From Austen to Aciman, we’ve collected a list of the greatest romance novels of all time. Get reading, lovebirds!
“The greatest romance novels of all time” is a tough category to quantify. Divided into sub-categories of contemporary romance, fantasy romance, historical romance, and many more, it’s one of the best-selling genres in the world.
With a mix of historical fiction, literary fiction, and contemporary fiction, we’ve created a list of the greatest romance novels, across a range of sub-genres, for you to explore. Whether you want an all-sweeping or you are a fan of steamy historical romance novels or romantic adventure books, we have got you covered.
Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Having been in continuous publication for over 200 years, as well as being adapted countless times for film, TV, and the stage, Pride and Prejudice is one of the most iconic, and enduring romance novels to ever exist. It’s frequently cited amongst the most influential books of all time and follows the life of Elizabeth Bennett, one of five daughters, growing up in rural England in the early 1800s. It discusses class, marriage, wealth, and love, constructing a complex novel of manners that explores how Elizabeth’s life changes as the brooding Mr. Darcy enters her life.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Charlotte Brontë – Jane Eyre (1847)
As another novel that’s on par with Austen’s legendary romantic legacy, Jane Eyre is a Victorian bildungsroman that follows the life of the eponymous protagonist as she grows up in Northern England and falls in love with the mysterious, swoon-worthy Edward Fairfax Rochester. Detailing the classic “two-lovers-must-overcome-obstacle-to-be-reunited” trope, it’s one of the best romantic novels of all time, full of those agonizing, yet devotional, declarations of passion, and nothing does falling in love like a romantic drama as well as critical social commentary on the nature of love and marriage like Jane Eyre.
Emily Brontë – Wuthering Heights – (1847)
A family of talented children, the Brontës (yes — Charlotte and Emily are related) had some of the most significant literary outputs in not just the 1800s, but modern literature. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has got a firm place as one of the most groundbreaking pieces of romantic fiction in recent history. Ranked No 13. in the 100 best novels by The Guardian, Wuthering Heights was described as: “The scope and drift of its imagination, its passionate exploration of a fatal yet regenerative love affair, and its brilliant manipulation of time and space put it in a league of its own. This is great English literature, the fruit of a quite extraordinary childhood.”
Leo Tolstoy – Anna Karenina (1878)
Only of the most revered love stories of all time, Anna Karenina details the unfolding of an extramarital affair between the titular protagonist and a cavalry officer, Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, in the social circles of Imperial Russia. While the enormous novel (resting at approximately 800+ pages, varying with translations) does concern itself with the main characters’ romance, it also expands into examining themes like class consciousness, fidelity, carnal desire, and death.
Edith Wharton – The Age of Innocence (1920)
The Age of Innocence was the novel that won Edith Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making her the first woman in history to claim the award. A complex portrayal of the Golden Age of Old New York, the novel explores criticisms of upper-class society, combined with clever humour and a scandalous love story between protagonist Newland Archer, and a mysterious countess, Ellen Olenska.
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
F.Scott Fitzgerald – The Great Gatsby (1945)
A beautifully orchestrated love A big love, with a pinch of unrequited love thrown in for good measure. Gatsby, man about town, famous for throwing the biggest parties the Jazz age has ever seen. But who is Gatsby, no one is really certain who he is, or why he throws such lavish parties, but anyone who is anyone attends. Told through the eye of Nick Carraway, Daisy’s cousin, who is renting the cottage next door, he befriends Gatsby and aids in his obsession to reunite with the woman he loves. Set on the waterfront of Long Island there is the light that can be seen as a beacon of eternal undying love from Gatsby’s house, all the way across the water on the opposite side to Daisy’s home in the fashionable East Egg district of Long Island.
F. SCOTT. FITZGERALD
THE GREAT GATSBY
Eileen Chang – Love in a Fallen City (1943)
Describing the love between Bai Liusu, a young widow, and Fan Liuyuan, a returning Chinese British expat, during the crisis of late WWII China, Love in a Fallen City is an excellent romance novel. A moving meditation on the importance of love and connection in the throes of violence, Eileen Chang’s masterpiece also explores ideas of marriage, feminism, and class structures in mid-twentieth century China.
