Happy Asexual (Aromantic, Demi-, Gray-) Awareness Week! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a good 101. The tl;dr version:
- Some people don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction.
- The difference between attraction and libido is that attraction says “This one!” and libido says “Now!”
- Romantic and sexual attraction are a spectrum, from a- (none) to gray- (sometimes) to allo- (typical) to hyper- (extreme).
- “Demisexual” or “demiromantic” is a common subtype of gray-ace/aromantic identity that describes someone who isn’t attracted to anyone unless they have some sort of emotional connection to them first.
- A- and gray- people are generally said to be on the asexual (ace) spectrum (ace-spec) or the aromantic (aro) spectrum (aro-spec), collectively a-spec.
- Whether or not someone is asexual or aromantic doesn’t necessarily determine whether they have ever had sex, whether they are in a relationship, whether they want sex or a relationship, what their gender is, how social they are, or who they might be attracted to in other ways (sensual and aesthetic attraction are also things).
- Yes, you can be both asexual and aromantic, or alloromantic and asexual, or allosexual and gray-romantic, or whatever combination you can think of.
- No, aromantic people aren’t heartless, loveless, or robots. No, they’re not aromatic. No, asexuals don’t reproduce by budding. No, you’re not the first one to make that joke.
- Famous asexuals, who may also be aromantic but no one appears to have asked them: Sherlock Holmes (in the books), Janeane Garofalo, Tim Gunn, Edward Gorey.
Now that we’re all somewhere near the same page, welcome and keep reading for a list of 21—count ’em, 21—recommendations with major ace, aro, demiace, demiro, gray-ace, and/or gray-ro characters (none of whom are Sherlock Holmes). Thanks so much to Corey Alexander and Claudie Arsenault on Twitter for recommendations, along with Claudie’s Aromantic and Asexual Speculative Fiction Database, from which I gathered many titles.
Like my last big roundup, I’ll be categorizing the books, and here’s my key:
- Format: Novel, novella, short story, graphic novel, or webserial
- Genre: Romance, science fiction, fantasy, or general fiction, with a YA note for young-adult titles
- Representation: Ace (asexual), aro (aromantic); demi- and gray- are used as modifiers (note that “allo,” short for “allosexual,” means “not asexual”; “alloro,” short for alloromantic, means “not aromantic”)
- Sex: This is a yes or no question (sex/no sex) in these books; all sex is consensual, I promise
- Relationship: If there is one, I’ll note the gender of the participants (f for female, m for male, nb for nonbinary) and the type of relationship (romantic, sexual)
1. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Novel, fantasy, ace, no sex, no relationship
There’s a decent chance that if you are reading this article, you’ve already read this book. Nancy, the main character, is asexual, and she explains it in a way that was intentionally 101-level on the author’s part. (There’s also some Trans 101.) There’s a little bit of conflation of asexuality and lack of desire to date, but otherwise, it’s a book with some fantastic characters and amazing worldbuilding. It’s a great place to start.
2. The Princess Who Didn’t Eat Cake: A Demisexual Fairy Tale by Lynn E. O’Connacht
Short story, fairy tale, demi, no sex, f/m relationship
This isn’t really so much a short story as a fairy tale used as a grand metaphor to explain the author’s experience of demisexuality, and if you’ve never really come across the concept before, this is as good a place to start as any. Bonus: it’s free on Amazon!
3. Thaw by Elyse Springer
Novel, romance, ace, sex (not explicit), f/f romantic relationship
This book features a geeky librarian and her equally geeky model girlfriend, and it was an adorable delight to read. Abby, the librarian, is asexual, and she does end up worrying when and whether to disclose that to Gabrielle, her allo girlfriend. It hits all the right beats for a romance novel, and the emotional arc is very satisfying.
4. The Fire’s Stone by Tanya Huff
Novel, fantasy, ace/aro, implied/off-screen sex not involving the aroace character, m/m romantic/sexual relationship not including aroace character
This is a little bit of an outlier for this list as it is a much older book (originally published in 1990) and doesn’t actually use the word “asexual” or “aromantic” at all, but the author has said that she would have used those words had she been aware of them at the time. Chandra, one of the three main characters, has absolutely no interest in any sort of romantic or sexual relationship at all. Chandra and the two other leads have to return a MacGuffin in order for everyone not to die, complete with soul bond.
