The 20 Best Adult Dystopian Books – Ultimate Guide

Dystopian novels have images of a terrible future or things we can’t explain, and many people want to take that trip. Not only does it make the society we currently live in seem far better, but we can also identify with the heroes of the stories. Another reason people enjoy dystopia is that it shows us how much control we exert over our lives. 

The 20 Best Adult Dystopian Books - Ultimate Guide

When reading novels of this nature, you may feel empowered when you see people taking action to be a part of something far more significant than themselves. In addition, you can see people trying to do the right thing to improve their future. That is true even if the odds are stacked against them.  

The list that we’ve created will show you characters who strive for those goals and have an inner strength that will not be quiet. 

Animal Farm By George Orwell

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Animal Farm is a book that is considered to be one of the most famous dystopian novels of all time. The story is about a farm that animals take over. The animals have been mistreated and overworked, and they are tired of taking it lying down. Seeking equality, they rise and revolt. The story is fast-paced, and most get through it quickly. However, the story’s message will stay with you long after you’re done. 

Brave New World By Aldous Huxley

Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited

Another dystopian classic, this one, has been a book that you either read in school or read after as an adult. The reason that it makes this list is that the book has an exciting premise and message. In the future, the government will control us by numbing us. By keeping everyone happy, no one ever has issues. Until one citizen realizes what’s happening and tries to wake people up. The result is tragic. Most people remember the ending vividly and discover society can be torturing itself. 

Brave New World is a book that not only makes you think but also immerses you in a world that’s not so different from our own.

New York 2140 By Kim Stanley Robinson

New York 2140

In New York 2140, you’ll find that the waters have risen and submerged the city. However, all is not lost. The residents adapted and stayed the same as before, with minor changes. Every building is an island, and every street has become a canal. The book takes us through the eyes of the people that live there and shows how they have changed and how we can change with them. 

One Second After By William R. Forstchen

One Second After (A John Matherson Novel Book 1)

One Second After is a story that could be incredibly real. One man struggles to save his family after America has lost a war. The war was based upon a weapon that could already be in the wrong hands. However, this story is unique because before it was published, it had already been cited as a book all Americans should read. It’s a realistic look at weapons and how America could lose far quicker than we think. 

The End We Start From By Megan Hunter

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The End We Start From follows a woman who has given birth to her child during a mysterious environmental crisis. Just days later, they have to flee their home to find safety. The baby gasps and learns at everything he sees, and as they move from place to place, everything changes. 

Motherhood can be frightening and unstable, and this book paints a picture of what the future could be like when the world around you falters. 

American War By Omar El Akkad 

American War

American War details a second civil war and an incredibly devastating plague. The book postulates what would happen if America was to turn its deadly weapons on itself. Following Sarat during this time, we see her father get killed, oil is banned, and Louisiana is rapidly falling underwater. Forced into a camp, she begins to grow up and befriends someone who turns her into a deadly war instrument. Will these decisions save her family or destroy them?

The Giver By Lois Lowry 

The Giver (Giver Quartet, Book 1)

While The Giver is something that most people read when they’re young, it makes this list because you should read it as an adult. The world has changed in this book, and when learning about the past, a boy named Jonas knows that utopia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It can be a poignant example of our world. 

Blindness By Jose Saramago 


Blindness takes us to a terrifying world. There is no food, water, obligation, or any semblance of a government. Chaos reigns, and there is no order. A driver at a traffic light goes blind, and an ophthalmologist tries to help diagnose the issue as it’s specific to white blindness. Still, unfortunately, before he can, he’s affected himself. It spreads rapidly throughout the city, and those infected are locked up. When a fire occurs at the location where they’re being kept, the last thread of control snaps. Will anyone be safe?

World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War By Max Brooks 

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War takes us on a unique journey. There are decimated cities everywhere, and most of the areas of the planet are inhospitable. There are records of those who have faced the undead, all terrifying. Patient Zero started the problem, and untold numbers had to find refuge from the undead. 

The book captures a haunting and raw narrative of fighting for a world with nothing left. 

Tender Is The Flesh By Agustina Bazterrica

Tender Is the Flesh

Tender Is The Flesh is not for the faint of heart. After his wife left him and his father fell into a bout with dementia, Marcos thinks about how he makes a living. People are eating special meat, and it’s legal. Marcos sticks to numbers, processing, and thinking about the consignments. One day, he’s gifted with a live specimen. He’s aware personal contact is forbidden, but he starts treating her like a human. Before he knows it, he becomes tortured at the thought of everything that he’s lost, but also what could still be saved. 

