Keeping It Spicy
A guy reading ACOTAR, one of several men who have grown followings on SmutTok.

Meet The Smut-Reading Guys Of BookTok

They’re flipping stereotypes about who reads (and loves) romance novels.

by Ryanne Probst

Not many confessions start with “Dragons are dope, so why not?” but this is what 25-year-old content creator Chase Keller says when asked how he found himself wandering down the romantasy rabbit hole. The way Keller tells it, he started reading romantasies (a fast-growing book trend that combines romance and fantasy) by accident.

He wanted to read more in the new year; BookTok favorite Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros was book No. 1. Now, several months later, he’s deep into the A Court of Thorns and Roses series by Sarah J. Maas, sharing his reading updates with his 21,900 TikTok followers (sometimes to the tune of more than 1 million views).

“You know, these books aren’t just romances,” he tells Elite Daily, “That’s just one part of it.” This realization is what seasoned BookTokers might call a canon event.

Keller isn’t the only guy proclaiming his love for romance books on main. College senior Zach Perez (@zachperezz) admits that he loves a good “Hallmark-feeling” book. Then there’s Chase Larsen (@chase_n_tales), who marathons spicy romance audiobooks during his routes as a truck driver. “My clients have no idea what’s going on in my earpiece,” he tells Elite Daily. They’ve joined the likes of popular BookToker Jacob Valente (@jacobsreadingg), whose book hauls usually include something written by dark romance queens Colleen Hoover and Penelope Douglas.

These are the men carving out a niche corner of BookTok in which hot dudes are not just reading; they’re reading romance. They are bravely going where few cis-hetero men have gone before: the SmutTok section of your local bookstore. They’re reading romantasy like Fourth Wing and ACOTAR; rom-coms and small-town romances; TikTok favorites like Verity by Colleen Hoover; and in special cases, super dark romances like Haunting Adeline by H.D. Carlton (seriously, proceed with caution). “That one took little naive me by the throat,” Perez jokes.

These dudes are the IRL Jess Mariano... if the Gilmore Girls heartthrob did less quoting of Jack Kerouac and more quoting of wingspan stats (IYKYK). These men aren’t just consuming romance content but full-blown riding for it. They’re not here for shock value or to ride the coattails of their romance-reading significant others in a Pookie-and-Jett-coded gag. They fundamentally enjoy reading romance. More than that, the BookTok community is teaching them a little about emotional maturity in the process.


Their Journeys Started With A Book Rec… And Took Off From There

Perez found his interest in romance in the least likely of places: his mom. He’d always been a big fan of Adam Sandler comedies — most of which have romantic elements, like The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates — so when his mom recommended Ignite by Melanie Harlow, a book about a small-town girl falling for her hot single dad-slash-firefighter neighbor, it didn’t feel too out of left field. “I’m a dude and I like feeling giddy,” Perez said in a TikTok reacting to the novel.

Many other smut-reading guys have similar journeys. Larsen, a 30-year-old husband and father, was a secret Twilight fan in middle school. “Every girl had a copy of one of the books on their desk,” he says, “and so finally I was like, why not? It’s fun. Just books.” Now he reads his wife’s romantasies and dark romances to connect more with her when he’s on the road for work.

I’ve never read anything this explicitly sexual before.

Keller’s friends talked him into buying Fourth Wing after he stumbled across it in an airport bookstore. “Oh, I totally fell for the cover,” he says. Not unlike love at first sight.

In the short time since their meet-cutes with the genre (they all started posting within the last year), their accounts have blown up. Perez has 145,200 followers, Larsen 73,900 followers, and Keller 21,900 followers (and he only started posting in February). Their videos get thousands, sometimes millions, of views. While their posts are a mix of book reviews, book hauls, and, in Larsen’s case, musings and recreations of popular romance tropes, it’s their reactions to the, er… spicier scenes that get the most interest from their followers.

Their TBR Lists Have Educational Value

TikTok is nothing if not a forum for knowledge — and class is certainly in session for these readers. “I’ve never read anything this explicitly sexual before,” Keller admits. Meanwhile, Perez insists that reading a chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey as a middle school dare counts as prior spicy reading experience.

Their education has often felt like jumping into the deep end — a deep end that consists of taboo romance tropes like hate sex, enemies to lovers, trauma bonding, and more. “You’re looking at it like, ‘What the f*ck am I reading?’” Perez said during his review of Ana Huang’s Twisted Games, which includes a scene where the hero asks the heroine to “crawl to” him before engaging in rough sex.

Interestingly, the biggest jump scare for some BookTok guys has been reading sex scenes from a girl’s POV. “I think it’s hard for guys to separate themselves from the character,” Perez says. It’s often the toughest selling point when he’s trying to get his male friends to read romances with him. “There’s definitely a lot more emotion involved [in the sex scenes] than I thought there’d be,” Keller echoes.

These books do teach you about love.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning something from the female perspective. Larsen tries out what he reads with his wife, and then posts videos poking fun at his attempts to emulate romance heroes. In one with 1.5 million views, he tries to recreate the “the sound between a snarl and a moan” that often gets associated with Maas’ faerie heroes.

Romantasies, a subgenre rife with “Alphahole” heroes — guys whose most romantic qualities are their dominant, overprotective instincts — made Keller reevaluate his role in romantic relationships. “I think it’s natural for guys to want to take on this protector role … and we don’t always need to be that,” he says. “We don’t give women enough credit.”

Perez cautions that he wouldn’t recommend following advice from every romance novel. “Or else you could end up in prison or a mental hospital,” he jokes, referencing some of the more outlandish romance plotlines. “But really, these books do teach you about love.”


They’re Flipping Stereotypes About Romance Readers

Speaking of love, these accounts are a labor — and expression — of their love for the genre. Carving out an identifiable space on BookTok is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you’re a dude. “I was a little self-conscious to post at first,” Keller admits. “I kept thinking, ‘What are other guys going to think?’”

Perez was more worried about women’s reactions to his account. The hashtag #BookTok has over 31 million posts, and it’s predominantly occupied by female-driven content and creators. SmutTok is even more female-centric. Perez found that some of his viewers were protective over that space at first. “They thought I was doing this as a joke,” he says. “Like, ‘Oh, he’s just here for clout or to make a thirst trap.’ I think they were surprised by how into the story I was.”

Men get stereotyped into liking certain things ... and romance is one of those things we’re not supposed to like.

It’s the community aspect of BookTok that they weren’t expecting. “We’re all so raw with each other and just 100% ourselves,” Perez says of his relationship with his followers. “There aren’t a lot of places like that on the internet for men or where men can talk about stuff like this— relationships, feelings, and vulnerabilities.

“I think men get stereotyped into liking certain things or not liking certain things,” Larsen says, “and romance is one of those things we’re not supposed to like.” And yet, here these guys are, gamely holding public forums about being Team Rhysand or Team Tamlin, dissecting spicy scenes, and debating plot points in their comments sections. “This just further validates that speaking about this stuff and liking [romance] doesn’t make you less masculine,” Keller emphasizes.

So, what’s next for the smut-reading bros of TikTok? Running off into the sunset with their favorite small-town romance. Perhaps you’ll find them in the comments section of their fave romantasy author’s account (“Rebecca Yarros, I just want to have a conversation!” Keller begged in one video about Iron Flame). It’s a love story, and baby, they said yes.