This list has been curated by our Books Editor based on books she’s read or sampled, and books that have great Goodreads reviews.
It’s that time of year we’re all thinking about love a little more than normal. As Valentine’s Day is upon us, no matter your relationship status, you might be craving a story about love. But not just any love story — a great one.
We’ve rounded up some of the greatest love stories of all time from both classic and modern literature.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but we think these are pretty wonderful — many have even been made into films or shows. These are the love stories with that timeless quality. They’re the ones that make us want to re-read, and they leave a lasting impression.
1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
A favorite among our editorial team, this historical fiction series has one of the most memorable couples — made ever more popular by the hit show on Starz. It follows Claire, a former combat nurse in 1945, who walks through a standing stone in Scotland and finds herself on the other side in 1743. It’s there she meets James Fraser, a young Scots warrior, and a whole second life unfolds. Their chemistry is #OnFire.
2. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks
If you’re familiar with this book, or the movie adaptation, then you’re also familiar with working your way through a whole box of tissues. There’s no denying this one’s a tear-jerker, but it’s also undeniably one of the greatest love stories. The post-WWII tale of Noah and Allie, set in the beautiful countryside of North Carolina, unfolds like a Russian nesting doll, and it’s one that has marked our hearts forever.
3. The Princess Bride by William Goldman
You may have seen the classic book-within-a-movie 80s fantasy film, but have you read the book it was adapted from? Though the main love story between Princess Buttercup and farm-boy-turned-pirate Wesley is largely the same, there are a few differences from page to screen, including much more to Inigo Montoya’s story. Either way, we’ll be saying “As You Wish” the rest of our lives.
4. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
If you love time travel narratives and love stories that span the very boundaries of time, then this is a must-read. Clare and Henry have known each other since they were 6 and 36 respectively… and then they were married when Clare was 23 and Henry was 31. Henry has chrono-displacement disorder (he periodically finds himself suddenly misplaced in time). This imaginative story captured our hearts long ago, but we’re still thinking about it 10 years later.
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The fact that there have been 17 movie adaptations of this book tells us it’s an all-time fave for a reason. Maybe it’s because we all crave that ultimate “happily ever after” rom-com and the “opposites attract” trope never gets old. Mr. Darcy’s madly in love, Elizabeth can’t stand him, and watching their individual characters developing as they ultimately fall in love is quite satisfying. We think this story will continue to be enjoyed for centuries to come.
6. Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
Any Tolkien fan will tell you that the ultimate love story is none other than Beren and Lúthien — one of the great tales of Middle Earth. First published as a chapter of The Silmarillion, the story has since been published in a stand-alone volume annotated by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, with illustrations by Alan Lee.
Beren, a mortal man, falls in love with Lúthien, a beautiful immortal elvin princess (and ancestor of Arwen). Her father isn’t too keen on Beren, so he sets an impossible task for Beren to complete before they can marry. The tale unfolds as Beren and Lúthien attempt to steal a Silmaril (one of the greatest jewels ever crafted) from one of the most evil beings, Morgoth. It’s a truly beautiful, sweeping, adventurous tale.
7. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Eleanor is the new girl in town who struggles to fit in. Park is a boy she meets at the back of the bus (the only open seat). Blending in is his specialty, but eventually, their awkward silence turns to conversations over comic books and mixed tapes.
Eleanor and Park are both well-realized characters with fun-to-follow voices, and a story with an unpredictable ending. It’s a classic high school first-love story that will live on in all those who are 80s kids at heart. (We also recommend Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell.)
8. A Court of Thrones and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
This series has a major fan following. If you like high fantasy with a lot of steamy romance between beautiful warriors, this is your jam. Some people love to hate on these books, but we just can’t get enough of the characters, especially Feyra and Rysand. We’ll never be able to say “wingspan” again without giggling to ourselves.
The first book is loosely based on Beauty and the Beast, but the series develops into something totally its own. We admit we’re in the camp of those who’ve preordered the fourth installment, A Court of Silver Flames, which hits shelves February 16th.
9. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
This book is so beloved that it was made into a Netflix movie. This is the story of Lara Jean, who has written a letter to all the boys she’s crushed on — but they go into a box under her bed, never meant to be sent. One day, she finds they’ve all been mailed and all her crushes start confronting her, including her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. (#Yikes) But this is a teen love story that truly gives us that warm and fuzzy feeling. You’ll be left wanting more — luckily, it’s a series.