LOVE IN A FALLEN CITY
Sabahattin Ali – Madonna in a Fur Coat (1943)
Madonna in a Fur Coat follows Raif, a shy young man from rural Turkey who leaves his hometown to discover life in 1920s Berlin. The consequent love affair between him and Maria, an assertive young woman, explores love through the lens of traditional gender role reversal and a fractured post-war Berlin.
MADONNA IN A FUR COAT
Patricia Highsmith – The Price of Salt(1952)
Having recently been republished as Carol — with the name of the Oscar-winning 2015 film adaptation — The Price of Salt is a tale of romantic obsession and desire. Following the relationship between a lonely young woman, Therese, and an elegant stranger, Carol, the novel was highly popular in the ’50s amongst the lesbian community, due to its disregard of the tragedy trope that was rampant in LGBT+ fiction of the time.
THE PRICE OF SALT
Boris Pasternak – Doctor Zhivago (1957)
Set in the years between the Russian Revolution of 1905 and World War II, Doctor Zhivago tells the story of the eponymous character, physician Yuri Zhivago and a young woman, Lara Antipova. The tempestuous love affair that develops between them was reportedly inspired by the author’s own passionate affair with a mistress, Olga Ivinskaya.
Georgette Heyer – Venetia (1958)
Set in England in 1818, Venetia is a Regency romance novel that details the life of 25-year-old Venetia Lanyon, and her scandalous affair with the older, mysterious Lord Jasper Damerel, as he returns home to Yorkshire.
John Fowles – The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969)
Set in Victorian Lyme Regis, The French Lieutenant’s Woman follows naturalist Charles Smithson and Sarah Woodruff, a former governess, with whom he falls in love. Exploring themes of class, sexuality, and gender, the romance novel has also been adapted into the titular 1981 film — starring Meryl Streep.
THE FRENCH LIEUTENANTS WOMAN
E.M. Forster – Maurice (1971)
Set in early 20th-century England, Maurice follows the titular character’s love affair with the working-class Alec Scudder. The legendary novel has been adapted into a film that was directed by James Ivory (screenwriter of Call Me By Your Name fame), as well for the stage and BBC Radio.
William Goldman – The Princess Bride (1973)
Integrating genres of drama, adventure, fantasy, romance, and fairy tale, The Princess Bride follows the romance between Buttercup, a wealthy young teenager, and Westley, a groundskeeper at Buttercup’s family’s farm.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
James Baldwin – If Beale Street Could Talk (1974)
Recently turned into a Hollywood film by Moonlight-director Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk is a love story set in Harlem, following the lives of Clementine “Tish” and her lover, Alonzo “Fonny,” who has been accused of rape.
As described by Penguin, “flashbacks from their love affair are woven into the compelling struggle of two families to win justice for Fonny. To this love story, James Baldwin brings a spare and impassioned intensity, charging it with universal resonance and power.”
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK
Colleen McCullough – The Thorn Birds (1977)
Set in the fictional Australian sheep station Drogheda, The Thorn Birds follows the ill-fated romance of Meggie Cleary, the central character, and Father Ralph de Bricassart, an Irish Catholic priest. Written by Australian author Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and is the highest-selling book to ever come out of Australia.
THE THORN BIRDS
Gabriel García Márquez – Love In the Time of Cholera (1987)
Love In the Time of Cholera is easily ranked amongst the greatest romance novels of all time. Published to worldwide acclaim, Gabriel García Márquez’s novel details the lives of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, as the passage of time forces them to reckon with the romantic promises they made in their youth.
Acclaimed author Thomas Pynchon praised the novel in The New York Times: “This novel is also revolutionary in daring to suggest that vows of love made under a presumption of immortality – youthful idiocy, to some – may yet be honored, much later in life when we ought to know better, in the face of the undeniable. … There is nothing I have read quite like this astonishing final chapter, symphonic, sure in its dynamics and tempo, moving like a riverboat too … at the very best it results in works that can even return our worn souls to us, among which most certainly belongs Love in the Time of Cholera, this shining and heartbreaking novel.”
GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ
LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
Haruki Murakami – Norwegian Wood (1987)
One of the most heartbreaking love stories ever, Norweigian Wood delves into themes of coming-of-age, first love, death, and burgeoning sexuality. Following the life of Toru Watanabe, the novel retrospectively details his life as a young university student in Tokyo and his encounters with two radically different women — Midori and Naoko.
