When you don’t have to deal with network television standards and practices, the definition of “romance” can range from sweet, chaste conversations to full-out sex scenes. But the perfect romance is, like real life, a mix of all genres — love can happen amid the most tumultuous circumstances or the most cliche of settings. Whether it’s high schoolers experiencing first love or thirtysomethings who have been around the block (and back), there are many ways to fall in love.
The shows below are some of the best romances available to stream on Netflix, and they run the gamut between absolutely smutty trash and pure first love feelings.
Listen, if “romantic” you mean “sexy AF,” then Bridgerton is the show for you. It’s the first Netflix series from Shonda Rhimes, a regency-era romance following the romantic exploits of the Bridgerton family in early 18th century London. It’s based on a series of romance novels by Julia Quinn, and the first season follows a steamy romance between eldest Bridgerton daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and the smokin’ hot Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page). Their chemistry is electric, and while the first half of the season is a lot of longing glances and chaste flirting, the second half is essentially softcore sex scenes. Don’t watch it with your mom.
Sure, this Fox sitcom was about a quirky (or, rather, “adorkable”) woman who moves into a loft with three dudes and the hijinks that ensue. But it was also one of television’s best slow-burn romances, as type-A Jess (Zoey Deschanel) and underachiever Nick (Jake Johnson) fell in love over the course of many seasons. (Not to spoil it for you, because there’s definitely a will they-won’t they dynamic for a long time, but this is television. Of course they will.)
She’s Gotta Have It
The thing you know going into Spike Lee‘s series adaptation of his 1986 film of the same name is that this is a show about Nova (DeWanda Wise) first and foremost, not the three men with whom she’s juggling relationships (played by Anthony Ramos, Lyriq Bent, and Cleo Anthony). But since knowing yourself is just as important a tenet of a romantic relationship as the actual romantic chemistry, it’s a fascinating look at one woman and how her romances affect her life (and vice versa).
Another contemporary Netflix romance, this anthology from director Joe Swanberg features three seasons of love stories between various people living in Chicago, running the full gamut of what it means to find love in this day and age. Each episode is a standalone episode, which means you can watch any without previous context, but a few characters are revisited at different points in their lives. Not all of the storylines are romantic — it’s more of a musing on modern life in general — but it’s a relatable look on what it means to date and live in the 21st century.
Diana Gabaldon‘s Outlander book series, which provides the source material for this Starz drama, isn’t strictly romance. It’s also got action, adventure, sci-fi, and time travel. But it’s the steamy sex scenes that stand out (and have helped create a veritable army of obsessed fans). When World War II nurse Claire (Caitriona Balfe) time travels to 18th century Scotland, she navigates her new world with the help of a hot-as-hell Scot (Sam Heughan). Their love story is at the center of the show, with plenty of action in between. There’s also some violence (including the sexual kind), so be forewarned that it’s not all swooning and missed connections. It’s half-period drama and half-romance, which makes the sexy scenes all the more intense.Lovesick
This sweetly romantic British series about Dylan (Johnny Flynn), a man who reconnects with his exes and learns new revelations about his romantic history in the process originally had a different, punny name — Scrotal Recall, which makes sense since the reason he’s contacting these women is because he came down with an STD and has to contact his past partners. But the budding love story between Dylan and his BFF Evie (Antonia Thomas) is so sweet you spend the entire time rooting for them to realize their feelings for each other while also becoming invested in Dylan’s past relationships. It’s a delightful show that benefited from a name change, no matter how accurate (and funny) the original title might’ve been.
There’s a reason the Shonda Rhimes medical drama has been on the air for the better part of two decades and counting. It’s gotten a little more serious over the years, but it started out pretty frothy — about young surgeons learning lessons and hooking up while trying to balance their work and personal lives — and you can still always count on some sexy hookups (by network television standards, at least) amidst all the medical maladies.
You might not believe this, but Renee Zellweger starred in an entire Netflix series that premiered in 2019. In the vein of the most underrated ’90s movie genre, the erotic thriller, Zellweger plays an extremely rich woman who makes an indecent proposal to a young couple — a night with baseball player-turned-first responder Sean (Blake Jenner) in exchange for an obscene amount of money, and financial security for Sean and scientist wife Lisa (Jane Levy). It is bonkers-level fun in addition to being sexy, which makes it the perfect trashy binge.
Crash Landing On You
Netflix has invested heavily in K-dramas of late, and one of the most fun, romantic binges of 2020. When a South Korean heiress accidentally paraglides into North Korea and literally crashes into a North Korean soldier — yes, that is literally the plot of this show — hijinks ensue (and yes, they fall in love). A North Korean defector on the writing staff means some of the details about North Korean life are ultra-accurate, but mainly this is an escapist, romantic love story about people from two different worlds.
On My Block
Like Grey’s Anatomy, On My Block isn’t strictly a romance. But the ’90s teen comedy clearly drew inspiration of the John Hughes classics of the 1980s, which means that budding romance is clearly at the heart of several storylines. Sure, you’re watching teens share sexual tension, which can get weird when you think too hard about it, but you’re also seeing people learn more about themselves and form their own identities at a particularly fraught time in their lives, which is relatable at any age.
If you like your high school shows as sexy and outrageous as possible, this Spanish series is for you. Part murder mystery, part high school drama, Elite takes its cues from Gossip Girl in terms of treating its teen characters like adults — which means, since this is very European and very risqué, you’re watching hot Spanish teenagers played by twentysomething actors hook up a lot. Sometimes that level of addictive drama is what you need, and Elite will fit the bill.
This Netflix comedy was inspired by the relationship between creators (and real-life married couple) Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust, and follows two young people as they embark on a relationship — and the fun, awkward, romantic, sexy, and difficult experiences that entails. Rust also stars as the nerdy Gus, who falls in love with messy cool girl Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) in Los Angeles.
Comedian Mae Martin created and stars in this series, which draws plenty of inspiration from her own life, about a recovering addict and comedian who struggles with her demons while diving into an all-consuming relationship with her new girlfriend. Not only does it show how the rush of new love can manifest in sometimes destructive ways, it also tackles the fluidity of gender and sexuality and what that means in the dating world of the 21st century.
Jane the Virgin
This CW rom-com was imagined in the style of a telenovela — which means that there are plenty of classic soap opera twists amid the story of a young woman who is accidentally artificially inseminated. Plus, there are not one but two sweet love stories, between the titular Jane (Gina Rodriguez) and her cop boyfriend, and between Jane and her accidental baby daddy. It’s funny, charming, romantic, sometimes silly, and very loving at the same time.
Discover that soapy Spanish dramas are extremely up your alley? Then you’ll also want to check out this series, based on novels by Elísabet Benavent about a woman who turns to her three best friends for support while navigating a troubled relationship with her husband and writer’s block in her professional life.
There is nothing more universal than summer love as a teen, and this Italian drama follows Summer and Ale, two people from very different backgrounds (one a small town girl, the other a famous motorcycle racer) as they slowly fall in love over the course of a summer on the Adriatic coast, this romantic Italian series follows the love story that blossoms between a street-racing motorcyclist and a woman determined to leave her small town behind and see the world.
Composer Kris Bowers brought in the Vitamin String Quartet and others to transport contemporary pop favorites to the 19th Century.
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