The 10 Best Dark Academia Novels of All Time, Ranked

These fascinating dark academia novels show why this aesthetic and subculture is so popular right now.
The 10 Best Dark Academia Novels of All Time, Ranked

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Dark academia is both an aesthetic and a subculture that encompasses all areas of entertainment and lifestyle, including movies, TV shows, music, fashion, and, of course, books.

Dark academia is mainly concerned with activities like reading, writing, and learning, putting an idealized lens on what academic life is like, especially with regard to higher education and the arts.

Here are my picks for the best dark academia novels that exemplify the subculture. Get ready to enter a world full of old wooden desks, dusty libraries, and vintage copper eyeglasses!

10. The Girls Are All So Nice Here

Authored by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn

First published on March 9, 2021

320 pages — 3.56 on Goodreads

Ah, college reunions. What a nightmare! They often make you confront truths you've kept buried for years. Truths not just about who you are today, but who you were years ago.

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is an amazing book where two former best friends—Amb and Sully—return to their college for a reunion, ten years after graduation.

But they realize something isn't quite right. Someone is seeking revenge and is determined to make them pay for what happened ten years ago.

On top of being a great book with dark academia elements, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a fabulous reminder that maybe college reunions aren't so great. You never know who might still be salty with you!

9. Hex

Authored by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

First published on March 31, 2020

224 pages — 3.33 on Goodreads

In Hex, Nell Barber is an expelled PhD candidate in Biological Science. Why was she expelled, you ask? Well, something to do with poisons and antidotes...

As it turns out, not everyone understands the importance of her research. Outcasted by the academic community, Nell decides to work alone on the detoxification of poisonous plants. In the meantime, she wants to make a good impression on her mentor, Dr. Joan Kallas.

Science and love don't often overlap, but Hex is a fantastic story where two people are united by a poisonous bond, and it all comes together as one of the best dark academia romance books.

8. A Deadly Education

Authored by Naomi Novik

First published on September 29, 2020

336 pages — 4.00 on Goodreads

A Deadly Education is the first book in the Scholomance trilogy by Naomi Novik, about the story of a dark sorceress who's rewriting the entire set of rules that guide magical practices altogether.

Her name is Galadriel "El" Higgins and she's pressured by the fact that her entire school is against her. After all, she's powerful enough to destroy everyone there—and it's up to her to figure out how to keep her powers under control.

A Deadly Education combines a magical school with the dark academia aesthetic, resulting in a brilliantly unique coming-of-age story that didn't quite get the recognition it deserves.

7. The Temple House Vanishing

Authored by Rachel Donohue

First published on February 6, 2020

304 pages — 3.40 on Goodreads

Rachel Donohue's The Temple House Vanishing is such a suggestive title that draws you in with the promise of mystery.

Our protagonist Louisa just made it into a boarding school with a scholarship! The school is a hugely intimidating mansion that's set on a cliffside, far away from basically everything.

Louisa soon finds out that she's the only outsider in an environment laden with unspoken rules. Thankfully, another outcast soon appears—a girl named Victoria—and their friendship is instantaneous.

But one day, Louisa and a young teacher named Mr. Lavelle both vanish without a trace, leaving Victoria on her own to piece things together. What happened to her friend?

6. Trust Exercise

Authored by Susan Choi

First published on April 9, 2019

257 pages — 3.14 on Goodreads

In Trust Exercise, it's the early 1980s and two performing arts students—named David and Sarah—fall madly in love.

Of course, school romances are rarely drama-free. You expect all kinds of gossip, jealousy, and social awkwardness when navigating unusual situations. But you don't expect the teachers to get involved!

On top of that, the outside world disrupts the art bubble these students are living in when a tornado of events sweeps through. What happens to David and Sarah? Does their love survive the real world?

Trust Exercise investigates themes of young love, innate talent, and the harshness of life. I couldn't stop turning the pages to figure out the difference between truth and fiction.

5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Authored by Muriel Spark

First published on January 1, 1961

150 pages — 3.72 on Goodreads

Jean Brodie is a teacher at the conservative Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. Teaching kids of such a tender age is an important job that comes with heavy responsibility.

We like to think that teachers are moved to share knowledge and educate others from the goodness of their hearts. Some teachers are definitely like that, but not Miss Brodie.

Manipulative and self-obsessed, Miss Brodie wants to impose everything on her students, from how to dress to how to live their lives.

Of course, this isn't good for young minds, and as time passes by we start to see the side effects of her thorough education.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of the older books on this list, but don't let its age deter you. Muriel Spark's historical fiction is a shining example of dark academia that's just as good now as it was back then.

4. Heaven

Authored by Mieko Kawakami

First published on September 2, 2009

192 pages — 3.83 on Goodreads

The effects of bullying in school are often ignored and swept under the rug, but not in this heartbreaking novel by Mieko Kawakami.

Heaven takes a magnifying glass to the idea of school violence and looks at its with a unique gaze full of compassion and wisdom.

This phenomenal story centers on two students—a boy and a girl—who are united by a shared experience: the trauma of being bullied.

With no one else to turn to, they establish a strong bond with each other, a true friendship that helps them endure tough times.

They see in each other a fellow victim with whom they can share their deepest thoughts, their greatest pains, and their musings on why such violent, cruel, unjustified treatment befalls them.

3. Wilder Girls

Authored by Rory Power

First published on July 9, 2019

357 pages — 3.47 on Goodreads

The Raxter School for Girls has been under quarantine for 18 months. Why? Because a disease has been spreading through the corridors of the school and taking the teachers, one by one.

After the teachers, it came for the students. And what happened to their bodies? It's honestly too bizarre to summarize in a few lines.

Suffice it to say that not everyone at Raxter died. Some of them are still there, under quarantine, waiting for a cure.

Unfortunately, one of them goes missing during this time, and another student named Hetty breaks quarantine to find her—by wandering the woods, which are dark, dangerous, and full of perils.

Wilder Girls is a gripping book that blends dark academia with horror, mystery, and dystopia, all wrapped up in an apocalyptic story that's incredibly suspenseful and impossible to put down.

2. If We Were Villains

Authored by M. L. Rio

First published on April 11, 2017

354 pages — 4.22 on Goodreads

In If We Were Villains, Oliver Marks is innocent. Or, at least, he claims to be. After ten years spent in prison, he's finally released—and Detective Colborne is there waiting for him because he has to know the truth.

You see, Oliver was a student at the Dellecher Classical Conservatory where he and his friends performed Shakespeare's works. In their fourth year, though, things got unexpectedly dark.

During one performance, an on-stage death suddenly becomes real—and Oliver, who was on the wrong side of the room, is blamed for it.

If We Were Villains is a brilliant mystery thriller with dark academic shadings and lots of suspense. If you like detective novels and whodunits, you'll like this one, too!

1. The Secret History

Authored by Donna Tartt

First published on September 16, 1992

559 pages — 4.17 on Goodreads

Donna Tartt's The Secret History is often described as one of the most compelling dark academia books ever written.

Yet even for readers who don't care about dark academia, this is a fantastic book and one of the most chilling psychological thrillers ever written.

The Secret History centers on a group of college students—outcasts and eccentric figures—who listen to a charismatic professor to learn new ways of living life. Think Dead Poets Society, except darker.

But their exciting new attitude towards life brings them closer to danger as their ideas of morality are tested, corrupted, and destroyed.

The Secret History is a powerful novel that investigates human nature, group dynamics, and the art of manipulation. Looking for the best dark academia books to read? Start with this one!