In a retrospective review by The Guardian, the novel is described as: “[having gained] immense popularity because they guide readers through some of life’s darkest and most dangerous territory – the cold, dark winter woods of death and grief and abuse – and do so with wisdom and warmth.”
Julie Garwood – The Bride (1989)
One of the most celebrated romantic writers of contemporary times, Julie Garwood is an NYT Bestselling author, whose books have over 35 million copies in print. The Bride is a work of historical romance that’s set in medieval Scotland and follows the lives of a dysfunctional couple: Jaime, the daughter of an English Baron, and Alec, a fearless, Highland warrior, who have been married to each other, by order of their King.
Rich in tantalizing suspense, humour, and passion, The Bride is a passionate love story that paints a vivid fictional portrait of Scotland during the early Middle Ages.
Laura Esquivel – Like Water for Chocolate (1989)
Employing the use of magical realism, Like Water for Chocolate details the romance of Tita and Pedro, two young lovers who are forbidden from being together due to Tita’s familial responsibility to take care of her mother until she dies, instead of marrying.
LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE
A. S. Byatt – Possession (1990)
Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize, Possession is a critically acclaimed romance novel that centres on a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. What ensues is an explosive discovery, equal parts wild intellectualism and brooding passion.
Diana Gabaldon – Outlander (1991)
Following the life of Claire Beauchamp, a WWII nurse who is transported back in time to 18th century Scotland, Outlander details her entanglement with Highlander Jamie Fraser. What ensues is a romantic, fantastical, and adventurous series of events.
Eva Ibbotson – The Morning Gift (1993)
The Morning Gift details the story of Ruth Berger, a Jewish refugee during the beginnings of WWII, and her marriage of convenience with a young British professor, Quin. The novel details the experience of falling in and out of love, against a backdrop of war, exile and immigration.
THE MORNING GIFT
Elizabeth Gaskell – North and South (1996)
Described by Charles Dickens as “[an] admirable story … full of character and power,” North and South tells the story of Margaret Hale, as she is forced to move to the North of England and experiences the industrial town of Milton, and a subsequent, tempestuous love affair with mill-owner John Thornton.
NORTH AND SOUTH
Nicholas Sparks – The Notebook (1996)
Oh, The Notebook — who could forget the dramatic kiss in the rain between Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams in the 2004 film adaptation? (My guess is no one.) The Notebook is one of those stories that is branded into the minds of all Millennials and Gen Zs, just by nature of it being synonymous with pop culture history.
The original book was Nicholas Sparks’ writing debut and follows the life of Noah and Allie — two teenagers who fall in love over a brief summer and embark on a journey full of miracles, love, loss, and life. Based on Sparks’ own grandparents’ relationship, The Notebook is one of the greatest romance novels of all time.
Sarah Waters – Tipping the Velvet (1998)
Set during the late 19th century, Tipping the Velvet is a coming-of-age story that follows the life of a young woman Nan, and her lover, Kitty, a male impersonator. As they travel to London together and bask in the exhilarating glow of the big city, their affair becomes increasingly daring, scandalous, and passionate.
TIPPING THE VELVET
Jan-Philipp Sendker – The Art of Hearing Heartbeats (2002)
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats follows the story of Julia, a young New Yorker who investigates the disappearance of her father, until she comes across a love letter he wrote many years ago, to an unknown Burmese woman. The novel details her travel to Burma in search of the woman, and the love story that shaped her father’s life.
JAN – PHILIPP SENDKER
THE ART OF HEARING HEARTBEATS
André Aciman – Call Me by Your Name(2007)
While the iconic 2017 film adaptation cemented this love story as one of the greatest of all time, André Aciman’s European masterpiece follows the life of Elio Pearlman, a precocious young man, and his romantic relationship that blossoms with Oliver, his father’s Ph.D. student.
