11 Kisses in YA, definitively ranked
As an unapologetic lover of YA, I’ve read through my fair share of kissing scenes. Some of them make my heart swoon to the point where even I can feel the fireworks. Other times, I have to take a small break from reading because the second-hand embarrassment and awkwardness is too much.
Whether it’s the perfectly staged kiss or just incredibly corny and cringeworthy, I can’t stay away. So I present: the kisses in YA, definitively ranked by me, based on the circumstances surrounding the kiss, the passion, and how the couple fares afterwards.
Some notes about this list: it, by no means, encompasses all of the YA kisses ever (please don’t come for me if your OTP isn’t on this list), and there are some spoilers, so stay away if you don’t want to know who ends up with who or what happens at the end!
11. Leigh & Axel
from The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan
In the end, he was the one to take off his glasses and kiss me. But instead of bursting into sparks, my body froze. If I shifted a millimeter, everything would break. Even thinking that word—kiss—was like touching an ice wand to my chest. My ribs seized, freezing solid and spiderwebbing with cracks. I was no longer a firework. I was a thing frozen deep in the Arctic.
Axel’s hands stretched around my back and unlocked me. I was melting, he had released my wind-up key, and I was kissing back hard, and our lips were everywhere and my body was fluorescent orange—no, royal purple—no. My body was every color in the world, alight.
We’d been eating chocolate-covered popcorn just minutes ago, and that was exactly how he tasted. Sweet and salty.
An explosion of thoughts made me pull away. The cloud of debris consisted of remembering: that he was my best friend, that he was the only person I trusted a hundred percent besides Mom, that I shouldn’t be kissing him, couldn’t be kissing him—
Okay so, this is an objectively great kiss (her entire world lit up, you can’t deny it), which is why it’s on this list. But the circumstances of it all places it last because on the same day Leigh kissed Axel, her mother took her own life. Leigh feels so guilty about it as she grieves, and her relationship with Axel, her best friend, becomes fraught. Grief and love are interwoven, and it’s just so sad.
10. Harry & Cho
from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
“Mistletoe,” said Cho quietly, pointing at the ceiling over his head.
“Yeah,” said Harry. His mouth was very dry. “It’s probably full of nargles, though.”
“What are nargles?”
“No idea,” said Harry. She had moved closer. His brain seemed to have been Stunned. “You’d have to ask Loony. Luna, I mean.”
Cho made a funny noise halfway between a sob and a laugh. She was even nearer him now. He could have counted the freckles on her nose. “I really like you, Harry.”
He could not think. A tingling sensation was spreading throughout him, paralyzing his arms, legs, and brain.
She was much too close. He could see every tear clinging to her eyelashes…
Now, this kiss is just awkward and tense. Harry and Cho kiss while Cho is crying over Cedric, her dead ex-boyfriend! Sure, Harry has had a crush on her for the longest time, but even he describes the kiss as “wet” afterwards, which is not the most passionate description. Kissing under mistletoe was cute, but otherwise, not one for the books.
9. Harriet & Will
from Amelia Westlake Was Never Here by Erin Gough
I hear a click.
Someone’s coming in.
In the whole history of our secret storeroom meetings, nobody has ever come in.
Harriet turns in surprise. I glance around the storeroom. A pile of leftover neon-pink arrows is on the shelf in plain view. Our cartoons are up on the wall. We’re here as well, among it all. Whoever walks in the door in five micro seconds, four microseconds, three microseconds, will know everything at a glance. They’ll know who we are. They’ll know who Amelia Westlake is. Harriet Price and Will Everhart in a storeroom together—it’s so unlikely there’s no other possible explanation.
Two microseconds. One.
The door opens and in comes Duncan Aboud and I throw Harriet Price against the wall cartoons and kiss her on the mouth.
