I love reading about the academy, so it’s no wonder I’m into dark academia books as well. I love the atmospheric setting, the autumnal clothes, classes, late-night study sessions, classics and all things literary. I must say I’m not particularly interested in the dark academia aesthetics, but I’m a sucker when it comes to books.
But what is dark academia? According to Aesthetics Wiki:
“Dark academia is a popular (and the original) academic aesthetic that revolves around classic literature, the pursuit of self-discovery and a general passion for knowledge and learning. It is one of several variations of academia aesthetic, each with a unique subject focus.
Dark academia’s visuals stem primarily from the upper-class European culture of the 19th century and American Prep. The upper class of this period emphasized a liberal education in which Latin, rhetoric and classics were taught subjects. Other than the appreciation of learning, dark academia thought includes themes of criminality, danger and mystery. Secret societies, cults and murder are subjects within the aesthetic.”
If you like reading novels set in universities and love reading about academic life with a mysterious plot, you’ll love dark academia books. On this list, I carefully selected various dark academia books for each reader. I hope you’ll find dark academia enjoyable and entertain yourself through the cold months with these books.
25 Intriguing Dark Academia Books
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last—inexorably—into evil. Mother of all dark academia books!
Catherine House – Elisabeth Thomas
Catherine House is a university like no other. Into its celebrated world steps Ines, a young woman who welcomes the school’s isolation rather than its illustrious past. As the gates close and Ines finds herself start to be inevitably seduced by its magnetic power, she begins to realise the question isn’t why she chose to come to Catherine House; but why Catherine House chose her. And interesting one among dark academia books.
Bunny – Mona Awad
We call them Bunnies because that is what they call each other. Seriously. Bunny.
Samantha Heather Mackey is an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at Warren University. In fact, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort – a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other ‘Bunny’.
But then the Bunnies issue her with an invitation and Samantha finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door, across the threshold, and down their rabbit hole.
Blending sharp satire with fairytale horror dark academia, Bunny is a spellbinding trip of a novel from one of fiction’s most original new voices.
A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik
There are no teachers, no holidays, friendships are purely strategic, and the odds of survival are never equal. Once you’re inside, there are only two ways out: you graduate or you die.
El Higgins is uniquely prepared for the school’s many dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions – never mind easily destroy the countless monsters that prowl the school.
Except, she might accidentally kill all the other students, too. So El is trying her hardest not to use it . . . that is, unless she has no other choice. A dark academia fantasy.
If We Were Villains – M. L. Rio
Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago.
As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless. A dark academia mystery.
The Maidens – Alex Michaelides
Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.
Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.
Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?
When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life. A dark academia set in Cambridge.
Confessions – Kanae Minato
When Yuko Moriguchi’s four-year-old daughter died in the middle school where she teaches, everyone thought it was a tragic accident.
It’s the last day of term, and Yuko’s last day at work. She tells her students that she has resigned because of what happened – but not for the reasons they think.
Her daughter didn’t die in an accident. Her daughter was killed by two people in the class. And before she leaves, she has a lesson to teach…
But revenge has a way of spinning out of control, and Yuko’s last lecture is only the start of the story. In this bestselling Japanese thriller of love, despair and murder, everyone has a confession to make, and no one will escape unharmed. A dark academia from Japan.
Black Chalk – Christopher J. Yates
One game. Six students. Five survivors.
It was only ever meant to be a game.
A game of consequences, of silly forfeits, childish dares. A game to be played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University. But then the game changed: the stakes grew higher and the dares more personal, more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results.
Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. A dark academia set in Oxford.
The Truants – Kate Weinberg
Jess Walker, middle child of a middle class family, has perfected the art of vanishing in plain sight. But when she arrives at a concrete university campus under flat, grey, East Anglian skies, her world flares with colour.
Drawn into a tightly-knit group of rule breakers – led by their maverick teacher, Lorna Clay – Jess begins to experiment with a new version of herself. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken as they share secrets, lovers and finally a tragedy. Soon Jess is thrown up against the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life? A dark academia with a twist.
They Never Learn – Layne Fargo
Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor. But she’s even better at getting away with murder.
Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Thanks to her meticulous planning, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself—but as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to her master plan… until she loses control with her latest victim, putting her secret life at risk of exposure.
Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Finally free of her emotionally abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies and fade into the background. Her new roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay… and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality.
