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Paranormal Romance: What is it?

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

Here at SmashBear, one of the genres we love reading and love to publish, is paranormal romance (pnr). Now, a lot of you are probably already familiar with this genre, but in case you aren’t (or would just like to know more), I’m here to tell you everything you need to know.

paranormal romance couple

So….what is it?

What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the word ‘paranormal’? Ghosts? Haunted houses? Low-budget horror movies? Does that mean the paranormal romance genre consists of….ghost love stories? Well - yes and no. The term paranormal refers to anything beyond the normal scope, anything that can’t be explained away by science. Ghosts most definitely come under that bracket, but so do a whole other host of fictional creatures.

Think vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, fae, witches – all the beings we’ve seen portrayed as the brooding, mysterious love interests in our favourite books of the last decade. Therefore, a paranormal romance book is simply one where the main love story involves someone who can be considered supernatural.

What makes it different to other similar genres?

You may be thinking – all of these creatures also appear in countless fantasy books. So – what separates them? While certain elements of a paranormal romance book are fantastical, the world they're set in is not.

paranormal romance couple embrace

The characters may be vampires, aliens or even magically winged warriors, but the world they live in is the same as ours. This means that - while books such as A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas or Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo involve major supernatural romance storylines – they would not be considered part of the paranormal romance genre as they are based in completely fabricated worlds.

Even a book that starts in our world but takes place through a ‘portal’ into a different world can’t be considered a paranormal romance. Now, just because a pnr book is based in our world, this doesn’t mean some tweaks can’t have been made. I mean, clearly the addition of supernatural beings could be considered a *slight* change to our world anyway.

A pnr book could be set in a world that doesn’t know about the existence of these supernatural beings (think Twilight), or could be set in a world that is well aware of these individuals. In this case , a whole new history between human and the supernatural can be created. In this way, authors can create their own alternate reality without having to create a whole new world.

Pnr is very similar to Urban Fantasy (read our article about what urban fantasy is here), but the main difference is that in pnr, the romance is the plot. The story focuses around the romance and love of the main characters, whereas in urban fantasy, the plot is more action based. So while urban fantasy will probably contain some paranormal romance elements, the plot has other main factors besides the romance, e.g. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater vs The Kate Daniels Series by Ilona Andrews.

Who is it for?

Paranormal romance gets a rep for being a genre purely for teenage girls. While many of the books within this genre are aimed at this age range, there are plenty of pnr books out there written for older audiences, containing more adult, darker themes. Paranormal romance as a genre wasn’t initially tailored towards younger generations, but the rise in popularity of vampire and werewolf (etc) romances in the last decade or so has firmly planted it as a YA staple.

Besides age range, another stereotype of pnr is that it is written exclusively for women. Since its conception as a genre, the authors, protagonists and readers have been majorly, but not exclusively,

female. The romance genre as a whole is female dominated in terms of both authors and audience, so this is no surprise, but you’ll be surprised how many pnr titles there are targeting all genders and sexualities.

Where did it come from?

Look up the term ‘paranormal romance’ on Google and you’ll see that one of the web’s most searched questions is ‘When did paranormal romance start?’. The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think.

The first romance book involving a supernatural romantic partner was The Ivory Key by Rita Clay Estrada (1987). That isn’t to say that the supernatural and romance haven’t appeared in the same novel before this point, it’s just that the romance wasn’t ever the main plot point. In fact, major aspects of the pnr genre that we see now have dated back to the 1700s, the era of gothic literature. This genre combined horror and romance elements in its novels which, over the years, developed into the pnr genre we know and love today. Iconic books such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) created the modern vampire which, as we know, features heavily in the pnr genre now.

Since the birth of this sub-genre, starting with the publication of The Ivory Key (which featured an ageless, immortal love interest), it has snowballed in a major way. Vampires, werewolves, witches and magic warriors were added to the mix and the female protagonists became stronger and more empowered (yet another reason we adore this genre). The big turning point, and the start of what has been dubbed the ‘golden age of paranormal romance’, was the birth of something we are no doubt all familiar with, the Kindle.

paranormal romance throuple

Take a scroll through the options of Kindle Unlimited and you’ll find an endless number of pnr titles available at your fingertips – something I know I took great advantage of as a teen. It also didn’t harm the genre that, the following year, the movie adaptation of Twilight was released, launching the popularity of supernatural romances to record highs. I mean, we all lived through the Twilight mania didn’t we? All of this leads us to today, where pnr is still firmly rooted in its popularity. We wouldn’t want it any other way!

Why should I read it?

There are so many reasons why a pnr should be your next read. If you love a romance storyline but wouldn’t mind a bit more adventure and darkness, pnr is the one for you. If you love a good fantasy romance book, but you find the world building a bit much sometimes, pnr is the one for you. If you, too, wouldn’t mind a fling with an angsty vampire, pnr is most definitely the one for you. Forbidden love, destined love, enemies-to-lovers (a personal favourite) combined with magic, demons, vampires and secret societies. What’s not to love? Don’t let the stereotypes put you off – you could be missing out on your next favourite book!

Some examples of popular pnr titles:

· The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer

· The Host by Stephanie Meyer

· Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

· The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare (plus all her other Shadowhunter books)

· Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris (known for its series adaptation ‘True Blood’)

· The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon (also adapted into a popular series)

· Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater (The Wolves of Mercy Falls series)

· The Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout

· Beautiful Creatures (Caster Chronicles) by Kami Garcia (adapted into a movie)

· The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Nifferneggar

· A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy) by Deborah Harkness

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