Set in the mid-’80s, Call Me By Your Name captures the youth, obsession, and consummation of young love, as it blossoms against the backdrop of Northern Italy. An incredibly moving, heartbreaking romance novel, André Aciman’s novel is one that will stay with you, long after you’ve turned the last page.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Shamim Sarif – I Can’t Think Straight (2008)
I Can’t Think Straight follows the life of Tala, a British-Palestinian, who is preparing for her wedding, until when she meets Leyla, a young British-Indian woman who is dating her best friend. As their bond strengthens, the depth of their connection is tested by both the ones that they love and the deepest parts of themselves.
I CANT THINK STRAIGHT
Jojo Moyes – The Last Letter from Your Lover (2008)
Recently adapted into the Netflix film of the same name, The Last Letter from Your Lover details a young journalist’s discovery of a decades-old letter from one lover to another, one that sends her into a spiral of figuring out what happened to the couple.
THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER
David Nicholls – One Day (2009)
One Day follows the lives of a young couple, Dexter and Emma, on the same day every year (15 July, St Swithin’s Day) for 20 years. As reviewed in The Times, “For, in spite of its comic gloss, One Day is really about loneliness and the casual savagery of fate; the tragic gap between youthful aspiration and the compromises that we end up tolerating.”
Nora Roberts –Vision in White (2009)
The first in a quartet of books — aptly titled the Bride Quartet — about four childhood friends and their journeys in searching for love, Vision in White is written by veteran romance novelist Nora Roberts, who has authored a staggering 225+ novels in her career as a romance writer.
Vision in White is Roberts’ foray into contemporary romance, detailing the life and romances of Mac, a successful wedding photographer who encounters her newest client’s brother, Carter — a run-in that shapes both Mac and Carter’s life forever.
VISION IN WHITE
Jeffrey Eugenides – The Marriage Plot (2011)
The Marriage Plot follows Madeleine, Mitchell, and Leonard in the early 1980s as they leave university and enter the “real world.” Having been described as a “post-modern take on 19th-century romance,” The Marriage Plot invokes questions of love, life, and God while exploring feminism and sexual freedoms in the contemporary age.
THE MARRIAGE PLOT
Madeline Miller – The Song of Achilles (2011)
An adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, The Song of Achilles retells the narrative from the perspective of Achilles’ beloved, Patroclus, a young prince who is exiled from his homeland.
As reviewed by the Guardian: “Miller spent 10 years writing this book, yet her smooth prose conceals the painstaking research she has clearly put into it. This is a deeply affecting version of the Achilles story: a fully three-dimensional man – a son, a father, husband, and lover – now exists where a superhero previously stood and fought.”
THE SONG OF ACHILLES
Belinda McKeon – Tender (2015)
Tender follows the romance between two young Dubliners, Catherine, a sheltered student, and James, a charismatic young artist, as their burgeoning love is tested by their tense circumstances: an Ireland on the exhilarating precipice of evolution, and the devastating possibility of the dissolution of the life that they once knew.
Colleen Hoover – It Ends with Us (2016)
It Ends with Us follows the story of Lily, a young college graduate who meets the emotionally-detached, complex Ryle. As they allow themselves to uncover the deepest parts of each other, Lily finds herself still consumed with the thoughts of her first love, Atlas.
IT ENDS WITH US
Mohsin Hamid – Exit West (2017)
Exit West follows the story of Saeed and Nadia, a couple attempting to escape the peril of war in an unnamed city. With a dash of magical realism, Mohsin Hamid reinvents the traditional, transitory refugee story by eliminating the border journey completely: in Exit West, there are no dangerous sea fares, only magical doors that allow people to step into another life.
In a review by The Atlantic, the couple’s romance is described as “…complicated, as most love affairs are, and is challenged to an unthinkable degree by the conditions they find themselves in. But together, they represent the instinct to find communion with other people, and to love even amid circumstances that mean loving another makes you twice as vulnerable.”
Sally Rooney – Normal People(2017)
Like many of Sally Rooney’s novels, Normal People explores the nuances of intimacy, love, reget, class, and sex in the modern age. Following the lives of two young Irish students, Marianne and Connell, the novel details their lives from late adolescence to early adulthood in a post-GFC Ireland. Capturing the millennial zeitgeist with simplistic, yet profound, ease, Rooney’s romance novel has widely been regarded as one of the best novels of the 21st century.
