Romance is a curious genre, given that so many books, films, TV shows, even video games often feature romances but aren’t necessarily of the romance genre. When it comes to romance manga, however, the romance really is the point.
Romance manga also stretches so many different genres, the terms of which can be a little confusing. We’ll cover all these terms and deliver this list of romance manga in the most straightforward and easy-to-digest way possible.
Before we dive in, let’s explore some of the terms and types that are often tied up with the idea of romance manga.
Romance Manga VS Shoujo Manga VS BL Manga
One common overlap is that of romance manga and shoujo manga. Put simply, however, not all romance is shoujo and not all shoujo is romance. The more time passes, the more concepts like shounen and shoujo manga become outdated.
Like how shonen manga is loosely targeted at an audience demographic of boys (therefore stereotypically deal with martial arts, fantasy action, ninja, and superheroes), shoujo manga is targeted at an audience demographic of girls.
This is all exhaustingly stereotypical but, going off those stereotypes, girls love romance. Ergo, a lot of shoujo manga is romance manga. Not all, however.
The other big subgenre of shoujo manga is the “magical girl” genre (think Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura). Magical girl shoujo manga is very similar to a lot of shonen manga: action-packed monster-of-the-week stories featuring evil bad guys and super-powered good guys.
All of that said, a lot of the library of shoujo manga is, indeed, romance manga. Just because it’s marketed at girls, however, doesn’t mean a whole lot in this day and age. Plenty of girls love shounen and plenty of boys love both shoujo and romance manga.
A lot of romance manga is not shoujo-friendly. As in, it has adult themes that make it inappropriate to a readership of young girls.
Those adult themes don’t have to be sexual. They may be to do with marriage, divorce, death, illness etc. Not all romance manga is fluffy and happy, just like romance in any medium.
Another popular type of romance manga (which won’t be covered here but in another article) is BL. BL manga stands for boys’ love manga (or yaoi manga). This is gay romance manga, often written by women and targeted at an audience of women and gay men.
While we are fans of a lot of queer manga, and we will cover BL manga elsewhere, all of the romance manga covered below is more mainstream straight romance manga.
Best Modern Romance Manga
Now that we’ve got the similarities and differences between romance manga and shoujo manga straightened out, let’s look at some of the best modern romance manga of the current and last few years.
Originally known as Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, Horimiya is a charming and wholesome romance manga, originally written and drawn by Hiroki Adachi (Hero) before being adapted and redrawn by Daisuke Hagiwara.
Horimiya also has a hugely popular romance anime adaptation, and the anime has proven to be a truly outstanding adaptation of the original manga source material.
The Horimiya manga follows the quickly-blossoming romance between high-schoolers Kyoko Hori and Izumi Miyamura.
She is a popular honour student with a secret home life packed with responsibility and raising her adorable little brother.
He is an introverted, all but invisible middle-of-the-road student with a secret private life as a tattooed and pierced himbo.
Horimiya is one of the most popular romance manga ever written. What has helped it succeed so splendidly is how well-developed its two protagonists are. Their dramas, issues, dreams, and daily lives as individuals are fleshed out and given real attention.
Pile a romance on top of this and you have two characters that you not only care about, but whose romance is a joy to watch unfold. Their romance also moves forward refreshingly quickly and smoothly, as opposed to those seen in the majority of romance manga.
Horimiya is a comedy romance manga, but the comedy serves more to keep the story light rather than to be laugh-out-loud funny. Come for the romance and stay for the chuckles.
Another hugely popular comedy romance manga (and anime) is Kaguya-sama: Love is War (known in Japanese as Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai: Tensai-tachi no Ren’ai Zunōsen).
This is a comedy romance manga that leans more on the comedy, with the romance being more of an objective than a daily occurrence.
Set in the student council office of the elite Shuchiin Academy, Kaguya-sama follows the daily lives of the titular Kaguya Shinomiya, vice president of the student council, and the council president Miyuki Shirogane.
Kaguya and Miyuki are equally in love with one another, but both are far too proud to ever admit it. In beautiful episodic fashion, each chapter pits the two against each other in elaborate schemes.
These schemes are either an attempt at making the other confess their feelings or a roundabout way of bringing them closer together.
The plots become more and more ridiculous and elaborate as they go, with spanners thrown into the works by supporting characters Chika Fujiwara and Yu Ishigami.
The comedy of Kaguya-sama is top-notch, with every joke delivery an explosion of laughter. The romance, however, is always there, floating in the background. Every plot and scheme, after all, is fuelled by love, lust, and affection.
