Even though I know the outcome because it’s in the name, enemies-to-lovers, when it’s done well, can excite and delight me like no other trope — especially LGBTQ enemies to lovers. Two sworn enemies who are thrown together by circumstances, or simply learning to understand each other, is always a wild ride. Like many romance tropes, enemies-to-lovers is a stumbling block in a romance plot that has to be believable enough to keep the main couple apart, while still being something that they can overcome in order to get together at the end. It tends to be pretty popular in romantic comedies as well.
Depending on your interpretation, enemies-to-lovers has a very long history in romance novels, at least back to Pride and Prejudice. For heterosexual romances, enemies to lovers has always been a higher mountain to climb (in my interpretation) than friends to lovers. Sometimes, the simple miscommunication between friends isn’t enough to get me to root for the main pair. Since it’s such a common trope, writers focusing on LGBTQ romance have found interesting and fun ways to adapt the trope for queer romance.
The great thing about tropes is that they can exist in essentially any romance genre, from fantasy to sci-fi to the contemporary. Whatever your flavor of romance genre is, you can find something that satisfies the enemies to lovers trope as well.
From Enemies To So Much More
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
In a vast universe of warring time-traveling empires, enemies can still fall in love. The worldbuilding of this book and the dynamics between Red and Blue are instantly fascinating, and the stakes are so ridiculously high that their emotions must rise to match them. In a story told through letters, we find out why Red and Blue are fighting so hard, and watch them fall for each other across time periods. There’s so much at stake for each of them, and if anyone finds out the connection between the two women, it’s not only their lives on the line.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This is kind of the current ur-enemies-to-lovers novel that you could recommend to anyone who’s looking to get started in the romance genre and doesn’t want to read the classics. Set in a deliberately escapist West Wing in the United States, the president, Ellen Claremont, is a divorced woman with mixed race children. The first son, Alex Claremont-Diaz, is finishing up high school and figuring out what to do next. During his mother’s reelection campaign, Alex is forced to have a public friendship with Prince Henry of Wales. Even though he hates the guy, they start to bond as friends and then much more. This book is very much an AU that I wish were canon.
Running With Lions by Julian Winters
Poised for an amazing senior year, Sebastian gets thrown for a loop when his former friend Emir shows up at soccer camp as well. Instead of being able to avoid each other, Sebastian has to find a way to mend fences with Emir for the good of the team. After rediscovering their friendship, they start to find less to hate and more to like about each other. The combination of LGBTQ enemies to lovers and coming together to win the big game is extremely satisfying.
Peter Darling by Austin Chant
In the event that Peter Pan did have to go to the real world and grow up, returning to Neverland would be a much darker and stranger experience than he had ever anticipated. That’s the basic concept behind this book: Peter comes back to Neverland from the real world and the fights between the Lost Boys and Captain Hook’s pirates aren’t just games anymore. Peter’s relationship with Hook also blooms into something more. As much as they hate each other, the tension rises and eventually has to break.
Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins
Something about going to Scotland is incredibly appealing to romance authors and readers. For Millie, it’s a chance to start anew and leave behind a difficult break up in Houston. Despite the beauty of the campus and the promise of new adventures, Millie’s roommate Princess Flora throws her for a loop. Even though they hate each other, the forced companionship gets them to understand each other, and then get really into each other.
Mangos and Mistletoe by Adriana Herrera
This book gives me all the vibes of a Hallmark Christmas movie without any of the things that generally make me hate them. Kiskeya and Sully are two women on a mission to win the Holiday Baking Championship in Scotland, thrown together by circumstance and ready to argue about their approaches to baking and culture in general. In addition to the bickering and sexual tension and only-one-bed, the two women have loaded discussions about their baking hopes and dreams and what it means to them.
The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian
A terrible reputation in need of fixing is always a great start for enemies to lovers. Lord Courtenay has been shunned from his family and society, so now he needs to submit himself to the ordeal of an image reset with Julian Medlock. While they butt heads, Lord Courtenay finds out something about himself that could ruin his reputation even further, and he and Julian have to figure out what they’re willing to do for love.
Crier’s War by Nina Varela
A magical, class-structured world is a rough place to fall in love outside of your assigned rank. Ayla is a human servant on a dangerous mission to kill Lady Crier, who was made to be beautiful and the daughter of the Sovereign. The assassin-target relationship deepens when Crier finds about all of the harm that her family does that was kept from her. The richly drawn fantasy world provides a compelling backdrop while the love story between Ayla and Crier blooms in the harshest of circumstances.
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Key Mejia
At the prestigious Medio School for Girls, teenage girls are trained to become one of two wives for rich men: either a Primera (running the household business) or a Segunda (bearing children). Dani Vargas is about to graduate and make a fantastic match, but she’s stuck with her school rival, Carmen, as the Segunda of the house. As Dani and Carmen get closer because of their difficult circumstances, they find themselves joining up with the resistance and falling for each other. The worldbuilding in this book is very strong, and Dani has to deal with issues of false documentation and what it means to wield privilege in a wholly unjust society.
The Joy of Enemies-to-Lovers
As with all book genres, finding the perfect romance novel is about the mix of tropes and location or time period that are a good match for you, not just picking a random one out of a bin and expecting it to be right. There are many joys to enemies to lovers, but the chief one for me is reading about messy, imperfect characters who don’t make the best impressions finding empathy and affection for each other. It’s comforting to imagine being your worst self and still being lovable. With enemies-to-lovers, whether it’s villains or enemies of circumstance or driven by a misunderstanding, the growth of the relationship gives you something to root for.