20 Dark Academia Books To Read This Year

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Take a walk on the gothic, preppy side of the literary world with these delectable dark academia books.

Rich with gothic vibes, intellectual settings, and mysterious histories, dark academia books are perfect for a night of razor-sharp wit and unsettling twists.

Read on for the best dark academia books.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

A mysterious benefactor. A secret society. A deadly ritual. 

Hidden behind the ivy-laced walls of Yale is a society of one-percenters that have a hand in more than the stock exchange. They also dabble in magic.

Former drug user and high school dropout Galaxy “Alex” Stern may be Yale’s most peculiar Freshman, a fact she is all too aware of upon being plucked off the streets of Los Angeles and given a full-ride to the prestigious school. 

Determined to uncover what led to her unexpected acceptance, Alex soon discovers that it is all because of her ability to engage with ghosts. Thrust into the secret underground of Yale society, Alex must learn how to navigate the deadly halls if she ever hopes to survive her first year of college. 

Dark, disturbing, and deliciously complex, Ninth House is an unputdownable must-read from Leigh Bardugo, the bestselling author of Six of Crows, that will take you on a journey riddled with twists and turns. As one of the best dark academia books on the market, you cannot go wrong with this page-turner.

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A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

When you attend a school that’s hazardous to your livelihood, you learn to protect yourself. At least, that’s how El Higgins has managed to survive this long. Despite the benefits of working with others, El is a loner, and if there is anyone that evokes her ire, it is Orion Lake, the golden boy of the Scholomance. 

A Deadly Education is a beautifully written adult Harry Potter-esque series rich with dark magic, deadly monsters, cutthroat peers, and complex world-building, perfect for fans of dark academia books. 

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Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé 

At Niveus Private Academy, two students are chosen to become prefects, a position that puts them in the running for the prestigious title of valedictorian. This year, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo get that opportunity. 

Everything seems to be getting off to a spectacular start until an anonymous texter that goes by Aces targets them, spilling their secrets and threatening to derail their carefully planned futures. 

Pretty Little Liars meets Gossip Girl in Ace of Spades, a brilliant novel that explores topics of racism, homophobia, elitism, and white supremacy. It is undoubtedly one of the best young adult books of 2021 and perfect for readers interested in dark academia. 

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Bunny by Mona Awad

Samantha Heather Mackey feels like the odd one out in her MFA program. The prestigious New England university is home to privileged rich girls and pretentious professors, making Samantha feel all the more removed, especially with her scholarship status. 

Everything changes when she receives an invite to the highly-selective and ultra-secretive “Smut Salon,” an invitation that takes her into the heart of the mysterious and dangerous world of the Bunnies, a sinister clique with disturbing rituals and secrets.

Heathers meets Mean Girls with a dash of Stephen King’s Carrie. With biting, darkly funny humor and riveting takes on toxic female friendships, Bunny is an undeniable dark academia read that has become one of the best satirical books of 2019.

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Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by K.F. Huang

It is 1828, and from the moment orphan Robin Swift was swept off to London by the enigmatic Professor Lovell, Robin understood everything he did – his studies and intensive language training – were all in preparation for the day he walked through the distinguished halls of Oxford University, also known as Babel. However, Robin soon learns that to support Babel means betraying his homeland. 

K.F. Huang’s brilliant novel is a dark academia masterpiece rich with emotion, history, and beautifully complex characters. Not only does Huang address colonialism and imperialism, but she also tells a story that emphasizes the power of language. 

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The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

When graduate student Zachary Ezra Rawlins stumbles upon a strange piece of text that houses a memory from his childhood in its pages, he is swept into a mysterious world teeming with literary wonderlands, enigmatic pirates, and elaborate puzzles.

In The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern crafts a lush world rich with adventure and danger, perfect for fans of books with illustrious prose, imaginative worlds, and dark academia vibes.

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The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Every year, six of the most powerful magicians get a chance to compete for a prestigious spot within the secret society of gifted magic practitioners. This year, the chosen few include the following six initiates: Libby, Nico, Parisa, Callum, Reina, and Tristan. All powerhouses in their own right. 

The catch?

Only five will make it to the end. 

Overflowing with deadly magic, intrigue, and hidden secrets, The Atlas Six is dark academia at its best.  

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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

In Oscar Wilde’s stunning classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray, a suggestible young victorian man makes a trade that ensures eternal youth as his recently painted portrait morphs into something grotesque and eerily sinister day by day.

The Picture of Dorian Gray is an exquisite tale that explores morality, social conformity, hedonism, and the distinction between good and evil.  

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

In The Secret History, Donna Tartt follows the lives of a group of students thirsting for something far greater than the trite predictability of their studies, a desire that pushes them toward their enigmatic professor and the promise of transcendence.

The Secret History is a mesmerizing suspense immersed with lyrical prose, complex characters, and intricate plotting. If you are looking for dense dark academia books, I recommend adding this to your bookshelf.

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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

What happens when lines blur, erasing the once-clear distinctions between acting and reality? 

After a decade spent locked behind bars, Oliver Marks is more than ready to open up about the events leading to the tragedy that would irrecoverably change his life – Even if that means returning to the ambitious halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory.

In Rio’s captivating debut, we are treated to an imaginative tale of friendship, betrayal, obsession, and deadly rivalries. If We Were Villains is an utterly enchanting page-turner perfect for fans of books with dark academia, complex mysteries, and Shakespearean plays.

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The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

If there is one thing Mariana Andros would bet her life on, it is Edward Fosca’s murderous alter ego. The esteemed Greek tragedy professor is beloved by Cambridge University’s student body and especially so by the members of a secret society known as the Maidens. 

