Romance and Its Subgenres Explained

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The romance genre is one of the most prolifically read and written. It seems deceptively simple at first, and those unfamiliar with it often scoff at it. But romance is the best-selling fiction genre and has a wealth of subgenres that branch into more subgenres, with even more appearing as readers’ tastes ebb and flow.

Are you an author looking to branch into romance? Or maybe you have already written some romance books but are searching for a new subgenre to inspire you?

In this post, I’ll briefly explain the definition of the romance genre and then offer a list of romance subgenres, their meanings, and their Amazon Kindle browsing categories.

What is Romance?

For a novel to be a romance, it has to have two things: a love story as the main narrative and a happy ending.

In other words, the love story must be the focus of the book, and the ending must suggest a happy future for the featured couple (or triad or other polyamorous relationship). This happy ending can take one of two forms: a happily ever after, or HEA, and a happy for now, or HFN. An HEA is more final and leaves the reader feeling confident the lovers will stay together and committed to each other forever, and an HFN allows the possibility for eventual significant developments in the lovers’ relationship but suggests they will be happy together for the foreseeable future.

The Romance Subgenres

The above definition covers the love story part of a romance novel. But every romance has a plot outside the love story as well. This is where the subgenres come in.

Generally, every romance subgenre is the combination of romance and another fiction genre, though some denote a certain heat level, trope, or pairing. Some subgenres are broader and more cut and dry than others, and some overlap. Keep in mind your book may fall into multiple subgenres.

Note that there is some debate about whether some subgenres are actually subgenres or simply browsing categories, and this distinction can be murky. I’ve chosen to include as many as possible in this list because readers are probably not thinking about genre vs. category. They are just after what they want to read. In many cases, you will end up combining some of these subgenre names to describe your book (examples: erotic paranormal romance, historical romantic suspense), and when you publish your book, it’s likely to end up in multiple categories.

For each subgenre below, I have included what has been combined with romance to create it, a brief definition of it, and any Amazon Kindle categories that are associated with it. I have listed them in alphabetical order.

Adventure Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Adventure Fiction
  • Definition: Romance in which the main characters are involved in an action-packed, physically dangerous journey.1
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Action & Adventure; any other applicable categories under Romance

Black Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Black Fiction
  • Definition: Romance that features Black protagonists.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Black & African American; any other applicable categories under Romance

Contemporary Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Contemporary Fiction
  • Definition: Technically, romance set in the same time period as it was written, but romance readers generally expect a novel described as contemporary romance to be set in “the real world” and in modern times.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Contemporary; any other applicable categories under Romance

Dark Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Dark Fiction
  • Definition: Romance in which the protagonists face physically and/or psychologically harrowing situations. Often suggests an element of darkness in the romance itself, such as dubious consent.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Any applicable categories under Romance

Dystopian Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Dystopian Fiction
  • Definition: Romance set in a dehumanizing and fear-inducing society.2
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Usually one of Romance >> Science Fiction, Romance >> Fantasy; any other applicable categories under Romance

Erotic Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Erotic Content
  • Definition: Romance that contains sex scenes. How these scenes are described ranges from euphemistic to graphic, and where they sit on this spectrum denotes the book’s heat level.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Any applicable categories under Romance except for Clean & Wholesome; Literature & Fiction >> Erotica >> Romantic Erotica (high heat level)

Fantasy Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Fantasy
  • Definition: Romance containing fanciful elements, such as magic and imaginary settings, characters, and creatures.3
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Fantasy; any other applicable categories under Romance

Gothic Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Gothic Fiction
  • Definition: Romance with an overbearing feeling of dread and an air of mystery. The setting is usually a large, creepy house reminiscent of a medieval castle,4 and the story often features ghosts or other elements of the supernatural.5
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Gothic; any other applicable categories under Romance

Historical Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Historical Fiction
  • Definition: Romance set in a specific time period in the past.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Historical Romance and applicable associated subcategories; any other applicable categories under Romance

Horror Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Horror
  • Definition: Romance that includes central elements meant to frighten the reader. Learn about this subgenre in-depth in my Horror Romance Subgenre blog series.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Any applicable categories under Romance

Inspirational Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Religion and/or Spirituality
  • Definition: Romance that heavily features religious and/or spiritual elements and depicts them in a positive light. If these elements are Christian, the term Christian Fiction may be used, and this term also implies the story doesn’t include sexual content, profanity, etc.6
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Inspirational and applicable associated subcategory; any other applicable categories under Romance

