Best YA Dystopian Novels You Need To Read

Dystopian fiction is one of the most popular genres of books out there, as such, you have a lot of options to choose from – so much so that it can be somewhat overwhelming.

Best YA Dystopian Novels You Need To Read

During the 2000s and 2010s, there was an increase in the number of YA dystopian novels, and while this craze may have slowed down, it is still as popular as ever.

Therefore, if you’re looking for somewhere to start, then you’re in the right place. Here, I have outlined 17 of the best YA dystopian novels that you need to read.

17 Best YA Dystopian Novels

The Hunger Games By Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games: The Special Edition (Hunger Games, Book One) (1)

When it comes to young adult dystopian novels, The Hunger Games is typically the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it could be considered the spark for the entire teen dystopian craze! That said, nothing has quite lived up to the original.

The novel is set in a dystopian society known as Panem – in North America – where twelve districts surround the Capitol. The Capitol controls everything. To maintain control, they force one boy and girl from each district to participate in the Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games takes place each year where a fight to the death is televised across the nations. Here, twenty-four young girls and boys are dropped into an arena where a ‘game’ of kill or be killed takes place.

For the latest Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are the tributes from District 12. Katniss has strong survival instincts and is skilled with the bow – fighting to get back to her family who needs her.

However, she unexpectedly finds love in the games which has the ability to throw her completely off guard – how far will she go to win the Hunger Games?


  • Strong female protagonist.
  • Interesting and unique premise.
  • Great pacing and writing style.


  • Some people said there was a lack of character development.

Divergent By Veronica Roth

Divergent (Divergent Series, 1)

Another popular YA dystopian series that has donned many bookshelves is Divergent by Veronica Roth. Like The Hunger Games, it also takes place in a version of North America where a totalitarian government has control.

In this dystopian Chicago, we follow the story of Beatrice Prior. Here, the society is divided into five factions: Candor (honesty), Dauntless (bravery), Abnegation (selflessness), Erudite (intelligence), and Amity (peacefulness).

On one day each year, all the sixteen-year-olds in the country have to decide what faction they’re going to devote themselves to for the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is split between staying with her family and following her heart.

Ultimately, she makes a decision that shocks everyone – even herself. Following a highly competitive initiation, Beatrice decides to rename herself, Tris.

Alongside the other initiates, she has to undergo most physical and mental tests through both endurance and psychological stimulations.

Throughout all this, Tris not only has to figure out who her true friends are but also what a romance between a fascinating yet exasperating boy means, as well as conceal a secret that could destroy her.


  • Clever and detailed world-building.
  • Fun.
  • Interesting concept.


  • Some plot elements weren’t thought out in some detail.

Want By Cindy Pon


This is one of the most underrated dystopian YA novels and certainly deserves some attention. Set in a dystopian Taiwan, this is a refreshing addition to the dystopian genre where topical themes are discussed with a unique storyline.

In this world, the residents have to wear a special suit to protect themselves from the outside elements due to the extremely polluted earth.

However, these suits are extremely expensive, hence, the rich are the only ones that can afford them – these are known as the ‘yous’.

The poor in society often suffer from a decreased lifespan as they can’t afford healthcare when they are sick – these are known as the ‘meis’. This novel follows the story of Jason Zhou, a ‘mei’.

Here, the young boy plans to infiltrate the Jim Corporation – the ones responsible for creating these protective suits. However, the closer Jason and his friends come to getting into the company, they discover how sinister the company actually is.

Everything gets even more complicated when Jason finds himself falling for the daughter of Jin Corporation’s CEO. In mandarin, méi yǒu translates to ‘not have’. Therefore, in this world, the ‘yous’ have everything, while the ‘meis’ have nothing.

Throughout this novel, there are refreshing references to the mandarin language and Taiwanese cultures – making it one of the most diverse books in the genre.


  • Excellent world-building.
  • Refreshing storyline.
  • Asian representation.


  • Slow start.

The Maze Runner By James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Book 1)

Like some of the other novels already mentioned, this recommendation is a trilogy that has a screen adaptation, too. The Maze Runner follows the story of a boy called Thomas who is faced with a hellish maze that he has to escape from.

