Our Favorite Romance Tropes
Updated: Feb 7
Last week, we went over tropes that are a nope; this week, we’re talking tropes that are a go!
While we normally don't reach for romance, we definitely appreciate it as a subplot.
J: If there's one thing I've learned from my writing, it's that I'm apparently a major fan of this trope. Seriously, nearly every one of my story couples are opposites.
I love the balancing act, how each character can take over situations the other is uncomfortable in. It's refreshing to see characters appreciate what their partner brings to the table and admire each other's differences.
“Wait,” he said. The burn of his voice was rougher than usual. “Is my tie straight?”
Inej laughed, her hood falling back from her hair.
“That’s the laugh,” he murmured, but she was already setting off down the quay, her feet barely touching the ground.”
― Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom
K: Like Jordan, I am a sucker for the completion that comes with an opposites-attract couple. This setup allows for delicious tension, oftentimes playing into tropes like slow burn and enemies-to-lovers. Yet it’s wholesome when the characters respect each other for their differences, lean on each other, and learn from one another. When these differences are leveraged into a harmonic balance, these pairings can turn into badass power couples.
“I-I've never seen anyone savor anything the way you do everything. You make me feel alive. Just being in your presence—it's addictive. You're addictive. It doesn't matter you're a witch. The way you see the world . . . I want to see it that way too. I want to be with you always, Lou. I never want to be parted from you again.”
— Shelby Mahurin, Serpent & Dove
GRUMPY WITH A RAY OF SUNSHINE
J: Probably my favorite opposites-attract combo. It's cute as hell seeing one bring positivity and silliness into the other's broody moods and the Grump providing a much-needed buffer between Sunshine and the nastier sides of the world.
I like no one, absolutely no one, but I liked you from the start. I liked you when I didn’t know you, and now that I do know you it’s only gotten worse.
Ali Hazelwood, The Love Hypothesis
K: What could be cuter than a cinnamon roll paired with a tough guy/gal whose soft side is only brought out by or visible to them? Not much!
These pairings bring stability to their partners by unlocking a part of them that previously seemed nonexistent. I love watching the Ray of Sunshine soften the Grump, and the Grump teach the Ray of Sunshine how to be tougher or more assertive. I’m here for all the mutual growth.
Kai tilted his head, peering at her as if he could see right through to the metal plate in her head..."I think you should go to the ball with me."
She clutched her fingers. "Stars," she muttered. "Didn't you already ask me that?"
"I'm hoping for a more favorable answer this time and I seem to be getting more desperate by the minute."
Kai's lips twitched. "Please?"
"I mean, why me?"
Kai hooked his thumbs on his pockets. "So if my escape hover breaks down, I'll have someone to fix it?”
Marissa Meyer, Cinder
WE ARE THE SAME, YOU AND I
J: Alternatively, people who are more alike than they realize are pretty awesome too. I fan hardest over this trope when it's two snarky Grumps or antiheroes bickering at each other. Maybe they're enemies-to-lovers or just cranky allies-to-lovers. Either way, I'm here for it.
K: Like Jordan, I most enjoy two characters butting heads. But what I really love is when these pairings finally realize how deeply they can trust and understand each other, and the banter goes from pointed to playful.
I see you, Quinlan, he silently conveyed to her. And I like all of it. Right back at you, her half smile seemed to say.
Sarah J Maas, House of Earth and Blood
THE POWER COUPLE
J: A couple that kicks ass together, stays together. But really, how cool are battle couples? Watching them fight back-to-back and cover each other is so much more fun than one sitting in a corner screaming while the other does all the work.
K: Power couples kicking ass together is one of my all-time favorites. While it’s sweet to see a character protect their love interest, for me it doesn’t compare to two strong characters who see each other’s strengths and trust each other enough to fight alongside them. That level of equality is *chef's kiss*.
“How can I possibly be his mate?” Mates were equals—matched, at least in some ways.
“He is the most powerful High Lord to ever walk this earth. You are . . . new. You are made of all seven High Lords. Unlike anything. Are you two not similar in that? Are you not matched?”
—Sarah J Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury
J: What's not to love about this trope? So long as it's not mishandled as bullying or abuse, that super-charged tension between two characters on opposite sides trying to one-up each other while also being insanely attracted . . .
My soul cried out for Ash, for his courage and determination; for the way his eyes thawed when he looked at me, as if I were the only person in the world; for that beautiful, wounded spirit I saw beneath the cold exterior he showed the world.
― Julie Kagawa, The Iron Daughter
K: I don’t think any of us can get enough of this trope lately, especially in YA. Watching the fire between two characters' loathing turn passionate is freaking delightful and utterly satisfying (when it’s done correctly—we don’t do alphaholes around here).
I think it's because these couples see each other for exactly who they are. They instantly spot the other’s rough edges and help smooth them as they get to know and understand one another. These pairings often see tons of growth together, whether they’re an opposites-attract pairing who balance out, or so alike it causes tension that turns into tenderness. Either way, I love it.
From the day she had stabbed Aeduan in the heart, that heart had become hers—and she would not let this be his end.
—Susan Dennard, Bloodwitch
J: No matter which trope it's paired with, slow burn romance will always be top tier for me. Who wants insta-love, anyway?
Give me ALL that drawn-out tension and gradual shifting in their perceptions of one another.
K: Insta-love is usually an insta-DNF for me. I want to see a couple struggle, learn, and grow together. I want them to deserve each other. But more than that, I need them to prove they deserve and love each other.
The longer it’s drawn out, the more frustrating it is, the more gratification there is when this couple finally joins together.
“Say what I've guessed from the moment we met," he breathed. "What I knew the first time I kissed you. What became unbreakable between us on Solstice night."
"I am your mate, for fuck's sake!" Cassian shouted, loud enough for people across the river to hear. "You are my mate! Why are you still fighting it?”
Sarah J Maas, A Court of Silver Flames
J: I will die on this hill. Why this trope is so mocked, I'll never know—possibly because it's too often played out as friendzone-to-lovers instead of actual friends to lovers.
I love when two characters fall for each other over the years (maybe they were childhood or teenage friends), but they don't know the other feels the same, so they try to keep the friendship alive without making it weird until it all just spills over and they confess their attraction.
What do you mean not enough angst?
Alternatively, I love when it evolves naturally from a friendship—when they're already good friends with a bit of a crush and sweetly fall into something deeper as time goes on.
If you're scoffing at this, keep in mind this pretty much summarizes Percabeth and Hiccstrid, two of the most adorable power couples in current YA media.
Annabeth's voice caught on the word friend. Percy was a lot more than that. Even boyfriend really didn't cover it. They'd been through so much together, at this point Percy was part of her—a sometimes annoying part, sure, but definitely a part she could not live without.
― Rick Riordan, The House of Hades
K: The purity and sweetness of these couples! Friends-to-lovers are usually the ones who deserve each other most, to be honest. This is another trope where the characters usually see each other for all that they are. Yet these couples are totally on board for each other, good and bad, from the start.
As Jordan stated above, there is still plenty of tension in this trope. The fear of rejection coupled with the fear of never knowing hits just as hard, only differently.
“Jacin,” she said, with a shaky smile. “You must know. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t love you. I don’t think such a time ever existed.”
Marissa Meyer, Winter
Did any of these make the cut for your favorite romance tropes? What about any that we might have missed? Let us know in the comments below, or hit us up on Twitter @bookish_witches or Instagram @coffeebookandcandle!