10. Books by Trisha Ashley
That’s right, we’re including an author’s entire body of work, not just one title for this entry. Trisha Ashley is simply one of our fave quality romance writers who delivers the best cozy rom-coms year after year.
If you’re in the mood for an absolute comfort read that totally immerses you in a beautiful setting with well-drawn characters and heartfelt romance, then check out a few of our favorites: The Christmas Invitation, The Little Teashop of Lost and Found, and her latest, The Garden of Forgotten Wishes.
11. The Guernsey and Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know. This is one of those stories that just hits you right in the gut and makes you laugh and cry, and then cry again. It’s also a perfect book for those who love books about books. It’s the tale of the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation in the late 1940s.
Juliet is looking for a subject for her next book and happens to find it in a random letter from a man she’s never met on the island. He’s part of a secret literary club who she begins exchanging letters with, and eventually, she travels to Geurnsey, and is changed forever.
12. Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
In another book-turned-movie (are we seeing a trend here?), Louisa is an ordinary girl who has hardly left her village, when she takes a job working for ex-Master of the Universe, Will. When Will becomes a wheelchair user after an accident, everything changes.
He’s moody, bossy, and pretty much the opposite of Louisa, but they find something in each other that develops into a heartbreaking romance. Have a box of tissues ready.
13. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
You probably expected to see Romeo & Juliet on this list (and it’s a true classic), but we’re going to venture out on a limb and say that Much Ado About Nothing is an even better love story.
It contains far more humor, for one thing, and portrays perhaps some more relatable relationships. Also, Beatrice is one of the first strong female characters to appear in Shakespeare’s work — in the words of one reviewer she’s “smart, sardonic, and fierce.” Something we can get behind.
14. Meet Me in Bombay by Jenny Ashcroft
This book was just released January 19th but consider us captivated. It starts on New Year’s Eve in Bombay, 1913, and having just moved there, Maddy is missing England. At midnight, she meets Luke, who opens her eyes to the marvels of Bombay. Shortly after falling in love, they’re separated by WWI, but hold on to the promise that they’ll meet again in Bombay… only Luke loses his memory, and first, he must remember who she is.
15. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
It’s certainly one of our favorite YA fantasy books in the last several years (it also has nearly 5 stars on Goodreads from over 90,000 ratings), but the relationship between Lazlo and Sarai is truly epic, and literally transcends realms.
They’re *not* your typical couple, but their pull is undeniable and one that will stand out in literature through the ages. You’ll get sucked in by this heroic tale of lost cities, found family, and heartbreaking battles, and want more… luckily there’s a sequel, Muse of Nightmares, which is just as satisfying as the first book.
16. Sanditon by Jane Austen
This book is one of Jane Austen’s less-known works because it was left unfinished when she reached her death. Still, we’re enamored by the love story of Charlotte and Sidney that Austen crafted into the 11 chapters.
In 2019, this witty and engrossing tale was adapted into a PBS masterpiece theater series that was canceled after the first season. Fans of the show have been begging for a conclusion to Jane Austen’s last and unfinished story, and there may yet be hope. Though whether the screenwriters will wrap it up neatly in true Austen fashion is up in the air.
17. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Contrary to neat-as-a-bow Austen endings, Tolstoy drew his stories with a bit more shadows surrounding his characters. This classic is one of doomed love, and for generations, readers have been fascinated by the (unhappily married) heroine that is Anna and her catastrophic affair with the striking Count Vronsky.
Not only are the characters unforgettable, but the book explores deep questions about what it means to live a life that’s fulfilling.
18. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This is not known as a “romance” series but hear us out: Not every great love story is a romantic one. And while there is some romance in this series, there are so many other displays of great love in this epic tale.
The relationships between people and their daemons (like Lyra and Pan), fierce friendships (even between humans and armored bears), self-love, religious love, and found family with ties that span worlds. Plus, these books are just a wonderful time. If you haven’t read them yet, we suggest doing so before indulging in the HBO drama series inspired by them.
Naomi Farr is the books editor and a copy editor at Greatist. She loves focusing on all things books, beauty, wellness, and mental health. She’s also a YA fantasy writer and bookstagrammer. You can find her (and her cat) @avioletlife.