As of 2021, Writer’s Digest reported that there were 114 subgenres of fiction. I don’t know about y’all, but that seems like a lot to me. And of those 114 fiction subgenres, there’s only one that matters to me, that shines brighter than all the rest, that I’ve wholeheartedly enjoyed no matter what book I’m reading. That’s right folks, I’m talking about romance yet again! I’m the Resident Romance Redneck back with yet another informational and entertaining article for you other romance fiends. Let’s laugh this Romance Awareness Month.
I would like to properly illustrate the behemoth that is subgenres but with a primary focus on romance (look who you’re talking to). Subgenres are typically closely related to the literary genre that they’re derived from. Under the umbrella of romance, there are at least fourteen different subgenres that many books fall into. Under the umbrella of those fourteen different romance subgenres, there’s yet another number that I don’t know the exact quantity of. I’m only talking six today, these are the most popular of the fourteen (believe it or not).
We’re starting off with the largest subgenre of the romance industry and you’ll see why in just a second. Contemporary romance is a nice way of saying a typical book. CRs are set within the time they’re published, they feature complex characters in formulaic conditions that are too real to be funny. While dealing with intricate and down-to-earth plotlines, CRs manage to keep the romance front and center. The world revolves around love interests, however, it doesn’t stop them from being two separate individuals.
Some examples of popular contemporary romances are The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang, It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, and even Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey. All of these books are about normal people in normal circumstances. Of course, those circumstances are orchestrated to make our reading enjoyable, but there’s nothing out of the ordinary with any of them (in particular). There are no real rules that restrict contemporary romance books and because of this many books fall victim to the contemporary romance subgenre.
Let me preface this by saying that many of these are very closely related to their parent category of the romance subgenre. Now that being said, you can even further divide the subgenre of contemporary romance into smaller subgenres, around twelve that I can think of off the top of my head. This is including (but is not limited to):
General Contemporary Romance
Contemporary Romantic Suspense
Baby Love (featuring pregnancy, babies, and kids)
Cowboy Contemporary Romance
Glamour and Jet Set Romance
Humorous Contemporary Romance
Love in the Workplace
Personally, this doesn’t come as a shock to me. With the rise of shows like Bridgerton and even the strange obsession, we seem to have with Jane Austen’s book boyfriends. By definition, historical romance is a category of fiction that focuses on romantic relationships during historical periods. I mean, duh right? HR was popularized in the 19th century, by a man… seems like a lie, but it’s true. Walter Scott, author of works like Rob Roy and Ivanhoe. Of course, it really blew up with Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower.
Ironically, we’re going to stop talking about the past. All the iconic romance tropes are featured in HR. Personally, I hadn’t really thought about HR until the Bridgerton series on Netflix became the phenomenon it is. However, we aren’t just only focused on the Regency era. Works like Outlander deal with elements of time travel as well as finding love in different eras.
Historical romance subgenres are divided into eras, time periods, or centered around significant events in history. This makes this a bit more structured than contemporary romance is. These time periods are (including but not limited to):
Viking (Dark or Middle Ages)
Tudor (England, 1485-1558)
Elizabethan (England, 1558-1603)
Stuart (England, 1603-1714)
Georgian (England, 1714-1811)
Regency (England, 1811-1820)
Victorian (England, 1832-1901)
Colonial United States (US, 1630-1798)
Civil War (American Civil War-Reconstruction Era)
Americana (US, 1880-1920)
Romantic suspense, while popular, is on the smaller end of the romance subgenres. Of course, many books fall under this title. Works like Jane Eyre and Verity are just a few examples of how RS can be molded to fit the author’s liking. Romantic suspense will always feature the element of mystery or intense intrigue that the protagonists experience.
In the case of Jane Eyre, the suspense comes from Jane’s moral and spiritual development as she goes through her major life points, including her marriage to Mr. Rochester. For Verity, our MC Lowen finds the secret autobiography manuscript of the woman she’s been hired to ghostwrite for. After reading the manuscript, she decides to keep it from Verity’s husband who is still grieving Verity’s death. Tension builds as Lowen’s feelings for the husband grow as she grapples with the decision to give him Verity’s autobiography or not.
