Dark academia is a very hot genre and has been for the past few years. In 2022, the popularity of dark academia shows no signs of waning. So if you’re curious about which books in this hugely popular genre are getting the most buzz, then read on! We’re going to take a look at which are the best dark academic books, according to Goodreads stats.
If you’re wondering how the hell you define dark academia, this article is a pretty good explainer of that subgenre. But the basic idea is this. Dark college novels are set in a nondescript school and involve a plot that has dark themes. Sometimes dark academia crosses paths with the thriller genre. Sometimes it’s fantasy, but it doesn’t have to be those things. If that sounds broad, it sort of is. Sometimes dark academia is just a vibe.
Dark Academia: Goodreads’ top picks
Black academia is, unsurprisingly, a very popular genre on Goodreads, with Goodreads readers categorizing many books as “black academia” and rating them highly.
For the purpose of compiling this list, I looked at which books on Goodreads were most often rated as dark academics, which books had the most ratings, and which books had the highest ratings. I had to remove a few books from these results, because some people categorize books as “dark academic” when they don’t even take place in a school (like – yes, “moods” are important, but also the school setting is pretty essential, folks). And from there, I found the top 10 most popular dark academic books on Goodreads.
So here they are, friends. In no particular order, here are the best dark academic books, according to Goodreads. If you don’t see your favorite black college book on this list, blame the folks at Goodreads. Not me! But if you’re looking for some great dark universities to read, this is a good place to start.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
This dark YA college thriller explores what happens when Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, the only two black students at Niveus Private Academy, face threats from an anonymous bully named Aces. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things get deadly? This novel is described as Gossip Girl meets get out and apparently it’s a winning combo for Goodreads fans, because Ace of Spades has generally high odds.
The Secret History of Donna Tartt
This 1992 novel is one of the most iconic examples of black academia. Let’s be realistic. Many dark academia fans are really looking for the next one Secret History. This book tells the story of a close-knit group of six Hampden College students who are deeply influenced by their charismatic classics teacher. But when their bond with each other turns from obsession to corruption and betrayal, things go too far. Someone eventually dies, and that’s just the beginning.
Olivie Blake’s Atlas Six
At Olivie Blake’s The Atlas Six was initially self-published in early 2020. Then it became a TikTok sensation and was picked up by Tor for mainstream 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 world’s finest. Those who earn a place in 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 harrowing and 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 brought up for a special purpose. Cut off from the rest of society, the students know very little of the world outside of Hailsham. And when they start to uncover more, the truth is unsettling.
Catherine’s House by Elisabeth Thomas
Catherine House is one of the most controversial titles on this list, as it seems Goodreads readers either love it or hate it. But those who like this book like it very much. Catherine House is a college of higher education hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania. Students of this school have become successful authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, and even presidents. But although tuition is completely free, it still comes at a cost. Students must be completely cut off from the outside world during their three-year stay at school – separated from television, music and even family and friends.
If We Were Villains by ML Rio
If we were bad guys is a dark college novel that has The secret story vibes and got high marks from Goodreads readers. This book follows the story of a group of actors who study Shakespeare at an elite art college. But soon their obsession with acting turns deadly, and now the students will take on the biggest acting challenge of their lives: pretending they’re innocent enough to convince the police and themselves.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Ninth House is the debut novel for adults by fan-favorite author Leigh Bardugo, 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 round. The problem? Her mysterious benefactors want her to monitor the activities of these secret societies. It turns out that their inner workings are far more sinister than anyone could have imagined.
Rabbit by Mona Awad
This is another book that Goodreads readers love or hate, but here’s one thing everyone can agree on: Rabbit is a wild ride. This is 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 his cohort is incredibly clicky. Strangely, they are all called “Bunny”. Afterwards, Samantha is invited to the Bunnies’ “Smut Salon” and she finds herself drawn to the odd group of girls. When she begins to visit their off-campus workshops where otherworldly monsters are conjured up, reality begins to blur.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Born of legend, the first book in the Legendborn series, is one of the hottest YA novels of recent years, popular among BookTube, TikTok and Goodreads crowds. Based on Arthurian legend, Born of legend follows Bree Matthews, a teenager who joins a residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC – Chapel Hill. When a flying demon attacks the campus, a secret society of “Legendborn” students hunts down the creature. Bree wasn’t supposed to see any of this, and so a mage called “Merlin” attempts to erase Bree’s memory. But when he attempts to do so, he instead unlocks dormant powers within Bree.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
Here is another popular dark college book that is the first in a series. For as long as she can remember, Blue was told she would be the cause of her true love’s death. But it had never been something she had worried about, until she met Gansey. Blue is immediately attracted to Gansey, a student at the local private school called Aglionby. Blue has generally tried to stay away from the Aglionby Boys – known as the Raven Boys – because they are known to be dangerous. But she finds herself inexplicably drawn to Gansey.
If you’re looking for more dark college novels, be sure to check out our list of new YA dark college novels coming out this year. Or this list of 10 queer dark college novels. And if you need even more book recommendations from some of your favorite niche subgenres, be sure to check out Tailored Book Recommendations (TBR)! You’ll be matched with a real-life librarian who can recommend the latest titles (or titles on the list you’ve never heard of) in dark college reads or any other type of book you’re looking for!