If you’re looking for a romance novella that perfectly blends love and fandom, you’ll swoon over Alyssa Cole’s Can’t Escape Love. In this installment in Cole’s Reluctant Royals series, Gustave Nguyen is creating a romance anime escape room. But he doesn’t know much about romance or anime. Thankfully, Regina Hobbs is here to save the day with her nerdy knowledge. When these two online friends meet in real life, sparks begin to fly. To celebrate the novella’s release, Cole shared her nerdy side with Bookish readers. Below she’s paired anime series and romance novels for readers looking to feed both literary and anime addictions (or newbies looking to explore a new kind of story!).
Anime and romance are my two favorite fandoms. So of course, I jumped at the chance to pair some of my faves in both genres! Below are anime and romances that compliment each other well.
Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is the epilogue to a fantasy anime series, Fate/stay night, but you don’t have to watch that show to enjoy it. It’s about cooking, friends, and found family, and every episode makes you want to hop into the kitchen and recreate what was cooked up. In Herrera’s critically acclaimed debut romance, Nesto Vasquez is the determined chef of an Afro-Caribbean food truck, and both the romance with librarian Jude and the book’s descriptions of food leave readers satiated!
In Bourne’s hilarious rom-com Feud, Alexandra inherits a house and a hot neighbor, only to discover they’re both their family’s representatives in a feud that has been passed down from generation to generation. The last neighbor standing wins a huge inheritance, and both are determined to be the victor! The perfection of this enemies-to-lovers setup made me think of Kaguya-sama: Love is War, in which Miyuki and Kaguya are at the top of their class and head over heels for one another—but both see confessing to being in love as “losing” and become determined to make the other say it first. Both of these are perfect for people looking to laugh out loud as they watch characters try to resist their intense attraction and go to incredibly petty lengths to win.
Skip Beat! is mostly about acting and Take the Lead is about a dance competitions, but both feature examinations of why people pursue celebrity and characters who learn about themselves and grow as they fall in love. In Take the Lead, Gina is a professional dancer paired with the reluctant hunk from an Alaskan wilderness reality show for a TV dance competition. Stone hates everything about the celebrity life, which isn’t exactly helpful since Gina is aiming to win and is serious about her craft. In Skip Beat!, Kyoko is determined to become a celebrity to seek revenge against the childhood love who betrayed her, and then she meets Ren, an actor who thinks she should love what she does instead of doing it out of spite.
This book, in which the heroine owns a pie shop and the hero hires her to cater his titular Ultimate Pi Day party, would seemingly make more sense paired with an anime about baking, but Josh and Sarah fall in love while working together to meet a goal, despite not wanting to, and that aspect of their romance really shines. In Toradora!, Taiga and Ryuuji join forces because each is in love with the other’s best friend. In order to plot how to win the love of their crushes, they end up spending a lot of time together and hey, they even start to look forward to spending time together. Both of these stories are perfect for those who enjoy fun family/friendship dynamics in addition to romance.
Although there are plenty of sports romances to choose from, the second chance (and possibly no chance at all) aspect of the story, and the introspective nature of her writing, made me pair Esguerra’s Kiss and Cry with Blue Spring Ride. In the anime, the hero and heroine shared a possibility of romance while in middle school, but the hero moved away before anything blossomed. They reconnect in high school and have to get to know one another once again. In Kiss and Cry, Calinda and Ramirez meet at 20 and 22, respectively. Both are athletes at the top of their game, and when her parents and coach object to the relationship, Calinda cut things off. They meet ten years later, and though Ramirez is about to move to another country, they spend his remaining time in Manila to get to know each other once again, even if their relationship seems to come with a preset time limit. Both of these stories beautifully examine how people change, and sometimes those changes can make a relationship stronger.
Both of these stories take place in fantasy settings and feature heroes shouldering a heavy load of self-recrimination paired with partners whose ability to live freely both shames and fascinates them. In This Boy is a Professional Wizard, Chiharu is one of the few people who can use magic, and his job is to use that magic to save people. The pressure he places on himself grows and grows, and when he meets Toyohi, he believes his magic is the only reason Toyohi or anyone could possibly love him. In Undaunted, Kelas is a werewolf traumatized by his years held prisoner by vampires. When he’s saved by Roshan, he decides he must pay back this debt. Through his love for Roshan and the new friendships he makes, Kelas learns to believe in his own worth again. People who enjoy romances that showcase the redemptive power of love and friendship will enjoy these.
In this fantasy anime set in the aftermath of a great war, Violet is an orphan and former child soldier who is determined to understand the meaning of the phrase “I love you.” She becomes an Auto Memory Doll—her job is to write letters that perfectly and accurately transcribe the clients’ emotions. Similarly, Kit Rocha’s Ashwin is a deadly super soldier genetically modified to be cold and unfeeling, but who learns to understand love, friendship, and family. Both of these stories allow the reader to learn and grow along the way, as they examine their own understanding of emotions and the place they hold in our lives.
All of these stories feature chance online meetings that lead to offline happiness. In Recovery of an MMO Junkie, our heroine Moriko dives into online role-playing games to pass her time. Her online persona is the hunky hero “Hayashi” and she befriends a kind healer named Lily. As Hayashi and Lily get to know each other in the game, Moriko’s life becomes entangled with that of a stranger, a kind office worker named Yuta who, it turns out, isn’t a stranger after all. In Hold Me, Maria and Jay have a relationship that started in the comments of Maria’s blog and led to emails and texts. They’re friends, with hopes for more, but neither has taken that leap. When Maria meets an infuriating jerk IRL, she complains to Jay about him—I think you see where this is going. This is a hilarious and moving book about what happens when online friends become real world enemies (to lovers of course, because this is a romance!). In Team Phison, restaurant owner Phil unwinds from the stresses of work by playing video games. When he’s matched with a player who clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing, Phil decides to show Tyson the ropes. As their online relationship grows into something more, they’ll have to overcome real world problems like age differences, long-distance dating, and insecurity. All of these stories are perfect for those who enjoy the complexities of technology and modern relationships, and how technology is often described as isolating but brings people together as well.
Alyssa Cole is an award-winning author of historical, contemporary, and sci-fi romance. Her books have received critical acclaim from The New York Times, Library Journal, BuzzFeed, Kirkus, Booklist, Jezebel, Vulture, Book Riot, Entertainment Weekly, and various other outlets. When she’s not working, she can usually be found watching anime with her husband or wrangling their menagerie of animals.