Dark Academia is a really buzzy genre and has been over the past few years. In 2022, dark academia’s popularity shows no signs of dying down. So if you’re curious about what books in this highly popular genre get the most buzz, then read on! We’re going to take a look at what dark academia books are the best, according to Goodreads stats.
If you’re wondering how the heck you define dark academia, this post is a really great explainer of this sub-genre. But the basic idea is this. Dark academia novels are set at a school of some kind and involve a plot that has dark themes. Sometimes dark academia crosses over with the thriller genre. Sometimes it’s fantasy, but it doesn’t have to be these things. If that sounds broad, it kind of is. Sometimes dark gym is just a vibe.
Dark Academia: Goodreads Top Picks
Dark academia is, unsurprisingly, a really popular genre on Goodreads, with Goodreads readers shelving a lot of books as “dark academia” and rating these books highly.
For the purposes of compiling this list, I looked at which books on Goodreads were most often shelved as dark academia, which books had the most ratings, and which books had the highest ratings. I had to remove a couple of books from those results, because some people are shelving books as “dark academia” when they don’t even take place at a school (like — yes, “vibes” are important, but also the school setting is pretty essential, people). And from there, I came up with the top 10 most popular dark academia books on Goodreads.
So here they are, friends. In no particular order, here are the best dark academia book, according to Goodreads. If you don’t see your favorite dark academia book on this list, blame the Goodreads people. Not me! But if you’re looking for some excellent dark academia to read, this is a good place to start.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
This dark academia YA thriller explores what happens when Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, the only two Black students at Niveus Private Academy, are faced with the threats of an anonymous bully who goes by the name Aces. Will Devon and Chiamaka be able to stop Aces before things get deadly? This novel is described as gossip Girl meets get out and apparently that is a winning combo for Goodreads fans, because Ace of Spades has generally high ratings.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This 1992 novel is one of the most iconic examples of dark academia. Let’s be real. Many fans of dark academia are really just on the hunt for the next Secret History. This book tells the story of a closely knit group of six students at Hampden College who are deeply influenced by their charismatic classic professor. But when their connection to one another goes from obsession to corruption and betrayal, things go too far. Someone ends up dead, and that’s only the beginning.
The Atlas Six by Olivia Blake
Olivia Blake’s The Atlas Six was originally self-published in early 2020. Then it became a TikTok sensation and was picked up by Tor for traditional publication earlier this year. This first book in the fantasy series follows six talented young magicians as they compete for a place in the secretive Alexandrian Society, a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Those who win a place among their ranks are promised a life of wealth, power, and prestige. Five of the six will be initiated. One will be eliminated.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This 2005 novel was ranked #4 on The Guardian’s 100 Best Books of the 21st Century. In this heartbreaking, somewhat sci-fi story we follow the lives of three students at Hailsham, a boarding school in the English countryside. Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy have been told by the teachers at Hailsham that they are special and that they’re being educated for a special purpose. Cut off from the rest of society, the students know very little about the world outside of Hailsham. And when they start to discover more, the truth is unsettling.
Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
Catherine House is one of the most divisive titles on this list, as it seems Goodreads readers either love it or hate it. But those who love this book really love it quite a bit. Catherine House is a school for higher learning hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania. Students from this school have gone on to be successful authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, and even presidents. But while tuition is completely free, it still comes at a cost. Students are required to be completely removed from the outside world during their three-year stay at the school — separated from television, music, and even their family and friends.
If We Were Villains by ML Rio
If We Were Villains is a dark academia novel that has The Secret History vibes and has been getting high ratings from Goodreads readers. This book follows the story of a group of actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college. But soon their obsession with the theater becomes deadly, and now the students will face the greatest acting challenge of their lives: pretending they’re innocent enough to convince the police and themselves.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Ninth House is fan favorite author Leigh Bardugo’s first adult novel, and it’s the first in the Alex Stern series. This dark fantasy novel is set at Yale University where eight secret societies are known to house the future richest and most powerful people in the world. Galaxy “Alex” Stern has been invited to attend Yale on a full ride. The catch? Her mysterious benefactors want her to monitor the activities of these secret societies. It turns out their inner workings are much more sinister than anything anyone could have imagined.
Bunny by Mona Awad
This is another book that Goodreads readers either adore or hate, but here’s one thing everyone can agree on: Bunny is a wild ride. It’s the story of Samantha Heather Mackey, an introvert who feels like an outsider in her highly selective MFA program at Warren University. The rest of her cohort is incredibly cliquey. Oddly, they all call one another “Bunny.” Then Samantha gets invited to the Bunnies’ “Smut Salon,” and she finds herself drawn to the strange group of girls. When she starts going to their off-campus workshops where otherworldly monsters are conjured, reality begins to blur.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
legendborn, the first book in the Legendborn series, is one of the buzziest YA novels in recent years, popular amongst BookTube, TikTok, and Goodreads crowds. Based on Arthurian legend, legendborn follows Bree Matthews, a teen who joins a residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill. When a flying demon attacks the campus, the secret society of “Legendborn” students hunts the creature down. Bree was not meant to see any of this, and so a mage called “Merlin” attempts to wipe Bree’s memory of her. But when he attempts to do so, he instead unlocks dormant powers within Bree.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Here’s another popular dark academia book that’s the first in a series. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been told that she would be the cause of her true love’s death. But it had never been anything she’d been worried about, until she met Gansey. Blue is immediately drawn to Gansey, a student at the local private school called Aglionby. Blue has generally tried to stay away from Aglionby boys — known as the Raven Boys — because they’re known to be dangerous. But she finds herself inexplicably drawn to Gansey.
If you’re looking for more dark academia novels, be sure to check out our list of new YA dark academia coming out this year. Or this list of 10 queer dark academia novels. And if you need even more book recommendations from some of your favorite niche sub-genres, be sure to check out Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR)! You’ll be paired with a real-life Bibliologist who can recommend you the latest (or the backlist titles you’ve never heard of) in dark academia reads or whatever kind of book you’re hunting for!