So you’re looking for dark academia books. But you’re not sure which books are worth your time.
I’ve got you. These dark academia books are perfect for your next reading session.
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Want the best dark academia books?
Maybe it’s the books and libraries references. Maybe it’s the classic literature references. Or maybe it’s the dark academia aesthetic’s popularity on TikTok. But dark academia is mysterious and captivating.
The problem is knowing which dark academia books are worth reading,
So whether you’re after secret society, classic literature or mysterious thrillers, I’ve got you covered. This post is all about the absolute best dark academia books.
Let’s discover the best dark academia books
- What is the Dark Academia Aesthetic?
- What are the best dark academia books?
- 1. The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
- 2. Babel by R.F. Kuang
- 3. Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
- 4. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
- 5. A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
- 6. If we were villains by M.I. Rio
- 7. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
- 8. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- 9. Dracula by Bram Stoker
- 10. Vicious by V.E. Schwab
- 11. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
- 12. Maurice by E.M Forster
- 13. We set the dark on fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
- 14. Jonathon Strange & Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke
- 15. A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
- 16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
- 17. Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko and Sergey Dyachenko
- 18. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
- 19. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
- 20. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
- 21. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
- Other posts you might like
What is the Dark Academia Aesthetic?
Dark academia is a subculture with a heavy emphasis on reading, writing and learning. It’s the romanticization of learning.
I’ve heard it described as vintage with a gothic edge.
Think tweed, oxfords and plaid skirts but also dark photos and brooding poetry.
There have been some criticisms of Dark Academia. One important criticism is the lack of diversity in Dark Academia. Many people have commented on how eurocentric and white-dominated this aesthetic is because it’s linked to old universities such as Oxford. I think it’s really important we change that stereotype of academia. Below I’ve linked some wonderful posts and creators you can look at:
Dark Academia Reading List for Black People/Allies (Including Queer Black Authors) by Persephone Anasi
How to dress Dark Academia and POC Book Recs
R C Waldrun – Incredible Youtuber who posts about Dark Academia
Golden Lanni – Has many Dark Academic related videos
What are the best dark academia books?
I asked book lovers on social media to share their favourite dark academia books. I also browsed Facebook Groups, Reddit, TikTok, Youtube and blog posts for dark academia books.
I’ve sorted the recommendations and in this blog post, you’ll find the top 23 dark academia books.
1. The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
Good reads Rating:3.71
If you’ve been on BookTok, then you’ve probably heard of The Atlas Six.
At one point, I couldn’t go on Booktok, without seeing a recommendation for The Atlas Six. It has amazing 11 million mentions on TikTok.
The Atlas Six is about a secret society of academics known as The Alexandrian Society. Their members look after lost knowledge. And they secure a life of awe-inspiring wealth, power and prestige.
Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation.
The Atlas Six follows six characters competing for entry into the society – Libby Rhodes, Nicolás Ferrer de Varona, Reina Mori, Parisa Kamali, Tristan Caine and Callum Nova.
Dark academia fans will fall in love with this book. Set in a library, it has tons of academic references. From lectures to classes and academic theories.
The Atlas Six and The Magicians have a lot in common. Let me elaborate, it features an academic setting, secret society and group of overly intelligent friends.
So what’s my point? If you’re after Dark academia books, I highly recommend picking this up.
2. Babel by R.F. Kuang
Good reads Rating:4.29
Did you like A Secret History, The Atlas Six or Jonathon Strange and Dr Norrell. Then you will love Babel.
A dark fantasy set in an academic setting. It discusses the power of language and the evils of authoritarianism.
It follows Robin Swift. Orphaned by cholera, The mysterious Professor Lovell brings him to London.
There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek and Chinese. All to prepare for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation. Known as Babel.
Babel is the world’s centre for translation and magic.
Silver working is the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation. And it uses enchanted silver bars.
So what’s the point?
Well it has made the British unparalleled in power. Likewise, its knowledge serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.
For Robin, Oxford is a utopia.
Dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power.
The problem is, as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland.
If you’re after dark academia books, then you NEED to read this
3. Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Good reads Rating:4.41
I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to recommend Legendborn. Let me walk you through why dark academia fans should read it.
Legendborn is a King Arthur retelling with a secret society in an academic setting.
