Discussion: Romance Novel Sub-Genres

It’s February, which means the first half of the month was filled with think-pieces on the romance genre – usually articles requiring very little actual thought. Since what seems to come to mind when non-romance readers think of genre romance is a cheesy clinch cover with a shirtless Fabio clutching a scantily clad buxom lady, I’d like to set the record straight about the diverse and varied reality of genre romance. Romance has a LOT of sub-genres, and there’s really something for everyone. Don’t like the sexy bits? There are plenty of closed door romances that are fade-to-black or don’t have on-page sex. Live for the sexy bits? There’s plenty of erotica out there for you! But I digress – let’s talk a bit about the sub-genres of romance.

First of all – What is genre romance?

Genre romance requires two main things: a central love story (so the romantic relationship is the main plot) and a “happy ever after” (or at least a “happy for now”) ending. Those Nicholas Sparks novels people like to toss around in romance articles? Most of them aren’t genre romance. If one of the leads freaking DIES IN THE END, there’s not an HEA (“happy ever after”) and it’s NOT a genre romance. Capiche?

Contemporary Romance

Fairly straight forward, Contemporary Romance are romances set in modern times. There is some argument about how far back “modern” goes, with some folks saying Contemporary Romance encompasses settings from the 1950’s through present day and others arguing that the 50’s would be historical romance because it was such a different time. Okay, so maybe not so straight forward after all! Contemporary Romances are also realistic in that they’re set in our world as it is; the setting and language are modern with no fantastical elements. (Which isn’t to say the plot won’t require some suspension of disbelief!) This category also includes further sub-categories like Western Romance. Tone can range anywhere from light-hearted romantic comedies to drama-filled pregnant with the secret baby of billionaire.

Historical Romance

Much like Contemporary Romance, this category has realistic settings that take place pre-1950’s. Popular sub-sub-genres (heh) include Regency Romance, Highlander Romance, Western Romance (yes, there are both contemporary and historical western romances – surprise!) – just to name a few! These tend to be set in well-known eras in history, but can be set in any time of Earth’s long, long, long, LONG history.

Romantic Suspense

Romances where mystery, suspense, or thriller elements are a vital part of the plot fall into the Romantic Suspense category. These can be contemporary or historical, and are ripe with spies, bodyguards falling for their charges, and adrenaline-fueled bad decisions, haha.

Fantasy Romance

I feel like Fantasy Romance is a genre that really needs to be better defined and marketed, and often gets swallowed into the mainstream Fantasy genre. RWA (Romance Writers of America) includes Fantasy Romance under the Paranormal Romance umbrella, but I feel like they’re really two very different things. Fantasy Romance are romances set in fantasy worlds different from our own, which is a major point that separates them from Paranormal Romance.

Paranormal Romance

Paranormal Romance can be set in any era, but they tend to be set in the modern day world. They’re set in our world, but twisted a bit – either magic is known, or there are magical/paranormal beings lurking in the shadows which only a select few know about. This is the genre of vampires and werewolves, but also shifters of other types, fae, ghosts, witches and familiars, angels and demons. For some reason paranormal romances seem to feature heroines who are PI’s or detectives – no idea what’s up with that!

Erotic Romance/Erotica

Here is where you find your 50 Shades of Grey (or so I’m told, I haven’t read it). While most genre romance is driven largely by the progression of the romantic relationship, Erotic Romance is driven by the development of the sexual relationship. In other genres you could skip the sex scenes and probably not lose too much of the story, but in Erotic Romance the sex scenes are integral to the story structure. Plot structure can vary greatly from just enough to provide a framework for the action (so to speak) to deeply complex characters with unique drives and desires. Count on multiple graphic sex scenes in this genre.

Inspirational/Spiritual/Religious Romance

This sub-genre includes heavy religious or spiritual themes that are integral to the plot, character growth, and relationship development in the story. Much like with Erotic Romance, if you take away the key element of those religious/spiritual themes, the plot can’t move forward. These also tend to be marketed as “sweet” or “clean,” meaning they don’t have on-page sex. I, uh, don’t have much to say here because I don’t really read Inspirational Romance… or much Erotic Romance either, now that I think about it. I thin I read romance for that romantic relationship development, and I feel like the strong reliance on sex or spirituality to drive that plot forward isn’t something that draws me in. Hmm.

Young Adult (YA) and New Adult (NA) Romance

This can really be any of the afore-mentioned sub-genres of romance, geared towards a YA or NA audience. From what I’ve seen they tend to be mostly contemporary, but you do find the occasional historical as well. And I think some of what we classify as YA Fantasy is really YA Fantasy Romance.

Whelp, there you have it! A breakdown of some of the main sub-genres in Romance. Did I miss any? Do you have any great favorites to recommend for any of the genres? My personal favorites are Contemporary Romance (I tend to gravitate to rom-coms), Historical Romance (Regency mostly, but I like some other eras as well!), and Fantasy Romance.

3 thoughts on “Discussion: Romance Novel Sub-Genres

  1. Pingback: Discussion: Challenges (I said I wasn’t going to do this again…) – Elley the Book Otter

  2. Actually Christan romance runs the gamut from a sermon dressed as a story to clean romances where the characters mention that go to church or something similar–in other words faith isn’t necessarily what drives the plot forware.


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