Dark Academia is a book genre that is growing in popularity, but what’s it all about?
Think elite and exclusive schools or universities with secret societies, atmospheric libraries, and hidden passageways.
Add something sinister like a cult, murder, a gruesome history, or a malevolent ghost and you have Dark Academia.
There are lots of great books that you could read to get you hooked on this genre, but we have put together a list of the all-time best books that will really get your heart racing.
30 Best Dark Academia Books
These Dark Academia books come highly recommended. (Up to 150 words per book)
After the death of her mother, Corvina Clemm feels even more lost and alone.
She receives an admission letter from a mysterious university but Venmore is nothing like she expected.
A strange, mountaintop castle is what awaits her, and an even stranger professor.
But when the two of them meet, it is more dangerous than either one of them could have imagined.
- Romance – This book has a great romance story
- Spooky – The eerie castle riddled with secrets is the perfect setting
- Mystery – There is a mystery that needs to be solved
- Dialogue – Some of the dialogue between the characters felt a bit contrived
- Chemistry – There were moments when the main romance story lacked chemistry
This is book 1 of 2 so if you enjoy it you can jump straight into the sequel.
It is set in Blackfriars University where a dark society, Orpheus, is known for what they do to students the night before Halloween.
When the main character finds the remains of a student buried in a shallow grave, she becomes the next target of the Orpheus society.
But this good girl isn’t going down without a fight.
- Suspense – The tension builds and keeps you hooked right to the end
- Dark – The dark themes fit in perfectly with the genre
- Characters – There is a wide variety of well-developed characters
- Protagonist – The main character is not always likable which might put some people off
- Bullying – There is a strong theme of bullying in this book which might be triggering for some readers
Isabel is a Ph.D. student relocating from Boston to Scotland after an affair with a colleague ended badly.
Nothing is going to plan – her Ph.D. advisor dies in a freak accident, another student is writing a book on the same topic as her, and she is struggling to fit into her new home.
Things get worse when her best friend is missing, presumed dead, and a suicide note is found.
But a coded message confirms that Rose is alive, and the only way Isabel can save her is to complete the research she started.
- Location – The varied locations in this book make it very interesting, including Scotland, Genoa, Florence, and Paris
- Plot – The storyline is exciting and original and will keep you guessing
- Mystery – The mystery that has to be solved is very intriguing
- Characters – Some of the characters feel underdeveloped, and even the heroine lacks personality sometimes
- Length – some readers found this book too long and drawn out – it could be more concise
This dark fairytale is a New York Times bestseller. The setting is Grimrose Academy, an elite school attended by the four main characters.
They are re-imagined heroines from well-known fairy tales, and you will recognize certain character traits as you read the book.
When one of their friends is murdered the police rule it as a suicide, but the girls know better.
They must solve the mystery of their ancient curses and uncover the secrets of their school before anyone else is killed.
- Gruesome – Fans of dark academia will love the gruesome themes in this book
- Interesting – The concept of the book is very interesting
- Suspense – The tension builds as the mystery is gradually solved and the secrets revealed
- Representation – The representation in this book is excellent in terms of gender identity and sexuality
- Ending – Some readers found the ending of the book to be anti-climatic and predictable
- Loose ends – Not all of the loose ends were tied up at the end of the book
This is book 1 of 3 in the popular ‘Atlas’ series and was an instant New York Times bestseller.
The Alexandrian Society is the most prestigious secret society in the world.
6 magicians are selected to join the society each decade, and they must be the best of the best.
Once you are in, you will live a life of power and luxury beyond anything you could have imagined, but nothing comes for free.
6 new recruits are about to discover the cost of their new life.
- Exciting – This book is an exhilarating read
- Themes – It has interesting themes of betrayal and rivalry
- Magic – The magical elements make it hard to predict the outcome of the book
- Confusing – There are some elements of the story that are confusing and certain concepts that aren’t fully explained
- Narrative – There is a lot of inner monologue from the characters to tell the reader things that could have been explained using dialogue or action instead
The Dellecher Classical Conservatory is a place of fierce competition, fireside debates, and leather-bound books.