When Thomas wakes up in a lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. There are other boys, too, however, like Thomas, they have lost their memories. The boys live in the Glade which is protected by towering stone walls that open each day to an ever-changing maze.

However, there’s a catch, no one has ever managed to escape. Unexpectedly, a girl is lifted into the Glade – the only girl, ever. With her arrival, she brings a terrifying message: Remember, survive, and run.


  • Original story.
  • Enjoyable.
  • Great characters.


  • Some readers found the plot confusing. 

The 100 By Kass Morgan

The 100 (The 100, 1)

This dystopian novel takes place in the future where Earth is completely uninhabitable. Following a catastrophic nuclear war, the world as we know it is transformed as a result of toxic levels of radiation.

The remaining population of humans is forced to live in a large spaceship floating around the perimeter of Earth – waiting for the day they can return home.

However, on the ship, resources are quickly running out and the governor is forced to find a solution that means they can return to Earth.

Since no one knows whether or not Earth remains uninhabitable, the Chancellor doesn’t want to risk taking everyone down to Earth, and, instead, sends 100 teenage delinquents to Earth.

Each teen is provided with a monitoring bracelet that sends signals to the ship regarding their health – if their vitals are intact, the Chancellor will bring down the rest of the ship. However, if their health deteriorates, they will have to remain in space for longer.

On the journey back down to Earth, the teenagers face a bumpy ride which results in a crash landing. During this crash, all communications with the main ship are destroyed.

As a result, the teenagers are left to fend for themselves – with a lot more trouble waiting for them than they realized.


  • Action-packed.
  • Plenty of drama and romance.
  • Fast-paced.


  • Some readers were irritated by the split point of view.

The Grace Year By Kim Liggett

Grace Year

Unlike the other YA dystopian novels featured on this list, The Grace Year is the only standalone book included. Here, no one talks about the grace year. In fact, it is prohibited.

In Garner County, the girls have the power to lure grown men from their beds – driving women to insanity with jealousy. It is believed that their skin emits a strong aphrodisiac – the essence of youth.

For this reason, these girls are banished on their sixteenth birthdays where their magic is released into the wild so they can return pure to be married. However, not everyone makes it home alive.

This is where sixteen-year-old Tierney James comes in. She dreams of a better world where society doesn’t pit girls against each other. However, as her own grace year comes closer, she realizes that other girls aren’t the only thing she has to fear.

This isn’t even the poaches in the woods – men out to get these girls to sell and make a fortune on the black market. No, the real danger is themselves.

Featuring gritty realism and sharp prose, The Grace Year explores the complicated and somewhat twisted relationship between girls and women and everything in between.


  • Important message.
  • Great quality of writing.
  • Interesting plot.


  • Some readers found part of the novel rushed.

We Set The Dark On Fire By Tehlor Kay Mejia

We Set the Dark on Fire

If you’re looking for a novel that has a female protagonist that doesn’t only rehash similar themes from The Hunger Games, then this book is for you.

Like some other dystopian young adult novels, there are similar themes of political revolution, class, and privilege, however, the characters here are like a breath of fresh air.

In this world, upper-class girls are trained for only one of two purposes in society: to be a mistress or child-bearer in the household.

Here, we follow the story of Daniela, the top in her class at Medio School for Girls who is proposed to leave the school as the perfect example of a woman.

However, what everyone around her doesn’t know is that she is keeping a secret, one which could mean she loses everything. When born, her parents forged her birth certificate to give her a better life, although, this means her pedigree is a complete lie.

However, as her graduation rolls around, Daniela must make an important decision. She can either choose to continue her path, marry, and receive the privileged life her parents have always wanted or she could become a spy and fight to make the injustices in the world right.


  • Immersive prose.
  • Complex characters.
  • Strong female protagonist.


  • Some readers found the twists to be predictable.

Noughts And Crosses By Malorie Blackman

Noughts & Crosses

This is the only novel on this list that focuses on the terrifying class disparity in this rightfully reminiscent dystopian world.

