When you were growing up, you might have heard Pauline Réage’s Story of O, Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus, or even D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover upheld as the end-all, be-all “dirty” book. All of that changed in 2011, when E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey took the reading world by the throat.
Even today, when romance is in the midst of a Renaissance, no title has quite managed to unseat Fifty Shades as the flagship for kinky lit. If you’re looking for a dark, sexy story with BDSM elements, you’re going to love the 20 best romance books like Fifty Shades of Grey that we’ve picked out for you below.
So let’s talk about 50 Shades, shall we? The novel began as a web-published work of fanfiction, specifically an AU—that’s alternate universe—version of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. Ahead of publication, James removed all traces of the novel, which was then known as Master of the Universe, from the Internet. Bella and Edward became Ana and Christian, and a star bestseller was born.
Fifty Shades of Grey centers on Anastasia “Ana” Steele, a 21-year-old woman who embarks on her first sexual relationship with noted kinkster Christian Grey. Christian is really into BDSM—or at least, he’s into what most people think of when they think of BDSM: blindfolds, whips, chains, and abuse.
Is Ana and Christian’s Relationship Abusive?
Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey does depict an abusive sexual relationship.
Although there’s plenty of room for problematic pairings in fiction—even in romance—educators within the BDSM community warn against taking Fifty Shades of Grey as a how-to guide to kinky sex. As The Atlantic noted in 2015: “[T]here are healthy, ethical ways to consensually combine sex and pain. All of them require self-knowledge, communication skills, and emotional maturity in order to make the sex safe and mutually gratifying. The problem is that Fifty Shades casually associates hot sex with violence, but without any of this context.”
Put simply, Christian isn’t initiating Ana into a world of ethical kink, where precautions are taken to avoid misunderstandings and harm. Instead, he’s manipulating her into his own personal sex toy.
None of this is to say that you can’t like Fifty Shades of Grey, nor that you shouldn’t. Problematic romances exist because readers like them, and that’s OK! There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a sexy book in which the consent is dubious, nor is there anything wrong with you if that’s what you like. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to read books about abusive relationships. It’s perfectly fine to say that a book just isn’t for you.
For those of you who do like Fifty Shades of Grey and want more BDSM-themed romances—abusive or consensual—here are the 20 best romance books like Fifty Shades of Grey:
Best Romance Books Like Fifty Shades of Grey
Haunting Adeline by H.D. Carlton
If Fifty Shades of Grey was too wild for you, stay away from Haunting Adeline. The novel centers on Adeline, a 26-year-old writer who has just inherited her late grandmother’s gothic manor house. There, she discovers that her great-grandmother—the victim of an unsolved homicide—fell deeply in love with the man who stalked her. Gigi’s last days soon begin to mirror Adeline’s, as the young writer finds herself targeted by an obsessive killer.
Praise by Sara Cate
The first novel in Sara Cate’s Salacious Players’ Club series, Praise follows Charlie, whose rebound from her most recent breakup doesn’t exactly go according to plan. She’s just trying to pick up the security deposit from her no-good ex…when his father, the owner of a BDSM club, mistakes Charlie for his new sub. The mistake mortifies Emerson, who tries to make it up to her by giving her a position as his platonic secretary. The more time Charlie spends around Emerson, however, the more she comes to realize that secretary isn’t the only position she wants from him.
Dead Man Walking by Giana Darling
Priest isn’t the kind of man girls are supposed to dream of marrying. That goes double for good girls like Bea. An enforcer for The Fallen Men MC, Priest makes his living in blood, killing those who have wronged The Fallen in some way. There’s no chance he’ll ever even notice Bea. Then a serial killer strikes close to home and makes it clear that Bea is his next target. Suddenly, Bea finds herself under Priest’s protection, in Dead Man Walking.
Scream for Us by Molly Doyle
Scream for Us centers on Quinn, a young woman who decides to let loose after she meets three masked killers at a Halloween party. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Ghostface have been pretty popular Halloween costume choices since their characters first appeared in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, so why is Quinn drawn to the three otherwise anonymous partygoers dressed up as them? This reverse harem delight takes some very dark turns in its 122-page run.
Not So Kind Regards by Clio Evans
The office gets steamy in Clio Evans’ Not So Kind Regards. Doms Inferna and Art work for different companies housed in the same building. He crosses a line when he steals her coffeemaker, leaving her with no choice but to put him in his place—and oh boy, does she ever. Turns out, Art’s actually a switch, and he doesn’t exactly mind having Inferna for a dom. Throw his lover, Calen, into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a grand, monster-loving time.
Titan by Jillian Graves
Ten years ago, Jillian lost her money and her burgeoning career to the underhanded dealings of her mom and manager. Not satisfied with taking Julianna’s earnings from her childhood acting career, her former manager now wants to control her life and finances via a conservatorship. In a bid to maintain her independence, Julianna turns to Titan, a gargoyle billionaire sugar daddy, for support. But her new beau is out to do more than finance her lifestyle, in Titan.
Blood of My Monster by Rina Kent
Someone in the military wanted Aleksandra’s family dead. Now, several years after their murders, she’s finally close to learning the truth, in Rina Kent’s Blood of My Monster. Aleksandra trained in the military for years, disguised as a young man named Sasha. Her growing affinity for her superior officer, Kirill, reaches a fever pitch just as her revenge plans start to bear fruit…but will their budding relationship survive the fallout?
Kink, edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell
R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell edit this collection of short stories about BDSM and other kinky relationships. Kink features stories from a number of prominent authors, including Alexander Chee (How to Write an Autobiographical Novel), Melissa Febos (Girlhood), Roxane Gay (Hunger), Zeyn Joukhadar (The Map of Salt and Stars), and Carmen Maria Machado (In the Dream House).
Three of Hearts by Lillian Lark
Three of Hearts follows Zephyrine, a harpy, as she navigates a three-way sexual relationship with her two male lovers, a wolf shifter and a demon. Harpies aren’t supposed to keep their male sexual partners around for long, but something about Greg makes Zephyrine want to reconsider tradition. Meanwhile, Greg’s former partner, Asa, is willing to accept the harpy’s presence if it means he can get his ex back into his life. Can the trio find an arrangement that satisfies them all?
There Are No Saints by Sophie Lark
Rival serial killers wage a secret war for one woman’s life in Sophie Lark’s There Are No Saints. Struggling painter Mara thinks her luck may be changing when Cole, a successful sculptor, takes notice of her work. She doesn’t know that he’s been pulling strings behind the scenes in her life, getting her exactly where he wants her. She certainly doesn’t suspect that his rival, Alastor, has also been keeping tabs on her. Cole has claimed her as his next victim…but things get complicated when he realizes he wants something more.
Hooked by Emily McIntire
Emily McIntire’s Hooked retells Peter Pan as a dark romance. Young, innocent Wendy has just become a pawn in a longstanding conflict between her father, Peter Michaels, and his rival, James “Hook” Barrie. Their relationship could have been a simple fling, but then James found out who Wendy’s father was. Now, with one of the city’s most powerful men slowly wrapping her tighter and tighter around his little finger, Wendy could be in grave danger. But the more time James spends with Wendy, the more he comes to see her as so much more than a mere pawn.
Captive Prince by C.S. Pacat
If you liked Fifty Shades of Grey’s problematic relationships, give Captive Prince a try. After Kastor steals the Akielon throne from his half-brother, he strips Damianos of his rank and banishes him to Vere with 23 other slaves as part of a peace offering. Damianos—now called Damen—could hardly be in a worse predicament; he’s the man responsible for the death of the Veretian heir, Prince Auguste. Now, Auguste’s younger brother, Prince Laurent, holds the true king of Akielos’ life in his hands.
Neon Gods by Katee Robert
Neon Gods is a Hades and Persephone retelling that E. L. James fans are sure to love it. The story here centers on Persephone, whose hopes of escaping Olympus’ exhausting political intrigue are dashed when her mother arranges for Persephone to marry Zeus. Knowing she’ll never be able to leave Olympus if she becomes Zeus’ wife, Persephone makes a desperate bargain with Hades—a man who has more than one reason to want Zeus dead.
Priceless by Miranda Silver
Miranda Silver’s Priceless centers on Christina, a college student whose life is already falling apart when her power is shut off for non-payment. Luckily for her, a wealthy student overhears her pleas for help and steps in. Patrick will pay Christina on a regular basis, provided she agrees to enter into a long-term sexual relationship with him—one that’s free of romance…or at least, supposed to be.
