Romance Subgenres

by Lori Walker
published in Writing

In my last post, we talked about the characteristics of the romance genre. Today, I am going to break things down even further and talk about the various romance subgenres.

Before I dive into popular romance subgenres and how to choose one, let’s define our term. 

A subgenre is a way of organizing a larger genre into different categories so people can choose the kind of romance they want to read about. For instance, LGBTQ+ people can read romance novels featuring LGBTQ+ characters. This kind of representation is extremely important. On the other hand, people who want to read a religious romance can read stories where spiritual beliefs are important to the characters.

The subgenre can also provide the setting for the story. For instance, a historical romance will take place in the past (more details on that below) and a western romance will take place in the American West.

Some subgenres also give readers clues about the kinds of side plots they should expect. Like in a paranormal romance, you know that some part of the story, you’ll be dealing with unreal elements.

Types of Romance Subgenres

OK. I’ve already spilled the beans about some romance subgenres, but now I’ll go into more detail about some popular subgenres. Two things though:

  • This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive. 
  • And you can also mix and match your subgenres to create even richer stories.

Contemporary Romance

These novels are set after 1950 and feature a variety of modern settings, like cities, small towns, and everything in between.

Historical Romance

These novels are set before 1950. This casts a really wide net, right? Well, this particular subgenre is broken into sub-subgenres, such as Regency, American Civil War, Medieval Europe, to name just a few. This is because historical settings vary so widely and readers often stay loyal to a specific period.

LGBTQ+ Romance

These novels feature relationships between LGBTQ+ characters. Frequently, these novels discuss issues related to the LGBTQ+ experience, such as coming out and finding acceptance.

Romantic Comedy

My favorite subgenre. These novels often include humorous elements that can complicate the plot or add tension between the characters.

Paranormal Romance

These novels feature fantastical elements, such as time travel, non-human creatures, magic, and many others. They are similar to fantasy novels, except here the focus is on the romance between the two characters, not the fantasy.

Religious Romance

In this subgenre, the romance between the protagonists focuses on the spiritual development of the characters as individuals and as a couple. 

Romantic Suspense

These novels have a fast-paced plot and include some of a mystery. Solving that mystery is often central to the romance between the two characters.

Western Romance

These novels take place in the American West and include rodeos, ranching, and other cowboy activities.

Choosing Your Romance Subgenres

The easiest way to choose which romance subgenre you want to write is to think about what you’re interested in. What kinds of romance do you read? If your reading is all over the place, try making a list of romance novels you’ve enjoyed and see if you notice any commonalities emerging.

If you already have characters in mind, think about that kind of subgenre best allows you to tell their story. Or maybe you already have the conflict in mind, perhaps certain subgenres will help you develop it further.

And, again, don’t forget that you can mix and match romance subgenres. You can totally write a comedic historical romance or an LGBTQ+ western romance. The sky is the limit.

Write what interests you and your readers will enjoy the story.

Tell us in the comments: What are your favorite romance subgenres?

Lori Walker is the Operations Maven at DIY MFA. Though she’s fallen off the wagon as a writer, she’s hoping to return to writing essays (perhaps even a novel!) through her involvement with DIY MFA. She is also Launch Manager, Web Editor, and Podcast Producer for DIY MFA and a Book Coach. She resides in Smalltown, Oklahoma, with her husband and their cat, Joan Didion. You can follow her on Instagram at @LoriTheWriter.

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