“TikTok recommends the same 20 books!” This statement is, on one hand, demonstrably false. I’ve learned about tons of new-to-me books through TikTok, both by searching tags and following content creators I’ve come to trust.
On the other hand, there is a kind of truth to that statement. The tag #SmutTok has been searched over 4 BILLION times — enough to seem like the whole planet is searching for smut! And if you look at the top posts under that #SmutTok tag, you will see a lot of the same authors and books over and over. Plus, there’s a clear trend: mostly white authors, mostly cishet couples (even when one of them is a monster?), lots of dark and taboo plotlines. Additionally, there’s an amplification cycle when the most popular posts come up in a search, which makes users interact with them more, which maintains their popularity, and so on.
If you really want to find the best of #SmutTok, you have to do a little more work. You have to add additional terms to the search, and you have to follow creators using the hashtag whose tastes mesh with yours. There’s no scarcity of great recommendations on the ol’ clock app if you know how to use it.
There is so much more to say about why certain books get tagged #SmutTok. Plenty of them don’t even have explicit sexual content?? I get the sense some TikTokkers take a “guilty pleasure” approach to reading romance. They don’t want people thinking they actually like any of these books, so they dismiss them as smut: you can’t denigrate me if I denigrate myself first. I hate it. Anyway, here’s some of the best of #SmutTok. They’re not necessarily the darkest, kinkiest, most taboo books, but they are the best books that deliver a satisfying romance plot alongside enough on-page sex that I think it’s fair to call them smut.
Saint by Sierra Simone
Sierra Simone’s books are big across the #SmutTok-verse, and for good reason. She’s one of the best out there at writing heartwrenching romances incorporating sex scenes that might make you blush. #SmutTok favors darkness in romance as well as taboo, so a romance between a Catholic priest and his best friend’s brother who are on a European monastery road trip will certainly satisfy some of you taboo readers. I’m also persistently impressed with the way Sierra Simone handles matters of faith and the issues with Catholicism with grace and thoughtfulness.
Sin & Ink by Naima Simone
I am always a sucker for a forbidden romance, so it’s no surprise this novella ended up on my best of #SmutTok list. Knox is a tattoo artist and former MMA fighter who’s got it bad for his late brother’s widow. Eden is just coming out of her deep depression, and she’s feeling him, too. Knox promised his mother he’d stay away from Eden, but their connection is undeniable. I adore a book where couples take risks to be together.
Make It Sweet by Kristen Callihan
This is a book I’ve been shouting about for a while, so I was thrilled to see it under the #SmutTok tag. If you’re hockey romance-curious, this is a great entrée into that realm, because it’s not really about hockey. It does have a former hockey player main character turned recluse and baker at a relaxing California resort. There he meets an actress from a popular Game of Thrones-esque show, and the chemistry between the two of them is scorching hot.
Obsidian Feathers by N. Cáceres
You’re going to have werewolves on #SmutTok. Obviously. But the very best of the hashtag provides a new spin on an old standard. This dark fantasy features Angie, a people-pleaser living up to her mother’s aspirations. When she meets the mysterious and handsome Sal on a business trip to El Salvador, she knows her old ways are over. Sal is the leader of a group of shifters, and Angie is now his. This one’s lush and inventive, and also very dark and violent, so be sure to check content warnings.
Sweatpants Season by Danielle Allen
I know you’re ogling that book cover. And interestingly enough, this book delves into objectification. In this enemies-to-lovers romance, Carlos — the wearer of the sweatpants — catches Akila’s eye in the photography class the two are in. When she finds out he’s associated with a podcast she finds appallingly misogynistic, it really ruins the mystique. But the irony is she can’t stop objectifying him. And as they challenge each other in thoughtful, fascinating ways, a slow-burning and extremely sexy romance ensues.
Mistakes Were Made by Meryl Wilsner
Are you in the market for a sapphic MILF romance? Talk about a premise that will make you squirm. Cassie hooks up with someone at her local college bar, only to find that it’s her roommate’s mom. And as soon as they discover their connection, they also find that their chemistry was not exhausted by that one quick encounter. If you love mess and you love smut, this one starts off with a bang!
Sing Me to Sleep by R.M. Virtues
It’s no shock that monster romance is big on TikTok. When I think of the best of #SmutTok monster romance, it’s the books that can deliver the wild imaginative potential of monster romance alongside a truly compelling emotional story. As someone who deals with sleep paralysis, I love the idea of having this terrifying presence turned into the source of a healing journey. Penelope and her sleep paralysis demon discover that once they can let go of fear, they will be at their strongest, and how can you not root for that?
Restore Me by J.L. Seegars
When it comes to the best of #SmutTok, you have to be in for some really emotional rides, because that is what the readers seem to love most vocally. Sloane is grieving her late husband and ends up working with Dominic, her late husband’s best friend. She’s always thought Dominic hated her, but he’s been hiding his true feelings — that he’s had ever since they met as 12-year-olds!! I am always here for an “it’s always been you” romance, and here’s a fantastic example of that.
The Ruin of Evangeline Jones by Julia Bennet
Yes, historical romances do come up on #SmutTok, but you essentially have to add historical in your search or be following a historical reader to see them, as they tend to be drowned out by the contemporary romances and aliens and monsters and whatnot. However, within this sector, you will find treasures, like this book that is a gothic-tinged dream for historical readers. Alex Stanton is out to prove that medium Evangeline Jones is a fake. She agrees to let him spend one week with her to find evidence, and well, you know what they’re going to find. Delicious!
You & Me by Tal Bauer
This book is a little more wholesome than a lot of what makes the #SmutTok rounds. Indeed it’s not as angsty as many of these books, and the proportion of sex to plot is definitely tilted in the plot direction. That said, it’s two single dads falling for each other. There’s a bi awakening, one character frees himself from an oppressive religious upbringing, and there’s found family. Read this one if you love to root so hard for a couple to make it.
If you find navigating TikTok for book recommendations overwhelming, we’re here to help. Here are a few other articles if you’re curious about the romances users of the platform have been eating up: