Dark Romance Subgenres: 11 Reader Favorites

Posted on Oct 2, 2023

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Within the genre of dark romance there are numerous nuances and specifics that exist and as such a variety of subgenres have emerged over time. In this article we will be taking an in depth look at these various subgenres to help clarify and codify them.

Romance fiction encompasses not only love’s lighter aspects but also explores the darker side of desire, obsession and taboo. 

From gothic romance to romantic suspense, each subgenre offers a distinct perspective, exploring complex themes and unconventional relationships. 

By shedding light on these various sub genres, by the end of reading this article both readers and writers alike will be equipped with a clear understanding of the multifaceted nature of dark romance.

1. Gothic romance

Gothic romance, a subgenre rooted in the 18th century, blends elements of horror and romanticism to create a distinct literary experience. The hallmark of gothic romance lies in its atmospheric settings—an eerie combination of desolate castles, ancient ruins and misty landscapes.

These chilling backdrops serve as the setting for tales that contain dark secrets, forbidden love, and the supernatural. A prime example is Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” where the enigmatic Thornfield Hall conceals haunting mysteries and the passionate yet tormented love between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester.

The gothic elements in the story heighten the emotional intensity, providing a backdrop against which romance unfolds, showcasing the appeal of the unknown.

2. Paranormal romance

Paranormal romance combines the appeal of romance with supernatural elements. This genre often features enthralling relationships between humans and fantastical creatures like vampires, werewolves, witches, or other mystical beings.

Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” is a perfect example of paranormal romance, showcasing the complex love between Bella Swan, a mortal, and Edward Cullen, a vampire. The narrative explores the challenges of their relationship in the context of Edward’s supernatural nature, adding an element of danger and desire. Meyer creates a world where love defies conventional boundaries, blending the normal with the paranormal.

Themes of love, sacrifice, and embracing one’s true nature are central to this subgenre, offering readers a taste of forbidden romance and a glimpse into the mystical and mysterious.

3. Romantic suspense

Romantic suspense strives to merge the thrilling elements of a suspenseful story with the emotional depth of a romance narrative. This subgenre centers around high stakes situations, often involving danger, intrigue, or crime, while mixing in a romantic arc.

An example of this work would be Nora Roberts’ “The Witness,” where a young woman, Elizabeth, is forced into witness protection after seeing a murder. The story carefully balances the suspense of evading danger with the burgeoning romance between Elizabeth and Brooks, her protective detective.

The narrative takes readers on a roller coaster ride of adrenaline pumping suspense, elaborate plot twists, and a slow burning, intense romantic relationship. The combination of these elements creates a compelling story.

4. Psychological thriller romance

Psychological thriller romance is a subgenre that combines the elements of psychological suspense and emotional tension with romantic themes. These narratives often feature complex characters grappling with intense psychological situations while navigating a romantic relationship.

A notable example is Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” where the story follows the turbulent and psychologically manipulative relationship between Nick and Amy Dunne. The story is a mind bending exploration of deception, obsession and the dark recesses of the human psyche, all while examining the intricacies of their troubled marriage.

This subgenre offers readers a captivating blend of thrilling suspense and twisted romance, keeping them engrossed in the unpredictable twists of the plot as well as the complex dynamics between the characters.

5. Historical romance

Historical romance is a subgenre set in a specific historical period, immersing readers in a world that reflects the societal norms, culture, and challenges of that time. The stories typically feature romantic relationships amidst the backdrop of historical events and settings.

A classic example is Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” set in the early 19th century England. The novel explores the nuances of society, class, and marriage as Elizabeth Bennet navigates her feelings for the proud Mr. Darcy. The subgenre allows readers to journey into the past, providing a vivid glimpse into the social customs and romantic pursuits of a bygone era.

By blending history with romance, this genre offers a unique reading experience, appealing to those who appreciate both love stories and historical context.

6. New adult romance

New Adult romance is a subgenre that specifically focuses on the transitional phase from adolescence to adulthood, typically featuring protagonists in the age range of late teens to early twenties. It delves into the challenges, growth, and romantic experiences of characters as they navigate the complexities of adulthood.

