20 Best Romance Novels That'll Make You Swoon So Hard

I'll never understand why romance novels aren't always taken seriously. I get it — it can be a little embarrassing to ride the subway with a salacious-looking book cover on display. But that doesn't mean the story behind those ripping bodices and rippled abdominals isn't worthwhile (and sometimes, a totally erotic story is hidden behind a seemingly nondescript cover). Deciding what makes for the best romance novels is subjective, but for me, a romance novel's merit isn't necessarily qualified by its quantity of sex scenes. I love hot-and-heavy content as much as the next person, but I personally think a great romance is about more than just titillation.

From sci-fi to historical fiction to horror, romance can be found in nearly any genre. Maybe you're into BDSM and role-play. Maybe you're into sexy, sensual love affairs. There's something about reading a romance that's so much more intimate than watching it play out on a screen, and the best romance novels will leave you feeling more hot and bothered than even the most erotic movies. I've rounded up some of the best romance novels of all time, and these books all prove that romance is more inclusive and captivating than most people give it credit.

Crown Publishing + Farrar, Straus and Giroux + Gallery Publishing Group
Dating — 20 Best Romance Novels That'll Make You Swoon So Hard

'Call Me By Your Name' by André Aciman

Believe what you want, but in my opinion, the book is even sexier than the movie (which is pretty darn sexy). André Acimen's novel tells the story of 17-year-old Elio and the handsome young doctoral student who spends his summer with Elio's family in their 17th-century Italian villa. Love blossoms, Elio's sexuality is awakened, and after reading this, you'll want to book a trip to Italy ASAP. And you'll never look at peaches the same way again.

'The Pisces' by Melissa Broder

You have every right to be skeptical of this one, but hear me out: Mermen are sexy. Melissa Broder's erotic novel revolves around Lucy, a Ph.D candidate spending her summer in solitude after a bad breakup. While putting off her Sappho dissertation and moping around Venice Beach, Lucy meets the man of her dreams — who just so happens to be part-fish. The Pisces is super dark, incredibly funny, and undeniably hot.

'Tipping The Velvet' by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters' bestselling debut novel is set in 1890s England, following 18-year-old Nan as she falls deeply and dangerously in love with a male impersonator named Kitty and sacrifices everything to tour with the music hall phenomenon. Nan and Waters both work to expose the hidden yet vibrant lesbian presence in Victorian London, and considering that the title is a euphemism for cunnilingus, it should be no surprise that this novel contains plenty of it.

'Losing It' by Cara Carmack

What happens when you're a college senior desperate to finally lose your virginity? You engage in a one-night stand, of course — though for Bliss, that hot one-night hookup ends up being much more complicated than she imagined. As it turns out, that British hottie Bliss left in her bed is her new theater professor. It was just supposed to be a one-time thing, but now that it's forbidden, both Bliss and her professor can't help but be tempted by the possibility of a repeat performance.

'The Kiss Quotient' by Helen Hoang

Is the first romance between an endearing economist on the spectrum and a male escort? Probably not. But should it be the last? Definitely not. Though Michael the escort enters his arrangement with Stella with the intention of keeping their relationship professional (or as professional as a purely physical relationship can be), it doesn't take long before business and pleasure mix. The result: an incredibly hot experience for both Stella and the reader.

'A Sport & A Pastime' by James Salter

Set in France in the early 1960s, this 1967 novel is brief, tense, and wildly erotic. While the love affair between an American, middle-class college drop-out and a young French woman isn't all that unusual, it's the voyeuristic and totally unreliable narrator who makes this novel so interesting. Through the unnamed narrator's eyes, the reader sees the affair play out — though as the narrator mixes observation with his own fantasies, it's hard to know what's real and what's invented erotica.

'The Argonauts' by Maggie Nelson

This one-of-a-kind book is a mix of genre-bending memoir and gorgeous love affair, revolving around Maggie Nelson's romantic relationship with gender-fluid artist Harry Dodge. Together, Maggie and Harry navigate the thrills and challenges of sex, pregnancy, and queer family-making in a love story that is as swoon-worthy as it is sexy.

'Outlander' by Diana Gabaldon

Before it became a sexy historical time travel series on Starz, Outlander was a bestselling book series mixing historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and lots of hot men in kilts. Following the story of a former World War II combat nurse and an 18th-century Scottish Highland warrior, the series contains even more sex scenes than the show (if you can believe it) that toss traditional romantic tropes out the window. Hooray for female provocateurs!

'Open Me' by Lisa Locascio

Despite telling the story of an 18-year-old American exchange student and the sexy 28-year-old Dutch man who seduces her, you won't find any fetishization of female youth in this debut novel. It's a delight to follow the unfolding romance between Roxana and Søren, but what's really satisfying is Roxana's refusal to be victimized. After all, she has physical needs and pleasures, too, and despite her relative sexual inexperience, she recognizes her power and takes pride in her right to sexual satisfaction.

