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The Forbidden Romance Genre

What is the Forbidden Romance Genre?

This genre is called the “forbidden romance genre” for obvious reasons: it involves a hero and a heroine who should not be in a relationship but somehow end up together – there are a wide variety of scenarios for these forbidden relationships, with the most common being relationships between boss/employee, guardian/charge, best friend’s younger sister, teacher/student, ex-girlfriend’s/ex-wife’s younger sister, best friend’s mother/son, etc. Sometimes the “forbidden” love is between rival gangs (think “West Side Story”), or a criminal/parole officer or police officer, competing companies, etc. And sometimes the novels explore more serious topics as incest, rape, kidnapping, imprisonment, etc. and the impact of Stockholm Syndrome where a prisoner falls in love with their captor.

The majority of these novels are a lot of fun to read since even the most chaste of them are pretty intriguing as they explore the relationships and the “hands off” stories. Some of the novels, however, are much more difficult to read, although given the number of them that are published, there is definitely an audience out there for them.

What to Expect in the Forbidden Romance Genre

  • There is, obviously, the strong desire for a relationship between people who are not supposed to have one

  • Sometimes there is heartbreak in the past, and other times not – often, however, there is a long familiarity with one another and something specific happens (girl returns from college, son helps mother’s friend with difficult situation, etc) to draw them to one another in a romantic way

  • The main characters often fight mightily against the inevitable

  • Usually one member of the couple has been in love for a long time, and much of the plot focuses on getting the other party to come around

Forbidden Romance Characteristics

  • Level of Angst

    On a scale of 1-10, the level of angst in this genre is a 10. There is something really appealing about going after something we cannot have, and the heroes and heroines in this genre really do have an enticing set of circumstances to overcome in order to be together.

  • Character Development

    This genre’s character development is quite strong, with a lot of “extra” characters also being developed in order to help establish the relationship between the main characters.

  • Plot Strength

    The plots for this genre are pretty straightforward in terms of wanting someone you are not supposed to want/have, but the way the plots are developed make them really fun and interesting reads. As mentioned above, there are a wide variety of scenarios for the forbidden love genre, which makes the development of the stories both engaging and compelling.

  • Romantic Tension

    There is a lot of romantic tension in this genre. Some of the characters are strongly against having a relationship, feeling like they are betraying someone else (or themselves), which allows for the development of a lot of tension not only between the two main characters, but also with (and often among) the supporting characters.

  • Level of Eros

    This genre probably has one of the higher levels of eros since it usually features a lot of built up tension as a result of overcoming the guilt of getting together. Often the characters get together once, and then there is more guilt and the feeling that it was a mistake on the part of one of the main characters. Then the hero (or often the heroine) has to fight a second time to force the relationship to continue moving forward.

  • Prose Quality

    Usually the quality of the writing in this genre is pretty good since the story itself is central to the development of the relationship. In this genre the story about WHY the love is forbidden is an important dimension and needs to be well – and fully- developed.

Related Romance Subgenres



  • The only real subgenre for this genre is contemporary romance. Otherwise, it does kind of stand on its own although there are a lot of individual novels which have historical settings, have some supernatural elements, feature alpha males, etc.

Forbidden Romance isn't for you if

You like traditional boy meets girl – boy woos girl – boy wins girl stories. You are not comfortable with sometimes cringe-worthy scenarios – incest, rape, kidnapping, etc. Sometimes it’s truly uncomfortable reading…

Forbidden Romance is totally for you if

You like complex relationships, and the thrill of the chase.

Popular Forbidden Romance Books
  • 1 Rocky Mountain Desire (2012)

    By Vivian Arend. Is about a hero who was burned badly, but when he sees his ex’s sister Hope dancing at a bachelorette party he cannot seem to get her out of his mind. Hope has always loved Matt, but is afraid that he will never be able to trust her because of his history with her sister.

  • 2 An Angel for Emily (1998)

    By Jude Deveraux. Is the story of a guardian angel that falls in love with his charge. Determined to save her from danger, he puts himself into a mortal’s body in the hopes of saving her, although now he has no memory of her, or of himself.

  • 3 Forbidden Love (1997)

    By Karen Robards. A classic forbidden romance featuring a trusted guardian and the young girl-turned-beauty that he was to protect and provide for – not to mention that he is married…

  • 4 The Thorn Birds (1979)

    By Colleen McCullough. Focuses on the forbidden love between a young woman and her priest…set in the Australian outback, this novel went on to become a popular mini-series.

  • 5 Twilight (2006)

    By Stephenie Meyer. Tells the story of a vampire who falls in love with a human, and the challenge they both face to keep her alive.

  • 6 The Bounty (2006)

    By Beth Williamson. Is about a bounty hunter on the trail of his catch – until he discovers she’s his destiny.

  • 7 Perfect (1994)

    By Judith McNaught. Tells the story of a man who escapes from prison after being wrongly convicted of murder. He kidnaps a woman to force her to drive him to a hideaway, and it is there that they begin their journey toward proving his innocence and toward each other.

  • 8 Undercover Love (2016)

    By Lucy Cross. Focuses on a woman who is happy and engaged, until she encounters her old crush sitting on her parents’ couch. He is a Navy SEAL who is a lot more than she bargained for when she returned home for her summer break from college. It seems like the summer is about to get a lot hotter than she was expecting.

  • 9 Misconduct (2015)

    By Penelope Douglas. Is the story of a teacher who falls in lust with the father of one of her students…but is she willing to risk it all to see if it can become love?

  • 10 Perfect Chemistry (201)

    By Simone Elkeles. Tells the story of spoiled rich girl with the perfect life (and boyfriend) who finds herself attracted to her “wrong side of the tracks” chemistry lab partner. There is a nice moral to the story here about not just accepting people at face value but looking below the surface.