Seven Shakespearean students are in their fourth and final year, and a violent event on opening night puts them all in a difficult position.
Now they are acting for their lives, not just for their education, and must convince the police, and each other, that they are innocent.
10 years later, one of them is released from prison and is finally ready to tell the truth.
- Enticing – The complex layers of love, obsession, and deceit will draw you in and keep you hooked until the end.
- Characters – The characters are interesting and well developed
- Theme – The theme of acting and the arts is used well to create parallels between the student’s theatrical work and their real lives
- Quotations – Whilst the Shakespeare quotes were relevant, they were a little overused
- Foreshadowing – The extent of the foreshadowing removes some of the mystery and tension
This is a fantasy story that takes place in a well-known setting – 1800s Oxford.
Babel is the University’s Royal Institute for Translation, and it is also the world’s epicenter of magic.
The British Empire has gained unparalleled power through its use of magic and is using it to further its goal of colonization.
Robin Swift has been training all his life to enroll in the institute, studying various languages.
As a Chinese orphan raised in Britain, he has always respected the pursuit of knowledge.
But when he gets to Babel, he realizes that the institute is not as noble as he thought.
Will he betray his motherland? Or will he join forces with the mysterious Hermes Society to stop the expansion of the British Empire?
- History – This book makes good use of history whilst tying it in with fantastical themes
- Powerful – The themes and events of the book are powerful, emotive, and politically charged
- Character – The characters are interesting and well-developed, especially the protagonist.
- Hindsight – Some of the historical poignancy is lost by the fact that the author is clearly writing with hindsight
This is the first book of an intriguing new fantasy series set in Hell.
The Unwritten Wing is a library in Hell that holds unfinished stories, and Claire is the head librarian.
She organizes the books and keeps them in good repair, but also keeps an eye on any restless characters that try to escape the library.
When one hero breaks free in search of his author, it is up to Claire to track him down.
Her mission becomes more complicated when she is attacked by an angel who is convinced that she has the Devil’s Bible, a powerful weapon in the fight between Heaven and Hell.
- Exciting – This book takes well-known concepts and uses them in new and exciting ways
- Imaginative – the descriptions and settings of the book are imaginative and unique
- Characters – The characters are original and interesting
- Slow – Some readers found the book to be slow and lacking in drama
This is one of the most well-known dark academia novels and is considered a classic.
When it was first published in 1890 it was thought of as scandalous, yet readers couldn’t help but be mesmerized by it.
It is about an artist who becomes obsessed with a young, wealthy socialite.
The artist paints a portrait of the young man, Dorian, and in the process introduces him to a friend who is known for his excessive lifestyle.
Dorian gets caught up in the exuberance and ends up selling his soul- his painting ages whilst he stays young and beautiful forever.
- Classic – This book is considered a classic and is an excellent read
- Dark – The story is surprisingly dark and disturbing
- Original – The idea behind this book was very original and unique at the time it was written
- Narrative – The narrative frequently shifts between the different characters and it can be difficult to keep up
- Characters – Some of the characters seem very one dimensional
This is book 1 of 3 in the ‘Throne Of Winthorpe’ series. Thorne Briar is a Prince, an attendee at the elite Winthorpe High School, and he is a bully.
When a new girl takes his friend’s place at the academy, he has it out for her.
He plays twisted games with her, slowly tormenting her. But she has a plan to fight back, and she doesn’t play nice.
- Suspense – This book builds tension throughout
- Romance – The enemies-to-lovers theme works really well in this story
- Dark – This novel is dark and twisted, just want you want from this genre
- Audience – This book is aimed at young adults but has some very mature content
- Structure – The narrative switches from the present day to the past which can get a bit confusing
This is a new release from Anna Widzisz who specializes in dark romance novels.
Two academic rivals are caught up in a murder mystery whilst trying to resist their strong feelings for each other.
