20 Best Romance Novels to Add to Your To-Read List

by Jessica Hickam
Jan 30, 2018 at 3:00 a.m. ET
Our favorite romantic books
Image: Getty Images; Design: Ashley Britton

We love, love, love romantic films. The flirting, the first kiss, the will-they-wont-they, the falling out, the climax (ahem) of the story. Whether it's classics like When Harry Met Sally or modern turns like Sleeping With Other People, getting to experience falling in love second-hand — without all the actual drama and insecurity it usually comes with — is one of the best feelings in the world. 

The only thing that's nearly as good? Romantic books. I mean, that's why so many of them get turned into films as it is, right? Whether you're looking for your own Mr. Darcy or you still get riled up over Team Edward vs. Team Jacob (uh, cleary we should all be Team Bella) or even if you still get a flutter when you hear 'If you're a bird, I'm a bird', we've rounded up the best romantic books of all time. And yes, before you ask: The books are always better than the movies.

A version of this article was originally published in February 2016. 

1 /21: 'Everything, Everything' Nicola Yoon

1/21 :'Everything, Everything' Nicola Yoon

Another young adult book sure to be a classic, Everything, Everything tells the story of Maddy, who has been housebound since she was a child after being diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. But then she meets Olly, and everything changes. It was made into an equally excellent movie in 2017.

2 /21: 'The Notebook' by Nicholas Sparks

2/21 :'The Notebook' by Nicholas Sparks

As if this one wasn't going on our list. Sparks has to be the most popular romance author of our time. Half a dozen of his books could easily make sense on this list, but The Notebook is the one that stands above the rest, thanks in part to the now-classic 2004 film adaptation.

After a summer romance like no other, Noah and Allie are pulled apart by social class in the early 1900s. Years later, the two reconnect, but it might be too late since Allie is engaged.

3 /21: 'Doctor Zhivago' by Boris Pasternak

3/21 :'Doctor Zhivago' by Boris Pasternak

If you're in the mood for love, this may be the perfect time to brush up on your classics. This 1957 novel was written by Boris Pasternak and won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958. The captivating story tells a classic tale of forbidden love — the rich son of an industrialist is torn between career, family and the woman he falls for during the Russian Revolution. And it's nearly impossible to put down. 

With all of its twists and turns, Doctor Zhivago makes for a great read. The novel was also adapted into a movie in 1965 and a U.S. TV miniseries in 2002.

4 /21: 'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

4/21 :'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen

Austen is the icon for classic romance novels. Not only is Pride and Prejudice one of the most popular books in the English language, it's also one of the most romantic love stories you can find.

Elizabeth Bennet is facing the prospect of marriage, along with her four sisters. An unpleasant relationship with a Mr. Darcy turns into a much more complicated scenario as the two play the dating game in the 19th century.

5 /21: 'Fifty Shades of Grey' by EL James

5/21 :'Fifty Shades of Grey' by EL James

James was Forbes' top-earning author in 2015 for her Fifty Shades of Grey series, which has taken the romance and erotica world by storm. This book practically paved the way for an entirely new genre of books: New Adult. Though the story is controversial, this is a book that can't be ignored.

Innocent Anastasia meets wild and sexy billionaire Christian Grey, and things take a turn for the kinky. But as their love unfolds, so do the secrets and the dark pasts neither may be able to outrun.

6 /21: 'Outlander' by Diana Gabaldon

6/21 :'Outlander' by Diana Gabaldon

Gabaldon, as she told us during our interview, doesn't like for her novels to be considered romance, and this book really does cross typical genre guidelines. But let's be real — it's hugely, disgustingly, dramatically romantic. And the evolution of Claire's relationship really does a lot to drive the story.

In Outlander, Claire Randall's life is torn in two when she mysteriously travels through time from 1945 to 1745. As if that doesn't complicate matters enough, things are further confused when she falls in love with two very different men from two very different centuries.

7 /21: 'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger

7/21 :'The Time Traveler's Wife' by Audrey Niffenegger

This one can definitely be bookmarked as the most unique love story on the list — even ahead of Outlander.

In The Time Traveler's Wife, Henry is a time traveler who can't control when he leaves or goes or where he ends up on his timeline of life. His relationship with Clare, therefore, evolves at all stages of her life. Though the relationship sounds doomed to fail, it is just as unpredictable as this page-turner.

8 /21: 'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë

8/21 :'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Brontë

Possibly the most heartbreakingly beautiful love story ever written, Wuthering Heights was initially called vulgar when it was published and criticized for its difficult characters. Of course, now we can recognize the complexity of the central relationship, which showcases that societal standards shouldn't dictate our happiness.

The novel is the depiction of the romance between Catherine and Heathcliff, whose love seems to both destroy them and keep them going throughout their lives.

9 /21: 'The History of Love' by Nicole Krauss

9/21 :'The History of Love' by Nicole Krauss

The title alone suggests this is a book that belongs on our list.

In The History of Love, Leo and Alma are years apart, but they are more closely connected than they realize. When Alma's search to find her mother a mate leads her to Leo, their story unfolds in a beautiful and breathtaking way.

10 /21: 'P.S., I Love You' by Cecelia Ahern

10/21 :'P.S., I Love You' by Cecelia Ahern

Whip out the tissues. P.S., I Love You is sure to leave you surrounded by a puddle of your own tears. And you're sure to love every minute of the sobfest.

