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What are Bad Boys in Romance Books? A Helpful Guide

What are Bad Boys in Romance Books? A Helpful Guide

For the longest time, all I cared about books is that there are enemies to lovers relationships in the book. If I really think about it, I had never really asked for ‘bad boys’.

So what are bad boys in romance books exactly?

What are bad boys?

A man who does not conform to approved standards of behaviour, especially in a particular sphere of activity”.

“Bad boys” is a term commonly used in literature, film, and popular culture to refer to male characters who exhibit rebellious, edgy, or unconventional traits. These characters often possess a certain charm or allure, drawing others towards them despite their reputation for being unpredictable or engaging in questionable behaviour.

In literature, bad boys are often depicted as charismatic, confident, and mysterious individuals who push boundaries and challenge societal norms. They may have a rough exterior but possess a hidden depth or vulnerability that adds to their appeal. Bad boys are known for their rebellious nature, a tendency to break rules, and a penchant for living on the edge. Their allure lies in their unpredictability and the thrill of venturing into the unknown.

While bad boys may possess certain traits that are not traditionally seen as desirable, they often have redeeming qualities that make them intriguing and captivating characters. Their complex personalities, troubled pasts, or inner struggles can create an emotional depth that draws readers in. Additionally, bad boys are often involved in intense and passionate relationships, adding an element of excitement and drama to the story.

My Experience

This topic popped into my head after YouTube suggested me a video of a BookTuber talking about bad boys (thanks YouTube). So to answer the question, and to understand, I first used Goodreads to search ‘Popular Bad Boys Books’. By looking at what kind of books are categorized as ‘bad boys’, I can get a better idea of what kind of characters are bad boys.

And immediately a few familiar titles popped out. And then a few favourite titles popped out.

It ended up that half the guys that I liked, half the books that I read, and half the enemies-to-lovers relationships I had read involved bad boys. So it seems like I’ve already lied to half the population by saying I’ve never read bad boy books, and probably will never enjoy them (lol oops).

The reason it never exactly occurred to me that these boys would be bad boys is because…well, I just assumed they’re jerks. And not all of them are exactly ‘playboys’, so I didn’t really think of them as bad boys.

Be Careful to not stereotype bad boys!

Not all bad boys are the same! Although alpha bad boys are usually the poster people for the image of bad boys, a bad boy doesn’t have to be a heart-breaker or an alpha. There are many kinds of bad boys. Of course, the Lothario men such as most notably James Bond are only after the alphas as the most well-known bad boys for a reason. They are true heart-breakers. They are men who are gifted with natural charms to swoon women to their bindings.

The Ace (the total package)

But even if the guy is not exactly a heart-breaker, he counts if he’s the total package – and at the same time is a dickhead who speaks insulting sarcasm as a third language (Jace Wayland, Mortal Instruments). Sherlock Holmes actually counts as a bad boy as well. His unattainable and mysterious ways kind of make him hot, and he always gave up on an image of a man who doesn’t (or isn’t supposed to) have any weaknesses. 

Tough on the outside, soft on the inside

Then there’s the group of guys who seem really tough on the outside but is actually a really good guy with strong humane morals on the inside, and is only a wreck because of their past or what he still has to go through (Reed, Paper Princess). This category also expands to guys who are arrogant, sassy and flirty men (usually the ‘second guy’ in books, e.g. Rhysand from Court of Thorns and Roses and Loki from Trylle Trilogy). They are arrogant, but more jokingly than seriously. And often the sarcasm and jokes are just a mask to hide some of their brokenness, and what they had to go through in the past and present. It’s characters like these that had actual depths and layers to their characters – depths that we often only get glimpses of. This category of guys to me are the more realistic ones, generally because their flaws make them real.

Guy with a tragic past

This bad boy archetype is characterized by their tormented past and emotional depth. They carry the weight of their experiences, often haunted by trauma or tragic events. Beneath their tough exterior, they hide a vulnerable side, struggling to reconcile their pain with the world around them. Readers are drawn to their complexity and yearn to uncover the layers of their troubled psyche, hoping for redemption and healing. A lot of their problematic behaviours are therefore explained away (for better or for worse) by this tragic experience and trauma that they have. This may be a problem if their behaviour is too unforgivable.

The bad boy with a redemption arc

These bad boys are known for their rebellious nature, but they’ve undergone a transformative journey. Once immersed in a life of chaos and defiance, they find themselves on a path of redemption. Through the power of love and personal growth, they strive to leave their troubled past behind and embrace a more honourable existence. Witnessing their transformation from a rule-breaker to a force for good adds a captivating layer of character development.

The stalker (?)

This is a rising trope and male lead persona in the romance reading community (go check out the most popular book Goodreads). While the term may initially raise concerns, it’s important to explore the nuances of this archetype. The stalker character delves into themes of desire, obsession, and intense attraction. They exhibit unwavering focus on the object of their affection, often going to great lengths to ensure they are noticed and cherished. While some readers find the dynamic thrilling and emotionally charged, it’s crucial to approach this trope with caution and prioritize consent, boundaries, and healthy relationships. As with any trope, it’s important to distinguish fiction from reality and maintain a critical perspective. Stalkers are very dangerous in real life, please do not be romantically attracted to them for your own safety (call the police ASAP)!

Tough guy that is only soft towards her

This is a beloved trope in romance novels. This character is known for their rough exterior and hardened demeanour, which they display to the world. However, when it comes to the love interest, they reveal a tender and vulnerable side that is reserved exclusively for them. This contrast between their tough exterior and their softness toward the protagonist creates a captivating dynamic filled with tension and emotional depth. Readers are drawn to the complexity of this character, as they witness the transformation from a stoic and guarded individual to someone capable of deep love and affection.

The moments when the tough guy lets their guard down and shows their softer side are often cherished and cherished by readers. It’s an exploration of vulnerability and the power of love to break down walls. This archetype offers a gratifying journey of discovering the layers beneath the tough exterior and witnessing the growth of both the character and the relationship.


But ultimately, no matter what kind of bad boys we’re reading about, what makes them the best is how we watch they don’t ever start with the best intentions, but slowly evolve into the truly good person in them that was suppressed for so long through their growing love for the heroine. This is also why bad boys make some of the best have/love relationships.

 What do you think about this post? What are some of your favourite bad-boy characters?

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