The Dark Academia Reading List: 49 Books of Tragedy, Elitism, Secrets, Violence and the Pursuit of Knowledge

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What is Dark Academia?

As you might already be aware, dark academia is both an aesthetic and a genre. When it comes to the aesthetic, at its heart it’s a subculture that revolves around education and the enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge. A romanticisation of learning, as it were. There’s a particular focus on the liberal arts – classic languages like Latin and Greek, history, literature, poetry, philosophy, and often a connection with old school universities like Oxford or Cambridge. As a result, it’s quite Eurocentric, a little on the pretentious side, and frequently involves some not so great approaches towards mental health, so it’s important to be aware of these flaws.

The overall vibe of DA could best be summed up as vintage meets Gothic. Think upper class 1930/40s fashion with plenty of tweed, layering and autumn colour schemes, moody weather, old & musty libraries, journaling and letter writing, classical music, dinner parties, and late night drinking sessions involving plenty of intellectual discussion.

Dark Academia as a Genre

The dark academia genre is often said to have taken off following the popularity of Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel, The Secret History. While a lot of people seem to believe that dark academia is simply a mystery in an academic setting, there’s more to it than that. More often than not, DA books are actually coming of age stories, twisted and bleak ones, but learning experiences for characters all the same.

So, what are some of the features of dark academia stories?

  1. An Academic Setting
    • Usually prestigious and somewhat isolated, e.g. boarding school, university, library etc.
  2. Emphasis on Knowledge and Learning
    • Allusions to the fine arts, potential forbidden knowledge or dark avenues of study
  3. “Darker” Themes and a Preoccupation with Ideas Surrounding Life & Death
    • Some popular themes are hubris, revenge, temptation, jealousy, obsession and paranoia
  4. A Tragedy
    • One the reader foresees/is forewarned about
    • Usually a death, one the protagonist was involved in somehow
  5. Close-Knit Groups of Individuals
    • A group of friends or secret society
    • Probably has toxic foundations
  6. Adult Authority Figure
    • Who abuses their power or exercises influence in damaging ways
  7. Damaging Secrets that Eat Away at the Characters
  8. Social & Economic Disparities + Fish-Out-of-Water Scenarios
    • DA deals with elitism and privilege, and how this can result in moral ambiguity, apathy, and arrogance
    • The protagonist is distinct from the privileged characters and acts as the reader’s window into their world
  9. Lavish Prose
    • Plenty of imagery, lengthy dialogue and internal monologuing

Not every book in this post ticks off all the dark academia elements above (particularly the learning and knowledge focus). If I were being stricter, the list would be a lot shorter. However, because I know people likely have broader views about what DA is than me, especially when it comes to YA reads, I’ve included some books that are more in the vein of ‘mystery/thriller in an academic setting’, too.

Now for the fun part, the list of DA reads! I’ll clarify in advance, I have not read anything close to every book on this list but rest assured, I’ve done LOTS of research to compile it. Hopefully you find something that floats your boat.

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Adult Dark Academia

Let’s just get the obvious one out of the way first, yes?

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

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After being accepted to an exclusive New England College, Californian Richard Pappen falls in with an exclusive, eccentric and clever group of classics students led by charismatic professor, Julian Morrow. Under Julian’s tutelage, the students are taught a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when an attempt at completing a Bacchian rite ends in tragic consequences, the group is pushed to take extraordinary lengths to cover it up. In the aftermath, secrets come out, relationships are tested and their lives are changed forever. I really enjoyed this book and it’s a must read for anyone wanting to give DA a go.

Alright, moving on…

Frankenstein – Mary Shelly

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A classic literature example of the dark academia genre as well as the aesthetic. Obsessed with creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the materials to fashion a new being, one which he shocks into life with electricity. To Frankenstein’s dismay, the resulting creature is a twisted, parody of a man. Rejected by his creator and denied human companionship, the creature sets out to destroy Frankenstein and all that he holds dear. A disturbing and dramatic exploration of birth and death, creation and destruction, Frankenstein is one of the most iconic horror stories of all time.

They Never Learn – Layne Fargo

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Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor and even better at getting away with murder. Every year, she tracks down and kills the worst man at Gorman University and so far, she’s avoided drawing attention to herself. But as she’s preparing for her biggest kill yet, the school starts probing into the deaths on campus. Determined to keep her enemies close, Scarlett insinuates herself into the investigation and charms the woman in charge, Dr. Mina Pierce. Everything’s going according to plan…until she makes a mistake with her latest victim. Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year. Free of her abusive father, all Carly wants is to focus on her studies but her roommate has other ideas. Allison Hadley is cool and confident—everything Carly wishes she could be—and the two girls quickly form an intense friendship. So when Allison is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay. This is one of the ‘thriller/mystery in an academic setting’ books I mentioned.