There are lies, mind games, and betrayals, and you won’t be able to stop reading.
- Gripping – This addictive novel will keep you hooked from start to finish
- Dark – The connection between the main characters is toxic and twisted
- Mystery – The murder mystery element will keep you guessing
- Dialogue – Some of the dialogue feels ingenuine at times
- Characters – The characters are quite stereotypical and not very original
Alecto Black is a half-witch who doesn’t feel like she fits in with the purebloods.
Even when she is accepted into the most elite Witchcraft University she is still seen as an outcast.
In her second year at the academy, she is selected as one of 12 students to participate in the annual games, a deadly competition that not all students survive.
Will Alecto be able to overcome her enemies and triumph? Or will a dangerous attraction to one of her rivals prove fatal?
- Characters – The characters are complex and morally ambiguous which makes the book more interesting
- Romance – The romantic element of the book is very steamy and exciting
- Suspense – The events of the book build tension
- World-building – the world-building was not as thorough as it could have been
This book is set in 1870s Philadelphia and the lead character is Dr. Spencer Black, a surgeon.
Whilst studying at the Academy of Medicine he comes up with an interesting theory – that humans are descended from ‘mythical’ creatures like mermaids and minotaurs, and that we have much more potential than we realize.
The book delves into Spencer’s childhood as the son of a grave robber and brings the reader up to date with his crazy experiments and then his sudden and mysterious disappearance.
- Detailed – The book includes detailed anatomical diagrams of mythical creatures
- Format – It is written in a diary format which is very interesting and immersive
- Character – The main character of Spencer is well-developed and complex
- Length – Some readers found this book to be too short
- Pace – The book is not particularly well-paced
A group of eccentric and highly intelligent students are led on a dangerous pursuit of knowledge by their charismatic professor.
They are studying Classics, and as they seek an understanding of the world that transcends the confines of previous academic restrictions, they end up losing touch with reality and losing their grip on morality.
- Memorable – This book provides an intense reading experience that leaves a lasting impression
- Structure – One of the characters is killed and you find out who very early on, which leaves you guessing as to how it actually happens as you read the book
- Length – Some readers found that this book was too long
This book was an instant New York Times bestseller and for good reason.
The main character, Ann, arrives in New York City to spend the summer working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Instead of assisting in the curatorial department, she is assigned to the Cloisters.
The Cloisters is a medieval part of the museum with gardens, an art collection, and a group of researchers studying the history of divination.
It is not what Anna was expecting, but she quickly becomes consumed by The Cloisters and the power of predicting the future.
- Gothic – The Cloisters is the perfect gothic setting for a dark academia novel
- Temptation – The theme is all about giving into temptation and pursuing power
- Gripping – This book is a real page turner
- Descriptions – A lot of the descriptive passages are quite vague which makes the reading experience less immersive
- Characters – The characters are not very likable or relatable
The lead character of this novel is Samantha, a scholarship student struggling to fit in at Warren University in New England.
She is happy to be an outsider, but that all changes when she receives an invitation to an exclusive event hosted by the ‘Bunnies’, an elite social society of popular ‘clique’ girls.
Samantha finds herself drawn to the bunnies, even though she is nothing like them, and soon gets sucked into their world.
But what seemed sweet soon becomes sinister, and Samantha begins to lose her grip on reality.
- Intriguing – The story builds in a way that keeps you turning the page to find out more
- Characters – The characters are interesting and complex
- Dark – This book is dark in ways that you wouldn’t expect
- Bizarre – Some readers found this book too unusual and strange to connect with
- Violent – There are some scenes of violence towards animals that some readers may find upsetting
This book is the much anticipated second novel from bestselling author Alex Michaelides. It is both a psychological thriller and a murder mystery.
It is set in Cambridge University and the lead character is Mariana Andros, a group therapist, and former student.
When a current student is murdered, she suspects Greek Tragedy professor Edward Fosca.
He has an alibi and is much loved by staff and students alike, but Mariana senses something sinister about him.