5. “How To Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” by A. Merc Rustad
Short story (available as audio or transcript), science fiction, ace/aro, no sex, platonic relationships (background m/m sexual/romantic)
A lot of the other works on this list are fluffy—in fact, most of them are, or they have conflict that is unrelated to sexuality. This one is not fluffy. The lead, Tesla, is asexual and aromantic and wants to become a robot to make life easier regarding both asexuality/aromanticism and depression. Tesla spends most of the story experiencing suicidal ideation. That having been said, it’s an excellent story, and it was included in The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 (edited by Joe Hill and John Joseph Adams). Bonus: the author, who is transmasculine nonbinary, is local to the Twin Cities.
6. Overexposed by Megan Erickson
Novel, contemporary romance, demisexual, sex (quite a bit), m/m relationship (sexual/romantic)
You might recognize Megan Erickson’s name from Strong Signal, the book she cowrote with Santino Hassell that I included in my geeky romance roundup. This isn’t a geeky romance—it’s about a former reality-TV cast member and a closed-mouthed loner who meet while hiking the Appalachian Trail. Levi, the TV guy, recently lost his sister, and Thad, the loner, has some grief of his own, so that’s front and center. Thad’s demisexual, and the word is used on the page. He’s also got trust issues that are unrelated. Although Overexposed book four in a quartet, it stands on its own other than the epilogue, which you can safely skip.
7. A Gentleman’s Position by K. J. Charles
Novel, historical romance, demisexual, sex, m/m relationship (sexual/romantic)
K. J. Charles also had a novel on the geek romance list, yes, and really, it’s worth reading pretty much everything she’s written. This is book three in a trilogy and parts of it aren’t going to make sense (the political background aspect) without the first two volumes. However, this is a rare book with an ace-spectrum character intentionally written into a historical setting. The word “demisexual” wasn’t coined until much later than the Regency era, so Richard doesn’t have this word to describe himself, but the author makes it as clear as she can on the page without using it and has confirmed it elsewhere on the Internet.
8. An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows
Novel, portal fantasy, aromantic, no sex, various polyamorous relationships (mostly background; the aro character is in a polyamorous triad with another woman and a man, but we don’t meet them on screen)
This novel is book one of a series; it’s about an Australian girl who falls through a portal into another world and all the consequences that come of that. There are multiple point-of-view characters, including the protagonist, Saffron and another person who fell through a portal once upon a time, Gwen, who is in her mid-50s and is the aromantic character. (The word “aromantic” appears on the page!) The book’s a little gruesome and contains a lot of grim topics, but it’s surprisingly optimistic for all of that.
9. Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver
Novel, science fiction/dystopian, ace/demi, possibly aro, no sex, various polyamorous relationships
The city of Parole, where everyone is a superhero, is burning. Regan, a lizard man, can’t remember who he is or where he’s from, but he’s in the middle of everything. The story is a hopeful one, despite the dystopian setting, and has excellent PTSD and anxiety representation in addition to the ace-spec characters and various genders.
10. Iwunen Interstellar Investigations by Bogi Takács
Web serial, science fiction, demisexual protagonist, no sex, hints of a romantic relationship
This serial, split into bite-sized episodes that are each a little over 1,000 words long, is just about to start its first true season—but you can start with the prologue season, which introduces us to the grumpy professor Ranai and their (future) partner, the cheerful, effusive Mirun. It’s really cute and has feral smart garments!
11. City of Strife by Claudie Arsenault
Novel, fantasy, ace/aro, no sex, some background relationships
This big, sprawling fantasy novel is the first in what will be at least a trilogy (book two came out October 22). There are half a dozen point-of-view characters, including elves, halflings, priests, spies, thieves, and a nobleman who’s been missing for 130 years. Easily as important as any character is the city of Isandor itself, perched precariously on a cliff and full of fantastic architecture.
12. Hello World by Tiffany Rose and Alexandra Tauber
Novel, science fiction/cyberpunk, ace, one sex scene (including ace character), m/f romantic/sexual relationship
In a future where human beings are used as hard drives, Scott needs some information on one of those drives, so he kidnaps her. I’d recommend this book for fans of Mr. Robot, although despite the plucky group of hackers and the big evil corporation, the overall feel is much more optimistic.