The Plot – Jean Hanff Korelitz
When a young writer dies before completing his first novel, his teacher, Jake, (himself a failed novelist) helps himself to its plot. The resulting book is a phenomenal success. But what if somebody out there knows?
Somebody does. And if Jake can’t figure out who he’s dealing with, he risks something far worse than the loss of his career.
Dead Poets Society – N.H. Kleinbaum
In 1989 screenwriter Tom Schulman won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for “Dead Poets Society” and was honored with a number of nominations including WGA and Golden Globe writing awards. Set in 1959, New England, the story centers on an unorthodox English teacher’s struggle to inspire independent thought and a passion for life in his class of young boys. His insistence that each of his students “seize the day” and make the most of life inspires their impressionable minds. A classic dark academia.
Plain Bad Heroines – Emily M. Danforth
1902, Brookhants School for Girls: students Flo and Clara are madly in love with each other, as well as completely obsessed with The Story of Mary MacLane, the scandalous debut memoir by 19 year old MacLane. A few months later they are found dead in the woods, after a horrific wasp attack, the book lying next to their intertwined bodies. Within five years the school is closed. But not before three more people die on the property, each in a troubling way.
Over a hundred years later, Brookhants opens its doors once more, when a crew of young actresses arrive to film a high-profile movie about the rumoured Brookhants curse. And as past and present become grimly entangled, it’s soon impossible to tell quite where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins… A horror novel among dark academia.
Vita Nostra – Marina Dyachenko
The definitive English language translation of the internationally bestselling Russian novel – a brilliant dark fantasy combining psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror that makes us consider human existence in a fresh and provocative way. A complex blend of adventure, magic, science, dark academia and philosophy, expressed through a distinctly Russian voice, this astonishing story will transport the reader to a place far beyond imagining.
The Lake Of Dead Languages – Carol Goodman
Jane Hudson never thought she would return to Heart Lake. Her years there as a scholarship girl ended in a fatal and mysterious double tragedy.
Now she is back, struggling to adjust to her new life teaching Latin and as a single mother. But the events that haunted her memories for so many years begin to recur in front of her eyes. It seems she alone can see what is happening, and only she will be able to prevent a second catastrophe…
Surrounded by the lake that gives the school its name, steeped in history and overflowing with the emotions of teenage girls, Heart Lake guards its past – but cannot keep it hidden. A gothic dark academia.
The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood
Bright, bookish Oscar Lowe has grown to love the quiet routine of his life as a care assistant at a Cambridge nursing home, until the fateful day when he is lured into King’s College chapel by the otherworldly sound of an organ. There he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether and her privileged, eccentric clique, led by her brother Eden. A troubled but charismatic music prodigy, Eden convinces his sister and their friends to participate in a series of disturbing experiments. However, as the line between genius and madness begins to blur, Oscar fears that danger could await them all…
A Lesson in Vengeance – Victoria Lee
A dark, twisty thriller dark academia about a centuries-old, ivy-covered boarding school haunted by its history of witchcraft and two girls dangerously close to digging up the past.
Felicity Morrow is back at the Dalloway School to finish her senior year after the tragic death of her girlfriend. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students―girls some say were witches.
Felicity was once drawn to the dark legacy of witchcraft. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; but it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget it.
It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway―and in herself.
Abigail – Magda Szabó
Abigail, the story of a headstrong teenager growing up during World War II, is the most beloved of Magda Szabó’s books in her native Hungary. Gina is the only child of a general, a widower who has long been happy to spoil his bright and willful daughter. Gina is devastated when the general tells her that he must go away on a mission and that he will be sending her to boarding school in the country.
She is even more aghast at the grim religious institution to which she soon finds herself consigned. She fights with her fellow students, she rebels against her teachers, finds herself completely ostracized, and runs away. Caught and brought back, there is nothing for Gina to do except entrust her fate to the legendary Abigail, as the classical statue of a woman with an urn that stands on the school’s grounds has come to be called. If you’re in trouble, it’s said, leave a message with Abigail and help will be on the way. And for Gina, who is in much deeper trouble than she could possibly suspect, a life-changing adventure is only beginning. A historical fiction dark academia.
The Betrayals – Bridget Collins
At Montverre, an exclusive academy tucked away in the mountains, the best and brightest are trained for excellence in the grand jeu: an arcane and mysterious contest. Léo Martin was once a student there, but lost his passion for the grand jeu following a violent tragedy. Now he returns in disgrace, exiled to his old place of learning with his political career in tatters.