As much as I love a romantic breakthrough in an enemies-to-lovers story, Harriet and Will’s first kiss just caused a whole lot of other drama to unfold. Harriet’s girlfriend breaks up with her (over text message!) and the entire school thinks Harriet and Will are in a scandalous affair. Although Will was doing it for the good of the Amelia Westlake identity, it’s definitely not a romantic circumstance.
8. Bella & Edward
from Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
“No,” he continued, “I was thinking there was something I wanted to try.” And he took my face in his hands again.
I couldn't breathe.
He hesitated—not in the normal way, the human way.
Not the way a man might hesitate before he kissed a woman, to gauge her reaction, to see how he would be received. Perhaps he would hesitate to prolong the moment, that ideal moment of anticipation, sometimes better than the kiss itself.
Edward hesitated to test himself, to see if this was safe, to make sure he was still in control of his need.
And then his cold, marble lips pressed very softly against mine.
What neither of us was prepared for was my response.
Blood boiled under my skin, burned in my lips. My breath came in a wild gasp. My fingers knotted in his hair, clutching him to me. My lips parted as I breathed in his heady scent.
Ignoring the talk that preceded the kiss about how Edward found Bella irresistible—not in the romantic way, in the “I-want-to-drink-your-blood” way—this kiss takes place after Edward takes Bella for a run in the meadow, which is pretty cute and scenic. But this gets a lower ranking because Edward has cold lips when kissing Bella. I know he physically can’t help it, but it’s about the little things y’all.
7. Rae and Clara
from The Summer of Us by Cecilia Vinesse
And then she kissed Rae.
Rae froze in place.
The music rushed into her ears, and, slowly, her lips began to soften. Her hands touched Clara’s arms, and Clara’s touched hers. But Rae’s mind was still racing—it was reminding her of all the girls she’d kissed before. Girls at school dances and in front of tube stations and in the darkened art room after school. It brought up a memory of the first girl she’d ever kissed. Dana Silverstein had invited her over for a Grey’s Anatomy marathon when—halfway through the second episode, while some doctor was yelling at some other doctor—they’d leaned together, their lips meeting for a few brief seconds. Ever since then, Rae had kissed girls and they’d kissed her, and it had always been fun and sweet and perfectly right.
But not as right as this.
Not as right as Clara’s lips tasting like cinnamon sugar, or her hands fluttering to Rae’s waist, or the way her hair moved across Rae’s shoulders.
They kissed in PRAGUE! That alone makes it beautiful. Plus, they fit well against each other and this moment feels special between them, like they’ve done this before. (But also, Prague.)
6. Hadley & Oliver
from The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
The line continues to move around them and the customs official gives up for the moment with a frustrated sigh, but Hadley doesn’t notice any of it; she grabs Oliver’s shirt tightly, afraid of being swept away from him, but his hand is pressing on her back as he kisses her, and the truth is, she’s never felt so safe in her life.
A meet-cute in the airport? A kiss right before Hadley & Oliver are separated, unsure if they will ever meet again? The DRAMA! Sure, they’re holding up the customs line and the levels of PDA are high (which must just be awkward for everyone in line), but this kiss just holds so much weight and meaning. You can’t not appreciate it.
5. Emi & Ava
from Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
When we tip our faces to the side, we do it in the perfect movie way—no awkward repositionings, no presses noses. I swear: I can hear the music swelling. But then, our lips touch. The imaginary music goes quiet.
This kiss is simple, yet perfect. Despite this being the first kiss between Emi and Ava, there’s no awkward forehead bumping. With the imagined orchestral music in the background as they get closer and closer, it’s like I can feel their hearts beating in their chests. Look, we’re not saying these kisses are realistic (because when are first kisses ever this perfect in real life?), but this moment is great nonetheless.
4. Jude & Cardan
from The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
I don't have a lot of experience with kisses. There was Locke, and before him, no one. But kissing Locke never felt the way that kissing Cardan does, like taking a dare to run over knives, like an adrenaline strike of lightning, like the moment when you've swum too far out in the sea and there is no going back, only cold black water closing over your head.
