Over the past couple of years the dark academia genre has slowly become one of my favourites. I did a bit of Googling and found the definition to be ‘dark academia is an aesthetic centered on higher education, writing, the arts, and classic Greek and Gothic architecture, as well as romantic longing and death’. And today I have a list of recommendations for you.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
We’re starting with an absolute classic in this genre. Quite a few articles quote The Secret History as the pioneer of the genre which is quite the feat. In my opinion, it captures the essence of the genre perfectly and includes a moody atmospheric campus setting, a charismatic classics professor, a group of eccentric but clever misfits and the blurring of morality in the face of murder and loss.
If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
If We Were Villains, another popular book in this genre, often gets recommended alongside The Secret History as it also does a brilliant job of capturing the atmosphere that we all come to expect from dark academia. We follow Oliver Marks who has just served ten years in jail for a murder that he may or may not have committed whilst at college. The story then follows him as he recounts his days as one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college in the wake of a murder… Another brilliant option!
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Interestingly this is quite a polarising book among the online book community. Some LOVE it and some really don’t get on with it at all. I fall somewhere in the middle! It ticks most of the dark academia boxes so for this list it totally works. You get a dark elite college setting (Yale in this case), weird secret societies, mysterious characters with strange backgrounds and of course murder. If you haven’t given it a chance yet I urge you to do so to find out what you think – you might love it!
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
It’s worth noting that this recommendation only works for book one in this duology/series(?) as it’s the only one partly set at college. Vicious stars Victor and Eli, college roommates at an elite university who are both brilliant and ambitious and actively looking for ways to become X-Men-like extraordinaries…
This story has an incredibly dark and brooding atmosphere that is full of angst – a perfect backdrop for when their work moves from academic to experimental.
Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson
Truly Devious is interesting as a dark academia recommendation as it intertwines the retro world of 1930s America and the dark contemporary world of an elite boarding school today but I think that only works to further the atmosphere. In this story we follow Stevie as she attempts to solve a long-standing murder mystery at her boarding school – you will be hooked.
The book also includes FANTASTIC anxiety representation which, in my opinion, is handled really well.
Bunny by Mona Awad
Bunny is often described as a ‘weird’ book and I couldn’t agree more. Set in a highly selective New England University we follow Samantha who is utterly repelled by her schoolmates – especially the unbearable group of girls who call each other ‘Bunny’. But what happens when she’s invited to join them?
This super weird story takes so many twists and turns that you will not be expecting but it works perfectly within the dark academia genre. It won’t be for everyone but if you like weirder stories than give this one a go!
I could keep going here, but I think that this list is a good place to start with dark academia books. I have quite a few more on my autumn TBR so hopefully there will be a part two coming soon! What’s your favourite dark academia book?