Montverre has changed since he studied there, even allowing a woman, Claire Dryden, to serve in the grand jeu’s highest office of Magister Ludi. When Léo first sees Claire he senses an odd connection with her, though he’s sure they have never met before.
Both Léo and Claire have built their lives on lies. And as the legendary Midsummer Game, the climax of the year, draws closer, secrets are whispering in the walls… A fantasy dark academia novel.
We Wish You Luck – Caroline Zancan
An exhilarating dark academia novel about a group of students who take revenge on a wunderkind professor after she destroys one of their own—a story of collective drive to create, sabotage, and ultimately, to love.
Love. Death. Revenge. These age-old tropes come to life as the semesters unfold. The threesome came to study writing, to be writers, and this is the story they’ve woven together: of friendship and passion, of competition and envy, of creativity as life and death. Now, they submit this story, We Wish You Luck, for your reading pleasure.
Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. A popular fantasy dark academia.
Ghosts of Harvard – Francesca Serritella
A mystery dark academia. A Harvard freshman becomes obsessed with her schizophrenic brother’s suicide. Then she starts hearing voices.
Cadence Archer arrives on Harvard’s campus desperate to understand why her brother, Eric, a genius who developed paranoid schizophrenia took his own life there the year before. Losing Eric has left a black hole in Cady’s life, and while her decision to follow in her brother’s footsteps threatens to break her family apart, she is haunted by questions of what she might have missed. And there’s only one place to find answers.
As Cady struggles under the enormous pressure at Harvard, she investigates her brother’s final year, armed only with a blue notebook of Eric’s cryptic scribblings. She knew he had been struggling with paranoia, delusions, and illusory enemies—but what tipped him over the edge? With her suspicions mounting, Cady herself begins to hear voices, seemingly belonging to three ghosts who walked the university’s hallowed halls—or huddled in its slave quarters. Among them is a person whose name has been buried for centuries, and another whose name mankind will never forget.
Does she share Eric’s illness, or is she tapping into something else? Cady doesn’t know how or why these ghosts are contacting her, but as she is drawn deeper into their worlds, she believes they’re moving her closer to the truth about Eric, even as keeping them secret isolates her further. Will listening to these voices lead her to the one voice she craves—her brother’s—or will she follow them down a path to her own destruction? A dark academia set in Harvard.
The Mary Shelley Club – Goldy Moldavsky
New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends.
To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own.
When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past. A dark academia full of scary pranks.
The Emperor of Ocean Park – Stephen L. Carter
An extraordinary fiction debut: a large, stirring novel of suspense that is, at the same time, a work of brilliantly astute social observation. The Emperor of Ocean Park is set in two privileged worlds: the upper crust African American society of the eastern seaboard–old families who summer on Martha’s Vineyard–and the inner circle of an Ivy League law school. It tells the story of a complex family with a single, seductive link to the shadowlands of crime. A thrilling dark academia novel.
The Divines – Ellie Eaton
With the emotional power of Normal People and the reflective haze of The Girls, a magnetic novel that moves between present-day Los Angeles and a British boarding school in the 1990s, exploring the destructive relationships between teenage girls.
Suspenseful, provocative, and compulsively readable, The Divines is a scorching examination of the power of adolescent sexuality, female identity, and the destructive class divide. Exposing the tension between the lives we lead as adults and the experiences that form us, Eaton probes us to consider how our memories as adults compel us to reexamine our pasts. A dark academia novel set in a boarding school.
Check out my other lists about books!
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Are there any dark academia books you’d like to add to this list? Would you please share in the comments section below?
Awesome list, thanks! Minato’s is on my TBR.
I believe I read some that would fit here, but for the life of me, nothing comes to mind right now
Thank you so much. I’m sure we’ll be seeing lots of dark academia books in the next years. 🙂
beautifully curated list – The Secret History is one of my favorite novels.
something perhaps to add — Picnic at Hanging Rock — set in a girls’ college in Australia…
Ohh wonderful! Thank you so much.
Great list, the only one I was disappointed wasn’t mentioned was Four by Four by Sara Mesa, (translated by Katie Whittemore)
Thank you so much. I’ve never heard of Sara Mesa before, which is a shame cause Four by Four sounds intriguing. Thank you for mentioning it! 🙂