A fast paced ya fantasy book, packed full of action, mind-blowing plot twists and awesome characters.
It follows Bree Mathews. After the death of her mother, she wants to avoid family memories.
The result? She joins a residential program for gifted high school students.
But then she witnesses a magical attack on her first night. A flying demon feeding on human energy.
A Mage tries to wipe her memory. But he fails. And instead Bree unlocks new memories of her mother’s death.
If you’re looking for a mysterious, dark haired and morally grey main character then this is a great choice.
It also has a diverse cast, an amazing female lead and dark academia vibes. Similarly, the commentary on slavery and racism is excellent.
Everyone needs to read Legendborn. But if you’re after dark academia books I highly recommend picking this up.
4. The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater
Good reads Rating:4.05
If you’re looking for a book with great characters and dark academia vibes then you should check out The Raven Boys. It has a chaotic friendship group, fantasy and dark academia worldbuilding.
The Raven Boys follows Blue. Each year in the churchyard, Blue watches her psychic mother see those who are going to die that year. Blue never actually sees them herself. Until this year. When she speaks directly to a boy.
He is called Gansey and is a student at Aglionby school. The students are known locally as Raven Boys.
Raven Boys has such dark academia vibes. Set in a local private school, Gansey is obsessed with researching Welsh mythology. And it even references Latin.
The characters are what make this book. On the surface, it seems like a quirky loner meeting rich boys. But it’s so much more than that!
The characters are all fully developed with fleshed-out (and tragic) backstories. The relationships between them are some of the best I’ve read in YA Fiction. A must read for fans of dark academia books.
5. A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske
Good reads Rating:4.01
A Marvellous Light has many tropes you’ll love. It’s an mlm romance about magic, a mystery to solve and a secret magical society.
A Marvellous Light is a fantasy with dark academia vibes and lots of references to books/libraries.
It follows Robin Blyth. Due to an administrative error, he is named liaison to a secret magical society. So, he is forced to contend with magic’s dangers and a deadly curse while he searches for his missing predecessor.
To do this, he’ll need the help of Edwin Courcey. Edwin Courcey is his prickly magical society counterpart but he clearly wishes Robin were anyone else.
I love the secret society of magicians. And the Edwardian setting and mlm romance sets it apart from other books including secret magical societies.
If you like historical fiction or dark academia then you need to read this one. It’s fantastic to read about gay men in an Edwardian setting. And the setting makes it perfect if you’re looking for dark academia books.
6. If we were villains by M.I. Rio
Good reads Rating:4.22
If you’re looking for a dark academia read, a secret society of a smart group of friends then you should check out If We Were Villains.
It follows Oliver Marks. He’s 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 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. But the casting changes and the secondary characters usurp the stars.
The play spills dangerously over into life and one of them is found dead.
If you enjoyed the characters in The Atlas Six, then this is the book for you. It features a secret society with pretentious members who end up doing morally questionable things. Perfect if you want dark academia books.
7. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Good reads Rating:4.04
Leigh Bardugo can do no wrong. If you liked the dark academia elements of The Magicans then I highly recommend picking up Ninth House.
Ninth House is paranormal fantasy set in an urban, academia setting. And it’s also Bardugo’s first adult fantasy book.
It follows Galaxy ‘Alex’ Sterm. She is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised by a hippie mom, she dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends and dead end jobs.
By age 20, she is the only survivor of a horrific unsolved multiple murder. At her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance. Attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride.
But what’s the catch?
Alex is tasked 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 more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
If you’re after dark academia books, then you will love this book. A dark and mysterious fantasy that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
8. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Good reads Rating:4.30
Sherlock Holmes instantly reminds me of that pursuit of knowledge associated with dark academia.
Sherlock Holmes is a consulting detective. And he is also rather eccentric. He uses logic and reasoning to solve a series of murders.
The stories are told from the perspective of Dr. John Watson. Dr. Watson is his friend and helps to solve many of the murders.
I love this collection of short stories about Sherlock Holmes.
They were originally published in The Strand magazine. Consequently, they are very satisfying and easy to read. I highly recommend them if you’re new to classics or in a reading slump. They can easily be read in one sitting.
Sherlock is just classic autumn reading fodder for me. And if you love murder mysteries you need to read this one!
9. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Good reads Rating:4.01
Dracula is a classic horror story. A Great starting point if you want to read more gothic literature.
Jonathon Harker is a young English lawyer. He travels to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to conclude a real estate deal with Count Dracula. But, the local peasants warn him about evil.
I first read this at University for a module on gothic literature. I quickly became enthralled. And I’ve even visited Bran Castle in Romania which inspired Castle Dracula.
A dark and gothic read. If you enjoy gothic fiction or dark academia books you should pick this one up. A timeless horror story that sets the tone for vampire fiction
10. Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Good reads Rating:4.23
Vicious is a dark and twisted tale of jealousy, betrayal and superpowers. Set in a near-future world and follows two college boys.
Victor and Eli started out as college roommates. They have an intriguing hypothesis that under the right conditions someone would develop extraordinary abilities.
Everyone in this book is messed up. And that’s why I love it. The writing style keeps you hooked throughout.
If you’re looking for a dark read featuring sociopaths and superpowers – then Vicious is perfect for you.
11. These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong
Good reads Rating:3.92
Whether it’s romance, mystery or fantasy you’re after, These Violent Delights has everything you want in a dark academia romance. It’s a Romeo and Juliet retelling set in 1920s Shanghai.
Set in Shanghai in 1926, aA blood feud between two gangs leaves the city helpless. And in the grip of chaos.
The book follows Juliette Cai, an 18 year old at the heart of all the chaos. She’s a former flapper. And she’s returned to assume her role as heir of the Scarlet Gang —a network of criminals far above the law.
Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows.
As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their grudges aside and work together. Otherwise there will be no city left for either to rule.
This is a captivating read. If you’re after dark academia books, then you will love this book. A fast paced romance with rival gangs, beautiful worldbuilding and heart-wrenching romance.
12. Maurice by E.M Forster
Good reads Rating:4.07
Want a historical romance? Then Maurice is for you.
Maurice is a 1971 romance. It deals with LGBTQ+ romance in the early 20th Century.
It follows Maurice. A young man who is heartbroken due to unrequited love. An unrequited love which opened his heart and mind to his own sexual identity.
But he is also trapped by the oppressiveness of Edwardian Society.
In order to be true to himself, he goes against the grain of society’s often unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics.
E.M Forster wrote this novel in 1914. But he knew it would end this career. So it sat unread in a draw. Since it’s release it has been widely read. It was also adapted into a movie featuring Hugh Grant.
I’m a huge fan of a book with an adaptation. For a while, I was in a routine of reading a book and then watching the adaptation.
13. We set the dark on fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Good reads Rating:4.07
You need to check this book out if you’re after LGBTQ+ Dark Academia books. It has dark academia worldbuilding and one of the best wlw enemies to lovers romances.
AYa dystopian urban fantasy novel, it features a wlw romance and Latine representation.
We Set The Dark On Fire follows Daniela Vargas. She lives in a dystopian world where each man is entitled to 2 wives.
A Primera and a Segunda. The Primera is intelligent, calm and analytical. The Segunda is the mother figure.
Outside the wall, the people go hungry. Dani started life outside of the wall. And she must use her wits to survive illegally in the capital.
But she is also married to one of the most powerful men in the kingdom.
The premise was intriguing. And the main character was instantly likeable. She also grows a lot through the book.
But the romance is what makes this so perfect.
Two badass women who are married to a Straight man but fall in love with each other.
The world-building is also excellent. And the book has such dark academia vibes. It opens in a prep school for girls. But it discusses so many important issues such as immigration politics and forced marriage.
We set the Dark on Fire features an intriguing dystopian premise and a likeable, strong-minded main character. This YA LGBTQ+ Dystopian book explores immigration politics, toxic masculinity and feminism. A great choice if you’re looking for fantasy books with dark academia vibes
14. Jonathon Strange & Mr Norell by Susanna Clarke
Good reads Rating:3.85
Jonathon Strange & Mr Norell is a fantasy book with dark academia vibes. It features magic, dark academia worldbuilding and a city setting.
Set in England in 1806. England is beleaguered by the long war with Napoleon, and centuries have passed since practical magicians faded into the nation’s past. Except one remains. The reclusive Mr Norell.
And Nr Norell’s displays of magic thrill the country.
He goes to London where he raises a beautiful woman from the dead. And he sends an army of ghostly ships to terrify the French.
