewolves, demons, angels, ghosts, witches and other “familiar” supernatural entities
For Sci-Fi Romance:
- Set in the future and/or dealing with futuristic elements/technology (i.e., space travel)
- Romantic relationships with aliens/non-human love interests
For Fantasy Romance:
- Set in a fantasy world separate from ours, typically with a magic system or creatures that are known and a “normal” part of life
- Some crossover might occur with modern technology, but usually branded terms (i.e., jeans vs. breeches) are left out in favor of new and unique descriptions
While all three tend to have action-packed plot lines, romance is still an integral part of the storyline.
7. Young Adult Romance
Last but certainly not least, we have young adult romance. As you can probably guess, young adult life is a must for the progress of the plotline. Combining elements from other genres (i.e., contemporary or fantasy), these stories run the gamut. They include most of the hallmarks found in typical young adult novels, but with an amped romantic plotline.
Look for indicators such as:
- Teenage relationships or issues related to young adult lives
- Empowerment, coming-of-age, and other standard tropes
- Love is a primary driving force behind the plotline
Heat levels vary for young adult romances, as this largely depends on the type of YA novel in question (i.e., a Christian YA romance likely won’t have explicit sexual scenes). Check out titles from these authors for more young adult romance reads: John Green, Sandhya Menon, Nicola Yoon.
Wrap it up
Now that you’re up to speed on your different types of romance, you can visit your favorite online or local bookstore armed with the knowledge to pick your next best read. Just remember, the authors listed above are only an iota of what you can find, so browse with purpose!