When Holly's soul mate, Gerry, dies, she isn't sure she can move on. Then she discovers a bundle of notes Gerry wrote her before he died — one for each month following his death for a year. Through the letters, Holly learns that life, love and the pursuit of happiness continue.

11 /21: 'Twilight' by Stephenie Meyer

11/21 :'Twilight' by Stephenie Meyer

Meyer brought back paranormal YA romance with her whirlwind tales of vampires like we'd never seen them before. Love it or hate it, this book has staying power.

In Twilight, Bella falls in love with vampire Edward, and though they would each die to be with the other, love is never that easy... especially when one person is immortal.

12 /21: 'Gone with the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell

12/21 :'Gone with the Wind' by Margaret Mitchell

First published in 1936, Gone with the Wind was adapted into an Academy Award–winning film three years later, and the novel was already considered a classic by many. That reputation has, of course, lived on to this day.

While many consider the book historical more than romantic, the Civil War romance between bad boy Rhett and Southern belle Scarlett is not to be missed. When they are torn apart by war, their relationship doesn't seem possible until they're reunited many years later.

13 /21: 'Eleanor & Park' by Rainbow Rowell

13/21 :'Eleanor & Park' by Rainbow Rowell

YA romance can still be heart-wrenching, as evidenced by a few other blockbuster books turned movies on this list. In Eleanor & Park, we meet two odd kids who share a common bond back in 1986 Nebraska — a love for comic books and for mix tapes.

If you've ever fallen hard, this sweet tale of young love is enough to get you right in the feels — and make you appreciate all those fleeting first-love moments that aren't meant to last.

14 /21: 'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes

14/21 :'Me Before You' by Jojo Moyes

Here we have a quirky and unexpected love story sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. In Me Before You, Lou is living her predictable little life until she needs and falls in love with Will, a paralyzed man who doesn't have much to live for.

If you want to get a jump on an unconventionally romantic story, add this book to your reading list.

15 /21: 'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green

15/21 :'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green

If you haven’t seen the tearjerking movie yet, then start with the tearjerking book. The Fault in Our Stars is Green’s sixth book, published in 2012 and written from the point of view of a 16-year-old cancer patient.

When Hazel falls in love with someone she meets at a cancer support group she is forced to attend by her parents, well, you can only imagine the beautiful heartbreak that is sure to come next.

16 /21: 'Just Kids' by Patti Smith

16/21 :'Just Kids' by Patti Smith

How about a titillating and true love story on the list? In Smith’s first book, Just Kids, a memoir written in 2010, the iconic ’70s punk rocker explores her relationship with artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe that fans have never heard before. It's an honest and innocent look at young love in the late 1960s and early ’70s, and Smith’s voice — set against the backdrop of her badass life — is both irresistible and sweet.

This is what it looks like to fall in love as a young girl who's still trying to figure herself out, and most of us can relate.

17 /21: 'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen

17/21 :'Water for Elephants' by Sara Gruen

You may have seen the recent movie in all of its Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon-y glory, but this is yet another time when fans argue that the book is better than the movie. In Water for Elephants, we meet Jacob, a veterinary student who, after tragedy strikes, hops on a train that belongs to a traveling circus. Jacob begins working as an animal caretaker, where he meets a beautiful circus performer named Marlena.

Their shared compassion for an elephant (and the undeniable romantic attraction between the two) makes for a beautiful and captivating love story set against the backdrop of Prohibition and the Great Depression.

18 /21: 'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

18/21 :'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Blame it on Leo and another film adaptation of a great book, but this is one classic love story that we can’t get enough of. Written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby tells the tale of glitz, glamour, pain and privilege — in an easy read that is short and sweet. Gatsby’s neighbor Nick Caraway recounts the story of the love between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan in the early 1920s, brought to life by over-the-top parties and Gatsby's lavish wealth.

Though you may already know how this book ends because of its Hollywood coverage in recent years (no spoilers here!), The Great Gatsby follows the suit of other tearjerking and page-turning love stories that end in heartbreak.

19 /21: 'Bridget Jones's Diary' by Helen Fielding

19/21 :'Bridget Jones's Diary' by Helen Fielding

This smash hit and iconic '90s chick lit novel is a natural choice. As fluffy and hilarious as Bridget Jones's Diary may seem at times, it has touching moments and undercurrents of angst that we can all relate to. Bridget puts a cute little face to all the nameless 20- and 30-somethings who have no idea what they're doing and feel completely inexperienced in the ways of love.

If you've ever spent way too much time pining over someone you think you can't have, this is a novel you'll appreciate.

20 /21: 'Silver Linings Playbook' by Matthew Quick

20/21 :'Silver Linings Playbook' by Matthew Quick

While the movie was a big win, Silver Linings Playbook, published in 2010, might do you one better. The characters are still the same, though the storyline follows Pat further as he tries to reunite with his wife while struggling with mental health issues. If anything, the book's going to give you that dose of reality that the movie did not have the time or the detail to delve into.

Love is real, it's complicated, and sometimes, it's really complicated.

21 /21: 'Dead Until Dark' by Charlaine Harris

21/21 :'Dead Until Dark' by Charlaine Harris

If you were a fan of True Blood, you're totally going to get sucked (haha, get it?) into this book.

Season 1 of the hit HBO show pretty closely mirrored Dead Until Dark, but Charlaine Harris' whole series about Sookie Stackhouse's romantic entaglements with vampires and other supernatural creatures is so entertaining, you won't mind the overlap. 

If you're looking for an easy summer read full of romance, this book is totally for you.