15 Dark Academia Books That Are Equal Parts Delectable and Deranged

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Do elite universities, darkened libraries, secret societies, cult-like behavior, morally questionably characters and, well, murder send chills and thrills down your spine? If so, you should dip your toes into the world of dark academia (yep, this goes way beyond the once-trendy TikTok aesthetic). From genre defining classics like The Secret History to newcomers like These Violent Delights, these 15 dark academia books will have you tearing through pages (and glad you didn’t go to boarding school).

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dark academia books the secret history donna tartt

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Tartt won the Pulitzer for The Goldfinch, but her first title—about a group of bookish misfits at a New England college who fall under the spell of a charismatic, morally questionable classics professor—may be the original dark academia novel. Richard, the narrator and newest member of the group, finds himself quickly burdened by very dark secrets. Opening with a murder, The Secret History reads like a slow burn, with tension building gradually and an ending that will blow your mind.

dark academia books: if we were villains by m.l. rio

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

A murder mystery for Shakespeare nerds, this thriller follows a group of seven thespians at a prestigious conservatory who seem to prefer each other’s company to anyone else’s, until the teachers change the casting, wedging hatred between the group. What follows is a murder (maybe?), an investigation and an exploration of what happens when passion becomes obsession.

dark academia books: bunny by mona awad

3. Bunny by Mona Awad

Mean girls, occult-ish rituals and murder combine in this delightfully bizarre novel about how women feel about themselves and others, all told through the eyes of five somewhat deranged college students. Set on an idyllic campus in New England, outsider Samantha finds herself at the center of an exclusive group of rich girls (the “Bunnies”) who seem outwardly twee, only to be hiding some grotesque secrets.

dark academia books: these violent delights by micah nemerever

4. These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

In 1970s Pittsburgh, sensitive, mysterious, working-class Paul meets charming (and cruel) rich boy Julian as university freshmen. Their unlikely friendship quickly develops into an intimate and toxic obsession. Think Call Me by Your Name with a Secret History edge.

dark academia books: the maidens by alex michaelides

5. The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

The second novel by the author of The Silent Patient, this thriller follows Mariana Andros as she investigates the murder of one of the “Maidens,” a band of young women studying under suspiciously charismatic classics professor Edward Fosca at a world-famous British university. Students begin to drop like flies and Fosca is behind it—or is he?

dark academia books: the bell jar by sylvia plath

6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The 1963 semi-autobiographical story of poet Sylvia Plath’s descent into madness isn’t overtly academia, but it contains a combination of tragedy and dark humor that feels fitting of the genre. As Esther Greenwood, struggling to make it in the New York publishing world, falls into anxiety and depression, the novel explores the role of women in society while criticizing the mandates that govern their lives.

dark academia books: the lying game by ruth ware

7. The Lying Game by Ruth Ware

Ware’s signature psychological suspense heads to boarding school in The Lying Game, where best friends and students Isa, Kate, Thea and Fatima become notorious for their self-made social experiment called the Lying Game. The rules are plain: Lie to classmates frequently but never to each other. Years later, the girls learn the skeletons of their collective closets can only stay buried for so long.

dark academia books: in my dreams i hold a knife by ashley winstead

8. In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead

At an elite southern university, eight students become close friends. But in their final year, one friend gets murdered, another is accused of the murder and the six remaining become witnesses to everything. A new entry into the genre, this 2022 novel examines friendship, obsession and what happens when we covet the lives of others.

dark academia books: the picture of dorian gray by oscar wilde

9. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The classic story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is now considered by some to be the Bible of the genre. Basically, Oscar Wilde did dark academia an entire century before it even became a thing.

dark academia books: the broken girls by simone st. james

10. The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

In 1950 Vermont at Idlewild Hall, a boarding school that’s rumored to be haunted, four roommates bond until one of them goes missing. Flash forward to 2014 and journalist Fiona Sheridan can’t get over the closed-case murder of her sister, which took place at Idlewild 20 years prior. When she learns that the boarding school is being restored, she decides to write about it, only to discover some shocking revelations linking her sister’s death to the past.

dark academia books: ace of spades by faridah abike-iyimide

11. Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

A twisty thriller for the YA set, Àbíké-Íyímídé’s debut chronicles two students, Devon and Chiamaka, as they navigate Niveus Private Academy and its anonymous, texting bully who’s out to spill their dark secrets. The novel also pushes dark academia to new places as it explores themes of institutionalized racism.

dark academia books: the woman in the library by sulari gentill

12. The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

A dark academia book for people who love books, this murder mystery begins in—surprise—a library, where four strangers are quietly working, only to be interrupted by a woman’s scream. A body is discovered and the four characters become friends as they work to piece together what happened.

dark academia books: piranesi by susannah clarke

13. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Equal parts dark fantasy and magical realism, Piranesi is set in a museum-like labyrinth of an alternate reality, where newcomers gradual lose their memory and identity. The titular character pushes scientific and ethical bounds as he recounts his arrival and explores the world. There’s also a healthy dose of revenge, mystery and more twists than you can count.

dark academia books: ninth house by leigh bardugo

14. Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Like The Secret History, Leigh Bardugo’s novel is set on an Ivy League campus (Yale) and follows an outsider (Alex from California) who gets involved in a secret society. That sounds plausible enough, until the plot diverges from reality—here, our protagonist can see ghosts, and the secret society is dabbling in occult activity like dark magic and raising the dead.

dark academia books: never let me go by kazuo ishiguro

15. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Dark academia meets science fiction in Ishiguro’s dystopian masterpiece about our purpose in life as individuals and members of society. The plot follows Kathy and her close friends through flashbacks to their time as students at a boarding school, growing up in a world where everyone has a double and…well…we’ve already said too much.


Senior Food Editor

Katherine Gillen is PureWow’s senior food editor. She’s a writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a degree in culinary arts and professional experience in New York City...