In this thought-provoking world that explores prejudice and racism in this alternate society, we follow the story of two young people who have to make a stand.

On one hand, we have Sephy, a Cross – this refers to the ruling-class, dark-skinned members. On the other, we have Callum, a Nought – this refers to the ‘colorless’ members of society who were once the Crosses’ slaves.

These two characters have been friends since childhood, however, this is only how far they can ever be. In this world, the Noughts and Crosses don’t mix.

However, against a backdrop of distrust and prejudice brought about by violent terrorism, a relationship begins to bloom between Callum and Sephy – one in which that can bring about terrible danger.


  • Beautifully simple prose.
  • Important message.
  • Great characters.


  • Some felt the ending was a little rushed.

The 5th Wave By Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave: The First Book of the 5th Wave Series

Here, dystopia and sci-fi are mixed together to provide you with a fantastic novel about life on Earth after four ‘waves’ of an alien invasion. In the first wave, the electricity was cut out. In the second wave, a tsunami drowned the majority of the human population.

In the third wave, a deadly disease wiped out most of the survivors. During the fourth wave, the remaining humans have turned against one another. 

However, the extraterrestrial life that is inflicting these hardships on the human population isn’t your typical-looking green humans. Instead, they look exactly like humans and a fifth wave is approaching.

In The 5th Wave, we follow the story of Cassie, a young girl who has been separated from both her father and brother when soldiers discover their refugee camp. These soldiers are only interested in children under the age of 15 – killing anyone else.

As 16 years old Cassie barely escapes the soldier’s clutches. On the other hand, her father isn’t so lucky. Alone and determined to find her baby brother, this is where Cassie’s journey begins. On her journey, she finds another lone person, Evan.

However, since both friend and enemy look exactly alike, how does she know she can trust him?


  • Impressive world-building.
  • Likable characters.
  • Engrossing.


  • Some readers didn’t enjoy the alternate point of view.

The Selection By Kiera Cass

The Selection (The Selection, 1)

The Selection is another book with the same series name. While it has received mixed reviews, it is certainly popular among the young adult audience. Like some of the other novels listed here, it has a romantic subplot.

The Selection is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and for thirty-five girls, it is a chance to escape the life that has been laid out to them from birth – to be scooped up from poverty and placed in lavish gowns among glittering jewelry.

All they have to do is gain the heart of Prince Maxon. However, for America Singer, the Selection couldn’t be worse. While she would no longer have to worry about hunger, it would be turning her back on her secret lover, Aspen, who is a caste below her.

Despite this, she enters the fierce competition to gain a crown she doesn’t want to wear and suffers the consequences of violent rebel attacks all for the sake of her family.

However, when America meets Prince Maxon, she begins to question the life she had laid out for herself and begins to realize that the future she has always dreamed of may not be the one she imagined.


  • Lightweight entertainment.
  • Interesting plot.
  • Well-written.


  • Some readers complained the novel is shallow.

Red Queen By Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen (Red Queen, 1)

Here, dystopia and fantasy are blended together to create a world where the color of your blood defines your standing in society. In the Red Queen, ‘reds’ refer to the lower-class commoners, however, the ‘silvers’ refer to the ruling class and elite in society.

In addition, the silvers all have special gifts that are only obtained due to their blood. This is where Mare Barrow, a Red, comes in. Living in the poverty-stricken and depleted “Stilts”, Mare doesn’t harbor many aspirations for an exciting or amazing life.

However, that all changes when she finds herself working in the Silver Palace and surrounded by her worst enemies, the Silvers. It is here where Mare discovers, despite her red blood, she possesses the ability to wield power.

Red who have power are unheard of, and this fact has the potential to completely unbalance the world she has grown accustomed to.

This frightens the Silvers, so when they discover her talent, they decide to play it to their own advantage – whereby Mare becomes their very own puppet.

However, Mare would never let this happen and, behind their knowledge, joins a resistance group that aims to overthrow the balance from the inside.


  • Interesting plot.
  • Engaging.
  • Page-turner.


  • Full of cliches.