13. The Book of How to Live by Rose Lemberg
Novella, fantasy, ace, f/f romantic relationship (hinted at), background polyamorous relationships
Efronia and Atarah are both women with out magic in a world that prizes magical ability, and they both run up against the limits of this. The novella is set in the author’s Birdverse, named after the deity, and has non–Western European influences.
14. “How My Best Friend Rania Crashed a Party and Saved the World” by Ada Hoffman
Short story, science fiction, aro, no sex, friendship (background f/m romantic relationship)
Emma’s a Relator; she’s got thousands of friends. (She’s also ace/aro.) Rania’s a World Saver, but she’s got a deadbeat boyfriend she can’t break up with without risking her World Saver status. Can Emma leverage the power of friendship to fix this? It’s an adorable story with some intriguing worldbuilding.
15. “Nkásht íí” by Darcie Little Badger
Short story, horror, ace/aro, no sex, friendship between women
Annie and Josie, two young Native American women, listen to a story told by a grieving father and husband and go to investigate what might have been a murder. It’s not terribly obvious, as the story’s quite short, but Josie is aromantic, and the main emotional thrust of the story is the friendship between her and Annie.
16. The Trouble by Daria Defore
Novel, contemporary romance, aro, yes sex, m/m sexual/committed relationship
Danny is aromantic (and allosexual) and the leader of a punk band. Jiyoon is alloromantic and allosexual and is Danny’s Accounting 101 TA, but does any of that stop them from having a relationship? Read the novel and find out! The book does a good job of showing the relationship negotiations that are often necessary between any two people, but especially people with differing romantic or sexual orientations.
17. “The Occidental Bride” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew
Short story, science fiction, ace, no sex, f/f romantic relationship
This is an arranged-marriage story about cultures and ownership and respect set in Hong Kong, where the white (Finnish) bride is the exotic foreigner. The language is beautiful, and the story is intricately layered.
18. M.F.K. by Nilah Magruder
Webcomic turned graphic novel, fantasy, ace, no sex, friendships
This is one of two works on this list that have characters who are only known as ace or aro through Word of God—that is, the author said so but never indicated it in text, like J. K. Rowling and Dumbledore. I tried to avoid these types of ace characters because I think we can do better, and 19 out of 21 items on this list show that we can. (The other one is number 21.) More importantly, this graphic novel, originally published as a webcomic, is about a couple of desert-dwelling young people, Abbie and Jaime, and their adventures. Nilah Magruder is a black woman artist and writer who is also asexual, and she described her book as ““asexual AF.” You can read a preview on her website here.
19. Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith
Novel, science fiction/postapocalyptic/YA, demi, no sex, many relationships
Ross, a prospector in a New Weird West in a time after all technology is destroyed, is rescued outside of the town of Las Anclas, and his presence (along with that of a book he has found) is the catalyst for a series of events. He and four other point-of-view characters—Mia (the demisexual character), Jennie, Yuki, and Felicite—must work hard to save Las Anclas from Voske, who is bent on conquest. It opens with a bang, and while there’s a bit of a lull after that, it’s a fast 400-page read with a diverse cast of characters.
20. Jughead Vol. 1 by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson
Graphic novel, contemporary teen comics, aro/ace (although just the word “asexual” is used on the page), no sex, various background relationships
The story is about a charming jerk of a teenage boy who likes food and video games more than people. What’s not to love? Also, Jughead is touch averse, which is something that often goes along with asexuality but doesn’t have to. For fans of the Riverdale TV show, this is a . . . very different interpretation of the character.
21. No More Heroes by Michelle Kan
Novel, near-future/urban fantasy, aro/ace, no sex, no particular relationships
Someone is killing off Vigilantes—teenagers and young adults with Abilities (superpowers)—and a group of teens need to stop it. A number of the characters, including Clare, Fang, and Fisticuffs, are on the ace spectrum, as the author says in the character sheets, but it doesn’t necessarily come up in the book as it simply isn’t relevant.
This doesn’t represent but a small slice of what’s available. For example, there were two books on my geek romance list that could also work here: Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee and Radio Silence by Alice Osmond. There are also dozens more books and stories in the aforementioned Ace/Aro Speculative Fiction books database, and hundreds of books you can find on lists in Goodreads. So what are you waiting for? Go read!