Have you ever found yourself drawn to and reading book with similar ~vibes~ and then it’s like a lightbulb moment once you realize there is a name for the sub-genre you have been devouring and loving?
That was me a few years ago with the dark academia genre. I had no idea that there was a name for the types of books I was reading and then continuing to crave but I just kept being drawn to the ~vibe~ of those books.
Campus/academic/library elements, dark & atmospheric, elite groups/societies and murder a lot of times. And also like dark emotions and morally grey aspects that invade in some way. I just kept being drawn to these same elements together.
It became a lot easier to find dark academia book recommendations when I actually had a name for what I was looking for. And to realize, how many book I read years before, that definitely fit into that sub-genre.
If you have been craving some dark academia books this fall (or anytime – they just really make great fall reads), I hope this book list will help you find some of my top dark academia books to read (romance, fantasy, literary, mystery-filled) as well as new dark academia books to read out this year or recently.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links which means that if you click on a link and purchase something I’ve talked about or recommended, I’ll receive a very small percentage of the sale. Please see my disclosure policy for more info
Best Dark Academia Books To Read
My Top Personal Favorite Dark Academia Picks
Babel by R.F. Kuang
At A Glance: historical fantasy, alternate history, 1830s, Oxford University, language studies, colonialism, revolutions
The Secret History had truly always been the standard for me but this one is now perhaps taking its place — especially for fantasy dark academia books. It’s one that begs for rereads because there is just SO MUCH in these pages (literally — it’s massive).
Robin Swift, after losing his family to a cholera outbreak, is brought from his homeland of Canton to England by a professor where he starts his new life studying all sorts of languages to prepare for enrolling into Babel which is Oxford’s Royal Institute of Translation where he can translate languages to English and master the art of silver working — a magical process imparted to give magic powers (which has kept Britain in power) through the translations.
He meets many students like himself — brought to England for their languages and translation abilities which maintains the magic Britain uses to keep its power — and, while they love the work they do, they are often met with racism, hostility and the realization that the work doesn’t benefit people like them and that they are a means to an end.
And then Robin learns of a secret society that is actively working against Babel by stealing the silver bars and sabotages Britain’s power from within and he must decide between helping the cause or keeping his life at Oxford in tact.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
At A Glance: dark fantasy/supernatural with horror elements, murder mystery, Ivy League setting, ghosts, occult magic
I’ve been such a fan of Leigh Bardugo’s YA and her adult fiction debut really did it for me as a fan of darker fantasy, dark academia murder mysteries and elite societies. But be warned this is DARK (violent, too!) and it is pretty slow-burn.
Meet Alex Stern — a young woman who has BEEN THROUGH SOME THINGS. She’s quite the survivor at her young life. And, in an unlikely turn of events, she’s now a member of Yale’s freshman class on a full ride — offered this admission for her unique abilities (to see ghosts basically) and entrance into one of the magical secret society’s tasked with keeping an eye on the other secret societies’ occult rituals and keep the supernatural forces it attracts at bay.
You know, all while trying to keep up with her studies and new life at Yale.
But then a young woman is killed and Alex is determined to find out who the murderer is and how it relates to what the societies were doing that night of the murder.
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
At A Glance: literary suspense/mystery, detective investigation, elite Arts academy, Shakespeare, actors, obsession, ambition, murder
I’m not even a huge Shakespeare enthusiast — though I always loved the tragedies more so this appealed — but this was fantastic and page-turning. I LOVED how it was structured — in acts and scenes.
If you like your dark academia to be more on the literary side of suspense/mystery — a la The Secret History — I highly recommend this one. Though don’t read them two close together (I had many, many years in between) as I’ve seen so many people say they are two similar. I was able to enjoy this one as it is without comparing it because it had been so long).
Detective Colborne is retiring but before he does he wants Oliver Marks — a man he helped put in jail for 10 years for a murder he may or may not have committed and is now being released — to tell him the full truth of what happened a decade ago that led to this.
Oliver agrees and thus starts the tale of a group of young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory whose roles on stage blur and bleed into their real life — the tight-knit collective of actors turning into something much more sinister that ends in a brutal death.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
At A Glance: literary fiction, mystery/crime, New England, college campus, Greek tragedy
One of the most popular examples of the genre and one that kinda wrote the blueprint for what the genre would morph into IMO.