Kaguya-sama offers a really refreshing take on romance manga, upending old tropes and reframing the will-the-won’t-they dynamic by turning the narrative into a wonderful blend of shonen battle manga and slice-of-life comedy manga. Genius and heartwarming.
Read More: Sweet & Essential BL Manga
While Orange is considered a romance manga (and it certainly is one) it’s also a lot more than that. In fact, consider this a content warning: Orange deals with a lot of heavy themes concerning mental health and suicide.
Orange straddles quite a few genres, including romance, slice-of-life, and even the supernatural. It’s also a short manga, available in two oversized volumes that you can binge over a weekend.
This makes Orange a satisfyingly complete and focussed manga experience.
The story of Orange closely follows a group of friends, the main character of which is high-schooler Naho Takamiya.
At the start of a new school year, Naho receives a letter from someone who claims to be her future self. Future Naho explains that her biggest regret was her failure to save the life of a boy named Kakeru Naruse.
The letter has arrived on this particular day because it is the same day that Kakeru joins their school in Matsumoto from his former life in Tokyo. Kakeru is quickly assimilated into Naho’s group of friends, becoming their sixth member.
The letter which Naho received is filled with a list of detailed instructions on how to save Kakeru’s life. Naho must decide whether or not to trust and follow these instructions each day.
Meanwhile, in the future, Naho is married to Hiroto, and we are occasionally sent forward into their life as they reminisce about their high school days ten years ago, and about their now late friend Kakeru.
Orange is a beautiful, hard-hitting story of love, friendship, mental health, and the responsibilities we have to and for one another. It’s a romance manga, for sure, but it’s also so much more. And Ichigo Takano is a genius mangaka for putting together something as beautiful as Orange.
Existing in a similar sweet and comedy-focussed sphere as Horimiya and Kaguya-sama, Wotakoi is a romance manga with a light and funny twist. Its name (Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii in Japanese) is a clever portmanteau of otaku and the japanese word for love (koi).
Wotakoi is a refreshing romance manga for two reasons. The first is that its protagonists are adult office workers, not teenage high-schoolers. The second is that they are both closet nerds trying to pass for ordinary and diligent workers.
Narumi, a fujoshi with an obsession for yaoi manga and anime, joins a new company and, in order to make a success of her job, simply needs to keep her hobby a secret. Quickly, however, she meets and falls in love with Hirotaku, a video game-obsessed otaku who works at the same office.
This central premise offers a lot of laughs and sweet moments, but it also highlights — as the title lays out — the difficulties of love and romance for otaku.
This is explored in a surprisingly varied number of ways, all of which serve to keep the series interesting as it goes.
I mentioned above that not all romance manga are shoujo manga. Well, this one is. Snow White with the Red Hair (Akagami no Shirayukihime) is a shoujo manga that has been running for an awful long time.
If you were sold on Orange in part because of how short and tight it is, getting into something like Snow White with the Red Hair is a big ask. But, for many, it’s worth it.
This fantasy shoujo series follows Shirayuki (literally Snow White) a herbalist of the Tanbarun kingdom. Her story, at the beginning, is very loosely inspired by the Snow White fairy tale.
Shirayuki is a refreshingly capable and self-realised female protagonist who turns down the advances of the local Prince Raji. When she snorns him, cuts her hair, and flees, she falls into the company of the neighbouring kingdom’s Prince Zen.
After saving Zen from a poison apple that was sent from Prince Raji and meant for her, she establishes herself as a herbalist of Zen’s royal court and, to the surprise of nobody, a romance between the two slowly blossoms.
If you’re a fan of romance and fantasy manga, as well as European fairy tales, Snow White with the Red Hair is a romance shoujo manga right up your alley.
Although having originally been published in Monthly Shonen Magazine, Noragami (Stray God) is still a beloved romance manga, just with a few more fantasy and isekai elements pulling it along.
Noragami follows middle-schooler Hiyori Iki, who meets an unfortunate fate involving a bus. This accident places Hiyori in the unique position of being aware of two, and able to interact with, two other worlds, known as the Near Shore and Far Shore.
The titular Stray God is Yato, a kami without a shrine. Yato is eager to make a name for himself as a god, and Hiyori wishes to have her human body repaired. Thus, a long and fantastical journey together begins.
