Dear Reader: what makes angsty romance books truly exquisite is the presence of dread and longing in a relationship. No matter what is happening in their lives, thoughts of their partner take up residence in the back of their minds. Sure, they might be operating a king crab boat, inspiring a revolution, launching a new celebrity gym, or running a kingdom, but at the end of the day, their relationship lives rent-free in their minds.
Great love becomes even greater when readers like us latch onto the relationship. It is easy for us to become emotionally invested in angsty romance books because we feel their pain. I for one will cry and talk to my books, especially if my angsty characters are making varying degrees of bad choices. I am addressing this unconventional love letter to you today to attempt to explain why readers have always loved angsty romance books and offer up some delicious novels for your reading pleasure.
Where, oh where did this angst originate you might ask? One potential answer lies in French medieval literature and the tradition of courtly love. The Lais of Marie De France contains poems or lais where she characterizes courtly love as a knight’s painful longing for an unavailable (often married) lady. Love is a wound to be cured, quite literally in the case of the knight’s thigh wound in Guigemar, it is painful and endless. In courtly love, a knight shows his devotion in the midst of this angst-ridden experience. While this is not the only experience of romantic angst in literature, it is wonderfully straightforward. Some readers have always loved seeing angsty romance books where true love is different degrees of pain.
My Parameters For Angsty Romance Books
There is an indescribable something about angst that makes me think of unstoppable natural forces. Thus, I have come up with an ingenious rating system from “Dripping with Angst” to “Waterfall of Angst” to “Drowning in Angst.” Quite frankly, my rating system is imprecise and closer to a vibe than a hard and fast system, but I had fun with it. Every YA or adult book on the list is an angsty romance book filled with the angstiest angst you could ever want with a HEA/HFN (happily ever after or happy for now) guaranteed. So, welcome to the list portion of my love letter to 15 of the best angsty romance books.
Angsty Romance Books Dripping With Angst
The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian
Content Warning: Death of a Loved One, Child Neglect
An honest story about highway robbery from the coffeehouse of the retired legendary highwayman, Kit. He would rather run his shop, but a young lord offers him a job he cannot refuse, taking down the man who destroyed more than one good life. Percy needs Kit if he wants to rob his father and save his friend. Kit is eager to teach an elite lord how to pull off the job for himself. It is easy to teach fighting and ambush strategy, but it is much harder to do so while actively flirting your way through the process. Can they pull off the heist to right the wrongs of the past, or are they distend to be ruined by it?
Stage Presents by Aidan Wayne
Ashlee is going to be a Disney princess with the Disney College Program, but a roommate who’s a bit too odd might just upend all her plans. Her roommate Dana is at the program for the business experience, not to perform. So, when her performance-obsessed roommate doesn’t have a good reaction in their email exchange about the fact Dana is trans, she does not have high hopes for their rooming situation. An oblivious Ashlee does not pair well with a quick to judge Dana, leading to ever-mounting communication disasters. A series of friendship-building activities tumbles into romance and the angst truly ignites in the most magical place on earth.
Of Silver and Shadow by Jennifer Gruenke
Content Warning: Torture, Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Mention of Sexual Assault
Rebellion is bubbling up in the kingdom that’s executed its magic users and oppressed its people. The first of the King’s Children to find the leader of the rebellion will lead them all. Adley is determined to destroy the rebellion, especially if it means one day, her forbidden romance with Lesa will no longer result in their deaths. She is after Ren, the magic silver wielder, pit fighter, and petty thief in town who is being paid to be the face of the rebellion. Ren is falling for the rebellion leader she loves to hate, Darek. Then we have the notorious drunk Prince Kellen, who is second in line to the throne and an endless disappointment to the king. These three lives will twist and tangle as the rebels begin to move against the crown. Ultimately, Adley, Ren, and Kellen will all have to decide what side of the fight they are on.
Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey
Content Warning: Death of a Loved One
A love story filled with sea shanties, record stores, Hollywood stars, and one of the best reformed-rake tropes I have ever seen. Flirtatious king crab fisherman Fox Thornton has never been taken seriously. So he knows he cannot do what his best friend wants and become Captain of the ship. Hannah Bellinger is a dedicated production assistant from Hollywood determined to make her mark in the music department instead of just designing the soundtrack for her life. When an opportunity at work comes up to pitch a new filming location, Hannah offers up the small fishing town. Her biological family is from there, her sister lives there, and she is sure she can stay with her, but her sister’s guest room will be full. Now, the only other place to stay in town is with her long-distance friend Fox. Will they maintain their friendship or will they defy town gossip and allow things to develop into something more?
Stay Gold by Tobly McSmith
Content Warnings: Transphobia, Suicidal Ideation, Deadnaming
After the backlash he received from coming out as transgender in his last school, Pony has decided to go stealth at Hillcrest High. He feels like exposure is imminent and it doesn’t help that he feels drawn to Georgia. She is a cheerleader looking for a way off the sidelines and out of a cheer uniform. For Georgia, the plan is simple: new year, new low profile, new no-dating policy. But when she sees Pony, her perfect plan begins to crack. Georgia and Pony cannot deny the building chemistry between them, but will they both be able to abandon their plans and shine brightly, together.
Waterfall of Angst: Next-Level Angsty Romance Books
A Lot Like Adiós by Alexis Daria
A job Michelle Amato no longer wants and an ex-best friend who no longer wants her collide with one accidental email. Gabriel Aguilar never thought he would speak to his family in the Bronx or the best friend he left behind, but when his business partner accidentally emails her, he cannot pass up the opportunity. He needs her if he wants to open the New York City branch of their celebrity gym without a hitch. Michelle cannot say no, but she has terms. If she works with Gabriel he will stay with her and they will figure out what happened 13 years ago. Endless longing is always involved in the perfect combination of friends-to-lovers and second-chance romance.
Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Content Warning: Attempted Sexual Assault
Arm yourselves with knives and whit sharp enough to draw blood: we are diving into a world where angels and demons are real and wardens are here trying to keep it all balanced. Trinity can see and talk to spirits, but she has always just been human. Even if she was let into the Warden’s walled compound she is not one of the demon-killing gargoyle-shapeshifters. Instead, she becomes battle-ready on her own time and learns to work with her Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative disease affecting her eyesight. But when visiting Wardens warn of a demon threat, Trinity must leave the compound and work with Zane, one of the mysterious (and hot) visitors to escape. The demons are willing to do just about anything to devour her and so she will have to learn to trust Zane, a person she would rather argue with than listen to.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
Content Warnings: Ableism, Child Neglect
A very English B&B gains the help of a chaotic chief who changes the orderly nature of the business into a guest’s home away from home. Eve Brown has had every job out there and they have all gone pear-shaped. Jacob Wayne did not expect someone like her to literally run him down and get a job at his B&B. Now, he has a broken arm and she is trying to help his business, at least until she finds her next job. A grumpy-sunshine forced-proximity romance in a small English town should be up anyone’s ally, especially if you are on the lookout for a romance with neurodivergent characters.
Hot Under His Collar by Andie J. Christopher
Father Patrick Dooley has always liked his job as a priest. Following his mother’s dying wish never was much of a strain. That is, until recently. Now the holy calling has morphed into administrative drudgery. Sasha Finerghty has her own event planning business, wonderful friends, and a good therapist. One that even helps with catholic guilt. Somehow, she is still attracted to unattainable men, namely Father Patrick Dooley. Sasha cannot avoid her best friend’s husband’s best friend, but when the church-affiliated preschool needs someone to plan the fundraiser, she cannot avoid him. As Patrick and Sasha are drawn closer together, they will have to have faith if they want to live a different life together.
The Hate Project by Kris Ripper
If you are looking for a queer enemies-to-lovers romance set in the midst of a deep clean, this might be for you. Oscar is grouchy, anxiety-ridden, and his recent firing has not helped the situation. Although, being fired from a job that increases his anxiety is not the worst thing either. Nevertheless, when Jack looks for someone to help clean out his grandmother’s home, Oscar is available for the job. Even if it means facing someone he hates every day, and his messy past.