Cardan’s cruel mouth is surprisingly soft, and for a long moment after our lips touch, he’s still as a statue. His eyes close, lashes brushing my cheek. I shudder, as you’re supposed to when someone walks over your grave. Then his hands come up, gentle as they glide over my arms. If I didn’t know better, I’d say his touch was reverent, but I do know better. His hands are moving slowly because he is trying to stop himself. He doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want to want this.
He tastes like sour wine.
I can feel the moment he gives in and gives up, pulling me to him despite the threat of the knife. He kisses me hard, with a kind of devouring desperation, fingers digging into my hair. Our mouths slide together, teeth over lips over tongues. Desire hits me like a kick to the stomach. It’s like fighting, except what we’re fighting for is to crawl inside each other’s skin.
Again, I love a good enemies-to-lovers story, and this one is spicy. Despite Jude holding a knife against Cardan’s neck, they still can’t help the uncontrollable desire they have for each other. It takes their relationship to a whole other level, and I’m here for it!
3. Lara Jean & Peter
from To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
I run up to Peter and launch myself into his arms like a shot out of a cannon. I’ve got my arms around his neck and my legs hooked around his waist, and I don’t even know how my body knows how, because I’ve for sure never touched a boy like this in my life. It’s like we’re in a movie and the music is swelling and waves are crashing around us. Except for the fact that Peter’s expression is registering pure shock and disbelief and maybe a drop of amusement, because Peter likes to be amused. Raising his eyebrows, he says, “Lara Jean? What the—?”
I don’t answer. I just kiss him.
My first thought is: I have muscle memory of his lips.
My second thought is: I hope Josh is watching. He has to be watching or it’s all for nothing.
My heart is beating so fast I forget to be afraid of doing it wrong. Because for about three seconds, he’s kissing me back. Peter Kavinsky, the boy of every girl’s dreams, is kissing me back.
I’ll admit it: fake dating is my favorite romance trope. This kiss between Lara Jean and Peter sets them up for the rest of the series. It’s extremely dramatic, but the fact that Lara Jean has muscle memory of Peter’s lips from their first kiss in middle school… they were truly meant to be.
2. Anna & Étienne
from Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
I trail my fingers across his cheek. He stays perfectly still for me. “Please stop apologizing, Étienne.” “Say my name again,” he whispers. I close my eyes and lean forward. “Étienne.” He takes my hands into his. Those perfect hands, that fit mine just so. “Anna?” Our foreheads touch. “Yes?” “Will you please tell me you love me? I’m dying here.”
And then we’re laughing. And then I’m in his arms, and we’re kissing, at first quickly—to make up for lost time—and then slowly, because we have all the time in the world. And his lips are soft and honey sweet, and the careful, passionate way he moves them against my own says that he savors the way I taste, too. And in between kisses, I tell him I love him. Again and again and again.
So I may be biased because this is actually one of the first YA books I read when I was a young tween, but this is just an all-around great kiss. First, they fell in love in Paris. Second, their relationship is a whirlwind, so this moment at the end is well-deserved. Third, it’s just incredibly cute. (Also, “kiss” is in the title, so I can’t not include it.)
1. Aristotle & Dante
from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
I took him by the shoulders. I looked at him. And he looked at me. “You said I wasn’t scared of anything. That’s not true. That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of you, Dante.” I took a deep breath.
“Try it again,” I said. “Kiss me.”
“No,” he said.
“No.” And then he smiled. “You kiss me.”
I placed my hand on the back of his neck. I pulled him toward me. And I kissed him. I kissed him. And I kissed him. And I kissed him. And he kept kissing me back.
The love story between Aristotle and Dante is definitely a slow burn, but it pays off at the end. The book is more of a character-driven story, as the two learn more about each other and grow as you get deeper into it. Their first kiss is simple and soft, like the rest of the book, but you can feel the emotion and intensity behind it. This kiss is the moment you’re waiting for, and you can’t help but do a mini cheer when it finally happens.