Medical Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Medical Fiction
  • Definition: Romance that heavily features the medical field and medical workplace settings.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Medical; any other applicable categories under Romance

Military Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Military Fiction
  • Definition: Romance that features at least one protagonist in the military and/or in military situations, such as base life and war.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Military; any other applicable categories under Romance

Multicultural Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Multicultural Fiction
  • Definition: Romance with protagonists who are from different cultures/races. Includes Interracial Romance.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Multicultural & Interracial; any other applicable categories under Romance

Mystery Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Mystery
  • Definition: Romance in which at least one of the protagonists is involved in solving a central mystery.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Mystery & Suspense >> Mystery; any other applicable categories under Romance

New Adult Romance

  • Combination: Romance + New Adult Fiction
  • Definition: Romance featuring at least one protagonist in the, generally, 18–25 age range.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> New Adult & College; any other applicable categories under Romance

Paranormal Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Paranormal Fiction 
  • Definition: Romance that includes supernatural elements, especially paranormal creatures like werewolves, witches, ghosts, angels, demons, vampires, and more.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Paranormal and applicable associated subcategories; any other applicable categories under Romance

Postapocalyptic Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Postapocalyptic Fiction
  • Definition: Romance set in a post-civilization world.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Usually one of Romance >> Science Fiction, Romance >> Fantasy; any other applicable categories under Romance

Queer Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Queer Fiction
  • Definition: Romance that features at least one queer protagonist. Also called Gay Romance, Lesbian Romance, M/M Romance, F/F Romance, LGBT Romance, etc.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> LGBTQ+ and applicable associated categories; any other applicable categories under Romance

Romantic Comedy

  • Combination: Romance + Comedy
  • Definition: Romance that is emotionally light and amuses the reader.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Romantic Comedy; any other applicable categories under Romance

Romantic Suspense

  • Combination: Romance + Thriller
  • Definition: Romance featuring the threat of danger for the protagonists. Often includes elements of crime.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Mystery & Suspense >> Suspense; any other applicable categories under Romance

Science Fiction Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Science Fiction
  • Definition: Romance taking place in a world where scientific and/or technological advances have impacted society. Often features an alien as one of the protagonists.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Science Fiction; any other applicable categories under Romance

Sports Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Sports Fiction
  • Definition: Romance involving at least one protagonist who is an athlete and/or taking place in sports world settings and scenarios.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Sports; any other applicable categories under Romance

Sweet Romance

  • Combination: Romance + No Erotic Content
  • Definition: Romance that does not contain sex scenes. Description of any love scenes ends before the characters go into the bedroom, so to speak. In other words, they “fade to black.”
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Clean & Wholesome; any other applicable categories under Romance

Time Travel Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Time Travel Fiction
  • Definition: Romance in which at least one protagonist travels through time.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Time Travel; any other applicable categories under Romance

Western Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Western
  • Definition: Romance set in the American West and featuring elements like cowboys, ranch hands, rodeos, and similar.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Romance >> Westerns; any other applicable categories under Romance

Young Adult Romance

  • Combination: Romance + Young Adult Fiction
  • Definition: Romance that features teenage protagonists.
  • Amazon Kindle Categories: Teen & Young Adult >> Romance and applicable associated subcategories

Is there a subgenre I missed and you feel should be included? Leave a comment, and I will consider adding it to this list.

Need a romance editor? I’m for hire.

An editor can help make sure your book fits its genre so readers walk away satisfied. Request a free sample edit now.

Notes

1. “Adventure fiction,” WorldCat Genres, OCLC Research, accessed March 6, 2021, https://www.worldcat.org/genres/adventure-fiction.html.

2. “Dystopia,” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Inc., accessed March 6, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dystopia.

3. “Fantasy fiction,” WorldCat Genres, OCLC Research, accessed March 6, 2021, https://www.worldcat.org/genres/fantasy-fiction.html.

4. “Gothic novel,” Encyclopedia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., accessed March 6, 2021, https://www.britannica.com/art/Gothic-novel.

5. “Gothic fiction,” New World Encyclopedia, accessed March 6, 2021, https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Gothic_fiction.

6. Linda W. Yezak, “What is Christian Fiction?,” Linda W. Yezak: Christian Fiction with a Texas Twang (blog), June 19, 2013, https://lindayezak.com/2013/06/19/what-is-christian-fiction.

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