The Host By Stephanie Meyer

The Host: A Novel

This novel is a twist between science fiction and dystopian literature – brought to you by the author of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer. However, there are no blood-sucking vampires in this series.

Instead, Earth has been overrun by a species that takes over the body and mind of their human hosts. ‘Wanderer’ is the invading soul that has been placed inside Melanie Stryder, however, she is struggling to gain full control over her body.

The soul hopes to find out what remains of the human resistance, however, Melanie is putting up a fight, and, instead, pushes her memories to the forefront of their mind.

This is where she shares memories of Jared, the person Melanie was in love with and is currently hiding. In a chain of unexpected events, Wanderer and Melanie become allies, dedicated to finding the man they both love.

The Host is a powerful story about a human women’s fight with an invading power on her mind all thanks to the persistence of love.


  • Good character development.
  • Very well-written.
  • Fun story.


  • Limited word choice.

Legend By Marie Lu


Legend is the first book in the series that focuses on class disparity and how information is regulated under a totalitarian government. If you’re a fan of dystopian literature and are looking for more young adult novels to add to your ‘to be read’, then it is perfect.

What was once the United States is now controlled by the Republic – a nation that is constantly at war with its neighbors.

Born into privilege, fifteen-year-old June belongs to an elite family in one of the wealthiest districts in the Republic and is currently being groomed to contribute to the Republic’s highest military circle.

On the other hand, we have Day, who is also fifteen years old but was born into the Slums and is the country’s most wanted criminal. However, his motives are not as malicious as you may think.

Living in two completely different worlds, Day and June have no reason to cross paths. However, that is until the day June’s brother, Metias is murdered and the number one suspect is Day.

Caught in the middle of a game of cat and mouse, Day is fighting for his family’s survival, while June is looking to avenge her brother. However, a truth is revealed that shocks both parties making them realize that they may be more alike than they think.


  • Character voices – different perspectives of the same world.
  • Interesting plot.
  • Shocking.


  • Some predictable parts.

Uglies By Scott Westerfeld


Believe it or not, Uglies arrived in the dystopian world way before either The Hunger Games or Divergent, making it one of the original young adult dystopian novels. In this dystopian world, society is split between Uglies and Pretties.

When born, you’re an Ugly, however, once you turn sixteen, you undergo surgery to turn them into a Pretty. One person who can’t wait is Tally, our protagonist.

Her whole life, she has been waiting to become a Pretty and is looking forward to that moment when she can walk into Prettyville and join the party. However, on the other hand, we have Shay, Tally’s best friend, who doesn’t want to undergo the surgery at all.

She tells Tally of a faraway tribe that rebels against the transformation to become a Pretty. Here, they live as they want, and Shay is determined to join them. Tally is reluctant to Shay’s plan, and thus, Shay leaves alone.

However, her departure catches the attention of the authorities who refuse to provide Tally with the surgery unless she finds Shay and leads them to the rebels. While this novel is a slow-burner, once you get into it, you’re sure to be hooked.

It is a classic book in the genre where rebels are fighting an authoritarian regime, and the influence of beauty and aesthetics is also an important issue addressed.


  • Character development.
  • Interesting plot.
  • Address important societal issues.


  • Slow start – gets more engrossing towards the middle of the book.

Nineteen Eighty-Four By George Orwell


When thinking of classic dystopian novels, one of the first that comes to mind is 1984. This novel is set in a dystopian surveillance society where everyone is watched and scrutinized by ‘Big Brother’ – the head of state.

Here, we follow the story of Winston Smith whose job is to rewrite the past to match the ruling parties’ dialogue of the present. However, Winston is fed up with living under a totalitarian regime and starts to have rebellious thoughts.

This is only increased once he starts having an affair with his co-worker, Julia. However, he comes to realize that the price of his freedom is betrayal. This novel is incredibly thought-provoking and will have you questioning everything around you.

Its comparison to the world we live in today is extremely worrying and a testament to this is that the book has been banned in many places for its political and social commentary.


  • Timely themes.
  • Excellent writing.
  • Interesting plot.


  • Some readers found it hard to get through, especially in the beginning.

