9 min

Uncover the Mystery: 11 Must-Read Dark Academia Books

Delve into the mysterious world of Dark Academia with our handpicked list of the best Dark Academia Books.
Dark Academia books to read.
Written by
The Storyteller
Published on
March 25, 2023

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Historical Roots
  3. Must-Read Dark Academia Books
  4. Visual and Stylistic Elements
  5. Online Presence and Social Media Influence
  6. YA Dark Academia books
  7. Conclusion


Dark Academia, a literary fiction genre characterized by intellectualism, moral ambiguity, and a fascination with the darker side of human nature, has recently gained traction among readers and writers alike.

This genre is often set in academic institutions, such as prestigious universities or boarding schools, and explores themes of obsession, ambition, and power dynamics.

The Dark Academia genre has its roots in Gothic literature, Romanticism, and the works of influential authors like Donna Tartt, Muriel Spark, and Evelyn Waugh.

In this article, we will delve into the world of Dark Academia books and their themes, examine the aesthetic and cultural aspects of the genre, and discuss the impact of the dark academia novel on popular culture.

Dark Academia aesthetic - image

Historical Roots

The Dark Academia genre has its origins in Gothic literature and Romanticism, which often focused on the darker aspects of human nature, the supernatural, and the destructive power of ambition.

Key Characteristics of the Dark Academia Genre

At the heart of dark academia novels are the academic settings, which often take the form of elite New England colleges, boarding schools, or institutions like Cambridge University.

These settings provide a backdrop for the exploration of intellectualism, the pursuit of knowledge, and the moral complexities that arise from ambition and power.

Dark Academia books frequently feature secret societies, which add an air of mystery and exclusivity to the narrative.

The best Dark Academia books also evoke a sense of nostalgia, with their characters often longing for an idealized past.

Aesthetically, dark academia vibes encompass a range of elements, from fashion and personal style to atmospheric environments and literary references.

The genre's aesthetics are often dark, moody, and scholarly, with a focus on classical, literary, and philosophical influences.

Dark Academia books and aesthetic - image

The Role of Education and Power Dynamics in Dark Academia

One of the most prominent themes in Dark Academia books is the pursuit of knowledge and the consequences of ambition.

Characters in these books often engage in a relentless quest for intellectual enlightenment, which can lead to destructive and morally ambiguous outcomes.

The academic setting provides a stage for the exploration of power dynamics and hierarchy, as well as the role of mentorship and student-teacher relationships.

The dark secrets that lurk beneath the surface of these institutions often serve as a catalyst for the events that unfold in dark academia books.

Dark Academia is a subculture that combines Gothic and academic aesthetics. It is characterized by a love for literature, art, and philosophy and an appreciation for classical architecture and music.

The Dark Academia aesthetic has been popularized by social media platforms, such as TikTok and Instagram, and has inspired a wave of dark academia books.

Dark Academia - image

Top 11 Must-Read Dark Academia Books:

1. Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez, (translated by Megan McDowell)

Our Share of Night by Mariana Enríquez book cover

Devastated by the loss of their mother and wife, a young father and son embark on a road trip. The two, united by grief, travel to her ancestral home, where they must face the dreadful legacy she has left behind: a family known as the Order, which engages in unspeakable deeds to attain immortality.

The son Gaspar's fate is to join this insane sect. He flees with his father to escape a strong clan that will stop at nothing to guarantee its survival while the Order tries to draw him into their darkness.

Enriquez's writing style is haunting and atmospheric. She establishes suspense and anxiety right away in the book, and as the plot develops, this feeling of dread only intensifies. Her use of language is expressive and rich, and she can use it to conjure up distinct mental images.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde book cover

This classic novel examines issues of morality, beauty, and the defiling power of pleasure. The narrative focus on Dorian Gray, a young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty, which later leads to a spiral of guilt, paranoia, and violence.

Wilde's novel is a masterpiece of gothic literature that explores the consequences of living a life without morality or values. Through Dorian's story, Wilde exposes the perils of aestheticism and the superficial ideals of Victorian society, demonstrating that true beauty is found not in outward beauty but in the character and deeds of a person.

3. The Magus by John Fowles

The Magus by John Fowles book cover

Full of eroticism and tension, an enigmatic and thought-provoking book that takes readers on a journey of existentialism and self-discovery.

The story follows Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who accepts a teaching position on a remote Greek island. There, he encounters Maurice Conchis, a mysterious and cunning recluse who resides in a large villa and declares himself to be a magician.

As Nicholas becomes more deeply involved in Conchis' games and illusions, he begins to question his sanity and the reality of the world around him.

The novel is a masterful exploration of identity, perception, and the nature of truth, and its twists and turns keep the reader guessing until the very end.

The Magus is a classic of postmodern literature and a must-read for anyone interested in philosophy, psychology, or the human condition. It is a book that will stay with readers long after they finish it.

4. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé 

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé  book cover

This thrilling young adult novel tackles themes of power, privilege, and identity. The story follows two high school seniors, Chiamaka and Devon, who are striving for the prestigious title of valedictorian. However, their plans are thrown off course when an anonymous texter begins revealing their deepest secrets and dark pasts to the entire school.

Chiamaka and Devon are forced to cooperate in order to identify the perpetrator and defend themselves from the devastation that their secrets can cause as the texter's attacks intensify.

Ace of Spades is a masterful thriller that keeps readers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. The book skillfully addresses significant themes like racism, classism, and the pressure to fit in, making it a stimulating and thought-provoking read. 

5. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt book cover

Donna Tartt's debut novel, The Secret History, is a beautifully crafted, mesmerizing work of fiction that delves into the dark side of human nature and explores the intricate bonds that hold us together.  