So Many Angsty Romance Books Drowning in Angst
This Woven Kingdom by Tahereh Mafi
Content Warnings: Death, Abuse, Attempted Suicide
A brilliantly sincere fantasy novel with romance, magic, and dire stakes built on a rich tapestry of Persian mythology. Alizeh is a household servant by day and a seamstress by night. Also, in a far-off dream-like time, the heir to the Jinn kingdom. Her survival relies on maintaining a solitary life and a low profile. Her life does not contain many comforts, but it is hers, and she will do much to protect it. When crown prince Kamran returns home to the capital, his grandfather, the king, expects him to establish his power as heir to the throne. These plans do not include a strange servant girl who will not leave the prince’s thoughts soon after she appears in his life. Longing and angst ensue after meeting. Neither will be able to resume their prior lives, but surviving unscathed will take increasable strength and more than a bit of magic.
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes by Xio Axelrod
Content Warnings: Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse by a Parent, Racism, Sexism, Drug Abuse
Small Pennsylvania towns are not kind to new girls who live above their father’s bar and used to live in the backrooms of their mother’s performance venues. Toni Bennette’s one good thing was her best friend, Seb. He promised her they would get out together and she believed him. Up until he left her behind without a word. So, when Seb shows up again as the band manager for her latest gig, she barely knows how to respond. Playing for the Lillys would bankroll her career as a producer after years of struggle to make her name in Philadelphia’s music scene. Her only answer is “Yes.” Unfortunately, now Toni also has to confront her feelings for Seb. The ones that she definitely should not still have. Right?
King of Battle and Blood by Scarlett St. Clair
Content Warnings: Death, Abuse
Isolde de Lara knows her mind, her body, and her goals, so when the vampire king proposes marriage, she knows she will marry him. Even if vampires are one of the monsters she grew up learning how to kill. Armed with a dagger and battle sense, she will walk down the aisle and marry Adrain, the king she knows she should murder but cannot help but love. The more he does, the more she is convinced that for all his wickedness, he might just be the one for her. This brilliant, beautiful, and bloody world vamps up the damsel in distress trope and gives our damsel a kingdom of subjects who will feel some distress if they cross her.
The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun
Content Warning: Homophobia
This is queer bachelor romcom we all dream of. Ever After’s successful producer, Dev Deshpande, really believes in the love they manufacture for their reality TV show. Love in the show stays constant even after the end of his six-year-long relationship with another producer. The show needs Dev at the top of his game to sell tech superstar, Charlie Winshaw, to the public after his recent PR catastrophe. Charlie is awkward and shy with an 8-pack fueled by anxious sit-ups. Not a natural reality TV star. But, if he wants a job in tech, he needs a complete rebranding. As Dev coaches Charlie through the season, their natural friendship eases into something angsty. Even working for a heteronormative powerhouse won’t stop a bit of unscripted romance behind the scenes.
Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer
Content Warnings: Death, Torture
Plague times are hard enough without the knowledge that your people want your big brother’s head on a platter. Since his parents were assassinated, Prince Corrick has been the King’s Justice, the one in charge of keeping his brother King Harristan alive by delivering justice, no matter how bloody. Tessa Cade should have nothing to do with the royal family. After all, she is just an orphaned apothecary apprentice who steals medicine to distribute to the poor at night with her attractive friend Wes. But when the King’s Justice forces her hand, she sneaks into the palace on a whim, with the hopes of killing the king. Instead, she becomes the palace’s medical consultant and develops an incurable case of love.
Angsty Romance Books: A Conclusion
And so, we have reached the end of my love letter to 15 of the best angsty romance books. I wish you all the best as you continue to move through different moods in your romance reading journey. Maybe you will want a romance book that feels like a warm hug, or you will want to laugh, or you might even want to feel horror. Whatever your next vibe is, I hope these angsty romance books offer a bit of help for now.