Lord Of The Flies By William Golding

Lord of the Flies (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)

This is a classic dystopian novel that is often introduced to teenagers during school. The story starts with a plane crash on a remote island where the only survivors are a group of young boys.

With no adults to tell them what to do, the boys aim to create their own civilized society while waiting to be rescued.

However, this is challenged and all things morality begin to break down where it gets to the point where the boys become savages – entirely focused on hunting rather than getting rescued.

This is an interesting focus on human nature and what the author outlines is at the core of a man’s heart.

The ending of the novel will leave you somewhat disturbed, with some graphic scenes at times, as well as the fact that a ‘civilized’ society may not be far from what the boys created on the island whereby their war-hungry actions were just portrayed differently. 

If you enjoyed books like The Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, then you’re sure to love Lord of the Flies. This classic novel came decades before these books, however, they have similar themes of loss of innocence, loss of humanity, survival instincts, and more.

For instance, the author of The Maze Runner, James Dashner often cites Lord of the Flies as inspiration for his works – the parallels are uncanny. In both novels, there are a group of boys left fighting on their own devices, all in the hopes of survival.

Even though Dashner’s novel is less nuanced, it could be argued that it is more entertaining. Since Lord of the Flies is only around 200 pages, it is one of the easier books to read – the perfect thing to get stuck into one afternoon.


  • Thought-provoking.
  • Engaging.
  • Gripping.


  • Some readers found the narrative to be repetitive in places.

Cinder By Marissa Meyer

Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles (The Lunar Chronicles, 1)

This is another first book in the Lunar Chronicles series. These books consist of fairy tale retellings where the first features a science fiction twist on Cinderella.

Here, androids and humans walk the streets of dystopian New Beijing since a deadly plague wiped out most of the human population. However, there is a looming threat in space: the ruthless Lunar people, waiting to make their move.

Although, no one knows that the entire fate of Earth is one girl’s shoulder: Cinder. She is both a gifted mechanic and a cyborg. Cinder is a second-class citizen who holds a mysterious past.

Not only is she reviled by her stepmother, but blamed for her step-sister’s illness, too. However, when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai, she finds herself in the middle of a forbidden attraction and intergalactic struggle.

She has to make a hard decision between choosing her freedom and duty, as well as betrayal and loyalty as she has to reveal secrets in her past to make the future a better place for everyone.


  • Gripping.
  • Engrossing.
  • Thrilling. 


  • Takes a little while to get into the story. However, once you do get into it, you won’t want to put it down!

Best YA Dystopian Novels Buyer’s Guide

When it comes to choosing the best young adult dystopian novel, there are a few things to keep in mind, therefore, below we have outlined some traits you should consider to make the most out of your experience.

The Types Of Conflict Used In Dystopian Texts

Generally speaking, dystopian novels usually feature themes of man vs. government. Typically, there are elements in a dystopian world such as inequality, segregation, oppression, and the characters rebelling against this.

Here, the rebellion is used as a means for the main characters to grow and become stronger and more mature.

Qualities Of A Dystopian Novel

Generally, a dystopian novel will contain one of three trials that are censored/ restricted in society, including independent thought, freedom, and information.

There is generally one figurehead that is worshiped by the citizens of the society. These citizens are often under extreme scrutiny with a fear of the outside world.

Final Thoughts

There is a good reason why young adult dystopian novels are so popular. For one, they are incredibly engaging, contain interesting plots, and generally thought-provoking – making you question the very institutions around you.

Additionally, you get absorbed into a world like no other where the protagonist is usually the only person who can get things straight – taking you on a wild adventure.

Hopefully, this guide has provided you with some inspiration for your next young adult dystopian novel read, there are sure to be a few books you can add to your ‘to be read’, here.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is A Dystopian Text?

When looking to the Oxford English Dictionary, dystopia refers to “An imaginary place or condition in which everything is as bad as possible.”

What Is A Dystopian City?

A dystopian city consists of a society or community that is frightening or undesirable. It is usually created after horrendous destruction and shows parts, if not all, of humanity’s suffering.

YouTube video
Noah Burton