With Valentine’s Day two weeks away many people are thinking of romance. The romance genre is perhaps the best selling genre of them all. It consist of 38% of all the fiction books sold and rate is steady climbing.
If you love curling up in front of the TV with someone you love and watching a romantic movie, you’re not alone. However, the only thing that beats that experience? Doing the same with a good romantic book. In fact, romance is the most popular genre in the United States, accounting for $1.08 billion in sales in 2013, according to the Romance Writers of America. According to Nielsen BookScan data, romance books accounted for 35 percent of all fiction sales in the United States, and the market grew a shocking 37 percent between 2014 and 2015 alone.
However, while many readers assume the genre is all bodice-rippers, there are countless classic romances you won’t be embarrassed to be seen reading in public. With that in mind, we’ve rounded up the 40 most romantic books of all time, from time-honored novels to modern classics you won’t want to put down. Happy reading.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Emily Brontë’s only novel is certainly a standout. The 1847 classic, published under Brontë’s pen name, Ellis Bell, tells the story of lonely Heathcliff, an orphan whose true love, Catherine, is kept from him first by social status and then death. However, despite the myriad tragedies that permeate every page of this novel, the romance between Catherine and Heathcliff remains one of the most iconic love stories of all time. Never mind he’s wandering around in freezing weather.
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
This 1985 novel by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Márquez will make converts out of even the most romance-averse readers. Following the generation-spanning love story of protagonists Fermina and Florentino as they lose and find each other at various points in life, this classic will have even the biggest cynics believing in true love.
3 A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Set against the backdrop of World War I, this Hemingway classic is every bit as romantic as it is tragic. Following the love story of American paramedic Frederic and his British-born paramour Catherine, the book’s beautiful prose and the protagonists’ dedication to one another can make any reader swoon. After all, who wouldn’t be charmed by lines like, “When I saw her I was in love with her. Everything turned over inside of me. She looked toward the door, saw there was no one, then she sat on the side of the bed and leaned over and kissed me”?
The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
Jill Santopolo’s 2017 novel, The Light We Lost, begs the question: can we ever truly get over our first love? Despite the year, continents, and painful devastating events that promise to keep them apart, protagonists Lucy and Gabe’s love for one another never fades—so make sure to keep the tissues handy.
Love Story by Erich Segal
The 1970 novel that predated the beloved film of the same name, Love Story isn’t your typical star-crossed romance. It is, however, about as heart-wrenching as love stories come—and, of course, the origin of the classic line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simmons
Set in 1940s Russia, Paullina Simmons’ 2000 romance novel is all about the many ways in which love can overcome adversity. A bloody backdrop never diminishes the protagonists’ pursuit of freedom, nor their love for one another, making this a particularly poignant read during the current period of global political unrest.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin
At the intersection of romance and fantasy is Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel, Winter’s Tale. Beyond the overarching romantic plot, the book also packs mythical creatures, gang violence, ghosts, and time travel, making it a page-turner even for the most romance-averse.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
You don’t have to be a huge young adult fan to appreciate the literary genius that went into Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. This tale of two outcasts who fall in love in their Nebraska hometown in the 1980s is the perfect antidote to every teen movie where the main characters have to change who they are to be deemed worthy of love.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s 1877 masterpiece is every bit as romantic today as it was 140 years ago. While the 800-page novel isn’t exactly a beach read, its themes of social class, fidelity, passion, and jealousy, are just as applicable to a modern audience as they were to the first readers of the Russian classic.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
While romance is genre mostly comprised of fiction, Just Kids is a must-read exception to that rule. The book, written by singer and artist Patti Smith, chronicles her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe during their early 20s in New York. And while the book offers an insider look into two the lives of the world’s foremost artistic talents, it’s just as much a love letter by Smith to her late companion.
Bright Star by John Keats
If you’ve ever wanted some inspiration on how to knock the object of your affection’s socks off, look no further than Bright Star. Even if collection of love letters from John Keats to Fanny Brawe doesn’t move you to tears, it will definitely have you rethinking those sappy cards you usually send your significant other.
