We’ve all most likely heard of YA dystopian books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc., but where are the dystopian books adults want to dive into? There may be more than you think, starting with classics such as The Giver and Nineteen Eighty-Four (you know, the ones we were forced to read in high school).
Here are 20 books similar to The Hunger Games, but for adults that crave the twisted dystopian societies of the future – and won’t have to do book reports on after.
Likely one of the most well-known dystopian novels, we all have probably been forced to read this in high school (because what scares teenagers more than dystopian worlds?). However, that shouldn’t stop you from reading or rereading this as an adult when you have a new appreciation of how the world works.
The Giver (Lois Lowry) – 1993
Jonas, a boy living in a futuristic world, is breaking the rules of his community by asking questions about the life around him. He is given an assignment as the Reciever of Memory to unlock secrets of his world which not only poses more questions but sheds light on some shocking truths surrounding the individuals and dynamics among him. Purchase the book here.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Most know this name by its Netflix series, but The Handmaid’s Tale originally got its start as a book written by novelist Margaret Atwood. While Netflix has certainly been able to celebrate Atwood’s most well-known piece, she’s gone on to do much more since then, with her latest piece published in 2020.
The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) – 1985
Due to declining birth rates and natural disasters, a second American Civil War has begun. This causes the rise of the Republic of Gilead, an establishment that enslaves the few fertile women left. Due to the reduction of individuals, these women are forced to bear children for one of the Gilead’s commanders. Can these women fulfill societal rules while still holding onto their identities? Purchase the book for yourself here.
Veronica Roth, the iconic author who brought us the Divergent series, put pen to paper (or fingertips to computer) to bring adults their own dystopian novel, Chosen Ones. The book got an 8/10 review for the fantasy genre, which means it’s a must-read if you love anything futuristic.
Chosen Ones (Veronica Roth) – 2020
15 years after selected teenagers, also called Chosen Ones, were sent to take out an entity attacking North America, the world went back to normal for everyone but them. Now, on the 10th anniversary of the life-changing defeat, one of the Chosen Ones mysteriously dies. The others begin to realize that a bigger plan had been brewing the whole time… Check out the book here.
This book, much like The Handmaid’s Tale, was also turned into a series and aired in 2021 just six years after the original publication date. Author Emily St. John Mandel created six novels and has won various awards and finalist titles for her books.
Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel) – 2015
Kirsten Raymonde’s life was forever altered when a flu pandemic took over her city and nearly ended all civilization within weeks. The few that survived, known as The Traveling Symphony, vowed to keep art and humanity alive while everything else around them withered away. You can purchase the book here.
Wall Street Journal bestseller Matthew Fitzimmons wrote the dystopian thriller, Constance, with its sequel coming out in February of 2023. Not only has Fitzimmons authored those two books, but he has written a five-book thriller series, as well.
Constance (Matthew Fitzimmons) – 2021
Constance (Con) D’Arcy lives in a human-cloning reality world. When she’s gifted her own clone, things take a turn for the worse. After Con mysteriously wakes up in a clinic 18 months later, all her memories have been erased and she’s told her original being is dead. Can Constance uncover the truth about who – or what – she really is? Buy the book here.
This 2019 novel written by Blake Crouch was given a 4.2/5 rating on Goodreads, which proves that it’s a dystopian hit. Along with this book, Crouch is a best-selling author of both series and standalones.
Recursion (Blake Crouch) – 2019
An epidemic has viscously spread and grants individuals thrilling memories of lives they’ve never lived. Detective Barry Sutton and neuroscientist Helena Smith are working hard to uncover the truth about this mystery and what’s needed to fight back before it’s too late. You can purchase the book here.
Parable of the Sower
Renowned African American author, Octavia E. Butler, authored the book Parable of the Sower along with other works regarding dystopia and science fiction. Not only do her books focus on the ins and outs of dystopian societies, but many of them contain plots around women’s rights, global warming, and Black injustice.
Parable of the Sower (Octavia E. Butler) – 1993
It is the year 2025 in California and walled, protected communities populate the area. Among the outsiders are those who are looking to roam and scavenge, but they’re also addicted to a drug that activates a desire for brutal crimes. An 18-year-old Black woman with the ability to feel others’ pain is the only hope of saving humanity. Buy the book here.