The Windup Girl By Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl

The Windup Girl is about a man named Anderson. He’s undercover as a factory manager and searches the streets for food that’s supposed to be extinct. On his journey, he meets Emiko. Emiko is the Windup Girl, and she isn’t human. In searching for calories when calories become currency and bio-terrorism is rampant, people wonder if the human race can survive.

The Day Of The Triffids By John Wyndham 

The Day of the Triffids

The Day Of The Triffids has been speculated about for quite some time. It’s interesting to note that there have been newspapers that say the book has realized a nightmare. Bill misses the meteor shower hitting England, but that could be good. While everyone else has lost their sight (save for a select few), Bill can see. However, the world they knew was gone, and they must survive the Triffids if they wanted to live. 

Tall, dangerous, and poisonous, these plants can kill a man in seconds. Does Bill have any chance of survival against bio-warfare?

The Last Man By Mary Shelley

The Last Man

The Last Man is considered the most extraordinary novel that Mary Shelley produced besides Frankenstein. The novel takes us on a journey of the future, and it’s not what we think at all. It explores themes of imagination, hope, and redemption.

Follow unique characters through a journey of love, loss, fame, and more with this book. The first half is slow, but the result is worth the effort. 

On The Beach By Nevil Shute 

On the Beach

When the third world war has destroyed almost the entire globe, the few survivors left have nothing to do but wait for the radioactive cloud that will bring them death. However, they choose not to stay when they hear a Morse code signal and begin a journey to see if there are other signs of life anywhere.

On The Beach takes an honest look at what humanity might face if the world truly did have another world war, and the outcome is a hauntingly authentic look at what we could be facing. 

The Trial By Franz Kafka

The Trial (Dover Thrift Editions: Classic Novels)

The Trial is the story of Josef. He is a respectable bank officer who gets arrested and has to defend himself on a charge he knows nothing about. The book reads as existentialist but can also be seen as totalitarian. It’s resonated with audiences for the past ninety years. 

The Passage By Justin Cronin

The Passage: A Novel (Book One of The Passage Trilogy)

Thirty-two minutes is all it took for one world to die and another to start. A security breach at a secret facility produces monstrous products of military experiments. Then, it gets worse. A night of absolute carnage erupts, and the world is altered permanently. Now survivors fight to stay alive and are ruled by fear. 

Predators and prey are the new norms, and when the world tries to kill each other, you’ll have to run to survive. The Passage has been highly praised for being unique and an interesting read. 

The Slynx By Tatyana Tolstaya 

The Slynx (New York Review Books Classics)

Civilization ended two hundred years ago, and our main character isn’t complaining. He’s got an excellent job, and while he may not live the high life, he’s not looked down upon, so it’s alright. He’s also got a house and enough mice to keep him happy and fed. However, there is unrest, and his complacent world might not be calm much longer. 

The Slynx is a world that combines fantasy, science fiction, and dystopia to give you a book you won’t put down. 

Earth Abides By George R. Stewart 

Earth Abides

A destructive disease has come from nowhere and hit every corner of the globe. The human race is almost entirely gone as a result. One survivor is immune to the epidemic and tries to experience the world without people. What he finds, however, proves to be far greater than anything he had hoped would be the outcome. 

Earth Abides is a classic dystopian novel that has found its way on many shelves because of the unique writing and the fact that you feel as if you’re inside the story. 

In The Shadows Of Freedom By C And C Spellman

In the Shadows of Freedom (The Shadows of Freedom Series Book 1)

The Shadows Of Freedom is the story of the country reaching a meritocracy and the best rise to the top. Regulations are repealed, and freedom is what people sing in the streets. Amanda is a talented painter that will be going to an elite academy. She falls for Ethan upon arriving, and he’s a member of the nation’s ruling faction. Will their love be torn apart by society?

Home By Tom Abrahams

Home: A Post Apocalyptic/Dystopian Adventure (The Traveler Book 1)

Home is the first book in the traveler series, depicting the story of a military veteran named Marcus. The pneumonic plague has killed two-thirds of the population, leaving him alone with only the graves of his wife and child for company. He lives a simple life, and whoever comes on his property gets shot, no questions asked. 

That changes when a woman being chased lands before him and begs for help. Now he has to decide, protect the home or a woman in need?

Final Thoughts 

Dystopian books like the ones on our list can show you that actions have consequences and we never know what’s coming. It also gets us to step out of our mindset and see that something deeper may be occurring right in front of our eyes. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Dystopian Books With Strong Protagonists?

Yes, there are! Many of the books we’ve included for you have male and female protagonists working well alone or as a team. 

Will Dystopian Books Ever Die Out? 

While there are times when dystopia seems to be fading into the background for other genres, it won’t die. Many people like the idea of dystopia and love to read about what the future could look like.

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Jenifer Dale