If you want dark and twisty, explore the best dark academia books and learn all about this popular style trending on social media.
After reading two dark academia books recently, I fell down the rabbit hole investigating this interesting new subculture.
What is dark academia?
Dark Academia books aren’t a genre itself, it’s a descriptor that can cross different genres. For starters, dark academia books have an academic setting, usually modeled on older institutions like Oxford or Cambridge. Often the students focus on the classics and are obsessed with death and morality. Think secret societies and academic competition that turns deadly.
Sometimes dark academia takes on a fantasy twist and other times it’s perfectly realistic contemporary fiction, usually with a deadly twist.
In fact, recently, the dark academia aesthetic, full of brown tweed, cardigans, and satchels, has gone viral on TikTok.
Have I piqued your interest? Whether you are looking for dark fantasy books or psychological thrillers, explore these dark academia books to see if they deserve a spot on your reading list.
The Best Dark Academia Books
The dark academia book that started it all, Donna Tartt’s debut novel is a modern Greek tragedy that details the moral fall of a group of students at a private Vermont college. Classics professor Morrow only admits a handful of select students to study Ancient Greek. After determinedly breaking into this close-knit group, Richard Papen is surprised to find a world of highly flawed characters losing their grasp on morality. Secrets, lies, betrayal, and eventually murder become justifiable actions as they slip further and further in their descent into evil.
In her first novel for adults, Leigh Bardugo jumps into dark academia books with a dark tale set among the Ivy League elite. After surviving a horrible multiple homicide, Alex Stern is offered a full-ride scholarship to Yale. There she is put in charge of watching the secret societies, who have been dabbling into dark and dangerous magic.
One of the best dark academia books in ya, Ace of Spades takes on institutional racism at a private high school. When Devon and Chiamaka are chosen as prefects for their senior year, they think they have it made. Until an anonymous texter, Aces, shares Devon’s private photos and spills Chiamaka’s secrets. But much more than their high school reputation is on the line in this twisty young adult thriller.
V. E. Schwab
College roommates Eli and Victor have the same intelligence and ambition. Obsessed with adrenaline and near-death experiences, they theorize that under the right conditions people can develop extraordinary abilities. Ten years after their experimentation goes horribly, Victor breaks out of prison to get his revenge on Eli, who is hunting every superhuman he can find.
At Scholomance, a cutthroat school of magic, students are expected to graduate or die. The main rule: don’t ever walk the hallways alone for monsters lurk everywhere. A standoffish loner, El doesn’t have the advantages of the bigger cliches, but she does have a powerful magic that tends toward destruction. When she befriends the popular hero of the school, El must balance her survival with the survival of the other students in one of the best dark magic books out there.
Dark Fantasy Books
Although the Library of Alexandria burned down centuries ago, the Alexandrian Society has always existed in secret, a vast repository of magic. When Libby graduates from a magical university, she hopes to never see her annoying co-valedictorian Nico again. But when Nico and Libby are both selected to compete for an exclusive fellowship with the Alexandrian Society, they join four other candidates vying for five open spots in one of the newest dark academia books.
The coming of age story of Quentin Coldwater, a high school senior obsessed with a fantasy book series about the magical land of Fillroy. After Quentin is admitted to an exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, he discovers that Fillroy is real, but it’s a much darker place than he imagined. If you’ve loved the television adaptation of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy, be sure to try these dark fantasy novels.
A Lesson in Vengeance
A year after her girlfriend’s death, Felicity Morrow returns to Dalloway School, a prestigious campus rumored to be haunted by five students, who some claim were witches, who mysteriously died. Felicity wants to forget the dark witchcraft that obsessed her last time but she feels drawn to a new student who is researching the Dalloway Five. But will the past repeat itself?
After her mother’s death, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews sees the summer residential program at UNC-Chapel Hill as a perfect escape from the memories that haunt her at home. Yet, on the first night, she witnesses a demon feeding on human energies. When a mage tries to erase Bree’s memories of the attack, he accidentally unlocks her magical powers and memories from her mother’s death. As Bree infiltrates the secret student society to find answers, she must decide how far she is willing to go for the truth.
Blue, the only non-clairvoyant in a family of physics, has always been told that her first love will die when she kisses him. Which has never bothered her, until she meets Gansy, a golden boy from the nearby private school Aglionby. Blue usually stays away from The Raven Boys of Aglionby, but she finds herself caught up with Gansy and his friends on a quest into the supernatural.
Dark Psychological Books
M. L. Rio
If you want thriller dark academia books, you’ll want to check out Rio’s stunning mystery about seven students studying Shakespeare. While studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver Marks and his theater classmates get caught up with dangerous drama backstage. When one student ends up dead, they use all their acting ability to convince the police that they are blameless. After serving ten years for a crime he may or may not have committed, Oliver Marks is released and the soon to be retired Detective Colborne is desperate to know what really happened.
When her former best friend Jamie, the top student at their elite prep school, dies, Nancy Luo is shocked to find that she is among the prime suspects. An anonymous social media user called the Proctor keeps implicating Nancy and her three friends. Somehow, the Proctor seems to know all the secrets that should have died with Jamie. As Nancy and her friends work to uncover the Proctor before too much is revealed, Nancy begins to wonder if her friends have even more secrets than she thought.
When her niece’s roommate is gruesomely murdered, Mariana, a therapist still grieving her husband’s tragic death, returns to Cambridge University, her alma mater, to investigate. Quickly, she suspects Edward Fosca, the charismatic professor of Greek tragedy and leader of a secret society of female students called The Maidens.
At a highly selective MFA program at a New England school, Samantha is repulsed by her fiction writing cohorts, a group of cutesy rich girls who all call each other “Bunny.” When Samantha begins to befriend the Bunnies, she gets drawn into their sweet but sinister world. As reality begins to blur, Samantha’s friendships come into a deadly collision course with the Bunnies.
More Dark Academia Books to Read
Graduate student Zachary Rawlins stumbles upon a mysterious book full of fantastical tales, only to find himself in the narrative. He follows hints to a secret library, preserved by guardians intent on protecting it. From there he finds himself swept into a magical mystical world. With a story this complex, you might not be able to settle for just one reading.
When Mary Shelley and Lord Byron had a competition to write the best horror story, Shelly came up with the idea for Frankenstein. Grieving his mother, young ambitious scientist Victor Frankenstein conducts a series of unorthodox experiments to create life and ends up creating a creature 8 feet tall. Horrified by his creation, Frankenstein spends the rest of his life haunted and trying to destroy the thing he has made.
In Ishiguro’s imagined future, carer Kathy H reminisces about her childhood at the English boarding school Hailsham. Right away, you know something is off about these kids and this school. Although raised with plenty of luxuries, the students are not told anything about the outside world, until they begin to discover the truth for themselves. One of my least favorite books, Never Let Me Go gets a mention among the dark academia books because it’s one of the most popular dystopian novels among adults.
What do you think? Would you read dark academia books?