It’s narrated by Richard who is looking back at his time at his liberal arts college — particularly the almost cult-like classics program he becomes obsessed with that is mysterious, small and handpicked by charismatic professor.
The group couldn’t be further from his upbringing and he will do anything to fall in with the group until eventually he is and falls in with the group and gets swept up in everything the (morally challenged) group is — culminating in a murder and forever changing everyone involved.
I love how it’s told — we know who is murdered from the jump but we find out everything that leads up to the murder and then the major fallout in the aftermath. I loved that it wasn’t about the who but the why.
Dark Academia Fantasy/Horror Picks
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik
At a glance: magical boarding school, sorcerers, deadly challenges, monsters
This one is great for fans of Fourth Wing (if you enjoyed the academy element of it) and adults looking for their new Hogwarts!
Set at a magical boarding school, we dive into junior year with outcast and dark sorceress El as she continues to survive all the “survival of the fittest” type challenges the school throws their way, monsters lurking at the school and the other students themselves this year.
She’s also plotting how she’ll make it through the ultimate test to graduation — fighting her way through the Lovecraftian monsters that surround the school — and trying to tame her destructive powers (that could kill her peers) and impress others with her abilities to make allies.
If only the annoying Orion Lake would stop coming to her rescue before she can display her abilities. Can she trust him to align together or does he have ulterior motives for popping up so often?
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
At a glance: historical fantasy/horror, vampires/Dracula, scholars, library archives, Eastern Europe
This is one of those books that I read a long time ago and now, looking back at it, I’m like OH WOW. This totally fits into the genre of dark academia.
It was one of those books I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own but everybody in a couple Goodreads groups I was in was reading it in 2008-ish (before Booktok and Bookstagram — Goodreads groups was where it was at for me with book recommendations online lol). But I’m so glad I read this chonky, genre-bending book.
It does lean heavy into history and the research — lots of academia in this dark academia — as well of lots of travel detail so just know that going into it. I loved those elements of it all but I know it totally bored others to tears.
There’s a couple different narratives and timelines but it is about a young woman’s pursuit of the truth about Vlad the Impaler/the Dracula legend in hopes to find her father — her father whose work was an around-the-world investigation into the legend as well as a search for his missing mentor who was obsessed with this research and was trying to prove he might still be alive.
Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko
At A Glance: dark fantasy, school for magic, philosophy, metaphysics, coming of age, magical realism
This translated-from-Russian blend of magic, philosophy and fantasy is trippy and weird but so good. At times, honestly I felt like my brain wasn’t smart enough for it but I thoroughly enjoyed this unique dark academia book.
16 year old Sasha is on holiday when a mysterious man seems to be following her and, after confronting him, she accepts performing some bizarre tasks/challenges that lead a bit of a forced entrance into the Institute of Special Technologies as there are consequences to her refusal.
She embarks on this new, life-changing journey at the school where the stakes are super high if students fail and she’ll learn more than she could ever imagine about herself and her special talents.
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
At A Glance: fantasy, magicians, competition, morally grey, academic society
I’m going to be one-hundred with you — as always — I struggled with this one for about the first half and then I really got into it. It’s got mixed reviews honestly for good reason but overall it captured what I love about dark academia and I plan to read the next book. But, just know, it’s probably my least favorite of all the fantasy dark academia picks — I liked it but I think I liked the idea of it more than how some of it was executed.
It’s about a group of six powerful young magicians who are chosen to compete one of the FIVE spots within the Alexandrian Society — an ultra-elite group that gets to study the secrets in the lost library of Alexandria and hold and protect all that knowledge within it.
As you can imagine — the competition gets QUITE cutthroat and the young magicians definitely get hints of something more behind the competition and the Alexandrian Society.
I mean, after all, they need to choose which one of them isn’t going to get the spot which is a death sentence.
I loved the magic system and the way magic was regarded in this world and the dark and competitive academia vibes of this book were immaculate.
Dark Academia Murder Mysteries/Thrillers
In My Dreams I Hold A Knife by Ashley Winstead
At a glance: psychological suspense thriller, unsolved murder, college reunion, dysfunctional friends, character driven
When I read this one in 2021 I dubbed it “one of the best mystery/thriller/suspense books I read in a while” and for good reason!
It’s about a fractured friend group who returns to their college campus for their 10 year reunion — a friend group that was fractured by the murder of one of their own during senior year and the fallout of one of their own being accused — but not convicted — of her murder.