The Machine Stops
This dystopian short story was written in 1909, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t as captivating and groundbreaking as later-written pieces. Before further publication, this story got its start in The Oxford and Cambridge Review, was voted one of the best novellas for over 55 years, and was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume II in 1973.
The Machine Stops (E. M. Forester) – 1909
In a world where most humans have lost the ability to live on Earth’s surface, the omnipotent global Machine is introduced. As people are forced to live in isolation underground, all their human needs are met by the Machine. Read the novella by purchasing the book here.
One of the most well-known dystopian novels, Nineteen Eighty-Four is right up there with The Giver in terms of popularity and readability. Most of us (most likely) know this book from high school reading lists, although the dystopian plots might be better suited for adults.
Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell) – 1949
The Party has dictated how humans are supposed to know about reality. Winston Smith is told to encourage that by rewriting history with lies. However, as he starts to think for himself, he realizes that there is something out there always watching… Buy the book here.
On the Beach
British Nevil Shute Norway brings us this apocalyptic novel after he emigrated to Australia. He got inspiration from where he moved to and based the location in the book on an area in Melbourne.
On the Beach (Nevil Shute Norway) – 1957
World War III brought nuclear destruction to the globe, with a few remaining survivors in southern Australia. While they anxiously await an unstoppable radioactive cloud traveling toward them, an American sea captain among them picks up a faint transmission from Seattle, Washington that might just be everyone’s saving grace. Purchase the book here.
Stephen King is arguably one of the most praised and renowned contemporary authors in the literary world. His book, The Stand, is no different from his famed name. While we’re familiar with King’s horror books such as Pet Sematary, The Shining, It, and many more, this dystopian novel stands out as more futuristic than scary.
The Stand (Stephen King) – 1978
A patient who is unknowingly carrying a deadly superflu escapes from a biological testing facility. 99% of the world’s population is wiped out and those who remained appoint two leaders, Mother Abigail, and Randall Flag, also known as Dark Man. The group is forced to choose between them all while trying to save humanity in the process. Purchase King’s book here.
This dystopian novel stands out because not only is there an eerie futuristic theme, but there’s romance involved, as well. This book is also incredibly similar to The Hunger Games in that teenagers are turned into soldiers with all of society watching.
Secondborn (Amy A. Bartol) – 2017
A secondborn child from every family is brutally taken from the government on Transition Day to enter into servitude. Roselle St. Sismode realizes that when she’s 18, her place will be as a soldier during the bloodiest rebellion in history. Because she grew up wealthy, she is now resented by nearly all of her peers. Can she find an ally and make it out alive? Read the story by buying it here.
A Canticle for Leibowitz
Walter M. Miller Jr. published only one book in his lifetime, A Canticle for Leibowitz. However, it won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1961. The book spans thousands of years and is a fix-up, meaning it is three short stories in one.
A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter M. Miller Jr.) – 1959
After the Flame Deluge scoured the earth, a monk of the Order of Saint Leibowitz found holy relics in the depths of the Utah desert. Not only are these relics incredible artifacts, but they also could be the solution to humanity’s rebirth and salvation. Buy the book here.
The Twenty Days of Turin
This book was originally written by Italian writer and musician and composer Giorgio De Maria in 1975 but was translated into English in 2016 by Ramon Glazov. It is claimed to be of the same caliber as Edgar Allen Poe and H. P. Lovecraft.
The Twenty Days of Turin (Giorgio De Maria) – 1975
When kids turn an old church wing into the Library, they have no idea that they’re not just reading people’s diaries and confessions. However, it’s too late when they learn that the Library consumes privacy and sanity. For 20 days, brutal massacres occur and people are on the hunt to find out the truth behind the coincidence. Purchase the book for yourself here.
The Unit was named one of the best books of the month by a previous GQ issue and is advertised as perfect for the fans of The Handmaid’s Tale. It was also reviewed on Twitter by Margaret Atwood herself, which is enough encouragement to get your hands on a copy.
The Unit (Ninni Holmqvist) – 2006
Unmarried and childless women over 50 and men over 60 are sent to a retirement community called The Unit. At first glance, the community looks ideal with fancy apartments, gourmet meals, beautiful gardens, and other residents just like them. However, the only catch is that the hopeful residents must donate their organs one by one until there are none left. Buy the book here.
The Fifth Season
The Fifth Season is the first book out of three in the Broken Earth trilogy and was awarded the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016. The author, N. K. Jemisin, includes themes of oppression and cultural conflict in not only this book but all the other books she’s authored, as well.
