Dark Romance and its Rise to Popularity

If you search for the top three trending book genres of 2023, you will find that romance holds one of those thrones. Moreover, if you deep search, you’ll find dark romance and fantasy romance are most requested and reviewed on NetGalley and GoodReads accordingly.

Romance, with its shades of soft love and sensual lust, and with its happy endings or hopeful open conclusions. Why does it seem to be in trend, with no inkling of leaving people’s to-be-read pile anytime soon? That is because many authors – budding or seasoned – have stepped in to darken the lines of this genre. The result of their dabbling is dark romance or paranormal erotic romance.

While the genre has always been around – romance with a dash of fantasy and lots of spice – it has come to the rise recently. We all know the obvious reasons. One of them is a rise in self-publishing, leading to authors taking matters into their own hands. Or that the pandemic, in general, made people partial to everything about romance, having been deprived in those months. Or the surge in the use of social media platforms for books – Booktok, Bookstagram, and Book Twitter ­­– during lockdown.

But all these reasons don’t exactly answer why it is so popular among readers. And we are going to discuss and figure out that why!


Dark Romance and its Faction of Haters!

Not to sound too stereotypical, but romance novels have always been marketed towards women or femme-presenting people. Written by women (primarily) for themselves. So, it makes sense that whatever is written in the pages of these books is something most readers want to read. That means they want to read about protective, jealous, alpha boyfriends who will care for the FMC (female main character) in every way possible.

But then, dark romance, paranormal romance, and erotica – all of them explore taboo things in their own way. Some of these topics are too ‘distasteful’ and ‘stigmatized’ that they attract criticism. As you can imagine, the dark romance subgenre has faced volatile bashing from a sizable chunk of the reading population. It is disgusting, some may say, while the rest would ascertain it conditions the readers to only enter toxic relationships.

But when one criticizes dark romance, one must also look into the equally emotion-inducing, deliberately disturbing genres, like horror or psychological thrillers.

Let’s play the devil’s advocate for a moment here. When people say they love horror novels or thrillers, you don’t immediately think they want to experience that horror or mystery. They don’t want to be chased by their possessed father in the Overlook Hotel. Neither do they want to be in a marriage like Gone Girl’s Nick and Amy. But does that stop them from reading – and loving – these novels? Of course not! Horror and mystery lovers can separate fiction from reality and know that authors cook up stories like these for entertainment.


How do Dark Romance Lovers defend the Genre?

If horror lovers can have a solid grip on reality while indulging in (technically) disturbing stories. Then, as dark romance lovers argue, the same principle applies here. Readers want to experience the most nerve-wracking yet thrilling things without leaving the safety of their cocooned reality. Everyone wants that adrenaline rush – some choose psychological novels, while some go for dark romance.

That also indicates that everyone who loves dark romance knows it will be bad to experience it in real life. Doesn’t mean you can’t read and visualize it for your own pleasure! In an interesting podcast by National Public Radio (NPR), one of the speakers captures this feeling perfectly. ‘Like, protective, alpha boyfriend, like, bordering on controlling in romances – if someone tried to do that to me personally, I’d freak out. But in the books, I love that. I eat that up.’


The Reasons why People love Dark Romance

As for the reasons why people love it, there could be a couple of firm reasons. Opinions are subjective, but there does seem to be a theme you can notice if you squint just enough. Firstly, many readers resort to such stories as a form of escape. Their lives are hectic, and they have to become the decision-makers and care for people dependent on them. So, leaning back with a dark romance lets them forget their responsibilities for a while and tap into something forbidden. And the allure of the forbidden is too hard to resist for us humans.

Also, since dark romance visualizes various (consensual) fantasies, it has become a way for readers to explore their own. Moreover, the world is becoming more open and loving towards different genders and sexualities. These books reflect that change as well, opening up the genre for an even bigger audience. Everyone can find the story that suits them now!

There is also another reason why there are so many erotic books in the market. Apart from the readers’ love for it, it also makes sense that the spicy scenes have a short life. It gets used a few times before people who enjoy it need new material to get that excitement. The huge demand creates a huge supply – and it continues in a viciously tempting cycle.

Lastly, dark romances are not just about the dark stuff, so to speak. It is still a romance, and we see an understanding, kind, and nurturing story one wishes to have in real life.


So, What’s up with (Fluff) Romance Nowadays?

Don’t be fooled by the rise of dark romance – the fluffy love stories are also rising alongside it. Books by Tessa Bailey, Emily Henry, and Ali Hazelwood are solid proof of that! Unfortunately, though, even these novels face the criticism romance, in general, faces, but there’s a difference. While dark romance is ‘outright disturbing’, these books are labelled as brainless fluff or silly or dumb. Something only women can enjoy.

But these opinions are squashed by the soft, emotional defences romance lovers have. When it comes to real-life romance for women and femme-presenting people, there are just too many issues to think of. Compatibility, goal alignment, compromise, and, more importantly, safety. But, in romance novels, if there’s any issue, the main pair overcomes together. All you, the reader, have to do is show up and experience the thrill of a blossoming love story.

A Reddit comment on this post summarizes it well: ‘I read romance because I can still get the thrill of connection, but, unlike real life, I can be 100% sure that the men involved are ultimately safe.’

The bottom line is, if you feel like reading tooth-rotting fluffy love stories, then don’t think of the world!


Final words

No matter how people perceive the romance genre, one just can’t deny the impact it has on the reading population. It offers comfort to the people searching for love or makes the already committed readers nostalgic about their own experiences. It also provides a safe space to visualize fantasies and see which ones you are comfortable with. Romance stories make us feel hopeful, understood, loved, and satisfied. And we all deserve to read novels that make us feel that, don’t we?