They meet. They hate each other. They have to work together. They fall in love.
It’s romantic comedy gold that’s fuelled many a franchise. Throw in British royalty, America’s First Family, a fake friendship, and a secret online romance, and you have the plot for Red, White and Royal Blue. Sounds formulaic? Don’t worry, all of the above are grounded in cold, hard reality as Alex and Henry are also faced with media scrutiny, coming out, racism, and homophobia. Casey McQuiston proves that a fresh perspective can bring new dynamics to even the oldest conventions. These 13 books breathe new life into romcom standbys while featuring diverse casts and, of course, plenty of romantic comedy.
1. Boyfriend Material, by Alexis Hall
Fake dating is the name of the game in Boyfriend Material. Luc O’Donnell’s rockstar father is back in the public eye, meaning Luc urgently needs to clean up his own image, starting with a wholesome boyfriend. Oliver Blackwood is a hardworking barrister with a squeaky clean reputation who’s desperate to find a date for work and family functions. They’re perfect for each other, apart from the fact they have nothing in common. That doesn’t stop them from faking a photogenic romance. But as they spend more time together, the line between fake and real feelings inevitably starts to blur. I am weak for this trope, and Hall pulls it off with panache. Oliver and Luc are a classic good boy/bad boy combo, though both have hidden depths. Luc is a snarky yet vulnerable protagonist, and Hall’s writing is fast-paced and funny. If you like a couple that seems to be chalk and cheese, but end up bringing out the best in each other, you’ll love Luc and Oliver.
2. Conventionally Yours, by Annabeth Albert
If you’re a gamer, Conventionally Yours is the book for you. Attending the fan convention for a tabletop card game called Odyssey is a dream come true for Conrad and Alden. They’re both keen to compete in its tournament and win the chance to play professionally, especially if it means beating each other. Too bad they’ll have to endure a road trip together first. But as they grow closer, will they still be able to face competing? “Enemies to lovers” turned “rivals in love” is ripe with potential for drama, and Albert turns the screws expertly. The stakes are life-changingly high and both characters desperately need the win. You will be conflicted! They’re also perfect for each other, despite the clashes between their “cool showman” and “consummate professional” personas. As a bonus for diversity, Conventionally Yours is packed with background LGBTQ+ characters, besides the main couple, and Alden himself is neurodiverse (and it shows).
3. Her Royal Highness, by Rachel Hawkins
For royalty without the angst, Her Royal Highness has you covered. After Millie discovers her girlfriend cheating on her, she decides to throw caution to the wind and accept a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school in Scotland. Unfortunately, her roommate Flora is a total rich girl princess—spoiler: she literally is a princess. Despite their rocky start, the girls soon grow closer as they’re forced to live together, and Millie realizes that there might be more to Flora than meets the eye. Her Royal Highness is a fun, lighthearted romance that brings the old “commoner meets royalty” storyline to lesbian characters. Throw in boarding schools, a Meet Ugly, and “enemies to friends to lovers,” and you have a stew of tropey goodness. Better yet, homophobia is not an issue, even for a public figure like Flora, and royalty isn’t a painful burden either. So readers can settle in for a cute, laugh-out-loud, escapist romance.
4. Honey Girl, by Morgan Rogers
Morgan Rogers raises the stakes on fake friendship, instead giving us an accidental marriage as our heroine drunkenly marries a mystery woman in Las Vegas. Grace Porter is a high achieving PhD graduate struggling to find a job and live up to her family’s expectations. So after accidentally marrying Yuki Yamamoto, running away to New York City with her new wife is a no-brainer. But she’s going to learn the hard way that she can’t run away from her problems… Like Red, White and Royal Blue, Honey Girl is a New Adult coming-of-age romance as Grace finds love unexpectedly and strives to forge her own path. Grace and Yuki are a cute couple and their story is timely, since they have to deal with millennial burnout, found-family, and a scary job market. Honey Girl has the Black Girl Magic, sapphic romance, and millennial representation we all need.
5. Take a Hint, Dani Brown, by Talia Hibbert
The romantic and career-driven, commitment-phobe pairing tends to fall along predictably gendered lines. Talia Hibbert shakes up those expectations, giving us Danika Brown, a fabulous PhD student who loves sex but has no interest in romance. She meets her match in Zafir Ansari, an intimidating but deeply romantic ex-rugby star turned security guard. When he saves her during an emergency drill, a shipping explosion ensues on social media. And, actually, he could really use the public interest in their “relationship” to raise money for his kids’ charity… Take a Hint, Dani Brown is a gloriously steamy and body positive, fake-dating romance with a generous side of feels. Zafir is a dreamboat of a leading man with a romance-novel-reading soul and deep respect for Dani, who’s a wickedly funny and unapologetically confident heroine. Together they’re the perfect “friends to lovers” couple, try as they might to resist.
6. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee
If you’re dying for more comedy and drama with the one percent, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is a delight. Strap in for an eighteenth century romp as our devil-may-care protagonist Henry “Monty” Montague sets off on his Grand Tour with his sister Felicity and best friend Percy. Their plans are soon derailed as their tour morphs into an adventure novel bedeviled with highwaymen, mad scientists, pirates, evil aristocrats, and an Indiana Jones-style climax. Monty is a hilarious and self-aware narrator and a bisexual icon, hopelessly in love with Percy. Unrequited love, “friends to lovers,” and “mutual pining” are all classic romance conventions Lee handles exquisitely. Her writing is pacy and witty with an edge of seriousness as all three central characters encounter racism, homophobia, and sexism. Living with chronic illness also becomes a major theme in the second act. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue won a Stonewall Book Award in 2018 and is a hugely entertaining read.
7. Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
Sports drama gets an LGBTQ+ spin in Check, Please! Bitty is a vlogging, baking-mad freshman at Samwell University, and he’s eager to use his figure skating experience to try out for the ice hockey team. Unfortunately, the team captain seems to really hate him. Will Bitty be able to prove himself, despite being tiny and terrified of violence? We follow Bitty on his journey, settling into college, making friends with the team, and being happily out for the first time. Hockey is the story’s main focus, but there’s still room for subplots revolving around Bitty’s family, teammates, and evolving relationship with Jack, the team’s captain. Ukazu’s take on gender norms and “masculinity” in sports is thought provoking, and her yin and yang central couple are adorable. You can read Check, Please! as a webcomic, but if you want a physical copy, the entire series has been published in two volumes.
8. Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade
You’ve Got Mail meets celebrity romance in Spoiler Alert. “I read a fic like this once,” our protagonist April muses early on. You probably have, too. In this case, April is a plus-size geologist with a secret love for geeking out over Gods of the Gates, a hit “Swords and Sandals” TV show. When a photo of her cosplay attracts trollish backlash on Twitter, the show’s gorgeous but vapid star Marcus leaps to her defense, asking her out in the process. She accepts, but neither of them realize that they’re already online besties in the Gods of the Gates fanfiction community… You can probably see where this is going. But the tropey plot points are underpinned by some serious messages about gatekeeping and misogyny, especially towards non-conventionally attractive women in the public eye. Marcus also gets an interesting character arc, shifting away from his “himbo” public persona and towards openly being his geeky self. Far from cliché, Spoiler Alert is a romantic celebration of fandom and fans of all stripes.
9. Written in the Stars, by Alexandria Bellefleur
Fake dating schemes, astrology, and personal growth are a heady cocktail in Alexandria Bellefleur’s debut novel. After a disastrous first date, Elle and Darcy agree that they are not meant to be. What do an astrologer and an actuary have in common, after all? Except a “romance” between them would really keep their nosy families at bay… Written in the Stars shells out some old chestnuts, but it’s self-aware and isn’t afraid to make self-referential jokes about Meet Cutes and romcoms. It has heart as our leads support each other through Elle’s fight to be taken seriously and Darcy’s trust issues. The icing on the cake? It’s a holidate romance featuring an awkward “Meet the Parents” Thanksgiving and Christmas party drama. Bellefleur’s writing is fresh and funny, and Elle and Darcy are an adorable “opposites attract” kind of couple with real chemistry. Written in the Stars combines loveable main characters and a world free of homophobia to create a perfect, wintery comfort read.
10. The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang
While writing her gender-flipped Pretty Woman, Helen Hoang pondered why a successful, attractive woman would need to hire a male escort. Her own diagnosis with autism gave her the answer. Stella Lane is an expert data analyst with Asperger’s Syndrome, a fulfilling career, and no love life. To overcome her difficulty with dating, she decides to hire a male escort. Enter Michael Phan, a hunk with a heart of gold who’s soon dedicated to Stella’s happiness. Hoang does a great job of authentically capturing Stella’s experience of the world as an autistic person. Fiction centering happy, successful autistic people is rare, so it’s kind of wonderful to find an autistic heroine in such a tropey romance. There’s fake dating, friends to lovers, and, of course, the Pretty Woman central concept. Said plot point can be tacky, but Stella and Michael’s relationship develops beautifully into one of deep trust and respect. The Kiss Quotient is hard to resist, and it’s followed by two sequels following other members of the Phan clan.
11. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
Fans of Alex and Henry’s epistolary romance should definitely check out Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon is a highschooler who might be in love with “Blue,” the boy he’s secretly emailing. It’s an anonymous online romance, so the suspense (and speculation) builds deliciously as they both work up the courage to reveal their true identities. But because they’re in the closet and this is a high school drama, there’s also coming out angst and blackmail when Simon’s emails fall into the wrong hands… This scenario has the potential to get really dark, but Albertalli keeps it (mostly) light. Simon is an adorkable, deadpan narrator. Love triangles, the whole “Will They Won’t They” dynamic between Simon and Blue, and some serious reflection on homophobia keeps the drama going. But fear not, it’s all topped off with the perfect romantic finale.
12. Who’d Have Thought, by G. Benson
Would you temporarily marry a colleague you hate if they offered you enough money? That’s the dilemma facing Hayden Pérez, a broke ER nurse, when an infuriating neurosurgeon at her hospital pops the $200,000 question. Samantha Thompson may be talented and gorgeous, but she’s also haughty and rude and her offer is super shady. Too bad Hayden needs the money. Worse still, they’ll have to actually work together to pull off the ruse… “Fake dating” meets “marriage of convenience” with a dash of “enemies to lovers” in Who’d Have Thought. There’s some medical drama and emotional angst to balance out the tropeiness as the romantic twists you might expect unfold. Still, Benson handles her material so well that hardly matters, making Who’d Have Thought an excellent addition to the “marriage of convenience” romance subgenre.
13. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han
Like Red, White and Royal Blue, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a very cute “fake relationship” love story between an interracial couple, Korean-American Lara Jean and her fake white boyfriend, Peter. Lara Jean has always written but never sent love letters to her unrequited crushes, most recently to Josh, her very off-limits on-going crush. So when her secret letters are mailed, she needs a boyfriend stat. Luckily, her ex-crush Peter is ready and willing to cooperate. Despite fitting the “jock” mold, Peter is a genuinely sweet and thoughtful romantic hero, and Lara Jean is a caring, funny protagonist. Her relationship with her sisters and their doting single dad also gets a lot of heartwarming attention. Parties, school politics, and an eventful class trip make this a very YA romance. But despite mean girls and high school drama, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before remains a joyous, upbeat romance. And it has two sequels and equally lovely Netflix adaptations!