American Queen by Sierra Simone
Sierra Simone’s American Queen is a contemporary Arthurian retelling that readers of polyamorous romance won’t want to miss. Greer isn’t interested in love; her heart’s been broken too many times. Then Ash walks back into her life. Things didn’t exactly end well between them, but their situation these days couldn’t be more different. Ash is now President Colchester, and he wants to make her his FLOTUS. He tasks his BFF, Embry, with convincing Greer to rekindle their old flame. What Ash doesn’t know, however, is that Embry and Greer have a sordid history of their own.
Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh
The first novel in Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, Slave to Sensation imagines a world in which a race of people with intense psychic abilities eradicated emotion to ensure the survival of their species. Now, the Psy can’t feel anything. At least, they aren’t supposed to. Sascha knows that having emotions is wrong, even dangerous. Once she learns that the Changelings believe a Psy serial killer is targeting their people, however, Sascha realizes that she—and her forbidden feelings—might be the only one capable of solving the crime.
Dr. Stanton by T L Swan
Five years ago, Ash Tucker got pregnant after a one-night stand. She never expected to see the father of her child again, much less become his employee. Dr. Stanton follows Ash and her paramour, Cameron Stanton, as they attempt to navigate their complicated history while trying—and, of course, failing—to remain professional.
Stroke of Midnight by K Webster
K Webster’s Stroke of Midnight isn’t your average Cinderella story. Ash’s father gave his daughter’s college fund to his new wife, leaving Ash with no choice but to take a janitorial position at the Halcyon Building. The Halcyon happens to be where the ultra-powerful Constantine family keeps its business headquarters. Catching Winston Constantine’s eye could be the end of Ash’s financial difficulties. But Winston has certain…tastes…he’ll expect her to appeal to.
Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West
Two middle-aged autistic women find love in this Hanukkah novel from the late Xan West. Eight Kinky Nights centers on Jordan, who moves in with her friend, Leah, following the dissolution of Jordan’s marriage. Leah’s an asexual kink educator determined to help Jordan figure out her own BDSM preferences and tastes. The more time the two women spend together, however, the deeper their affections grow.
The Rope Artist by Fuminori Nakamura (May 2, 2023)
Fuminori Nakamura’s The Rope Artist isn’t like a lot of the other books on this list. This gritty, Japanese suspense novel follows Togashi and Hayama—a new police officer and his more seasoned colleague—as they attempt to unravel the mystery of a series of murders that seem to be connected to an underground BDSM scene.
There you have it—the 20 best romance books like Fifty Shades of Grey. If you’re looking for answers to all your burning questions, check out the FAQs below:
What is a steamy romance novel?
Steamy romance novels tend to have higher heat levels—meaning they have more explicit sex scenes than low-heat, “fade to black” romances. Steamy novels don’t usually heat up all at once, however. They’re often what we call “slow burns,” in which the main characters spend a lot of time pining for each other and laying the foundation for their sexual relationship before they actually do the deed.
What is the spiciest book of all time?
That’s entirely a matter of opinion, but we can offer you a few spicy classics to read. Try out any of the following:
Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
Story of O by Pauline Réage
Kama Sutra by Vātsyāyana
Addicted by Zane
What is the most explosive novel since 50 Shades of Grey?
E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey was the best-selling book of the 2010s, so you’d be hard-pressed to find a book that’s been more successful in the years since the trilogy first appeared in stores. With that being said, we think that the series most comparable to Fifty Shades is Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarians, a spicy alien romance series that took over TikTok’s reading community in 2021.
In Fifty Shades of Grey, Ana tells Christian that Thomas Hardy is her favorite author.
Was Anastasia Steele a virgin in the book?
Yes, Ana was a virgin in Fifty Shades of Grey. In fact, she had not had much sexual contact of any kind before meeting Christian Grey.
Which books did E.L. James write?
Erika Leonard, more popularly known by her pen name E. L. James, is a bestselling British author who penned the popular Fifty Shades of Grey Series. Here is a full list of E.L. James’ books in order:
Non-Series Books by E. L. James
The Mister (2019)
Fifty Shades of Grey Series by E. L. James
Fifty Shades of Grey (2011)
Fifty Shades Darker (2012)
Fifty Shades Freed (2012)
Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian (2015)
Darker: Fifty Shades Darker as Told by Christian (2017)
Freed: Fifty Shades Freed as Told by Christian (2021)
Is Fifty Shades of Grey considered erotic fiction and erotic romance?
Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey falls into the steamy romance and erotic romance fiction book genres.
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