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
The “food of love” takes on a new meaning with Laura Esquivel’s 1989 erotic novel Like Water for Chocolate. Unique in form, thanks to the recipes that precede each chapter, this tale of lovers kept apart by their families also touches on countless time-honored romantic themes, including jealousy, infidelity, and tradition, making for a book that’s equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Even if you didn’t find Jane Eyre fascinating when you read it in middle school, it’s well worth taking another pass at as an adult. Exploring the relationship between the titular protagonist and her love, Mr. Rochester, the book’s themes of love and longing will have even modern audiences overcome with emotion.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Fantasy fans won’t be able to put down Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches. While ostensibly about protagonist Diana Bishop’s life as a witch, the book is also a love story—and better yet for those into romantic fiction, this one’s got vampires.
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller
Selling over 60 million copies, you can bet that The Bridges of Madison County is every bit as romantic as critics and fans say it is. The novella, set in 1960s Iowa, may be about a romantic affair between a married woman and a handsome stranger, but it’s just as much about the nature of romance and heartbreak.
Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah Konen
If you’ve ever wondered if you can fall in love with someone having only just met them, Love and Other Train Wrecks will convince you it’s possible. In fact, this teen romance is so charming, you might just start believing you can find love in even the most hopeless places—like Amtrak.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Even readers who typically shun historical fiction will fall in love with The Book Thief. While the book’s main characters maintain a platonic relationship throughout the novel—set against the backdrop of the Nazi regime in Germany—there’s a romantic undercurrent in their budding friendship even the most stone-hearted can’t deny.
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
One of the most popular romantic novels of all time, The Thorn Birds has sold 33 million copies worldwide—and with good reason. Even for those who don’t openly embrace the romantic genre, the family saga that props up the plot will speak to readers from all walks of life.
Love Poems by Pablo Neruda
If you’ve ever wanted to sweep someone off their feet with words, but haven’t been able to get your style to progress past basic rhyming couplets, let Neruda do the work. No matter the occasion, a verse from any of the works in Love Poems is sure to wow your rapt audience. Well, until they read the book and realized you weren’t an original.
The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
Sure, everyone’s seen the movie by now. But the Nicholas Sparks novel that preceded the Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams mega-hit is still well worth the read.
Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
Looking for a love story that isn’t your typical boy-meets-girl tale? In Call Me By Your Name, the romance between Elio and Oliver is so beautiful, so heartbreaking, and rings so true to anyone who’s ever been in love, that you won’t be able to put it down.
Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
What do you get when you combine the Russian Revolution, romance, and so many character names you can’t keep count? Dr. Zhivago, a novel so stunningly complex and masterfully written you can’t just rely on the movie version to understand its nuances.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
A meditation on the different kinds of love you can fall into with different people, this Murakami novel is a nostalgic look at what love really means—and what’s left in its place when we lose it.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Fantasy lovers, rejoice. If you’ve been looking to start reading romance, The Night Circus is the ideal way to start, thanks to its rich basis in fantasy and the paranormal, with just the right amount of romance thrown in.
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
While, at first glance, Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel seems to be about the impact of time travel on a relationship, upon further inspection, it begs the question so many romance novels seek to answer: “What’s really worth waiting for?”
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Equal parts beautiful and mournful, The Remains of the Day’s protagonist wonders, like so many others do in their real life, how their life might have been changed for the better if they had been with the person they truly loved.
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
Themes of love, money, and romance blend seamlessly together in Beatriz Williams’ The Summer Wives. And while social class is at the forefront of the novel’s plot, its romance is as gripping as it is heartbreaking.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A tragic romance if there ever was one, the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan is among the most heartbreaking to ever grace the page. And even if you’re not reading Gatsby—widely considered the archetypal great American novel—for the romance, read it for Fitzgerald’s stunning prose alone.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
YA novels have come a long way in the past few decades. Case in point: Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also a Star, a poignant, and often heartbreaking, look at how one romance can change your whole life.
