You may have heard of New Queer Cinema—the term, coined by critic B. Ruby Rich, recognized a spate of vibrant films by queer filmmakers, featuring queer characters, contending with the social mores of the 1990s. (Think of Todd Haynes’ Poison or Cheryl Dunye’s Watermelon Woman, for example.) But what’s your read on New Queer Lit?

There’s something special going on in LGBTQ+ fiction in the last five years. In subject, in genre, in language, and in structure, queer authors, illustrators, and translators are inventing new ways to push the boundaries of narrative. Post–Drag Race, post-Glee, post–Obergefell v. Hodges—amidst challenges to bodily autonomy, self-determination, and accessibility of queer books—there’s been a profusion of great queer novels featuring more diverse experiences than ever.

Impeccable stylists like Garth Greenwell and Ocean Vuong offer fresh takes on queer aesthetics. K-Ming Chang and Henry Hoke are experimenting with the fantastic and the bestial. Torrey Peters, Casey McQuiston, and Darcie Little Badger center characters whose identities are relatively underrepresented in mainstream fiction—trans, bisexual, and asexual, respectively. Little Badger, like fellow National Book Award honoree Malinda Lo, is doing it in YA, proving labels need not limit fiction lovers in their enjoyment.

We’re always on the lookout for rich depictions of how queer characters claim the right to live as they see fit. The following list of groundbreaking, influential recent novels includes 11 of our favorite contenders for inclusion in the New Queer Lit canon.

The protagonist of Nicole Dennis-Benn’s stunning sophomore novel, Patsy (Liveright, 2019), imagines a bold new life for herself in New York, where she’ll be free to live and love as she desires. But the high price of this fresh start includes leaving her 5-year-old daughter behind in Jamaica. Patsy makes the leap, but reestablishing an intimate relationship with her girlhood love proves to be an impossibility. Instead, she must martial her bravery and pluck to build a new dream for herself and her family. In a starred review, our critic called it a “profound book about sexuality, gender, race, and immigration that speaks to the contemporary moment through the figure of a woman alive with passion and regret.”

Casey McQuiston is part of a queer vanguard resetting romance. Their debut novel, Red, White, and Royal Blue (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2019), makes use of the absolutely irresistible enemies-to-lovers trope in the story of Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of the president of the United States, and His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales. This “clever, romantic, sexy love story” (which received a starred review) became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, and McQuiston hasn’t stopped there: They’ve gone on to pen the bestselling bisexual romances One Last Stop and I Kissed Shara Wheeler as well as the forthcoming novel The Pairing (Aug. 6)—their first to feature a trans protagonist.

As you can tell by his titles, Ocean Vuong has a penchant for elegant, unforgettable turns of phrase. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press, 2019) is told in a finely wrought series of letters by a young man to his illiterate mother, exploring their familial history in Connecticut, Vietnam, and beyond. Pouring out heart and hurt in heartrending detail, the narrator knows his recipient may never receive his sentiments, yet this is a truth he must tell. A finalist for the 2019 Kirkus Prize, this novel is “a raw and incandescently written foray into fiction by one of our most gifted poets” (starred review).

Another Kirkus Prize finalist, Cantoras by Caro De Robertis (Knopf, 2019), is the unforgettable story of five queer Uruguayan women, living highly constricted lives under the dictatorship of the late 1970s, who build a refuge by the sea. Their sanctuary is not inviolable, and interactions with interlopers greatly change the course of all their lives. Decades hence, we see what they’ve made of themselves, together and apart. “A stunning novel about queer love, womanhood, and personal and political revolution,” according to our starred review, Cantoras impresses upon us that answering a call to love is just about the bravest thing a body can do.

The unnamed narrator of Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020)—a book that in many ways defies categorization—seems to be the same expatriate American teacher we met in Greenwell’s heralded debut, What Belongs to You (2016). Still living in Sofia, Bulgaria, his focus has shifted to an intoxicating relationship with a student. “Sadomasochism, unprotected sex, the narrator’s voyeuristic attraction to one of his students: They are all elements of the story, portrayed in Greenwell’s precise, elegant style,” said our starred review. The erotic writing in this precise and provocative volume is especially gripping.

Darcie Little Badger’s standout fantasy novels focus on communities she holds dear. Elatsoe (Levine Querido, 2020) is the story of Ellie, a brilliant, self-confident, asexual Lipan Apache teenager with the power to communicate with the ghosts of animals (a power passed matrilineally by her six-great-grandmothers). When her cousin dies under questionable circumstances, Ellie takes the reins of a paranormal investigation in an attempt to bring justice and peace to their family. “This groundbreaking introduction to the fantasy genre remains relevant to Native histories even as it imaginatively looks to the future,” said our starred review. (Little Badger recently gifted us an equally excellent prequel, Sheine Lende.)

“What does it mean to queer a lineage? What does it mean to find queerness in one’s family history? What could that look like? And what could the possibilities be?” These are among the questions K-Ming Chang sought to explore in Bestiary (One World/Random House, 2020), she told me on a classic episode of Fully Booked. “A visceral book that promises a major new literary voice,” according to our starred review, Bestiary considers the trajectories of three generations of Taiwanese American women—the youngest of whom grows a tiger tail overnight after an altercation with her mother. Steeped in myth and magic, this weird, wonderfully profound novel boasts language that palpitates.

In Memorial by Bryan Washington (Riverhead, 2020), Benson and Mike, a Houston-based mixed-race couple in their late 20s, seriously contemplate their potential as individuals and as a couple. As their story takes us from Texas to Osaka, Japan, and back again, we learn about the specificity of their lives and loves from alternating perspectives. Washington’s accounting of different love languages and touches exchanged between men—fights, sex, caresses, and collisions—is especially fine. Our starred review calls it a “subtle and moving exploration of love, family, race, and the long, frustrating search for home.”

A big-deal debut with indisputable staying power, Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters (One World/Random House, 2020) is jampacked with the most delectable entanglements: Ames wants his former partner, Reese, to become another mother to the child he conceived with his new lover, Katrina. When Ames was with Reese, he was Amy, a trans woman; Reese is a trans woman who yearns to become a mother; and Katrina is a cisgender woman (and Ames’ boss). Peters daringly breaks new narrative ground in this “wonderfully original exploration of desire and the evolving shape of family,” according to our starred review.

Malinda Lo won the National Book Award and Stonewall Book Award for her sixth novel, Last Night at the Telegraph Club (Dutton, 2021), “a beautifully written historical fiction about giddy, queer first love,” according to our starred review. The lover at the center of the novel is Lily Hu, a teenager in 1960s San Francisco who, when we meet her, has yet to experience same-sex attraction. All that changes when an advertisement for a performance by a male impersonator directs her to the Telegraph Club, where she begins the empowering process of naming her desires and claiming a queer identity.   

Open Throat by Henry Hoke (MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023) is a slim, sly poet’s novel that had everyone talking in 2023—the one narrated by a queer mountain lion living below the Hollywood sign in the hills of Los Angeles. Estranged from his family and seeking a home, the puma known as P-22 attempts to meet his corporeal and spiritual needs amidst a colorful crowd of human traffic. “Compassionate, fierce, and bittersweet, this is an unforgettable love letter to the wild,” said our starred review.

Editor at large Megan Labrise hosts the Fully Booked podcast.