Romance novels have become increasingly popular over the past few decades. With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to determine which romance novels stand out as the best. In this 5000-word article, we will analyze some of the top contenders for the title of best romance novel, looking at elements like character development, plot, writing style, and overall impact on the genre. We will also provide a final verdict on which romance novel can truly claim the title of best.
What makes a great romance novel?
Before diving into the top contenders, it’s important to establish what criteria makes for a phenomenal romance novel. Some key factors include:
- Compelling, multidimensional characters – The main characters should be complex and undergo growth.
- Enemies to lovers – There’s something irresistible about two characters who start out at odds only to realize they’re perfect for each other.
- Slow burn romance – The best tension arises when characters take their time falling in love.
- Forbidden love – Social barriers that keep couples apart heighten the stakes.
- Witty banter – Playful teasing and spirited conversations make for lively romances.
- Emotional connection – The characters should experience a deep bond beyond just physical attraction.
- Satisfying ending – The conclusion should provide a gratifying resolution to the romantic conflict.
The very best romance novels find the perfect balance of the above elements to craft an unforgettable reading experience.
Top contenders for best romance novel
Now let’s take a look at some of the romance novels in close competition for the prestigious title of best romance novel:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
This classic 1813 novel tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy as they overcome their initial dislike and fall in love. With its rivals-to-lovers storyline and iconic characters, Pride and Prejudice contains many hallmarks of a fantastic romance. Elizabeth is an intelligent and witty protagonist who clashes with the aloof, prideful Mr. Darcy upon first meeting. Their ensuing pride and prejudices must be overcome before they can acknowledge their connection. The slow-burning romance is punctuated by clever dialogue and dramatically satisfying character growth.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This 1991 time travel romance novel transports readers back to 18th century Scotland. When former World War II nurse Claire Randall is transported back in time, she finds herself caught between two very different men – her husband Frank in the 20th century and the chivalrous Highland warrior Jamie Fraser in the 18th. Claire’s forbidden love affair with Jamie is deeply emotional and layered with adventure as the two attempt to change the course of history. Outlander blends rich historical detail with compelling central characters.
It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
This 2016 contemporary romance centers around Lily Bloom as she finds herself torn between her first love, the neurotic Ryle Kincaid, and her childhood sweetheart Atlas Corrigan. When Ryle’s temper turns physically abusive, Lily must make the difficult decision to leave him behind for good. It Ends With Us tackles hard-hitting themes like domestic violence with empathy and emotional nuance. The characters are flawed but sympathetic, drawing readers into their tumultuous journey.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
Executive assistants Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman sit across from each other every day – and they hate each other. But their burning animosity belies deeper feelings in this 2016 enemies-to-lovers office romance. Lucy and Joshua engage in an epic rivalry, trading snippy remarks and sabotaging each other’s work. When they’re forced to work together on a huge project, their true attraction bursts through the surface. The Hating Game’s sharp dialogue and irresistible central pairing provide nonstop romantic fun.
Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Set in early 19th century England, the Bridgerton series centers around the aristocratic Bridgerton family. Each book focuses on one of the eight Bridgerton siblings as they navigate Regency-era marriage markets and high society scandal. These historical romances enchant with their gorgeous settings, steamy love scenes, and smart heroines who subvert conventional gender roles. While all the books have merit, The Duke and I shines brightest by introducing the spirited Daphne Bridgerton and her tortured duke Simon Basset. Their electric chemistry makes their story a standout.
And the winner is…
After reviewing some of the front runners, Pride and Prejudice emerges as the clear champion for best romance novel of all time. Here’s why Pride and Prejudice takes the prize:
- Memorable protagonists – Elizabeth and Darcy are complex, flawed, yet sympathetic characters that readers love.
- Clever dialogue – The verbal sparring between Elizabeth and Darcy crackles with energy.
- Nuanced social commentary – It explores universal themes like class, family, and marriage with subtlety.
- Slow burn romance – Watching the relationship gradually transform is utterly engrossing.
- Dramatic stakes – Social forces threaten to keep them apart, making their union hard-fought.