One Day by David Nicholls
Set on the same day each year over the course of two decades, this romantic novel explores the protagonists’ love, longing, and losses. Just make sure you’re ready for some serious ugly-crying before diving in.
31-Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The book series the popular TV show is based on, Outlander combines historical fiction, romance, and time travel for a truly gripping read even staunchly anti-romance readers can get behind.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
The love between the two main characters in Me Before You doesn’t start out that way. In fact, it’s practically animosity at first—until it blooms into something beautiful, heartbreaking, and becomes a relationship that will ring true to readers from all walks of life.
33-Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Childhood friendship blooms into romance between orphaned Pip and beautiful Estella in this time-honored. And for anyone who’s ever had an obstacle standing in the way of their love for someone, this Dickens classic is sure to both uplift you and break your heart.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Who says that a book about serious illness can’t be uplifting? The Fault in Our Stars, which follows two teens who meet in a cancer support group, is as much about illness as it is finding that love can spring from the most unlikely places.
A Stitch in Time by Amanda James
Want a little time travel with your romance? Then you’ll love A Stitch in Time by Amanda James, a perfect introduction to the genre for the generally romance-avoidant.
Then There Was You by Miranda Liasson
A small town romance with a big heart, Miranda Liasson’s Then There Was You manages to avoid saccharine sappiness while being about as charmingly romantic a novel as you’ll find anywhere.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
If you haven’t read this Jane Austen classic, it’s time to remedy that. After all, where else are you going to read charming, albeit antiquated lines like, “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment”?
I presume they’d have fainted in those days if they knew a gentleman’s mind is equally as rapid; it jumps from admiration to sex in a matter of seconds.
The Princess Bride by William Goldman
You may have seen the movie, but if you haven’t read The Princess Bride, you’re missing out. Full of comedy, fantasy, adventure, and one of the most romantic love stories of all time, you don’t have to be a romance lover to fall in love with this book.
40. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Another amazing story from the master Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility shows us two women in love. Marianne Dashwood is impulsive in her love for the charming Willoughby, and Elinor Dashwood is sensible but struggles to conceal her angst with her love for Edward Ferras.
41. Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught
Fresh from her triumphs in Paris society, Whitney Stone returned to England to win the heart of Paul, her childhood love…only to be bargained away by her bankrupt father to the handsome, arrogant Duke of Claymore. Even as his smoldering passion seduces her into a gathering storm of desire, Whitney cannot — will not — relinquish her dream of perfect love.
42. A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux
The lovely Dougless Montgomery is abandoned in an English church where suddenly appears a Knight in Shining Armor…from the 1500s. It’s Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck, who has come to rescue his damsel in distress.
43. Indigo by Beverly Jenkins
As a child, Hester Wyatt escaped slavery, but now the dark-skinned beauty is a member of Michigan’s Underground Railroad, offering other runaways a chance at the freedom she has learned to love. When one of her fellow conductors brings her an injured man to hide, Hester doesn’t hesitate…even after she is told about the price on his head. The man in question is known as the “Black Daniel”, a vital member of the North’s Underground Railroad network. But Hester finds him so rude and arrogant, she questions her vow to hide him..
44. After Forever Ends by Melodie Ramone
Orphaned by her mother and brushed off by her dad, fifteen-year-old Silvia Cotton had lived a lonely life. That is, until 1985, when her father moves the family from the Highlands of Scotland to the Midlands of Wales. It is there she is enrolled in Bennington, a private boarding school, meets the charming and rebellious Dickinson twins, Oliver and Alexander, and her regrettable life changes forever.
45. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
Tough-minded Jessica Trent’s sole intention is to free her nitwit brother from the destructive influence of Sebastian Ballister, the notorious Marquess of Dain. She never expects to desire the arrogant, amoral cad. And when Dain’s reciprocal passion places them in a scandalously compromising, and public, position, Jessica is left with no choice but to seek satisfaction.
46. The Bride by Julie Garwood
By the king’s edict, Alec Kincaid, mightiest of the Scottish lairds, must take an English bride. And Jamie the youngest daughter of Baron Jamison, is his choice. From his first glimpse of the proud and beautiful English lady, Alec felt a burning hunger stir within him. But with the wedding vows, Jamie pledges her own secret oath: She will never surrender her love to this Highland barbarian.
47. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
The Duke of Jervaulx was brilliant – and dangerous. Considered dissolute, reckless, and extravagant, he was transparently referred to as the “D of J” in scandal sheets. But sometimes the most womanizing rakehell can be irresistible, and even his most causal attentions fascinated the sheltered Maddy Timms. Maddy knows it is her destiny to help him and her only chance to find the true man behind the wicked facade.
48. Nobody’s Baby But Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Genius physics professor Dr. Jane Darlington desperately wants a baby. But finding a father won’t be easy. Jane’s super-intelligence made her feel like a freak, and she’s determined to spare her own child that suffering. Cal Bonner, the Chicago Stars’ legendary quarterback, seems like the perfect choice. Dr. Jane is about to learn a little too late that this good ol’ boy is a lot smarter than he lets on – and he’s not about to be used and abandoned by a brainy, baby-mad schemer.
49. Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas
Evangeline Jenner stands to become wealthy once her inheritance comes due. Because she must first escape the clutches of her unscrupulous relatives, Evie has approached the rake Viscount St. Vincent with a most outrageous proposition: marriage! But Evie’s proposal comes with a condition: no lovemaking after their wedding night. Sebastian will simply have to work harder at his seductions… or perhaps surrender his own heart for the very first time in the name of true love.
50. Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward
A former blood slave, the vampire Zsadist still bears the scars from a past filled with suffering and humiliation. Anger is his only companion, and terror is his only passion—until he rescues a beautiful aristocrat from the evil Lessening Society. Bella is instantly entranced by the seething power Zsadist possesses. Bella must help her lover overcome the wounds of his tortured past and find a future with her.
51. The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
The Duke and I by all accounts, Simon Basset is on the verge of proposing to his best friend’s sister, the lovely – and almost-on-the-shelf – Daphne Bridgerton. But it’s all an elaborate plan to keep Simon free from marriage-minded society mothers. And as for Daphne, surely she will attract some worthy suitors now that it seems a duke has declared her desirable. But as Daphne waltzes across ballroom after ballroom with Simon, it’s hard to remember that their courtship is a complete sham.
52. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
During the summer of 1941, the Metanov family are living a hard life in Leningrad. As the German armies advance, their future looks bleak. For Tatiana, love arrives in the guise of Alexander, who harbours a deadly and extraordinary secret.
53. The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss
A lusty adventurer married to the sea, Captain Brandon Birmingham courts scorn and peril when he abducts the beautiful fugitive Heather Simmons from the tumultuous London dockside. But no power on Earth can compel him to relinquish his exquisite prize. For he is determined to make the sapphire-eyed lovely his woman … and to carry her off to far, uncharted realms of sensuous, passionate love.
54. The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley
The year is 1881. Meet the Mackenzie family – rich, powerful, dangerous, eccentric. The youngest brother, Ian, known as the Mad Mackenzie, spent most of his young life in an asylum, and everyone agrees he is decidedly odd. Beth Ackerley, a widow, has recently come into a fortune. She has decided wants to take her money and find peace, to travel, to learn art, to sit back and fondly remember her brief but happy marriage to her late husband. And then Ian Mackenzie decides he wants her.
55. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The novel begins in Monte Carlo where the heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives – presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
56. The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley
Left in debt when her philandering artist husband is murdered by his mistress’s own jealous husband, Susanna Dallet must rely on her skills as a painter of miniatures to survive her new position at the court of the devious Cardinal Wolsey. Luckily, there’s a wayward angel and a handsome but easily ruffled court secretary looking out for her.
I hope to make this list someday with The Immortal Lover