Set against the backdrop of a elite New England college, the story follows a group of six classics students who, under the influence of their charismatic classics professor

, find themselves entangled in a web of secrets, lies, and moral ambiguity.

The story is narrated by Richard, a transfer student who becomes drawn into the inner circle of a group of eccentric and intellectually gifted friends.

The group, led by the enigmatic and charismatic Julian, becomes obsessed with recreating ancient Greek rituals and experiences, leading to a tragic and shocking event that upends their lives.

Tartt's writing is both rich and accessible, drawing readers into the world of the characters and their intense relationships.

The book also explores themes of identity, morality, and the consequences of desire, as the characters grapple with their own flaws and the consequences of their actions. The novel combines elements of mystery, psychological drama, and classic literature.

6. Bunny by Mona Awad

Bunny by Mona Awad

The dark and twisted story of Bunny by Mona Awad will make you wonder about reality. The story follows Samantha, a lonely and insecure graduate student in a prestigious MFA program. She is drawn into the exclusive and enigmatic world of a group of friends known as the "Bunnies."

The strange rituals and unsettling behavior of the Bunnies initially intrigue and repulse Samantha, but as she becomes more involved in their world, the distinction between fantasy and reality blurs and she starts to doubt her own sanity.

Bunny is a must-read for anyone who loves dark and twisted tales that challenge your perception of reality. This book is also fairly big on BookTok.

7. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House is a dark and engrossing fantasy book about a secret society at Yale University. Alex Stern, a troubled young woman with the gift of seeing ghosts, is chosen to join the organization and control its occult practices.

Alex learns that something sinister is at work as she digs deeper into society's past and secrets.

The world-building is incredibly intricate and immersive, and the plot twists and turns keep you on the edge of your seat.

Power, privilege, and corruption are explored with nuance and depth, and the characters are complex and well-developed.

Ninth House is a fantastic read that will appeal to fans of both fantasy and mystery.

8. Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker book cover

Dracula is a classic horror novel by Bram Stoker that tells the story of the vampire Count Dracula, who seeks to move from Transylvania to England to spread his curse.

The novel is told through a series of letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings, which give a unique and chilling perspective on the events.

The book is full of suspense, mystery, and horror, with memorable characters like the vampire hunter Van Helsing and the doomed Lucy Westenra.

It is a macabre novel that serves to make the reader reflect upon good and evil. Dracula has inspired countless adaptations and retellings, from movies to TV shows to other books. Its impact on the genre is undeniable, and its story is still as chilling and thrilling today as it was when it was first published in 1897.

9. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern book cover

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern is a captivating fantasy novel that tells the story of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, a graduate student who discovers a mysterious book in his university library.

As he delves into the book's labyrinthine narrative, he finds himself drawn into a world of hidden doors, underground libraries, and lost stories.

Morgenstern's writing is lyrical and imaginative, with vivid descriptions of the magical world that Zachary discovers.

The characters are complex and intriguing, and the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways. The book is filled with references to literature and storytelling, which will delight book lovers and fantasy fans alike.

10. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides book cover

The Maidens, Alex Michaelides' most recent book, is yet another page-turner. Thanks to the complex plot twists, the reader is hooked from start to finish.

The characters are well-developed, and the vivid descriptions of Cambridge University and its surroundings produce a haunting atmosphere that perfectly matches the murder 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.‍

The Maidens is a must-read for fans of murder mysteries and psychological thrillers, and it is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

11. If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio book cover

A gripping and intense 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.

It is impossible not to be consumed by this story and not fall in love with each of these characters.

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.

Dark Academia - blog image

Visual and Stylistic Elements

The Dark Academia aesthetic is characterized by vintage, preppy, and scholarly clothing that harkens back to the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Common color schemes include earth tones, such as browns, grays, and dark greens. Architecturally, the aesthetic favors Gothic and neoclassical styles, with a particular fondness for libraries and book-filled spaces.

In film and photography, dark and moody tones dominate, enhancing the enigmatic aura of the subculture.

Online Presence and Social Media Influence

The rise of Dark Academia can be largely attributed to social media platforms such as Tumblr, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok.

Tumblr served as the initial incubator for the aesthetic, while Instagram and Pinterest provided visual inspiration.

The subculture gained further momentum through TikTok, where influencers shared fashion, study tips, and book recommendations.

BookTube, a community of YouTubers who discuss literature, also played a role in popularizing Dark Academia.

Dark Academia library

YA Dark Academia books

In recent years, the burgeoning genre of YA (Young Adult) Dark Academia has captured the attention of readers and writers alike, breathing new life into the world of literature.

This subgenre combines the intrigue and intellectualism of traditional Dark Academia with the coming-of-age themes and relatable characters found in YA fiction.

By exploring the complexities of adolescence through the lens of the enigmatic aesthetic, YA Dark Academia offers young readers a thought-provoking and engaging literary experience that delves into the realms of self-discovery, friendship, ambition, and the darker side of academia.

As this niche continues to grow, it promises to bring forth a wealth of stories that both challenge and captivate the imaginations of readers across generations.

Critiques and Controversies

Despite its charm, Dark Academia is not without its critics. The aesthetic has been accused of promoting elitism and classism, as well as perpetuating Eurocentric ideals by primarily drawing from European culture and history.

Additionally, the romanticization of unhealthy behaviors and mental health issues is a concern, as it can normalize or glamorize potentially harmful attitudes.


Let's sum up by saying that Dark Academia is an intriguing subculture that has recently grown in popularity. Gothic architecture, emphasis on academic goals, and love of classical literature and art are characteristics of the genre.

These 11 must-read Dark Academia books will leave you feeling enlightened and inspired, whether you're a voracious reader or just looking for something new to explore. Now which Dark academia book is your favorite?