Another student is found dead, and it is clear that the killer is targeting the Maidens – a secret society of female students.
Will Mariana be able to expose Fosca before he silences her for good?
- Compulsive – This book is very addictive and will keep you hooked until the end
- Dark – The dark themes are enticing and ideal for this genre
- Characters – The characters are interesting and well-developed
- Plot Twist – Some readers didn’t enjoy the plot twist or the ending of the book
When the senior class prefects of a private academy are selected, they become the target of an anonymous enemy determined to turn their lives upside down.
Using the pseudonym ‘Aces’, their unknown enemy reveals the prefect’s deepest and darkest secrets by sending text messages.
With their futures in the balance, they must figure out who is after them and why, but uncovering the truth could be more dangerous than they thought.
- Suspense – The tension builds as seemingly harmless pranks become something much more deadly
- Harrowing – This book is unexpectedly dark which is ideal for this genre
- Themes – This book deals with challenging themes of race and bullying
- Characters – The main characters were not very likable and felt stereotypical at times
- Loose ends – The reader is still left with a few unanswered questions at the end of the book
Catherine House is an unconventional school that has turned out some of the best minds in modern society – but in order to study there you have to agree to spend three years cut off from the outside world – friends, family, media, etc.
You can’t take any belongings with you, not even your clothes. The school is tucked away in Pennsylvania woodland, out of sight and out of reach.
New student Ines feels at home at Catherine House, but her newfound happiness soon turns sour when tragedy strikes and her new home begins to feel more like a prison.
- Gothic – This novel has the perfect setting for dark academia
- Sophisticated – This is a well-written and sophisticated book
- Gripping – This book is well-paced with a gripping storyline
- Structure – Some readers found that it took too long to set up the story and the concept
- Complex – Some readers found that the book used too many themes and ideas which resulted in the storyline being confusing and overcrowded with concepts
Dalloway is an old boarding school with a dark past.
The gothic building sits in the mountains and is covered with ivy, and there are rumors about the girls who died mysteriously many years ago.
Everyone knows that the school has strong ties to witchcraft, but nobody likes to talk about it.
Felicity is returning to finish her last year at Dalloway after taking some time off to mourn the tragic death of her girlfriend.
Ellis is a first year student who is already a praised author and incredibly popular.
When the two girls agree to work together on a project the sparks fly, but is history doomed to repeat itself?
- Setting – An ivy-covered boarding school in the mountains is the ideal setting for a dark academia novel
- Gripping – The storyline is gripping and exciting
- LQBTQ+ – The lesbian romance is a great representation of the LQBTQ+ community
- Ending – Some readers found that the ending was rushed and a little confusing
- Grim – The plot is quite grizzly and might be too dark for some readers
Leigh Bardugo is a New York Times bestselling author and has won multiple awards. This book. The main character is Alex, a High School dropout with a shady past.
She is given a second chance at life when a mysterious benefactor offers her a place at Yale University.
When she arrives at the school she is given the task of monitoring the secret societies – this seems a fair trade for a world-leading education.
But the more Alex learns about the secret societies the more she begins to wonder if it was worth it – their activities are more sinister and dangerous than she ever could have imagined.
- Imaginative – The concept of this book is imaginative and interesting
- Gripping – The storyline is gripping and well-paced
- Character – The main character is complicated and well-developed
- Detail – Some readers found that the book had excessive detail and narration and not enough dialogue and action
This is the first book of a trilogy so if you enjoy it then you can continue with the story.
A dark sorceress studying at a magical school has high ambitions and won’t let anyone get in her way, not even the most popular boy in school.
She will take him out if she needs to, and when they are pitted against each other in a series of challenges she might just get the perfect opportunity.
- Setting – The magical boarding school is a great setting for a dark academia novel
- Characters – The characters are varied and interesting, with personal battles to face
- Suspense – The tension builds throughout the book.