When Mariana learns from her niece that one of the members of the Maidens has been murdered, she sets out to prove Edward’s guilt and unwittingly uncovers something far darker than she ever could have foreseen.

From the author of the bestselling novel The Silent Patient comes The Maidens, a dark psychological thriller rich with complex characters, unforeseen twists, and eerie atmospheric settings. As one of the best dark academia books of 2021, you cannot go wrong with adding this mesmerizing page-turner to your bookshelf.

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The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue follows the long and lonesome life of Addie LaRue, a young French girl born in the early 1700s. In 1714, she brokers a deal that unequivocally changes the course of her life and sends her on a lonely, unending road of invisibility.  

BookTok is overflowing with unputdownable books, and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of their best yet. Thought-provoking, complex, and beautifully told, V.E. Schwab delivers a mesmerizing tale that is utterly unforgettable. 

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The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

If someone told Avery Grambs a week ago that she would become the sole heir to the massive fortune of the soon-to-be deceased elusive billionaire Tobias Hawthorne, she would have laughed in their face.

To receive her inheritance, she must move into the Hawthorne House and subject herself to the mercy of her benefactor’s disgruntled heirs and suspicious grandsons. 

To survive and come out on top, Avery will have to play the game and unearth the clues left behind by a man who is still playing games, even in death.   

Knives Out meets Truly Devious in the highly readable series from Jennifer Lynn Barnes. Mysterious, unique, and entertaining, The Inheritance Games is an intricately crafted YA bestseller teeming with secrets, high stakes, and twists that you will never foresee. 

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Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Situated within the woods of Pennsylvania stands Catherine House, a prestigious institution that turns out some of the world’s greatest minds and intellects. Those who are selected receive free tuition, room, board, and textbooks. However, for the next three years, they must adhere to the guidelines of Catherine House: No contact with anyone from the outside world, no items or clothes from home, no television or music, and no chances to leave the campus.  

Ines Murillo is more than ready to trade in her nights of adolescence debauchery for long days of rigorous coursework and intellectual discussions. However, the odd rules and strict guidelines begin feeling more like a noose than an escape. All of Ines’ worries come to a crescendo when tragedy strikes, forcing her to look more closely at Catherine House and its sinister secrets.

Catherine House is a haunting, atmospheric novel overflowing with suspense, mystery, and dark, gothic vibes. As one of the best gothic books, I recommend this for fans of dark academia.

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A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life follows the lives of four friends who move from Boston to New York after graduating from a small, prestigious college to achieve their dreams: Willem is the kind and talented actor, JB the confident and sharp-witted artist, Malcolm the timid, aspiring architect and Jude, the enigmatic and brilliant lawyer who serves as the center of his friend group. 

Unflinchingly honest, brutally raw, and deeply moving, A Little Life is a spellbinding tale that tells a story of pain, trauma, and the enduring power of friendship. It is entirely unforgettable.

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Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Ellingham Academy is a prestigious institution with dark secrets and unsolved puzzles. 

Not long after Albert Ellingham founded the academy in the 1930s, he and his three-year-old daughter were kidnapped, and a student was murdered. 

No one has ever solved the mystery of Ellingham Academy. However, true crime aficionado Stephanie “Stevie” Bell plans to change that.

Truly Devious is a young adult dark academia novel overflowing with mystery, intrigue, and a dash of romance. 

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Vicious by V.E. Schwab

College roommates turned superhero archenemies Victor and Eli have only one thing on their minds: Revenge. And if Victor has anything to say about it, it will be he who exacts vengeance.

Let the games begin.

When it comes to crafting beautifully complex storylines and utterly unforgettable characters, V.E. Schwab is a master at her craft. In Vicious, Schwab transports her readers into a world of morally gray superheroes, vengeful villains, and dangerous ambitions. 

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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Scholar Diana Bishop is from a long line of witches. When she unwittingly discovers an enchanted manuscript from Oxford’s Bodleian Library, she traverses a new fantastical world alongside vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont.

Hailed as an adult Twilight, A Discovery of Witches is perfect for fans of Stephanie Meyer. As one of the best dark academia books, I recommend adding this to your bookshelf.

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Malum Discordiae by Ashlyn Drewek

Forever jaded by the deaths of their loved ones, the Corbin necromancers and the Hewitt weather witches remain locked in a bitter, centuries-long blood feud with no end in sight. Nothing and no one could ever hope to unite the two families. 

That is until now. 

When Cassius Corbin returns home six years after his mother’s murder, his plans include finding the long-lost magical folio stolen from his family and attending Tennebrose University: Not getting cozy with the enemy.

Ever since the night Graeme Hewitt unwittingly got in bed with the enemy, the moody, blue-eyed boy has taken up residence in his mind, to his complete and utter disgust. Unable to stay away, Graeme finds himself in an impossible situation that can only spell trouble for the star-crossed lovers.

Malum Discordiae is an unputdownable enemies-to-lovers, dark academia, paranormal MM romance overflowing with dark magic, forbidden love, and intense passion. 

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

After receiving an odd message from her cousin, Noemí Taboad travels to the secluded mansion to check on her. Uncertain of what to expect, Noemí is weary of what she will find in the eerie estate. 

Upon her arrival, Noemí receives a frosty welcome from Catalina’s husband Virgril along with the rest of the Doyle clan. Still, Noemí refuses to be intimidated by the unusual family or their sinister home. Plagued by ghostly apparitions, troubling dreams and odd encounters, Noemí must keep her wits about her before it’s too late.

Lovecraft meets Rebecca in this chilling gothic horror novel set in 1950s Mexico. For a slow-burn horror with grotesque imagery and prose, check out Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic

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