Michael Poore – Reincarnation Blues (2017)
Reincarnation Blues follows the life of Milo, a man who has been reincarnated 9,995 times to reunite with his one true love: Death. With only five lives left until he expires, the novel details Milo’s attempt to reconstruct the cosmic puzzle that has separated him from the person he loves most.
Taylor Jenkins Reid –The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017)
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a historical fiction romance novel that details the life of the titular character, an ageing movie star whose complex and extraordinary past — including her seven husbands — is narrated to a young, naive journalist.
TAYLOR JENKINS REID
THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO
Uzma Jalaluddin – Ayesha at Last (2018)
Ayesha at Last follows the love story of Ayesha and Khalid, two strong, independent young Muslims. Dealing with themes such as traditionalism versus modernity, religion, gender equality, the novel deftly weaves a romance into its vivid, diverse tapestry of characters.
As reviewed for NPR, the novel was described as: “In many ways, Ayesha at Last’s fictional universe acts as a microcosm of a diverse and oft-misunderstood community, and Jalaluddin’s compassionate and sensitive writing about it radiates off the page.”
AYESHA AT LAST
Helen Hoang – The Kiss Quotient (2018)
The Kiss Quotient follows the story of Stella, a young woman with Asperger’s syndrome, who is convinced she needs lessons on how to be good at sex and relationships. To solve this, she hires Michael, a Vietnamese-Swedish escort, until the couple’s inevitable feelings for each other transform their dynamic.
THE KISS QUOTIENT
Isabelle Allende – A Long Petal of The Sea (2019)
Set in the 1930s during the Spanish Civil War, A Long Petal of The Sea follows Roser, a pregnant young widow, whose life becomes entangled Victor Dalmau, the brother of her deceased love. As they both attempt to flee the violence, they end up being reluctantly married in order to survive. What ensues is a passionate story about unexpected romance, loss, exile, and belonging.
A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA
Sara Desai – The Marriage Game (2020)
A rom-com novel, The Marriage Game details the romance of Layla Patel and Sam Mehta, two young, successful Indian-Americans whose lives are upended by their chance encounter.
THE MARRIAGE GAME
Bolu Babalola – Love in Color: Mythical Tales from Around the World, Retold (2021)
Described by acclaimed author Candice Carty-Williams (author of Queenie) as “perfection in short story form… So rarely is love expressed this richly, this vividly, or this artfully,” Love in Color is a stunning debut. Interweaving traditional West African mythology, with a reimagining of Middle-Eastern and Roman-Greek myths, the novel constructs a decolonized celebration of romance, love, and passion.
Deeply imaginative and richly detailed, Love in Color is an exploration of the complexities of romance, written by an incisive, talented new literary voice.
LOVE IN COLOR
Caleb Azumah Nelson – Open Water (2021)
A profoundly affecting novel, Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water is a beautiful love story, that details the romance between a photographer and a dancer who meet in a bar. The novel traces the couple’s relationship as they weave in and out of each other’s lives, simultaneously constructing an ode to Black artistic excellence through references to Barry Jenkins, Zadie Smith, and Kendrick Lamar.
In terms of Nelson’s style, it is as reviewed in The Guardian: “While an elegance of style is a hallmark of Azumah Nelson’s storytelling, there is bold risk-taking in his choices too: he writes in the second person, using its immediacy and potency to create an emotional intensity that replicates the emotional intensity with which the protagonist experiences his bond with the dancer and his wider world.”
CALEB AZUMAH NELSON
Emily Henry – People We Meet on Vacation (2021)
People We Meet on Vacation follows the life of Alex and Poppy, a pair of friends who have fallen out, and embark on one final holiday together to try salvage their friendship from a mysterious incident that drew them apart.
PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION
Tia Williams – Seven Days in June (2021)
Seven Days in June details a second-chance romance between two writers: Eva Mercy and Shane Hall. When the two unexpectedly run into each other in an event in New York, the 15-year old butterflies from their brief, clandestine affair resurface. Having gained fans from Reese Witherspoon to writer Jodi Picoult, the latter praised Tia Williams’ novel as: “A smart, sexy testament to Black joy, to the well of strength from which women draw, and to tragic romances that mature into second chances. I absolutely loved it.”
SEVEN DAYS IN JUNE