- Set-up – It takes quite a long time to set up the premise of the book
- Narrative – Sometimes it feels a little heavy on the narrative and inner monologues
A tight-knit friendship group is thrown into chaos when a former member and fellow student at an elite prep school goes missing, then turns up dead.
Jamie was a top-performing junior, and when she is killed her former friends are the prime suspects.
Before they all fell out with Jamie, she knew all of their secrets. Now, an anonymous social media user called ‘The Proctor’ is spilling their secrets and pointing the authorities in their direction.
The friends must work together to expose the true killer before their lives are turned completely upside down, but can they trust each other?
- Thrilling – This thriller will keep you hooked right to the end
- Themes – The novel deals with interesting themes like privilege, betrayal, and deceit
- Quick – This is a quick and easy read
- Triggers – There are themes that some readers may find triggering like suicide, drug use, and bullying
- Characters – The characters are not very likable do you find yourself rooting against them
College roommates Victor and Eli are both as arrogant and ambitious as each other, which is probably why they are such good friends.
In their senior year, they both develop an obsession with danger and adrenaline and begin orchestrating near-death experiences.
As their experimentation becomes more extreme, they make a shocking discovery about supernatural abilities.
10 years later the two men are sworn enemies, tracking each other down for a showdown that will leave only one of them standing.
- Dynamic – This is a powerful and exciting story
- Characters – The characters are brilliant and will cause you to question your ideas of heroes and villains
- Style – It has the action and pace of a comic book but with the prose of a classic
- Structure – The narrative switches between past and present a lot which can get confusing
- Vague – There were some plot points that felt a little vague and needed more detail
A Discovery Of Witches is book 1 of a popular 4 book series that was turned into a television show.
Diana Bishop is a scholar at Oxford University and is descended from witches.
She discovers an enchanted manuscript in the Bodleian Library and later finds out that it reappeared before her after years of being lost.
Diana is thrown headfirst into a supernatural world of creatures, all with different intentions for the book. But who can she trust?
She has already formed a connection with geneticist Matthew Clairmont, but can a witch really work side by side with a vampire?
- Research – The author is a historian with a good foundation of knowledge about the type of book that is discovered
- Themes – The theme of magical rivalry is dark and enticing
- Setting – Oxford University is a great setting for this book
- Originality – Some of the major plot points feel very familiar and not original
- Characters – The characters seem a little inconsistent at times
Cadence begins studying at Harvard a year after her brother committed suicide there.
Everyone blames his schizophrenia, but she thinks there is more going on and is determined to find out the truth.
Her family doesn’t want her at Harvard, but she can’t rest until she finds out what happened to Eric.
She retraces his final year using a notebook he left behind but struggles to balance her personal mission with her studies. Then, she begins to hear voices…
- Mystery – This is a book that will keep you guessing right until the end
- Themes – The supernatural elements are blended smoothly with mental illness
- Style – This book is very well-written
- World-building – The world-building is not very thorough and leaves a lot unanswered
- Length – Some readers found this too long
This is an English Language translation of a popular Russian novel which is a psychological thriller and a dark fantasy.
Whilst at the beach, a teenage girl meets a mysterious older man. He asks her to complete a task for him and rewards her with a strange golden coin.
This arrangement continues, and at the end of the summer, the man encourages her to use the gold coins to enroll in a special school.
The institute is nothing like she imagined, and it changes her life.
- Style – This book has been praised for its style and is considered a modern classic
- Original – The concepts and ideas of this book are very original
- Characters – The characters are interesting and well-developed
- Complex – Some of the philosophical ideas in the book were quite complicated
- Translation – Some of the sections in the book are not translated very well
This is a novel by a bestselling, award-winning author. Hailsham is an exclusive boarding school in the English countryside where Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy went to school.
It was a place of mystery and cliques, with unspoken rules.
When the three of them are reunited as adults, they reflect on their time at school and realize some things they never noticed when they were younger.