The Likeness – Tana French

Also see ‘The Secret Place’ by Tana French

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Traumatised by her brush with a psychopath, Detective Cassie Maddox transfers out of the Murder squad and starts a relationship with fellow detective Sam O’Neill. Then Sam calls her to a crime scene: a woman stabbed to death outside Dublin who looks exactly like Cassie. What’s more, her ID identifies her as Lexie Madison – the identity Cassie used years ago as an undercover detective. With no leads or clue to Lexie’s identity, Cassie’s old boss spots the perfect opportunity: say the stab wound wasn’t fatal and send Cassie undercover. It’s crazy, but Cassie is drawn not only to the prospect of working again but assuming the victim’s identity as a graduate student and infiltrating her close-knit group of secretive, intelligent, odd friends. As she is drawn into Lexie’s world, Cassie realizes that the girl’s secrets run deeper than imagined and she’ll have to tread carefully if she wants to tempt the killer out of hiding to finish the job. This is the second book in a series but they can be read out of order without difficulty.

For Your Own Good – Samantha Downing

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Teddy Crutcher has won Teacher of the Year at the esteemed Belmont Academy, home to the best and brightest. He says his wife couldn’t be more proud—though no one has seen her in a while. Teddy really can’t be bothered with the death of a school parent that’s looking more and more like murder or the student digging a little too deep into Teddy’s personal life. His main focus is on pushing these kids to their full academic potential. All he wants is for his colleagues—and the endlessly meddlesome parents—to stay out of his way. It’s really too bad that sometimes excellence can come at such a high cost.

Catherine House – Elisabeth Thomas

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I wasn’t so sure about including this one due to mixed reviews but if you’re big on atmosphere over plot, this might be for you. Hidden in the woods of Pennsylvania, Catherine House is a liberal arts school like no other. With an experimental curriculum, selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, it has produced the world’s best minds. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years completely removed from the outside world. Among this year’s class is Ines, who expects to trade partying, pills and boys for rigorous intellectual study – only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The students are encouraged to explore, expand their minds, and find themselves and their place within Catherine. But is it all too good to be true? Is there something sinister hiding beneath the school’s shabby splendor, hallowed history and advanced curriculum?

In My Dreams I Hold a Knife – Ashley Winstead

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Ten years after graduation, Jessica Miller has planned her triumphant return to Duquette University. Everyone is going to see the girl she wants them to see, not who she was when she left campus, back when Heather’s murder fractured everything, including the tight bond linking the six friends she’d been closest to since freshman year. Ten years ago, everything fell apart, including the dreams she worked for her whole life—and her relationship with the one person she wasn’t supposed to love. But not everyone is ready to move on. Not everyone left Duquette ten years ago, and not everyone can let Heather’s murder go unsolved. Someone is determined to make the guilty pay. When the six friends are reunited, they will be forced to confront what happened that night—and the years’ worth of secrets each of them would do anything to keep hidden.

These Violent Delights – Micah Nemerever

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This book is definitely big on the dark themes part of DA. When Paul enters university in 1970s Pittsburgh, he hopes to move past the recent death of his father. Sensitive, insecure, and incomprehensible to his grieving family, Paul feels isolated and alone. When he meets the worldly Julian in his ethics class, Paul is immediately drawn to his charm. Paul sees Julian as his sole intellectual equal and wants nothing more than to prove himself worthy of their friendship. But as charismatic as he may be, Julian is also volatile and cruel, and Paul becomes increasingly afraid he will never live up to Julian’s expectations. As their friendship spirals into all-consuming intimacy, they each learn the lengths to which the other will go to stay together, their obsession ultimately hurtling them toward an act of irrevocable violence.

Confessions- Kanae Minato

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Confessions is another one of those academic setting mystery/thriller books but it has such good reviews, I had to include it. This is a Japanese translation so yay for some diversity. After calling off her engagement in wake of a tragic revelation, Yuko Moriguchi had nothing to live for except her only child, four-year-old Manami. Now, following an accident on the grounds of the middle school where she teaches, Yuko has given up and tendered her resignation. But first she has one last lecture to deliver. She tells a story that upends everything her students ever thought they knew about two of their peers, and sets in motion a maniacal plot for revenge.

Plain Bad Heroines – Emily Danforth

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In 1902, Flo and Clara are students of The Brookhants School for Girls, obsessed with each other and the author of a scandalous memoir, Mary MacLane. The girls establish a private club, The Plain Bad Heroine Society, and meet secretly in a nearby apple orchard. That is, until their deaths at the hands of a swarm of angry yellow jackets, a copy of Mary’s book found beside them. Five years, and three mysterious deaths later, the school closes its doors. A century later, the abandoned Brookhants returns to the news when Merritt Emmons publishes a breakout book celebrating its queer, feminist history. The book inspires a horror film starring lesbian it girl Harper Harper playing ill-fated heroine Flo, and former child star Audrey Wells as Clara. But as Brookhants reopens its gates and our heroines arrive to begin filming, past and present become entangled and soon it’s impossible to tell where the curse leaves off and Hollywood begins.

