10 of the Greatest Love Stories in Novels

If you want a little romance in your next read, look no further than this list.
If you want a little romance in your next read, look no further than this list. / Chnit Siri Kan Ti N Cheiynghim/EyeEm/Getty Images

If you’re looking to curl up with a classic love story, consider one of these novels whose characters’ romances will make your heart skip a beat. They don’t all have a happy ending—but the passion their pages contain is enough to keep you captivated.

1. Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) // Gabriel García Márquez

‘Love in the Time of Cholera’  by Gabriel García Márquez.
‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ by Gabriel García Márquez. / Vintage/Amazon

Like many young loves, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza’s secret romance is destined for heartbreak. Fermina later marries and grows old with Dr. Juvenal Urbino, a physician fighting to eradicate cholera. When her husband dies, Florentino—who continued to nurture his feelings for her, despite spending the decades engaging in many romantic affairs—attends the funeral, ready for a second chance with his first love. “This book was a pleasure,” author Gabriel García Márquez—whose parents inspired the main couple’s love story—said in an interview in 1988. “It could have been much longer, but I had to control it. There is so much to say about the life of two people who love each other. It’s infinite.”

2. Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) // Zora Neale Hurston

‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston
‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ by Zora Neale Hurston / Amistad/Amazon

Set in early 20th-century Florida, this Harlem Renaissance staple cemented Zora Neale Hurston’s place in history as a literary great. The story, a celebration of Black love, blossoms into a complex narrative about gender roles and women’s independence. Janie’s love for Tea Cake is intense and imperfect, ending in tragedy, but her quest for romance and partnership rather than ownership and control celebrates a type of love that is joyful and enduring.

Though the novel is a beloved classic now, her peers were less than impressed when the novel came out. “Miss Hurston seems to have no desire whatever to move in the direction of serious fiction ... The sensory sweep of her novel carries no theme, no message, no thought,” novelist Richard Wright wrote.

3. The Thorn Birds (1977) // Colleen McCullough

‘The Thorn Birds’ by Colleen McCullough.
‘The Thorn Birds’ by Colleen McCullough. / Avon/Amazon

This tale about the forbidden romance between protagonist Meggie Cleary and an older priest topped The New York Times’s best-seller list for more than a year. When the novel begins, Meggie is just a 4-year-old child living in the harsh Australian Outback. As the decades pass, deception and death continue to dog the Cleary family; family secrets unravel, testing both love and loyalty. The novel was a smashing success, and readers and publishing houses alike were keen to get their hands on the book—paperback rights to The Thorn Birds sold for a record-breaking $1.9 million in 1977.

4. Norwegian Wood (1987) // Haruki Murakami 

‘Norwegian Wood’ Haruki Murakami.
‘Norwegian Wood’ Haruki Murakami. / Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group/Amazon

This is no lighthearted coming-of-age story. In the novel—which takes its title from a Beatles song—Toru Watanabe reminisces on his years as a student in 1960s Tokyo, a time defined by love, longing, and loss. His attempts to navigate his relationships with two starkly different women, set against the backdrop of the era’s civil unrest and student protests, is poignant and powerful. The book was a departure from Murakami’s usual style: “I could have been a cult writer if I’d kept writing surrealistic novels. But I wanted to break into the mainstream, so I had to prove that I could write a realistic book,” he said in a 2004 interview with The Paris Review.

5. The Notebook (1996) // Nicholas Sparks 

‘The Notebook’ by Nicholas Sparks.
‘The Notebook’ by Nicholas Sparks. / Warner Books/Amazon

It’s safe to say Nicholas Sparks’s entry into the literary world was a smashing one. Elderly Noah Calhoun reads a story to Allie, who is suffering from dementia. It’s soon revealed that the tale he’s telling is their own love story—a husband’s gentle-yet-raw attempt to reignite his wife’s memory of their decades-long romance.

Noah and Allie’s love story was inspired by the author’s then-wife’s grandparents. “The way his eyes shined when he looked at her, the way he held her hand, the way he got her tea and took care of her. I remember watching them together and thinking to myself that after sixty years of marriage, these two people were treating each other exactly the same as my wife and I were treating each other after twelve hours.” the author wrote on his website.

6. Outlander (1991) // Diana Gabaldon

‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon.
‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon. / Delta/Amazon

This time-traveling romance has captivated readers since the early ‘90s. After Claire is transported from 1946 to 18th-century Scotland, she meets Jamie, a Jacobite supporter who’s wanted by the English government. The love that blossoms between them ultimately spans centuries and sparked a multi-book series Gabaldon is still publishing today—which is all the more incredible for the fact that Gabaldon merely intended the novel to be practice.

7. The Duke and I (2000) // Julia Quinn

‘The Duke and I’ by Julia Quinn.
‘The Duke and I’ by Julia Quinn. / Avon/Amazon

Daphne Bridgerton and Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, are having a tough time on the 1813 marriage market in Regency England; Daphne’s struggling to find a good suitor, and Simon is finding himself all too eligible for his liking. The plan the two concoct to use each other to achieve their romantic goals quickly turns from fake courting to something far more real. In 2020, Netflix debuted a TV show based on the novel; when the second season came out in spring of 2022, it became the most-watched English-language show in the platform’s history.

8. Pride and Prejudice (1813) // Jane Austen

‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. / Penguin Books/Amazon

Jane Austen is no stranger to penning a great love story—and this yarn about Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy is no exception. Pride and Prejudice, which features the classic enemies-to-lovers plot, has remained popular centuries after it was first published anonymously. (Austen did not include her name on her novels; Pride and Prejudice’s title page simply stated it was written “by the author of Sense and Sensibility.”)  

9. Jane Eyre (1847) // Charlotte Brontë

‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë.
‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Brontë. / Penguin Classics/Amazon

Jane Eyre’s road to romance with Edward Rochester is long and windy. Jane lives a troubled, and at times tragic, life—but her refusal to stray from her principles allows her to ultimately find the love she has longed for. Several parts of the novel were inspired by Brontë’s own life: Like the main character, she too had once attended a cruel school and worked as a governess; Brontë also once visited an estate that had its own “madwoman” hidden away.

10. Like Water for Chocolate (1992) // Laura Esquivel

‘Like Water for Chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel.
‘Like Water for Chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel. / DOUBLEDAY /Amazon

Like Water for Chocolate is filled with passion, for better and worse. Tita’s abusive mother may have forbidden her from marrying, but that doesn’t stop her from falling in love with her neighbor Pedro. With the help of her cooking and a hefty sprinkling of the supernatural, Tita is finally able to break free from her mother’s bonds and pursue the man she adores. Food is a central part of the narrative. “The same way one tells a recipe, one tells a family history,” the author told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1993. Esquivel grew up helping her mother and grandmother cook—many of the recipes she includes in the book actually came from her own family.