Paranormal, Science Fiction, Time-Travel, Fantasy
Believe it or not but the Wattpad girlies are coming for our throats. Look, paranormal romance has been on the rise in recent years (and you won’t hear any complaints from me). Speculative romance is the broad (all-encompassing) name for all things funky in the romance genre. A good majority of the time these books end up overlapping with each other. They tend to follow the same formulaic pattern that we’re used to with the same tropes we love.
Do you want werewolves? Check out the paranormal shifter romance we’ve got here. Do you want a fae king who will hand you the matches to burn down the world with? Yeah, there are about three of those coming out this month. You want a romance set in space with aliens who (at first sight) claim that the MC is their fated mate? Scroll through some Kindle Unlimited reads, there are about a million just waiting for you to read them.
The main thing that separates SR books from the specific genres they’re derived from is the focus on romance. While there may be elements of time travel, or elements of sci-fi, or elements of fantasy, you won’t be able to take out the romance without the whole plotline falling apart. Jayne Ann Krentz is quoted saying, “If you can take the love interest out and it’s still a story, it’s not a romance.” You’re probably wondering who Jayne Ann Krentz is, well you could learn more about her and her influence on the romance genre as a whole here!
Young Adult Romance
Y’all remember how I mentioned the Wattpad girlies winning earlier? Well, young adult romance is where they really get to shine. YAR takes place almost exclusively during the high school years of adulthood. Now, just because these characters are in high school doesn’t make them exempt from the harsh reality of the ‘real world’ as many older people like to comment. Typically, the MCs are wrestling real-world issues on top of dealing with new feelings of attraction.
Young adult romance is tricky. Some authors undervalue their characters, not crediting them enough and placing them in situations that they are more than equipped to handle but not letting it work out. Others place an unnecessary amount of responsibility or freedom on their characters. Think about Pretty Little Liars: the girls are meant to be sixteen and everything would make much more sense if they were in college. Aria is dating her high school English teacher, Spencer is making out with her sister’s boyfriends (who are frankly way too old for her), Emily is learning to accept herself and her newfound sexuality, and Hanna is consistently shoplifting. All the while they’re solving the mystery of who A is while not being able to go to the cops because they continue to do the things they’ve done before and loading A’s bag with more things that leverage against them.
If done right though, the characters are believable and relatable for all ages. We learn to empathize and sympathize with them the longer we read. The storylines are things that the vast majority of readers have experienced ourselves and it’s refreshing to see those plotlines written down somewhere.
Okay, levels of importance in inspirational romances go like this: top is romance (obviously), just under that is going to be religious or spiritual beliefs, then we have whatever tropes they’re using, and then plot. Yes, typically plot is the last thing on the list (I’ve found). Of course, this isn’t the end all be all, there is some really great IR books out there (I personally don’t read them, religious trauma and all). However, my roommate’s mom adores them! She’s particularly fond of Karen Kingsbury who seems to specialize in Christian-oriented romance stories.
In inspirational romances, the characters are driven by their faith and beliefs. You’re very rarely going to find IR with sexually explicit scenes, it’s much more likely that it’ll be a closed-door romance type deal. Forgiveness, honesty, and fidelity are big buzzwords for the IR subgenre. This is where you’ll find books like Amish romance, a topic which always (and I mean always) makes our CEO giggle a bit.
Fun fact: the first line of inspirational romances is believed to have debuted shortly after the 1980 US presidential election when Silhouette launched their Silhouette Inspirations line aimed explicitly at born-again Christians. The line was closed briefly after Harlequin acquired Silhouette in ’84 because it wasn’t profitable.
As I said, there are at least fourteen romance genre subgenres. Now, these are the best-selling subgenres, the most widely recognized, and the easiest ones to recall when asked about your favorite type of romance.
Are some of them off the wall? Not particularly, but individual books in each section have been known to get a bit wild at times. I think that it’s good to try all of the flavors before picking a favorite or passing judgment, so I hope that this might of broadened your horizons to new and exciting corners of the romance genre.
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