The best romances in fiction have to be earned. Whether you love reading about heroes saving the world, but who actually just want to profess their love, or you prefer sworn enemies that realize they’re actually meant to be, there is nothing more satisfying than knowing your OTP is finally canon.
So what makes for a good romance? Angst, attraction, fate? Yes, but there has to be more than that. Watching two (or three) characters reach a level emotional playing field and arrive at the same realization, that they are in love and want to be together, is a beautiful thing.
Here is a list of five YA fantasies featuring unforgettable couples I love to love.
Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn from The Dark Artifices Trilogy by Cassandra Clare
Cassandra Clare is a master at writing tortured romance, and this Mortal Instruments spin-off is no different. If you haven’t read the New York City Shadowhunter series, The Mortal Instruments, that’s okay! Lady Midnight follows brand new characters from the Los Angeles Institute. Emma and Julian are parabatai faced with a ton of fairy murders to solve. Parabatai is an angelic bond closer that friend or family, absolutely not romantic. At least, it’s not supposed to be. It’s very much against the Shadowhunter laws. There is a destructive curse that befalls parabatai who fall in love. Emma and Julian have spent months avoiding each other because when they’re together they might have to face the fact that they’re in love, and have been since they were kids. The angst and slow burn is worth the hefty size of the novel. Emma is a loyal and fierce protector. Julian is the head of his family and has to care for five younger siblings. They will fight to the death for those they love, even if it means having to give each other up. But the whole time you really, really hope they don’t. (Bonus for familiar cameos from other series.)
Mairwen, Arthur, and Rhun from Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton
A bargain between a witch and a devil turned the small town of Three Graces into a haven without sickness or premature death. All they have to do is sacrifice a saintly boy to the forest during the Slaughter Moon. Mairwen’s mother is a witch and her father was a saint. Rhun was always destined to be chosen as a sacrifice. Arthur was raised for some of his life as a girl so his mother wouldn’t have to lose her son. When the ritual goes wrong, all three teens enter the wood. Told in alternating timelines and in Gratton’s stunning prose, this novel doesn’t just contain a well executed poly romance—the whole novel is romantic. It tackles gender roles, queer love, and impossible sacrifice.
Cardan Greenbriar and Jude Duarte from The Folk of the Air Trilogy by Holly Black
Jude Duarte and her sisters witnessed their mother’s brutal death and were kidnapped and taken to the fairy court of Elfhame. Now a teen, Jude and her twin are the only humans living with the gentry. They’re terrorized daily and humiliated on account of being human. Her biggest enemy is prince Cardan, or as I like to call him, my fairy prince fuckboi. After a bloody coronation, Jude takes Cardan prisoner and their power dynamic changes. Their uneasy alliance gives way to uneasy friendship that can save, or destroy, the throne. They hate each other. They want each other. They betray each other. This series has twists and turns unlike another, all set in Holly Black’s signature fairyland.
Ximena and Rumi from Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez
This Bolivian-inspired fantasy has everything you want in a teen novel: politics, unique magic and setting, and a heroine willing to risk it all. Ximena is the body double for the Condesa. After she’s forced into an arranged marriage with the tyrant king of Inkasisa, she begins her plot to find a weapon in the castle that could help the real Condesa win this civil war. During her time in the palace she’s followed by Rumi, the castle’s healer who leads many lives. He spends a lot of time patching up her wounds, and getting to know that deep down they both want the same thing: a peaceful and united Inkasisa. It is a beautiful slow burn and I hope they return in book two.
Kane and Dean from Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Reverie might be the strangest, queerest book you ever read. The easiest way I can think of describing a book which should be described as “like nothing you’ve ever read before” is Inception meets a drag queen Sailor Moon. Reveries are interdimensional dreams that can swallow up entire areas and the people around them. Kane is just a regular teen boy missing some memories when a group of kids from his school tell him that he’s part of this group called The Others and they have to stop a drag queen sorceress from completely changing reality through reveries, he needs to remember who he is. Along comes Dean, who is all kinds of a dreamboat. Getting to know someone when you’re vulnerable is scary enough without having to add dreamscapes and life-threatening peril. But that sometimes serves to make love stronger, right? Kane and Dean’s romance isn’t the focus of the novel, but having them as the subplot shows a messy, hilarious, and real first romance that makes you want to hug the book when you’re done reading it.
Zoraida Córdova is the award-winning author of the Brooklyn Brujas series, The Vicious Deep trilogy, and Star Wars: A Crash of Fate. Her short fiction has appeared in the New York Times bestselling anthology Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, and Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft. Zoraida was born in Ecuador and raised in Queens, New York. When she isn’t working on her next novel, she’s planning a new adventure.