Erotica is a fascinating genre. Beyond just exciting us and stirring up readers into a haze of steamy memes and fantasies, it also has a serious side.
When you take a look at the best erotic stories out there, their characters are doing more than simply having sex with each other: they’re revealing parts of who they are that often stay hidden in other genres. And that’s what makes them so appealing (well, that and all the sexy stuff). It’s humanizing and personal.
There are plenty of writers who manage to do this extremely well. Some of their stories might make you feel uncomfortable, but there’s a lot of value in reading beyond your comfort zone. A lot of erotica—just like sex itself—is about self-discovery: exploring your various boundaries while having fun along the way.
If you’re new to erotica or aren’t sure where to dive in, here are some of the books and series that are perfect places for you to start. From classics of the genre, to modern successes that took the mainstream world by storm, all of these books have made a huge contribution to adult fiction—and raised more than a few heartbeats in bed at night.
by Sylvia Day
Bared to You, the first book in the mega-popular Crossfire series, was first published in 2014. Since then, it has become one of the most widely read erotic series around and a showcase for contemporary romance novels.
Telling the story of Eva and Gideon, and the twists and turns their love lives take, Sylvia Day puts the familiar alpha male character lead to effective use. Although there are often comparisons drawn between the Crossfire series and Fifty Shades of Grey (which came out in 2011 and helped to expand the space for erotica in the mainstream market), the characters here are strong enough to give this series its own flavor and identity.
If you enjoy some angst and dark romance, you ought to give these books a try. You might be like millions of other readers and love them.
by Diana Galbaldon
There are currently eight books in the Outlander series, although a few novellas also form part of the main timeline. The story follows the adventures of Claire Randall, who is transported back in time from 1945 to a warring Scotland in 1743. There, she meets James Fraser, a young warrior who quickly captures her heart.
If you’re interested in historical romance, all mixed up with a bit of time travel and fantasy, the Outlander books should definitely be on your radar. Although the scope of the larger story is epic, you’ll find that most of its focus is given to smaller, more human stories, and this makes for an exciting yet personal atmosphere throughout.
You’ll certainly find all the staples of the genre here, but they’re woven together with so much care and detail that they seldom feel overly indulgent.
by E.L. James
Whatever your feelings are about Fifty Shades of Grey (and I admit that mine aren’t very good), you can’t deny the overwhelming impact that it’s had. And that is why I feel the need to include it here. To dismiss it purely on critical grounds would be to ignore the massive contributions it’s made to the genre.
Sure, a lot of people would quickly say that its contributions have been more harmful than good, but I mostly disagree. It’s managed to get people reading erotica more openly, and that matters tremendously.
Popular culture grabbed on to its quirkier bits of imagery and boosted its popularity with every joke that flooded the internet (not too unlike the Twilight series).
As a result, erotica and (very light) BDSM became a part of the mainstream. It opened the genre back up to readers who otherwise didn’t admit to reading or even liking erotica. And that, if nothing else at all, is something to be happy about.
There are three books in the series (Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed), so if you’re interested in seeing what the world went crazy over for yourself, you’ll have plenty to read.
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There is, of course, a long list of important and influential erotic stories that deserve your attention. Unfortunately, there are far too many to list here, but I’d like to mention a few more that are wildly popular with readers today.
by Jeaniene Frost
When it comes to paranormal romance, Jeaniene Frost is responsible for one of the most popular vampire pairings in erotica: Cat and Bones. Cat is a young half-vampire woman who spends her nights hunting her father, while Bones is a vampire bounty hunter who captures her (and her heart). Add in a sexy British drawl and dry wit, and Bones often comes across like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And it actually works really well.
The characters and their banter keep the story fun and engaging, even during the more serious moments. There’s a little of something for everyone here: romance, humor, and plenty of action—not to mention some great sex between two likeable leads with a ton of chemistry.
The Night Huntress series includes seven main novels and several novellas, plus a number of side series that are set in the same universe. If you’re a fan of urban fantasy or paranormal romance, give Halfway to the Grave a try—it’s pure fun.
by J.R. Ward
In many ways, the Black Dagger Brotherhood series encapsulates the most popular trends in paranormal romance. If alpha males and vampire warriors get you going, you’re sure to have a really good time. Plus, the eighteenth book in the series is due for release in 2020, so you’ll also have a huge amount of vampire sexiness to enjoy (not to mention an entire side series called Black Dagger Legacy).
As modern guilty pleasures go, this series is near the top of the pile. It knows exactly what it is, and it plays to that strength with a great understanding of the genre.
by A.N. Roquelaure
Although Anne Rice is best known for writing vampire stories (starting with Interview with the Vampire in 1976), some of her most successful work has been in writing erotica under the pen name A.N. Roquelaure.
In The Sleeping Beauty Quartet, which began in 1983 and concluded over thirty years later, she wrote what is still considered to be some of the best BDSM stories available. They explore a wide range of sexualities, with men and women both being subjected and raised to roles of submission and domination.
What you notice first is the relentless pace of the scenes. The books were written to carefully keep the narrative structured around the sex, rather than the other way around. There is always something deeply erotic on every page, as Beauty and various male characters undergo a series of adventures and events that push them to their limits.
The first three books (The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment, and Beauty’s Release) were all written within a few years of each other and were followed much later by the fourth book, Beauty’s Kingdom, in 2015.
There’s a reason why these books have an incredibly strong following, particularly among practitioners of BDSM. They give you a strong sense of the complexities of human sexuality, regardless of gender.
If you like things on the rougher side (and enjoy when men and women are both explored as objects of eroticism), definitely give this series a go. It’s a classic.
There you have it. When it comes to the most influential erotica books in recent years, these are the ones that really showcase how the genre has taken root in the mainstream and grown to become a powerhouse in its own right.
As even just this short list shows, erotica as a genre lends itself to incredibly diverse forms of storytelling, from contemporary drama to paranormal romance and fantasy. It’s why I love being a writer of adult fiction. And it’s why I encourage more people to give it a try.
– Eric Slater
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