As the group reunites, there is somebody else there waiting and convinced one of them really did it and they will be forced to confront what really happened that night and the secrets they’ve been sitting on for many years.
It goes from the past and the present and oh my gosh — I could not put it down and I switched who I thought was the killer and why a billion times.
Dark Things I Adore by Katie Lattari
At a glance: psychological suspense thriller, revenge/atonement, art, trauma
This one doesn’t have the typical academia setting — it’s a remote & prestigious arts collective of sorts — and I really got pulled into this one and could feel the darkness pulsing in this artsy academic circle.
The timeline takes you to 1988 to that art camp with a group of ambitious artists where secrets and dark ambitions mingle and escalate to become deadly.
Then in 2018 we meet Audra and Max.
Max is an esteemed art professor who is invited to his beautiful protégé’s remote home to look over her art thesis and perhaps be the start of an affair.
What Max doesn’t know is that Audra has engineered everything about this weekend to lead him here and she knows his secret and what happened in the summer of 1988.
And she’s looking to make him pay for what happened that summer and afterward.
All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth
At a glance: dark academia mystery, boarding school, secret society, spoiled rich kids
A mystery and family drama with plenty of dark academia vibes — although I’m not sure this book was marketed as such but it definitely filled that craving for me and felt very dark academia-esque.
Charlie was 7 years old when her mother just vanished without a trace from the family’s lake house and Charlie has been left to bear that dark legacy and the questions surrounding her mother’s disappearance.
Charlie has tried her best to move on from the past and has thrown herself into life at her new elite boarding school falling in with the “it” crowd and now she finds herself invited to join the school’s elite secret society.
The group is known for terrorizing the faculty, administration, and their enemies as well as having an ultra rigorous initiation process — including a semester-long, diabolical high-stakes scavenger hunt that could jeopardize everything.
While trying to complete the challenges, she also finds herself unraveling family secrets that are possibly related to her mother’s disappearance.
While all that is going on in the present, we get a perspective from her mother in the past and I just loved how the two stories were intertwined!
They Never Learn by Layne Fargo
At a glance: psychological thriller, female serial killer, f*ck the patriarchy vibes, rape culture, revenge, Killing Eve vibes
Okay I’m sure this one could be debated on whether or not it is truly dark academia — I own that — but it had such dark academia vibes to me that I’m including it because I feel like the academic setting, the darkness (hello female serial killer) and the way it explores like that “old boys club” vibe that often exists in academia (and society in general) just screams dark academia for me.
ANYWAYS — it’s about a woman — an English professor — who every year takes it upon herself to find the worst of the worst man on campus and plot his demise. She’s never been close to getting caught but now the growing body count is getting some attention and an investigation starts and she makes a big mistake that puts her secret at jeopardy.
Then in alternating chapters we meet a new freshman who, after her roommate is sexually assaulted, takes on her own vigilante justice.
I don’t want to say much but READ THIS ONE.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
At a glance: gothic-feeling suspense, mystery, all girls boarding school, suicide, murder, sisterhood
Jane Hudson — once a student twenty years ago — has returned to the remote Heart Lake school for Girls to as the Latin teacher.
Twenty years ago she left the school after a series of terrible deaths on campus in the lake — one being the suicide of her roommate.
She hopes she can put the past behind her but soon ominous messages bring the past back up (and put the blame on Jane) and now it appears as those the past is repeating itself with the girls.
Is Jane to blame? Is someone else? Or is it, as legend would have it, the lake rising up to claim another girl?
YA Dark Academia Books
Ace of Spades by Faridah Abike-Ikimide
At A Glance: young adult, social thriller, elite school setting, institutional racism, Get Out meets Pretty Little Liars/Gossip Girl
Two students, recently selected to be senior class prefects at their elite school, are targeted via mass school-wide text messages by someone called Aces who begins exposing secrets about them both. As the text messages become more damaging to their futures and take a more sinister turn, the two students must work together to figure out who Aces is and why they are being targeted.