Noragami ticks a lot of boxes. It satisfies fans of fantasy and isekai manga, while also catering to the tastes of shounen and shoujo fans alike. It’s an all-round crowd-pleaser and a great romance manga for that exact reason.
If there’s one genre of manga that makes a lot of us cringe, myself included, it’s harem manga (and, by extension, harem anime). I have always been pretty clueless as to its appeal beyond slimy fan-service.
However, when The Quintessential Quintuplets (Go-Tōbun no Hanayome) kept turning more and more heads, it became hard not to pay attention. And what I found was something surprisingly wholesome. For a harem manga.
Feel free to skip past this one if you know that it won’t speak to you. But, if you’re at least a little intrigued, this is the only harem manga I’ve ever been able to not only stomach, but actually really enjoy.
I’m going to outline the premise here and, if you roll your eyes and keep scrolling, I won’t blame you. Futaro is a high school student, hired by the Nakano family to be a private tutor to a group of quintuplets: Ichika, Nino, Miko, Yotsuba, and Itsuki.
The story’s very beginning reveals to us a wedding chapel and the fact that Futaro will eventually be married to one of the titular quintuplets. However, the identity of the girl remains unknown, predictably, until the end.
What makes this harem manga so wholesome is the lack of any exhausting harem tropes. Futaro is a likeable protagonist with a sad background.
His father is buried by debt and his mother is no longer here. The quintuplets are terrible students and some of them refuse to be tutored by Futaro at all.
As the story progresses, Futaro builds a friendship with each of the Nakano quintuplets, and we are always led by the nose towards the mystery reveal: which one will he eventually marry?
The Quintessential Quintuplets also has a popular anime adaptation (available on Crunchyroll) which is an incredible amount of fun and every bit as wholesome.
However, the art of the manga is particularly gorgeous, lovingly detailed and beautifully textured. Both are worth your time but the art of the manga wins out.
Also known by its English translation Blue Spring Ride, this is a shoujo romance manga that epitomises the will-they-won’t-they narrative. It injects grounded, often harsh and dark, themes and events to offer readers a romance manga with real weight and substance.
In that regard, Ao Haru Ride is a shoujo manga that falls more in line with Orange than any of the more upbeat manga on this list. Ao Haru Ride is a fairly beloved romance manga with a dedicated following, especially in Japan.
The story follows sixteen-year-old Futaba whose first love has returned from a long stint of living in Nagasaki. However, Kou is not the boy she remembers; he is now aloof and guarded. We soon learn that this is because, while living in Nagasaki, Kou lost his mother.
Ao Haru Ride is a mature and hard-hitting story that really showcases how life throws down obstacles to happiness, and how we often build those obstacles ourselves due to naivete, self-destructive tendencies, and an inability to see the future or read the past.
This is a series with plenty of twists and turns that are worth experiencing first-hand, and a romance manga that comes highly recommended.
The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Momochi-san Chi no Ayakashi Ouji) is a supernatural romance manga inspired by the world of Japanese shinto folklore.
The story begins with Himari Momochi, an orphan with nothing to her name. On her 16th birthday, she inherits the Momochi family estate, though she is warned that it is said to be haunted. However, desperate Himari has no other choice but to go there.
When she arrives, the stories turn out to be true. The Momochi house straddled the line between the human and the spirit world.
The mansion is also already occupied by Aoi, a young man who entered the house as a boy and unwittingly became its spirit guardian. His human existence has been all but erased and he takes the form of a Nue yokai (but sexy).
Aoi’s role as guardian of Momochi house was originally meant for Himari, and it is more a curse than a gift. Himari agrees to live in the house with Aoi, and to find a way to lift the curse so that Aoi can finally leave the mansion and return to his old life.
Consider this one a bit of a wild card. Anyone who has already read A Girl on the Shore may not consider it a romance manga, and that’s kind of true. It’s more complicated than that. But if you like your stories to be rocky, troubled, lustful, and angry, you’ll love this manga.
Inio Asano, most famous for his philosophical coming-of-age series Goodnight Punpun, has here penned a manga that exists in a single volume.
A Girl on the Shore (Umibe no Onnanoko) is set in a nowhere seaside town and follows the angry, lust-and-hate-fuelled romance between Koume and Isobe. These are two bored and horny teenagers looking for fun and satisfaction.
While this is not a sweet and warm romance manga, it is a very true-to-life story for countless teenagers the world over. Koume and Isobe are angry and resentful teenagers, full of tension which they help each other relieve through intense and taboo sexual meetings.