But the cautious Norell is challenged by another magician. The brilliant novel Jonathon Strange.Strange the the very opposite of Norrel. And a dangerous battle starts between them.
But their secret dabbling with the dark arts will cause more trouble than they can possibly imagine.
If you’re after dark academia books you should definitely read this book. It’s a compelling dark academia fantasy. I have tons of recommendations for dark academia fantasy books. Check out my post on dark academia fantasy books here.
15. A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Good reads Rating:3.59
A Lesson in Vengeance in a LGBTQ+ Dark Academia Fantasy and Thriller. It’s a great pick if you’re after LGBTQ+ Dark Academia books.
It follows Felicity Morrrow and is set at Dalloway School. Dalloway School is in the Catskill mountains and is a centuries-old campus.
And it was her home until the tragic death of her girlfriend.
But after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. And she even has her old room back in Godwin House. An exclusive dormitory rumoured to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students rumoured to be witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously on Godwin Grounds.
Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. Before the death of her girlfriend, Felicity was drawn to the dark. But now she’s determined to leave that behind and graduate.
But a new girl won’t let her forget.
And when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five, Felicity can’t say no.
I’m a huge fan of LGBTQ+ dark academia books. Check out my article on LGBTQ+ dark academia books for even more recommendations.
16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Good reads Rating:4.12
I couldn’t write a post on Dark Academia books without recommending a Picture of Dorian Gray.
A Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic novel. And it contains many coded reference to characters sexual identity in the novel. The original version with censored as it included many references to bisexuality. An uncensored version has since been released
The Picture of Dorian Gray is about a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty.
His body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil.
This book is great choice if you’re interested in reading more classics. It’s a gothic fantasy that deals with the power of vanity.
17. Vita Nostra by Marina Dyachenko and Sergey Dyachenko
Good reads Rating:4.04
Vita Nostra combines psychological suspense, enchantment, and terror. It’s a dark fantasy about a magical school.
It follows Sasha Samokhina. While on holiday, she meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov. And she’s powerless to refuse when he directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous consequences.
He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, Kozhennikov directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies.
Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school, she also feels it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.
18. A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
Good reads Rating:4.00
A Deadly Education is another dark academia book set in a magical school. It’s perfect if you’re looking for ya fantasy books.
A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance – a school for the magically gifted. Failure means certain death. Until El begins to unlock its secrets.
Survival is more important than any grade. The school won’t allow students to leave until they graduate. Or die.
The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students.
19. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Good reads Rating:4.24
Rebecca is perfect if you’re after an easy to read classic with plenty of plot twists.
Rebecca is raved about by its fans. It sold 2.8 million copies between 1938 and 1965. And it has never gone out of print. Also in 2017, English bookworms voted it their favourite book of the past 225 years.
The novel opens in Monte Carlo. The young protagonist is a companion for an American woman Mrs Van Hopper. She meets Maxim De Winter who completely sweeps her off her feet. And he proposes.
But when they arrive at Manderley country estate she realises how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives.
Rebecca truly deserves to be a classic. The complex characters, slow build tension and gothic atmosphere hook you in. I would particularly recommend this for fans of Jane Eyre.
20. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez
Good reads Rating:3.97
Many of Gabriel García Marquéz’s works remind me of Dark Academia. But Chronicle of a Death Foretold is an incredible story.
In Chronicle of A Death Foretold, A man returns to the town where a murder took place twenty seven years before.
Just hours after marrying, Bayardo San Roman returned his bride in disgrace. Her distraught family forced her to name her first lover. And her twin brothers announced their intention of murdering her twin brother.
I first read this book while studying at University. And it’s stayed with me ever since.
A fascinating read with some dark themes. This is told 30 years after the events, and it gave the book a very eerie feel.
If you’re after dark academia books, I highly recommend checking this out.
21. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Good reads Rating:4.22
Ace of Spades is a thrilling YA Mystery. It’s fast-paced and filled with plot twists. It’s a dark academia book that deals with institutionalized racism. Plus it has a badass female lead.
Ace of Spades it set at Niveus Private Academy. Here money paves the hallways. And students are never less than perfect.
An anonymous texter, Aces, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light.Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals. But he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants. But soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power.Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high-school game…