Why Do Romance Readers Like Bad Boys?


From bikers to billionaires to heartbreakers, bad boy personalities range the spectrum for many romance novels. Readers gobble up their antics in books, delight in tattoo sleeves on book covers, and revel when he gets the girl. Readers devour it all.

Why is that? Why are novels with bad boys so intriguing?

I blame Jane Austen*. That’s right, I said it.

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When Pride and Prejudice was published back in 1813, a chivalrous, refined, gentleman was the cat’s meow. But Mr. Darcy, Austen’s hero of the book, didn’t exactly fit that mold. He was, in a Regency-era way, one of the first “bad boys” of romance novels.

In chapter three, when Mr. Darcy enters a ball: “His character was decided. He was the proudest, most disagreeable man in the world, and everybody hoped that he would never come there again.”

Well, he’s not off to a good start, is he?

Several pages later, Mr. Darcy says this about the heroine of the novel, “She is tolerable: but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”

And this is said within earshot of her! Ouch.

Yet, readers swooned over Mr. Darcy—and still are centuries later. In 1995, England’s BBC network turned the novel into a mini-series starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.

One of Firth’s first thoughts about his character was, “I thought this is just a guy who stands around for hours driving people to despair.”

True. But people loved him anyway, and how he fell in love. The show was so popular, nearly 40 percent of the country watched the final episode.

Check out 20 Fastidious Facts About BBC’s Pride and Prejudice — Mental Floss

Here are five reasons readers like bad boys in romance novels. And I bet you’ll recognize Mr. Darcy in a couple of these.

  • Readers like seeing a bad boy change for the better

Isn’t that one of the reasons readers like novels to begin with? To see the arc of a character and find out how the person changes? When the power of love brings the crudest bad boy to his knees, there’s something sweet and gratifying about the transformation.

“The reader may be irresistibly attracted to the character just as they are repelled by his action.” Writer’s Digest

  • They like his swag

Let’s face it, bad boys in books are painted with a very attractive brush. They’re almost always ripped. They have piercing, magnetic eyes. They know exactly how to dress. And walk. And they smell like leather or outdoors or musk or something else super-manly. The combination makes them swaggalicious.

  • His life is completely different from their own

The life of a bad boy can be a new, edgy escape that is completely removed from the reader’s life. Books expose a world that a reader may, otherwise, never know. They get the inside scoop without actually having to live a biker’s life, for example. Let’s face it, reading a Kindle is a lot less dangerous.

About bad boys: “They steal the female readers’ hearts, no matter how badly they behave between the pages of a book. Sometimes the badder the better!” Romance University


  • Readers want to know what made him bad

Maybe he was abandoned, abused, or dumped by his first love on prom night. Whatever the reason, readers want to know what makes him tick. With insights on his past, the reader can deem the bad boy not-so-bad after all. And if he can be redeemed, there is hope for all mankind!

  • They like bad boys in books but not in real life

Some people live vicariously through the book’s heroine. They like the roller-coaster ride of taming the bad boy. They blush at the romance. They may even be eating popcorn while their reading. But that’s because it’s make-believe fun. They know darn well they would never sign up for that kind of stress and angst in real life.

“These books are candy for women’s brains. The reader can live vicariously through the heroine and fall in love with the hero, but without any of the consequence.” Psychology Today

For comment below: What do you think of bad boys in romance novels? Why do you like or dislike them?

*And no, I don’t really blame Jane Austen for bad boys in romance. I shamelessly wrote that for shock value. But it is an interesting theory, isn’t it?


Photos by Steven Erixon and Asdrubal luna on Unsplash

Published by Rene Penn

Author. Blogger.

6 thoughts on “Why Do Romance Readers Like Bad Boys?

  1. Some of us may suffer from a “martyr complex” that we want to save the bad boy from his worst self… ahem. Not that I could relate.

    The bad boy turned good or with a hidden tender side is a very appealing character. I think we like people who have more complex dimensions than just being good all the time. It allows us to get in touch with our own inner rebel and darkness as well sometimes. Women aren’t always allowed to be “bad” in the same way, so maybe we like that complementary aspect that we cannot express.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol@trying to save the bad boy. I’m sure it actually works for some people. I’ve just never seen it happen. Only in books. 🙂

      And yes, there is a nice complexity to a bad boy character with tender moments. Great way to keep the reader reeled in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey! So… I kind of disagree with you lol I would argue that Wickham is more of a bad boy than Mr. Darcy. And I would argue that Mr. Darcy doesn’t change but his real character is revealed as we get to know him more through Elizabeth Bennet’s perspective. BUT I fully understand how some people might mistake him for a “bad boy” but I think Mr. Darcy is too honorable and a snob to be a “bad boy”. ACTUALLY, did you read that recent article in The Guardian that says Mr. Darcy has had a damaging effect on modern dating culture?! READ IT. I did a response to it in my own blog and wrote about why dating sux… it’s called Leave Mr. Darcy Alone (lol)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there! I don’t mind that you disagreed. I’m totally up for that. 🙂 And yes, Wickham is a scoundrel. No doubt about it. Thank you for mentioning The Guardian article. (If anyone else wants to see it, it’s here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/oct/07/mr-darcys-reputation-as-romantic-hero-trashed-at-cheltenham-literature-festival) I just read it and laughed that the writer included the same quote from Mr. Darcy that I have in my post here. Ha! I am going to check out your post about leaving Mr. Darcy alone. Let’s say that we certainly agree on that front!


  3. Re point 1, I guess we like to think we can be the ones to change / tame them – which almost never happens IRL. But I agree with point 5 most of all – last a certain age, bad boys can stay on the page…

    Liked by 1 person

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