'Delta Of Venus' by Anaïs Nin

Fun fact: Anaïs Nin was an OG erotica provider. In this 15-story collection — published posthumously and written for a private client during the 1940s — Nin combines literature with the pornographic for her series of sex-positive and distinctly feminist stories. Containing scenes so sexually explicit that they put Fifty Shades of Grey to shame, you might want to refrain from reading this one in public.

'Vox' by Nicholson Baker

In this slim and sexy novel, two people meet over a phone sex call-in line, and what follows is one of the hottest and lengthiest phone sex chats in history. Over the course of novel, Jim and Abby exchange sexual fantasies, and though they never actually touch (or even meet), you can't help but be drawn into their erotic connection.

'Addicted' by Zane

Sometimes love is enough to keep people together — but for Atlanta businesswoman Zoe Reynard, she's not receiving enough loving in the bedroom to keep her satisfied. Though she and her sexually-shy husband have been together since they were teenagers, Zoe's growing sexual frustration compels her to engage in affairs. Unfortunately, what started as a little sexual fulfillment soon spirals into a full-blown obsession, and it's a seriously wild ride.

'The Almond' by Nedjma

The Almond isn't just the first erotic novel to be written by a Muslim woman — pseudonymous Nedjma's autobiographical story is also incredibly empowering. After a Muslim woman from a North African village is subjected to sexual trauma at the hands of her much older husband, she flee to Tangiers, hoping to escape. There, she meets a wealthy doctor with whom she embarks on a tumultuous but mutually satisfying 10-year affair. She learns that sex can be a celebration, rather than something tawdry or shameful, and she discovers not only what her body is capable of feeling, but what her body deserves.

'Hidden' by Kelli Claire

If you like romance with a side of thrills, then you'll definitely be drawn into this elegant debut. The novel follows a fortuitous meeting between an art teacher and an attractive yet strangely mysterious Englishman, whom she soon discovers was actually sent to protect her from assassins. Though Will's mission is to protect Ellie, hecan't help but feel a sexual charge with her. The steamy affair that follows is even more thrilling than the threat of assassination.

'The Gravity Between Us' by Kristen Zimmer

There isn't anything two unusual about two friends who find themselves falling for each other — unless one of them is an up-and-coming Hollywood starlet who doesn't believe herself to be attracted to women. However, after Kendall invites her best friend Payton to move in with her in Los Angeles, she can't help but feel jealous when Payton starts to spend more time with another woman. Kendall also can't explain her growing urge to kiss Payton, and she knows it's only a matter of time before she acts on her desires.

'Who Do You Love' by Jennifer Weiner

Who would think that a love story could begin in a hospital waiting room? But that's where the love story between Rachel and Andy begins, following them from their beginnings as two eight-year-olds in the ER through the next three decades. After that fortuitous meeting, Rachel and Andy keep crossing paths again and again, and while it may not be the most original storyline, it's about as impossible to resist these two characters as it is for them to resist each other.

'After' by Anna Todd

If you thought the erotic One Direction fan fiction written by Kat on Euphoria was wild, that's only because you've never heard of After. Anna Todd's bestselling novel and its sequels are basically Fifty Shades of Grey meets 1D and set on a college campus, following the story of a bad boy who seduces a shy coed. The After We Collided movie is officially in the works, so there's no better time to read this series.

'If I Were You' by Lisa Renee Jones

In this first novel in Lisa Renee Jones's Inside Out series, high school teacher Sara finds herself in possession of an art gallery owner's dark, erotic, and intensely private journals, which she pours through obsessively. Sara attempts to return the journals only to find that the woman is gone — and that her job is available. Slowly but surely, Sara takes over that woman's life and finds herself falling for an intense artist, who may just be one of the men described in the journals.

'How Not to Fall' by Emily Foster

When a whip-smart student propositions the older graduate fellow she's been crushing on, you definitely don't expect him to turn her down. Rather than succumbing to the scandalous teacher/student dynamic, Charles insists that they wait until Annie graduates to begin a relationship — and once she does, they immediately commence a strenuous sex-fest that's as hot and heavy as it is intelligent and funny.

'Fear Of Flying' by Erica Jong

It may have been controversial when it was first published in 1973, but now it's seen more as a celebration of female sexuality. Stuck in an unfulfilling marriage, a 29-year-old New York City journalist decides to step out on her second husband during their trip to Vienna and indulge in some of her private sexual fantasies with another man. While the sexual tryst was just supposed to be for fun, she finds herself developing feelings for the English analyst, and she's torn between returning home with her husband or going to London with her new lover.

What are you waiting for? Grab one of these books and get ready to be majorly turned on.