- Satisfying ending – Elizabeth and Darcy completing their character arcs leads to a cathartic happy ending.
For its beautiful writing, sharp wit, social nuance, and irresistible love story, no other romance novel quite reaches the heights of Pride and Prejudice. The story of Elizabeth and Darcy proves utterly timeless over 200 years later. Other books may come close, but none can surpass Pride and Prejudice as the best romance novel.
Why Pride and Prejudice stands the test of time
What sets Pride and Prejudice apart from other great romances that have faded from popularity over the years? Here are the key reasons this beloved classic endures:
Universally relatable characters
Readers connect deeply with Elizabeth and Darcy because they represent two character tropes we all recognize – the smart, spirited woman and the stoic man who suppresses his feelings. People see themselves and those they know reflected in these iconic characters.
Aspirational yet attainable romance
The love story feels aspirational in its depth and profundity. Yet it remains realistic and attainable, proving true connection can overcome differences in temperament, status, and worldview. The balance gives readers hope.
Insightful social commentary
Despite being set in the 19th century, Pride and Prejudice tackles issues of gender, class, reputation, family duty, and marriage that are still relevant today. It reveals enduring truths about human nature through Austen’s perceptive social lens.
Austen’s writing style comes across as simple and straightforward on the surface, yet contains layers of complexity. Her mastery of irony, wit, and free indirect discourse gives the novel depth.
Balance of romance and character growth
We witness Elizabeth and Darcy blossoming into better versions of themselves under the influence of love. The romance develops seamlessly alongside their growth, enhancing rather than overwhelming the character journeys.
Pride and Prejudice achieved a perfect alchemy of romance, complex characters, social commentary, and masterful writing. For these reasons, it remains the greatest romance novel ever written.
Other noteworthy historical romance novels
While Pride and Prejudice takes the top spot, many other historical romance novels are worth mentioning:
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This 1936 novel is set during the American Civil War and follows the tumultuous romance between Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
This 1878 Russian epic centers around Anna Karenina who enters a tragic affair that conflicts with her familial duties.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Published in 1847, this quintessential Gothic romance tells the story of Jane Eyre who becomes governess to the brooding Mr. Rochester.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Emily Bronte’s 1847 novel details the doomed love between the wild Heathcliff and aristocratic Catherine Earnshaw.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This 1938 bestseller follows a new wife living in the shadow of her husband’s deceased first wife Rebecca.
These classics may not surpass Pride and Prejudice, but they demonstrate historical romance at its finest. The list reveals how romance has flourished for centuries across varied backdrops.
Best contemporary romance novels
Romance continues thriving in the contemporary era through books like:
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
This 2018 novel follows an autistic woman who hires an escort to teach her about romance and intimacy.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This 2019 novel spins a charming romance between the First Son of the United States and a British Prince.
The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
We’ve already covered this 2016 office romance about two executive assistants who claim to despise each other.
The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood
A scientist concocts a fake relationship in this STEM-filled romance from 2021.
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
This 2018 novel kicks off a series starring Drew Nichols and Alexa Monroe, who meet when she needs a last-minute wedding date.
Contemporary settings and sensibilities allow these books to resonate strongly with modern readers looking for romance.
The future of romance novels
Romance novels have proliferated across genres from historical to sci-fi. Readers can expect even more diversity in the future. We’ll see more romances featuring LGBTQ+ characters, characters of color, diverse body types, disabilities, and empowered heroines in careers like STEM and business. Settings will range further, from different time periods to fantasy worlds. No matter how the genre expands, compelling characters and emotional stories will remain the heart of romance.
After reviewing the criteria for an exceptional romance novel and closely analyzing contenders, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice emerges as the clear winner for best romance novel ever written. For its iconic characters, witty dialogue, emotional depth, social commentary, and flawless writing, no other romance has surpassed this beloved classic nor seems likely to. Of course, other historical and contemporary novels help round out the top romance books. Looking ahead, romance novels will continue diversifying and flourishing for generations of readers to come. But they’ll all aspire to achieve what Pride and Prejudice has done – creating an unforgettable love story for the ages.