If you enjoy your dark academia to be more thrilling and less focused on the nitty gritty of the academics (but more the overall setting & look at the establishment), this is the one to pick up.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
At A Glance: contemporary fantasy, Southern, Arthurian legend (Knights of the Round Table), college campus, secret society, magic, institutional racism, generational trauma
This one might be a little out of an outlier but I feel like this YA fantasy has definite dark academia vibes. So I don’t know if it would technically be labeled as ~dark academia~ by everybody but it’s my list so I’m putting it on here as a fantasy with dark academia elements/vibes. You can fight with me on it, it’s fine.
Either way, if you were obsessed with Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instrument series — check this one out; it’s even better.
Bree, grieving her mother’s death, plans to throw herself into her academics after being accepted into an Early College residential program for academically gifted high schoolers at UNC Chapel Hill.
But on the first night she’s witness to a magical attack — an attack most students can’t see — and she meets a mysterious mage who tries and fails to wipe her memory clean of what she saw.
This incident unlocks a memory of the night her mother died and makes her wonder if what happened to her was more than an accident and if the boy and the secret society he’s part of — called the Legendborn — had something to do with her mom’s death.
In order to find out these answers, with the help of a new friend, she decides to infiltrate the group by pledging to be part of this Order of the Round Table.
As she gets deeper into the society, she learns centuries old secrets and the mission of the group as well as her own magical abilities that lie within and has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether to use her magic to fight against what is coming or to take down the group.
Promise Boys by Nick Brooks
At A Glance: young adult, mystery/thriller, murder, elite all-boys prep school, institutional racism
Three teen boys must investigate their principal’s murder in order to clear their own names after suspicion falls on them. Their reputations, alibi and mounting evidence doesn’t help but the boys maintain their innocence as they try to figure out the truth behind the murder as well as finding themselves digging into the prep school’s history.
While it might just look like a murder mystery set at a school, I think it does a good job exploring how institutional racism — how institutes of education can uphold and play a part in things like racial inequalities and injustices with how the murder investigation is handled towards these three teen boys of color.
Out of all the books on this list, this might have been the most page-turning for me! A great book for a teen book club, too!
New & Upcoming Dark Academia Books For 2023 & 2024
Ink Blood Sister Scribe by Emma Torzs
At a glance: contemporary fantasy, romance, magical books, secret libraries, sisters/family
Love a good urban fantasy/fantasy rooted in our world? One full of magical books and libraries and deadly secrets? This one is full of those atmospheric dark academia fantasy vibes!
Two sisters live a lonely existence while upholding the generational expectation to guard the family’s library of ancient and rare magical books — one isolated in the family home devoting her life to these books and the other living a nomadic life to avoid a threat their father warned about.
When their father dies while reading an unfamiliar book, the two sisters must unite to protect their family’s legacy by uncovering secrets at the heart of it — secrets their parents kept hidden — and try to avoid being killed by those who wish to obtain these books.
House of Marionne by J. Elle
At a glance: young adult, dark fantasy, romantasy, magic, debutante society, boarding school, social elites, magical secret societies
Quell and her mother have been on the run to keep Quell safe from the secret of the forbidden magic she has flowing through her veins — until one day they are tracked down by a deadly assassin.
She’s sent to seek refuge at her grandmother’s estate and is thrust into the world of a secret and magical debutante society called the Order where she must pass the three rites of membership and she’ll learn to master her magic properly (and ultimately suppress her dark magic).
Passing these rites of membership proves difficult as well as trying to keep her secret from being found out in this place that has the power to protect her just as much as it could destroy her — especially as she learns more about the Order and the lengths they will go to protect their wealth and power.
A Study In Drowning by Ava Reid
Out September 9, 2023
At a glance: young adult, fantasy (set in a world inspired by early twentieth-century Wales), academic rivals-to-lovers, fairy folklore, crumbling gothic cliff-side mansion, gothic mystery
Effy Sayre, the only woman architecture student at a prestigious college and facing major discrimination, has been plagued by visions/hallucinations of the Fairy King since childhood. She finds her solace in the page of author Emrys Myrddin’s Angharad — an epic about a cruel fairy king and the mortal woman who brings him down after falling in love.
And then Effy is selected for contest to redesign the late author’s estate, she packs her bags and travels to the estate. Once there, she finds it’s going to be quite the challenge considering the state of the crumbling manor and the irritating presence of an academic with his hidden motives to prove that her favorite book was not authored by Myrddin.
Strange things begin to happen and Effy’s nightmares of the Fairy King intensify which lead Effy and her academic rival on a winding mystery to find out the truth about the author, the manor and the mysterious visions she’s had since childhood.
