When societal change happens, it doesn’t always do it in the most predictable ways. Despite fearmongering to the contrary, marriage equality did not end the world or even the wedding industrial complex. But the Supreme Count’s decision did have a few surprising consequences. With its Happily Ever Afters (HEAs) and Happy For Nows (HFNs), the romance genre went from having a niche LGBTQ+ section to a booming industry.
The romance genre has always been big business in the literary world, but Netflix’s mega-success with Bridgerton turned it into one for streaming. Naturally, it wasn’t long before people noticed that romances no longer need to be stereotypically straight for audiences to embrace them.
Netflix’s recent adaptation of the adorable graphic novel Heartstopper caught the attention of the mainstream and has sent fans flocking to Alice Oseman’s story of high school first loves Charlie and Joe. But as adorable as Heartstopper is, it’s got plenty of company in the LGBTQ+ romance section of the virtual bookstore (not to mention the shelves of Kindle Unlimited).
Here’s a rundown of stories like Heartstopper to melt the hardest of hearts.
Like Charlie, the titular hero of Simon James Green’s book, Noah Can’t Even, Noah Grimes is a painfully gawky teen aware that his geekiness makes him unpopular. Unfortunately, unlike Charlie, he’s not self-aware enough to realize that aiming for a romance with Sophie is perhaps not the wisest of choices. Thankfully, his BFF Harry takes matters into his own hands and derails Noah’s potentially bad life choices by kissing him at a party.
Of course, that’s when things turn to utter chaos as Noah finds himself in an increasingly awkward situation, where his clueless behavior only creates a complete calamity when he finally starts to figure stuff out. Like Heartstopper, it’s a multipart series, with Noah Could Never and Noah Goes Nuclear to follow.
For those looking for a graphic novel about a relationship between two teenage girls, this black and white comic, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, about discovering the difference between healthy and toxic relationships, is simply gorgeous. But though the ending is super satisfying, there’s a lot of angst to get there, so be prepared.
Freddy thinks the day beautiful, popular Laura Dean decided to be her girlfriend is the highlight of her existence until she actually discovers what “being together” is like. Spoiler alert: Laura Dean is not very mature or thoughtful, and Freddy keeps trying to make it work, even though it’s not. Luckily, she finds friends of her own and a wise advice columnist to work through it.
For those looking for a hero like Charlie, who already knows his sexuality and has accepted it, Autoboyography is a good choice. Tanner, a half-Jewish-half-nothing kid from the city whose parents support his bisexuality, is nevertheless thrust back into the closet socially when the family has to relocate to Utah.
Tanner gets dared to take a writing class taught by a fellow student Sebastian, who’s also the son of the local LDS bishop in town. Of course, the two fall in love, and Sebastian has to come to terms with his sexuality while surrounded by a community that would condemn him for it.
Ashley Herring Blake’s How To Make A Wish feels a bit like your typical summer romance read, with beach living and the long days of school vacation. But those familiar elements are merely the wrapping for a beautifully honest story of two girls from broken families who find each other when they need it the most.
When Grace Glasser meets Eva, it’s a revelation as the two go on nighttime adventures she’d never imagined. But when Eve admits she likes girls, Grace discovers her own bisexuality, cementing a beautifully soft relationship that will have you crying as your heart melts.
There’s an entire subgenre of LGBTQ sports romances involving football and/or hockey, but most tend to focus on an older age group. Check Please, by Nigerian-American author and illustrator Ngozi Ukazu, is set in freshman year and follows Bitty, a former junior figure skating champion who experiences college hockey and falls for the moodily attractive team captain, Jack.
Unlike some of the other more angsty books on this list, this gives readers all the sweet, comforting vibes you could want that match the bubbly visuals. Like Heartstopper, it’s also a collection of webtoons that originated on the internet before becoming so popular that they got collected into Years 1-4.
Just about everyone has probably heard of Casey McQuiston’s Red White & Royal Blue, a romance between the U.S. president’s son and an English prince, which is already Amazon Prime Video’s next big adaptation coming soon to a screen near you. But I’d recommend her follow-up release, One Last Stop, an LGBTQ+ spin on the “Romance Out of Time” trope.
August tries to live the cynical life of the New York City loner until she sees a gorgeous girl on the train, dressed in the hottest 1970s punk rock throwback outfit. But she’s not just dressed that way. Jane is a 1970s punk rock throwback, trapped on the train and displaced in time. It’s up to August to rescue her.
Unlike Heartstopper, Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda (the book the film Love, Simon was based on) begins with the high school protagonist, Simon, deep in the closet. He’s desperately trying to scramble deeper because a wayward email has landed in the hands of a classmate who is only too happy to force Simon to be his wingman in exchange for his silence.
But Simon isn’t just protecting himself, but “Blue,” the mystery boy that his emails were addressed to. Though you’ll probably figure out who “Blue” is long before Simon does, it won’t matter because the laugh-out-loud funny exchanges and Simon’s growing determination to be himself are still so darn satisfying.
One of the few graphic novel romances to feature a trans character, Cheer Up: Love and Pom Poms, focuses on an antisocial, misanthropic lesbian, Annie, who is forced into joining the cheerleading squad to “round out” her college applications. There she runs into her former best friend, Beatrice, who recently transitioned, and is under massive pressure to be perfect, lest people reject her for not being a model sexual minority.
Annie and Beatrice rekindle their friendship under the pressures of tumbling and cheering, only to realize there’s much more to their feelings than some rah-rah-rahs. A perfect grumpy/sunshine romance with excellent illustrations to boot.
It’s not only graphic novels like Heartstopper that start out on Tumblr before jumping to kindles everywhere. Taylor Fitzpatrick’s You Could Make A Life (and her two follow-up books) all started as series posted to Tumblr and then shifted to Archive of Our Own. Another queer sports story (and yes, it’s hockey again), the story of Marc and Dan begins when their high school-aged and follows them through to their mid-20s.
Like Heartstopper, Marc is the smaller, geeky, hard-to-get-along-with slightly spectrum cutie, while Dan is the larger, hulkier jock who has to work out this whole relationship thing as it goes along. Fitzpatrick also has tons of short stories on AO3 that continue their story after the HEA and other romances that haven’t been scooped up by publishers yet.
Finally, I cannot recommend Loveless highly enough for those who just want more Alice Oseman in their lives. Having the main character be aro/ace in a romance is a rare thing still, and the burgeoning world of LGBTQ+ love stories needs more of them. All that, and a whole lot of theater and Shakespeare geekery too!
Loveless stars Georgia, a girl who has never even had a crush, despite her fanfic romantic writings. She’s determined to find someone to love, only to have it all go wrong until she starts asking herself if that’s what she really wants in the first place. A beautiful HEA where the leads discover platonic love is what they need, while the ones hooking up left and right are sidekicks; this is one queer romance everyone should pick up
Ani Bundel is a TV and movie writer at Elite Daily covering all things peak TV and an Associate Editor at PBS/WETA’s Telly Visions, where she co-hosts a weekly podcast by anglophiles for anglophiles. A self-taught journalist from the school of hard knocks, Ani came up blogging in the fast-turn-around era. Ani’s other regular bylines can be found on NBC News THINK.