The Fifth Season (N. K. Jemisin) – 2015
The world is ending for the last time. Ash blots out the sun, a red rift covers the continents, a son is murdered, a daughter is missing… In the midst of this chaos, a woman must hide her secret powers to find her kidnapped daughter. Can anyone make it out alive? You can purchase the book here.
Super Sad True Love Story
Don’t be fooled by the title of this book – the themes of this novel are not focused solely on romance, but on futuristic life dominated by media and retail. While there is a plot of doomed romance, the themes of near-future dystopia are at the forefront.
Super Sad True Love Story (Gary Shteyngart) – 2010
After America is destroyed by a financial crisis, Lenny Abramov, son of a Russian immigrant janitor and lover of bound artifacts (books), meets Eunice Park, a Korean American woman. Can falling in love be the key to saving and restoring humanity? Buy the novel here.
When She Woke
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan has a hint of The Scarlet Letter in the plot with a twist of near-future dystopia. Jordan has authored and edited various other books as well as completed a film adaptation for When She Woke.
When She Woke (Hillary Jordan) – 2011
In a world where church and state have been eradicated, convicted felons are no longer imprisoned. However, their skin is genetically altered to show a color associated with their crimes. Hannah’s is red for murder. As she’s released back into the world, Hannah must learn to survive in a newly-hostile world. Check out the book here.
Tender is the Flesh
This novel is not for faint hearts (or weak stomachs) and may be one of the most chilling ones listed, with themes of cannibalism and mass animal extinction. It was originally published in Spanish in 2017 and was later translated into English in 2020.
Tender is the Flesh (Agustina Bazterrica) – 2017
After a virus was said to make animal meat poisonous to humans, the government started the “Transition” where people are given special meat (humans) to eat. Marcos is one of the individuals told to provide this meat, and when a live specimen is brought to him, he realizes that there might still be time to save what’s been lost to humanity. Buy the book here.
Laura van den Berg brings us the novel, Find Me, with a dystopian focus on a pandemic. This book is her debut novel out of five fiction books and has received awards and fellowships for her incredible work.
Find Me (Laura van den Berg) – 2015
Joy is an addict just trying to survive when a sickness that brings memory loss takes over the country. For the first time in her life, she’s given the upper hand and has immunity to whatever the sickness is. Because of that, she’s brought to a hospital and goes through odd treatments before realizing that it might be safer in the real world than in the sterile prison. Purchase the book here.
Dystopian novels have a way of gripping our emotions, no matter if they were written in 1902 or 2022. Maybe that’s because we can already see some predicted changes or because we like escaping to a world where things may seem direr than what may be around us. Whatever it is, dystopian reading is not just for teenagers.
Take a look through these 20 novels and see which stands out to you most: genetic modification, deadly viruses, eradication of functioning societies… Find one you like, add it to your TBR (to be read), and escape to a world where the impossible is possible.
What is a dystopian society?
A dystopian society is a theme of negative futuristic change; whether that be before, during, or after some life-altering event. The Giver or Divergent is a great example of living in a society like that. It’s set in the future where people’s actions are controlled by a larger entity after some sort of disaster that forced society to restart.
What is the difference between dystopia and utopia?
Dystopia is a society where suffering and destruction take place. Utopia is a place of refuge, growth, and happiness. One (dystopia) is highly negative, while the other (utopia) is highly positive.
What is the most popular dystopian novel?
The answer to this question is based on what your version of popular is, but some of the most well-known ones were written decades ago. Books like The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Nineteen Eighty-Four are just a few of the ones a majority of the population knows and loves.
Are dystopian books scary?
Depending on what your version of scary is, they might be. However, the scare factor for most dystopian books doesn’t come from blood or gore or supernatural beings. The “scarier” parts may be focused more on what society has the potential of becoming.
Have any of these books been adapted into movies or TV shows?
Yes! The Giver, Fahrenheit 451, and The Handmaid’s Tale are just a few that have hit the big screen in one way or another.
- Unforgettable Stories: The 20 Best Books Like The Kite Runner (by Khaled Hosseini) - February 10, 2023
- Dystopian Adventures: The 20 Best Books Like The Hunger Games (for Adults) - February 7, 2023
- Edge of Your Seat: The 20 Best Thriller Authors Like Sidney Sheldon - February 2, 2023