All That Consumes Us by Erica Waters
Out October 17, 2023
At a glance: young adult, gothic horror vibes, sapphics, elite academic societies
This is such a fantastic fall vibes read — super atmospheric and spooky gothic while being solidly dark academia full with societies and murder.
College student Tara is thrilled to be offered a spot in an elite academic society — full of special privileges and free tuition plus dream futures to look forward to — and becomes one of the Magni Viri after a vacancy opens up when a girl dies.
But when she settles into her gorgeous Victorian dorm, strange things start happening. The stories she writes become super dark and twisted, she’s having awful dreams and she even starts feeling a presence.
Afraid she’s losing her grip on reality, she set’s out to figure out what is happening to her and discovers a shocking secret at the heart of the society.
The Library of Shadows by Rachel Moore
At a glance: young adult, paranormal romance, ghosts, elite boarding school, haunted library, mystery
I used to be such a YA paranormal romance girlie back in the day and I am HERE for this paranormal dark academia book — especially for a great Fall read and for fans of Wednesday looking for similar vibes while they await a new season.
Este Logano is excited to start her first day, thanks to a scholarship, at the same boarding school her father went in a hopes to learn more about him and feel closer to him.
But Radcliffe Prep isn’t just any ordinary boarding school as it’s known as the third most haunted school in the country, students routinely disappear and everybody knows not to stay in the library after dark.
When Este meets a ghost boy named Mateo at orientation things go awry and she finds herself framed for the theft of a rare book from the library — an act that lands her a sentence working in the school’s library after hours as well as a chance of expulsion if she doesn’t return it.
Now she must convince Mateo — who she learns has his own reasons for wanting the book — to give the book back which leads her quite literally following in her father’s footsteps, along with Mateo, to solve a century-long mystery that it appears her father also stumbled upon during his time at the school and puts her in great danger.
The Forest Demands Its Due by Kosoko Jackson
Out October 3, 2023
At a glance: young adult, dark fantasy with horror vibes, boarding school, queer, murder mystery, dark forests, monsters
A 17 year old teen in need of a fresh start, Douglas Jones, reluctantly attends an elite boarding school with a storied history and a reputation to produce big leaders — a place where he’s now the only Black student.
He’s thrust into the history and dark secrets of the school when a student is murdered and the whole student population and town appears to be wiped of their memory related to this boy by the next day — except Douglas and the son of the school’s groundskeeper.
In trying to figure out the truth what is going on, he uncovers and awakens the dark secrets of the forest surrounding the school/town — a vengeful creature who wants blood for a centuries old debt or it threatens to destroy the town — and realizes he just might have the power to be the person to break a curse if he chooses to.
An Education In Malice by S.T. Gibson
Out February 2024
At a glance: dark historical fantasy/horror, academic rivals to lovers romance, ambitious girls, university setting, gothic, spicy sapphic, vampire society, Carmilla retelling
“Deep in the forgotten hills of Massachusetts stands Saint Perpetua’s College. Isolated and ancient, it is not a place for timid girls. Here, secrets are currency, ambition is lifeblood, and strange ceremonies welcome students into the fold.
On her first day of class, Laura Sheridan is thrust into an intense academic rivalry with the beautiful and enigmatic Carmilla. Together, they are drawn into the confidence of their demanding poetry professor, De Lafontaine, who holds her own dark obsession with Carmilla.
But as their rivalry blossoms into something far more delicious, Laura must confront her own strange hungers. Tangled in a sinister game of politics, bloodthirsty professors and magic, Laura and Carmilla must decide how much they are willing to sacrifice in their ruthless pursuit of knowledge. “
Some dark academia books on my fall reading list that I’ve heard great things about:
- Bunny by Mona Awad – I’ve heard this one is WEIRD. Cult classic type book.
- The Maidens by Alex Michaelides — psychological suspense/thriller
- Summer Sons by Lee Mandelo — Southern Gothic
- Blood Over Bright Haven — fantasy; also have this queued up on Kindle Unlimited
- Gothikana by RuNyx — fantasy romance + dark academia
- Nocticadia — just got this on Kindle Unlimited actually; dark fantasy romance
- These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever — literary crime
What are some of your favorite dark academia books? Are there any you disagree with fitting into dark academia? What is YOUR definition of dark academia?