4.5 min

Dark Academia: An Exploration of a Literary Genre

The Dark Academia trend has been making waves on TikTok and other social media platforms, captivating the attention of the Gen Z crowd.
an illustration of Dark Academia style library, with person standing in a middle.
Written by
The Storyteller
Published on
March 3, 2023

Dark Academia is a cultural trend that has gained popularity in recent years, attracting a large number of fans with its captivating mix of history, mystery, and gothic aesthetics, all set within the backdrop of an elite academy or university. If you're a fan of Gothic literature, mystery novels, or suspenseful thrillers, then you'll enjoy the Dark Academia genre!

Dark Academia - What is it?

Dark academia is a subgenre of fiction that combines elements of horror and mystery where a prominent academy or university serves as the background setting. The protagonist of the genre is often a student or professor at the academy who becomes caught up in a gloomy and ominous plot.

The school is shown as a setting for the elite to study, learn, and develop their skills. But it's also a location where murky, dangerous secrets are hidden, and where the need for information can have disastrous results. 

Themes commonly explored in Dark Academia novels include the search for knowledge, the danger of power, and the supernatural. Love of classical literature, philosophy, and the arts, as well as an interest in the occult and mythology, are other shared characteristics. 

The Aesthetic of Dark Academia

This love of learning and discovery is often reflected in clothing, and fashion, which incorporates tweed jackets, twill trousers, and other classic academic attire, with a focus on vintage and antique items. The aesthetic also includes a love for old libraries, botanical gardens, and grand architecture.

Popular Dark Academia Books

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt book cover
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A beautifully written and captivating novel that explores the darker side of academia. The story follows a group of students at a small, elite college as they become entangled in a web of secrets, lies, and ultimately, murder. Tartt's prose is both elegant and haunting, immersing the reader in a world of intellectual curiosity and moral decay. The characters are complex and flawed, making them both fascinating and repulsive. Overall, The Secret History is a must-read for anyone who loves a good psychological thriller.

2. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo book cover
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The suspenseful and darkly alluring book Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo takes readers on a tour of Yale University's secret organizations and supernatural forces. The narrative follows Galaxy "Alex" Stern, the main character, as she attempts to survive in the perilous and enigmatic Ivy League academic environment. The excellent prose of Bardugo draws readers into the richly imagined world of dark magic and covert organizations through thoughtfully crafted characters and a fast-paced plot. This book should be read by everyone who appreciates a good supernatural or mystery thriller, and it will make readers anxiously look forward to the next installment in the series.

3. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides book cover
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The Maidens, Alex Michaelides' most recent book, is yet another page-turner. The reader is hooked from the start of the story until the very end thanks to the complex plot twists. The characters are well-developed, and the vivid descriptions of Cambridge University and its surroundings produce a haunting atmosphere that perfectly matches the mystery. The Maidens is a must-read for any fan of psychological suspense because Michaelides has mastered the art of fusing psychological depth with an exciting story.

4. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé 

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé  book cover
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This fast-paced, gripping novel will have readers on the edge of their seats. In this young adult thriller, two Black students named Devon and Chiamaka, who attend a prestigious private school, find themselves the targets of an unidentified assailant. As the two protagonists race against time to learn the cause of the attacks and defend themselves, the tension and suspense increase throughout the book. The book skillfully addresses significant themes like racism, classism, and the pressure to fit in, making it a stimulating read. The characters are realistic and complex, and their struggles and drives are understandable. Readers of all ages will enjoy Ace of Spades, which is a well-written, thought-provoking thriller.

5. The Atlas Six by Olivia Blake

The Atlas Six by Olivia Blake book cover
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This gripping book The Atlas Six transports readers on an exhilarating journey populated by mysterious, magical, and endearing characters. You'll be on the edge of your seat as the author, Olivie Blake, expertly weaves together several storylines that lead to a high-stakes heist. The characters are complex and relatable, which draws you into their journey, and the world-building is intricate and immersive. In general, The Atlas Six is a great book that will interest readers who enjoy fantasy, heist stories, and interesting characters.

6. If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio book cover
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A gripping and intense debut novel that explores the blurred lines between art and reality. The book follows a group of Shakespearean actors at an exclusive college as they become embroiled in a web of obsession, jealousy, and murder. The characters are complex and nuanced, and the plot is masterfully crafted with twists and turns that keep you on the edge of your seat. Rio's writing is atmospheric and evocative, transporting you to the world of the theater and making you feel like a part of the story. If We Were Villains is a haunting and beautifully written book that will keep you hooked until the very end.

related articles: 11 Best Dark Academia Books to Read

The Appeal of Dark Academia on TikTok

TikTok users have been drawn to the Dark Academia aesthetic because of its mix of sophistication and darkness. It allows them to express their love for learning and the arts in a unique and eye-catching way. The trend has allowed users to tap into their creative side, as they create videos that showcase their own interpretations of the Dark Academia aesthetic.

How to Get the Dark Academia Look

If you're interested in joining the Dark Academia trend on TikTok, there are several ways to incorporate the aesthetic into your own. #DarkAcademia, #DarkAcademiaAesthetic, and #AcademicGoth. These hashtags will show you a range of videos from users who are embracing the trend and showcasing their own unique spin on it.


Dark academia is the ideal genre for those who enjoy mystery, suspense, and the paranormal. It is undoubtedly worth checking out if you're looking for a new genre to discover or if you simply enjoy Gothic literature. Whether you're searching for a book with a sinister and dark plot or one that examines the risks associated with seeking knowledge