A good example of this type of work is Colleen Hoover’s “Slammed,” where the characters, Lake and Will, grapple with newfound responsibilities, aspirations, and love amidst the trials of this transformative phase.

The genre delves into themes like self discovery, identity, and relationships, providing a relatable and poignant reading experience for those in a similar stage of life or anyone nostalgic for that period of their life.

7. Dark fantasy romance

Dark fantasy romance is a subgenre that marries elements of romance with the imaginative and often macabre settings of dark fantasy. The narratives feature mystical worlds, magical creatures, or supernatural elements, intertwining them with romantic storylines.

One example of this is Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone,” where the story depicts a romance between Karou, a young art student, and Akiva, an angelic being, set against a backdrop of a war-torn fantasy realm.

This subgenre allows readers to explore love amid fantastical elements, presenting a unique blend of the enchanting and the eerie. 

8. Forbidden romance

Forbidden romance, a compelling subgenre, centers around relationships that face insurmountable challenges or societal taboos, often highlighting the struggle against external or internal forces that attempt to keep the lovers apart.

A prime example is Ian McEwan’s “Atonement,” portraying the forbidden love between Robbie and Cecilia, hindered by class differences and false accusations. The narrative illuminates the poignant beauty and heartbreak that arise when love defies societal norms.

This subgenre explores themes of sacrifice, societal expectations and the resilience of love, offering a narrative that tugs at the heartstrings while shedding light on the human desire to break free from constraints, even at the risk of devastating consequences.

9. Mafia romance

Mafia romance, a subgenre with a dark and gritty edge, explores the intense and dangerous world of organized crime, blending romance with the thrills and risks of a criminal underworld.

The narratives often revolve around characters involved in mafia families, exploring the complexities of their relationships while dealing with the challenges and ethical dilemmas of their criminal lifestyles.

One such example is Sarah Castille’s “Rough Love,” which follows the passionate yet perilous love story between a mafia enforcer and a woman caught in the mafia’s grip.

It offers a unique reading experience, exploring the struggle between love, loyalty and the adrenaline fueled dangers of a life within organized crime. It combines elements of danger, desire, and devotion, appealing to those captivated by romance amidst the darkness of a criminal empire.

10. Post apocalyptic romance

Post apocalyptic romance is a subgenre that transports readers to a bleak and dystopian world after a catastrophic event. Amidst the ruins and chaos, love and connection bloom against the odds.

This subgenre typically explores the struggle for survival, the breakdown of societal norms and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. A notable example is Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven,” which tells a poignant tale of love and hope in a post pandemic world.

The story not only explores the challenges of survival but also showcases the enduring power of love and relationships, proving that even in the darkest of times, the human heart seeks connection and companionship.

Post apocalyptic romance offers readers a glimpse into a world where love remains a beacon of light in the bleakest of circumstances.

11. Twisted fairytale romance

Twisted fairytale romance is a subgenre that takes classic fairytales and gives them a dark, enigmatic, or subversive spin, offering readers a fresh and often unsettling perspective on familiar stories.

This genre subverts traditional fairytale narratives, transforming princesses into anti heroes and villains into complex characters worthy of empathy. Perhaps the best example of this is Marissa Meyer’s “Queen of Snow,” a retelling of Snow White with a dystopian and techno fantasy twist.

The narrative dismantles traditional expectations, revealing the deeper, more intricate motivations and desires of the characters. Twisted fairytale romance invites readers to question established norms, reimagining beloved tales to explore a darker side of well told tales.

Dark romance subgenres – final thoughts

The number of subgenres that have emerged over time showcase the strength and passion that its fanbase has. It is only due to the interest from readers that this evolution can take place as without sufficient appetite for it, it would not be possible.

Finally, it is also likely that as time continues, even more will emerge. Having this knowledge of how the various subgenres differ from one another will help both readers and writers engage with the work and be able to recognise this evolution that is taking place.

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