- Structure – The narrative has an interesting structure that gradually reveals information to build suspense
- Setting – A remote school in the English Countryside is a great setting for a subtle dark academia
- Themes – This book is disturbing in an interesting way
- Pace – This is a slow-burn novel with a crescendo of excitement at the end which some readers find difficult to get on with
Six students in their first year of University play a game of dares that goes much further than they intended.
What started off as a silly game becomes more intense, and more dangerous, eventually leading to a deadly rivalry and an unpredictable tragedy.
14 years later, they meet for one last round, but the stakes are higher than ever.
- Setting – The events of the book take place in both Oxford and New York which makes it more interesting
- Suspense – This is a well-written psychological thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
- Book – The author has a background in puzzle writing which comes through in the style of the book
- Ending – Some readers found the ending a little disappointing
- Complex – There were a few too many plot lines to follow which seemed unnecessary
When 16 year old Bree Matthews joins an exclusive boarding school, it seems like the perfect fresh start after the death of her mother.
On her first night on campus, she witnesses a magical attack carried out by a flying demon and learns about the secret society called ‘Legend Born’ that hunts down dangerous magical creatures.
When a mysterious Mage tries to wipe her memory, he ends up unlocking memories that were hidden away. Memories about the magic will help her to understand herself and learn more about what happened to her mother.
- Mystery – There is plenty of mystery and intrigue to keep you hooked on this book
- Themes – Modern themes are blended with magic and myth to create an excellent concept
- Characters – There is a rich cast of diverse and well-developed characters
- Plot holes – It doesn’t make sense that all of King Arthur’s descendants would be living in modern-day America – some of them would most likely be living in Europe
Dark Academia books draw you into a world of spine-tingling tension and eerie mystery, all within the gothic setting of an elite educational establishment.
They usually have a very immersive reading experience and addictive style of reading which keeps fans coming back for more.
How to Choose The Right Dark Academia Book For You
If you are struggling to decide which book to read, here are some tips to help you make the right choice.
Dark academia books cover a range of themes including thrillers, murder mysteries, supernatural, romance, etc. You should pick a theme that appeals to you.
You might want to try a new theme or stick to one that you already know you enjoy.
For example, if you read a lot of romance novels you should choose a dark academia book with a romantic theme.
If you read a lot of detective novels you should choose a dark academia book with a murder mystery theme.
You can also keep an eye out for different tropes such as dark bully romance or enemies to lovers.
You should choose a book with characters that you feel drawn to.
If you are not drawn to the characters then you are less likely to be emotionally invested in their story, and might not enjoy the novel as much.
Dark academia books come in a range of styles. Some are written in a simple way, with a big focus on dialogue and action.
Others have a more descriptive narrative with poignant prose and a lot of inner monologues. You need to find a book with a style that you enjoy reading.
There are different types of settings that feature in dark academia books, like universities, schools, museums, and libraries.
If you have an interest in a particular type of setting then you should find a book that is set in that type of location.
You might want to read about a relevant location or a setting that you haven’t experienced before to get your imagination flowing.
Always pay attention to the length when you are choosing a book. Some readers prefer a quick read and others like something longer.
You might also want to choose a book that is part of a series so that you have a few novels to get stuck into.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions about dark academia books.
What Is Dark Academia?
Dark academia books have an academic setting like a school or a library and feature dark events such as magic, murder, sinister plots, or secret societies. There is a lot of variation in the genre in terms of style and themes.
What Audience Is Dark Academia Designed For?
A lot of dark academia books are aimed at young adults because the school setting is very relevant for them. However, there are plenty of dark academia books that are also ideal for adults.
Are Dark Academic Books Scary?
Dark academic books can be scary, but it depends on which book you choose.
Some of them have a horror theme or are classed as psychological thrillers. Others have dark themes but without the scarier elements.
Are All Dark Academia Books Classed As Fantasy?
A lot of dark academia books can also be classed as dark fantasy, especially if the academic setting is a magical school.
However, there are lots of dark academia books that do not include any fantasy elements, as they tend to explore the dark side of human nature instead.