As the manga progresses, their narrative becomes more complicated, with the lines between lust and love starting to blur.
This is not an easy manga to read. It is full of raw, explicit depictions of sex, and these characters are very angry, very unlikeable, but very human and vulnerable people.
A Girl on the Shore may or may not be a romance manga (it depends who you ask) but it is certainly a masterpiece.
Best Classic Romance Manga
It’s kind of difficult to know where to draw the line between classic and modern manga. Modern series’ can be classics-in-the-making, and drawing a neat chronological line across a specific year is hard.
Novels are deemed classics when they hit their 100th birthday but that certainly doesn’t apply to manga. So, what we have here are a handful of manga that are a little older, and have built up a cult status as beloved shoujo and romance manga.
Few shoujo and romance manga have as much of a beloved fanbase as Fruits Basket. This is a series that got a serviceable anime adaptation many years back and has since received the ‘brotherhood treatment’ with excellent results.
Natsuki Takaya’s classic shoujo manga tells the story of Tohru Honda, a girl who lost her mother and now lives in a tent in the woods.
Tohru is certainly down on her luck but she keeps on smiling regardless. She is the epitome of a glass-half-full character, clinging to hope as much as her strength will allow.
One day, Tohru stumbles upon the home of her classmate, Yuki Soma, a traditional and secluded Japanese house. Yuki’s older brother, Shigure, is a laid-back stay-at-home author who welcomes Tohru into their home.
The Soma family secret is soon discovered, however, and Tohru is burdened with the knowledge that each member of the family is possessed by an animal of the Chinese zodiac.
When hugged by a member of the opposite sex, members of the Soma clan suddenly transform into their animal form, often resulting in awkward and hilarious situations.
The series goes to some very dark and strange places, with the cat character, Kyo, being the most endearing and fascinating member of the manga’s cast.
Fruits Basket is a reverse-harem slice-of-life romance manga for the ages, and a beloved classic of the shoujo manga genre.
Like the modern Kaguya-sama, the classic Ouran High School Host Club (Ōran Kōkō Hosuto Kurabu) is a shoujo manga that leans hard on comedy to satirise the tropes and themes of the shoujo genre.
In the vein of Shakespearean comedy, Ouran High School Host Club centres around a case of mistaken gender identity.
Haruhi is a student of the titulaer Ouran High School. One day, while looking for a place to study, she stumbles upon the unofficial clubroom of the Host Club.
The Host Club is a small group of boys who play host to female clients by entertaining them with tea and cakes. At first, after breaking something valuable, Haruhi has to work off her debt as the club’s errand boy, before eventually becoming a fully-fledged host herself.
Haruhi’s appearance causes the host boys to mistake her for a boy and, even after the truth comes out, they still want her as a host for her natural ability to charm and entertain the girls of the school.
It’s a strange story and, as I said, one that will strike a chord with fans of Shakespeare’s comedies. But this is a series that has endured for years and will go on being a firm favourite of many shoujo manga fans.
This is another adorable comedy romance manga that has stood the test of time. Love Com follows the ongoing and endearing friendship of two students at a school in Osaka.
The gimmick is that the girl, Risa, is unusually tall and the boy, Atsushi, is unusually short.
The two are labelled a comedy duo by their classmates (Osaka is known across Japan as the nation’s comedy capital, and the series even has its characters speaking the Kansai dialect).
Their story is complicated by the arrival of other love interests who better match our protagonists’ heights, but things certainly do not go so smoothly.
This is a very sweet, wholesome, albeit silly and strange series. It certainly highlights the pettiness of our societal obsession with aesthetics, whether intentional or not.
Maid Sama! (Kaichou wa Maid-sama! or The Class President is a Maid!) is another hugely popular classic romance manga with an unusual premise.
The title of the series certainly paints a particular image which, when peeled back, actually reveals a far more mature romance story.
The titular president/maid is our protagonist: Misaki Ayuzawa. As a student at a school that was once only for male students, Misaki has a lot to prove. She rises to the top and becomes student body president.
However, Misaki has a student: in order to help support her sick mother, Misaki works part time at a maid cafe.
When popular boy Takumi Usui finds out the truth, he keeps it to himself. Usui is intrigued by Misaki and the two soon fall in love.
The story continues to twist and turn from here, so I won’t say anything more, but it does continue to throw a few surprising curveballs. They’re dramatic, sure, but also mature and have a lot of social commentary wrapped up in them.
Maid Sama! is another classic romance manga, the reputation of which continues to this day.