My favorite romance novels have significant obstacles to the happily ever after. Nothing against cozy romances, but I like my romance reads to have a sense of urgency. The best enemies to lovers books serve this need for urgency perfectly.
As a trope, enemies-to-lovers has to set up stakes early on about why the main pair can’t get together (even if they do have burning desire for each other). As opposed to a best friends to lovers plot, the enemies might be in contention for a promotion at work, or be on opposite sides of a war, or just really loathe each other.
Whether the book follows one character’s perspective, or both, the main characters normally have a lot of stubbornness to get over in terms of their conflict and how to resolve it, even if it’s just a misunderstanding. Pride and Prejudice still serves as one of my favorite examples of an enemies-to-lovers romance. Austen integrates an honest misunderstanding and truly misaligned worldviews that need to get resolved.
The best enemies to lovers books also tend to have elaborate schemes and plots that force the enemies to play on the same team for a little bit. They need a reason to talk it out. There might be only one bed, or they need to work together against an enemy that they both hate even more. Whatever the plot is, crackling energy between two enemies is always fun to follow into love.
Hate At First Sight
The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Despite being left at the altar, Carolina Santos is fantastic at planning weddings that go off without a hitch. When she’s called upon to plan the biggest event of her career, the only thing that could ruin this dream situation happens: she has to work with her ex-fiancé’s brother, Max Hartley. Even though Max is connected to the worst person in Carolina’s life, he has his own issues with his brother and doesn’t want to be defined by his brother’s looming presence, either. As Max and Carolina are forced to spend time together, sparks fly and they start to understand each other a little bit better.
Recipe for Persuasion by Sonali Dev
Never wanting to see your ex again is a very common experience. However, another major career opportunity pushes Ashna Raje to get stuck in a situation where she’s seeing her ex, Rico, every day, whether she likes it or not. Ashna joins Cooking with the Stars to bring attention to her flailing restaurant, while Rico Silva is a hot commodity as a professional footballer (soccer-player to the Americans). Their hatred for each other and crackling chemistry on the show drives social media wild, which keeps them on the show for even longer. Being thrown back together inevitably brings up old feelings and gives them the time to break down what happened.
Battle Royal by Lucy Parker
If you can’t get enough of The Great British Baking Show, this is the enemies-to-lovers book for you. Sylvie was a fan favorite on Operation Cake, but her ambitious unicorn cake didn’t come together and the devilishly handsome pastry chef judge, Dominic, voted her off the show. Four years later, Sylvie and Dominic are both up for the amazing job of making a cake for the upcoming Royal Wedding. It comes down to style: will they go for Sylvie’s cute and inventive bakes, or Dominic’s classic, royally-perfect pastries? This fight brings out more tension than Sylvie or Dominic could have ever intended.
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
If you have a friend who wants a lower-stakes enemies to lovers book to get started, this is a great recommendation. Olive just can’t get along with her twin sister’s fiancé’s brother, Ethan. She just has to get through Ani’s wedding and then can continue avoiding him forever. However, some bad seafood forces Olive and Ethan onto Ani’s honeymoon, pretending to be the happy couple. They manage to talk over the misunderstanding that made them enemies, but there are still more hurdles in the form of cheating exes, idiot fiancés, and grand gestures on the way to HEA.
A Duke by Default: Reluctant Royals by Alyssa Cole
Portia Hobbs drops her high-paced lifestyle in New York City to act as an apprentice to a Scottish swordmaker, as we all wish we could do once in a while. Tavish McKenzie is immediately put off by the brash and infuriating Portia, but they both can’t deny their attraction. When Portia finds out Tavish is a secret duke, their apprenticeship is flipped and she has to give him her expertise about how to handle the media and fame. Two very different people put aside their differences and find the brilliance in each other’s methods.
Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall
Luc is in need of a very normal boyfriend to rehabilitate his image. Since his aging rockstar dad is back in the spotlight, one bad night is enough to take Luc and his own life down. He enlists the help of Oliver Blackwood, a very normal and upstanding lawyer, to be his perfect-image boyfriend. However, Luc and Oliver don’t really like each other or want to date, so they choose to have a fake relationship instead. Oliver’s aggressive organization originally grates on Luc’s nerves, but their long talks and bonding in favor of making the fake relationship seem real allow them to get past their original assumptions. This book combines the joys of fake dating and enemies learning the other one isn’t so bad after all.
