If you were to ask a person who reads a lot of romance novels to select their favorite book of all time, it is unlikely that they would give you a straightforward answer. Every year, thousands of unique titles are published in a variety of subgenres, and some of the most popular love stories include historicals, paranormals, erotica, and contemporary.
There are an unlimited number of escapist love stories and gratifying happily-ever-afters to select from, and know that even more readings are now easily available via e-readers and apps; this number will only grow. You can see why it would be very hard to pick just one of these options.
To hone in on the most influential works in the romance book genre, we compiled a list of the top love stories that everyone should read at least once in their lives. We have done our best to produce a list of the books and writers most frequently recognized as favorites by our fellow readers in “Romancelandia,” even if the task is difficult.
We are confident that there is something in this collection that will appeal to readers of every stripe, from enduring classics like Jane Eyre to the reigning doyenne of historical fiction, Beverly Jenkins, to the darlings of the 21st century like The Kiss Quotient, to the bestselling series that has now become a breakout hit on Netflix, Bridgerton.
Top 10 Love Stories to Read
1. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (1847) - one of the genre's earliest novels
When it was published in the 19th century, Jane Eyre was a novel that made significant contributions to literature because it tackled controversial topics like classism, religion, and sexuality. Bront’s narrative of the eponymous character, Jane, and her evolving feelings and love for her brooding employer, Mr. Rochester, is one that readers still find difficult to put down, and it is still acclaimed as one of the genre’s earliest novels.
2. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen (1813) - one of the most famous love stories to read
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is widely regarded as the best romance novel ever written. The story centers on the headstrong protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, who is constantly at clash with her strict beau, Mr. Darcy. Keira Knightley’s performance as Elizabeth Bennet in the film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice garnered her a nomination for an Academy Award in 2006.
3. Morning Glory, by Lavyrle Spencer (1993) - a satisfyingly conventional romantic tale in fresh, sprightly prose
This time-honored tearjerker written by Spencer is set in the fictional town of Whitney, Georgia, just before World War II breaks out. Will Parker is making every effort to avoid the misfortune that inevitably follows his infamous reputation.
It would appear that Will has finally found the solution to all of his problems when he comes across a “Wanted” ad in the local newspaper that was placed by a young widowed mother of two children who is also expecting her third child searching for a spouse.
4. Shanna, by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (1977) - one of the original historical romance classics
Warning: The Wolf and the Dove is a classic example of the bodice ripper genre, but it was written in the 1970s and shows. Readers today may find the book to be a bit too lengthy. Over 600 pages may be a bit much for readers in the 21st century, and the fundamentals of consent that are now taken for granted in the 21st century were not a primary focus back then.
In spite of this, Woodiwiss’s work is considered one of the original historical romance classics, and it paved the way for many of the books that people like reading the most today. After being married to the lusty criminal Ruark Beauchamp, the heiress named Shanna runs away to an island in the Caribbean to avoid fulfilling her marriage vows to him.
5. Lord of Scoundrels, by Loretta Chase (1995) - one of the best historical romances ever written
Infamous wicked person Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain, takes great pride in his reputation as a scoundrel who does not apologize for his actions. And up to the point that he meets Jessica Trent, he has no problem living his life in such a manner. She is intelligent and tenacious, and she is resolved to save her troubled brother from a life of disaster; yet, in order to accomplish so, she must go against Sebastian.
6. The Viscount Who Loved Me, by Julia Quinn (2000) - #1 New York Times Best Seller
Although we have Daphne and Simon from The Duke and I to thank for the launch of this best-selling eight-book series (and, subsequently, the Bridgerton obsession on Netflix), The Viscount Who Loved Me is the one novel in the series that never fails to make us feel all the feels.
In the book, the unrepentant rake Anthony Bridgerton has made the decision that it is time for him to find a wife. Even though he has the perfect possibility in the form of the stunning Edwina, he is unable to resist the allure of Edwina’s elder half-sister, Kate.
7. Indigo, by Beverly Jenkins (1996) - the first in a series of deeply romantic historical novels
Hester is now a free woman, and she is a vital worker on the Underground Railroad. She escaped slavery as a kid and made her way to Michigan, where she currently resides. One evening, she is tasked with providing shelter for a wounded Galen Vachon, also known as “Black Daniel,” who is one of the most highly respected conductors for the railroad.
It turns out that the time Hester spent tending to the attractive and haughty guy during his recovery was the start of an epic love story between them. Indigo is one of Jenkins’s first works, and it was the first in a series of deeply romantic historical novels that propelled her to the level of literary legend.
8. Delaney's Desert Sheikh, by Brenda Jackson (2002) - the first in the series of 30 love stories to read
After graduating from medical school, Delaney takes out for a vacation in the opulent log home her cousin owns in the woods. However, it turns out she is not sleeping alone, as it is occupied by a lovely stranger named Jamal. Jamal is also a sheikh, intent on luring Delaney into bed with him. Jackson’s “The Westmorelands” series consists of 30 novels, the first of which is titled Delaney’s, Desert Sheikh.
9. Dark Lover, by J.R. Ward (2005) - the first phenomenal novel in the #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series
Black Dagger Brotherhood is the first book in an ongoing series of 19 books written by J.R. Ward. It tells the story of purebred vampire leader Wrath, who unexpectedly falls in love with mixed-race Beth, who is then immediately introduced to a fascinating paranormal world. This is one of the most mysterious love stories to read.
10. Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie (2005) - a contemporary love story to read
Bet Me, shortlisted for a RITA Award in 2005 and became a bestseller, follows Minerva and Calvin. Because she is cynical and utterly persuaded that real love only exists in stories, he invited her out in order to win a bet with her previous boyfriend. Min is completely aware of Cal’s wager, and she exploits this information to her advantage, which he is unaware of.