To Love and To Loathe by Martha Waters
Lady Diana Templeton loves to argue with Jeremy, the Marquess of Willingham. Their heated exchanges are well-known across English society. During a bickering session, Diana bets that Jeremy will not marry within the year. However, when Jeremy finds out his bedroom skills might not be up to par, he goes to Diana (who is a widow, so she knows what she’s doing) to give him a brutally honest assessment. She is confident that she can win their bet and also broadcast that she’s ready to take a new lover, but the intensity between Jeremy and Diana gets much higher after their tryst.
Wild Sweet Love by Beverly Jenkins
Looking to make a change from her life as a train robber, Teresa July takes a job as a cook to service a high-society family in Philadelphia. Her plans are waylaid by her employer’s son, Madison, following her every move and waiting for her to slip up into her old, train-robbing ways. He has his reasons to be concerned based on his family’s past experiences. However, their rivalry has to be put aside so they can work together to protect Teresa and Madison’s family, and find something more.
High School Enemies to Lovers
Today, Tonight, Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon
Everything feels urgent in high school, especially beating your academic rival. The two students at the top of their class, Rowan and Neil, fight over everything, from extracurriculars to grades to book taste. After their graduation, Rowan and Neil pair up for a senior-wide game across Seattle. Their time together gives them the time and space to understand each other, and Rowan has to assess why she hates Neil so much to begin with, especially when he doesn’t seem to hate her at all like she thought he did.
Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi
Sana and Rachel are in different high school universes — Sana is a cheerleader and Rachel is a film nerd. When Rachel is working on her movie, she knows that Sana would be the perfect lead. However, Sana asked Rachel out years ago, and Rachel thought it was a cruel joke and has hated her ever since. Both of them have to get over their assumptions and work together, and maybe find something more.
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
Ollie and Will have the picture-perfect summer romance, but summer ends and Ollie is devastated when Will ghosts him. When Ollie has to go to a new school unexpectedly, he ends up at the same school as Will — but it’s a completely different guy from the one he had a beautiful queer romance with over the summer. Ollie definitely hates Will for breaking his heart, but it might not be that simple. This is the queer Grease retelling of my dreams.
Better Than the Movies by Lynn Painter
Liz and Wes are neighbors and, in Liz’s mind, could have been perfect candidates for a movie-perfect romance, if Liz didn’t hate Wes so much. In senior year, Liz decides fellow student Michael is the perfect guy for her, but he’s close friends with her enemy, Wes. She decides she needs Wes’s help to get her movie-perfect prom date with Michael, but maybe hating Wes isn’t all she feels for him.
Not My Problem by Ciara Smyth
Aideen has plenty of problems that she has to deal with, so coming across her most hated enemy, Meabh, having a breakdown isn’t exactly something she wants to deal with. Aideen helps Meabh get out of her extracurricular activities by pushing her down the stairs so she sprains her ankle. Aideen then takes on the annoying task of helping other students that Meabh brings her, bringing Meabh and Aideen closer together.
You Can Go Your Own Way by Eric Smith
Adam and Whitney are on opposite sides of a battle in a You’ve Got Mail–like fashion. Adam needs to protect his dad’s indie arcade from the takeover by a series of soulless gaming cafés, owned by Whitney’s dad. Adam sees Whitney as an encroacher on the last piece of his dad that he has left, while Whitney is just trying to get by. When they get trapped together during a snowstorm, all of the animosity seems to fall away.
She Drives Me Crazy by Kelly Quindlen
Through an annoying series of events involving getting beat in basketball by an ex and getting into a car crash, Scottie has to carpool every day with her biggest enemy, Irene. Scottie and Irene continue to hate each other in their car journeys, but when Scottie finds a way to get back at her ex, she enlists Irene’s help in a fake dating scheme. Everything should work, as long as Scottie and Irene don’t drive each other too crazy.
When looking for the best enemies to lovers books, I’m always trying to find the crackling intensity of an Elizabeth/Darcy. If you’re looking for even more enemies to lovers, there are so many great queer romance options as well.
If you’re just getting started on romance novels, there are a ton of great tropes and genres to jump into. If you’re not as into enemies, best friends falling in love could be your jam. Genre fiction like fantasy and science fiction romance could also be an exciting space to dive into.