Kill All Your Darlings – David Bell

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Not to be confused with the film Kill Your Darlings (they’re completely different). 2021 seems to be all about plagiarism thrillers. After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman. There’s just one problem: Connor didn’t write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him. Connor’s problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder. Soon Connor discovers the crime is part of a disturbing scandal on campus and faces an impossible dilemma–admit he didn’t write the book and lose his job or keep up the lie and risk everything. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student’s manuscript.

Bunny – Mona Awad

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Bunny falls on the highly bizarre, absurdist, black comedy side of the Dark Academia scale (like The Secret History on a huge LSD trip). It’s about a scholarship student named Samantha Mackey who’s a bit of an outsider in her selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. That is, until she receives an invitation to join the Bunnies (a clique of rich girls who call each other “Bunny” and move & speak as one) at their fabled “Smut Salon”. Ditching her friend Ava, Samantha gets lost deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole of the Bunnies’ sinister world. As she begins to take part in their ritualistic off-campus “Workshop” where they conjure monstrous creations, the edges of reality start to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.

The Lake of Dead Languages – Carol Goodman

Also see Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

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Twenty years ago, Jane Hudson left the Heart Lake School for Girls after a terrible tragedy. Now she has returned to its isolated shores as a Latin teacher, hoping to make a fresh start. But ominous messages from the past dredge up forgotten memories she’d rather stayed buried. Since freshman year, Jane and her roommates, Lucy Toller and Deirdre Hall, were inseparable – studying the classics, performing rituals on the lake, and sneaking out after curfew. However, the last winter before graduation, everything changed. Three lives were taken, all victims of senseless suicide. Now pages from Jane’s missing journal written at the time have reappeared, revealing shocking, long-buried secrets. And suddenly, young, troubled girls are beginning to die again . . . as piece by piece the shattering truth slowly floats to the surface.

The Maidens – Alex Michaelides

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Not one of my favourites, but it still meets the DA brief. Mariana Andros is a London-based group therapist still reeling from the tragic death of her husband a year prior. But when her niece Zoe calls from Cambridge after her friend, Tara, is found murdered, Mariana quickly finds herself caught up in the investigation. Of particular interest is Edward Fosca, the charismatic Greek tragedy professor and Tara’s potential lover, known for heading an exclusive, all female “study group” (aka secret society) known around campus as ‘The Maidens’. As Mariana looks closer at the crime and more bodies start to turn up, the more convinced she becomes that Fosca is the guilty party, alibis be damned. But how to find the evidence to prove it?

Black Chalk – Christopher J. Yates

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It was only ever meant to be a game played by six best friends in their first year at Oxford University; a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares. But then the game changed: The stakes grew higher and the dares more personal and more humiliating, finally evolving into a vicious struggle with unpredictable and tragic results. Now, fourteen years later, the remaining players must meet again for the final round. Who knows better than your best friends what would break you?

The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood

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Bookish Oscar Lowe has made a life for himself amid the colleges of Cambridge and yet is a world apart from the students who study in the hallowed halls. But when Oscar is lured into the chapel at King’s College by the ethereal sound of an organ, he meets and falls in love with Iris Bellwether, a beautiful and enigmatic medical student. He follows her into a world of scholarship, wealth, and privilege, and becomes embroiled in the machinations of her older brother, Eden. A charismatic but troubled musical prodigy, Eden persuades his sister and their circle of friends into a series of disturbing experiments. He believes that music — with his unique talent to guide it — has the power to cure, and will stop at nothing to prove himself right. As the line between genius and madness blurs, Oscar fears danger could await them all.

My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

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This is quite a different type of DA read than others on this list, probably because of the lack of murder, but it still fits. 2000. bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic forty-two-year-old English teacher. 2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her? Or is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager may be far different from what she has always believed?

The Truants – Kate Weinberg

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Jess Walker has come to a concrete campus under the flat gray skies of East Anglia for one reason: to be taught by the mesmerizing and rebellious Dr. Lorna Clay, whose seminars soon transform Jess’s thinking on life, love, and Agatha Christie. Swept up in Lorna’s thrall, Jess falls in with a tightly knit group of rule-breakers–Alec, a courageous South African journalist with a nihilistic streak; Georgie, a seductive, pill-popping aristocrat; and Nick, a handsome geologist with layers of his own. But the dynamic between the friends begins to darken, until a tragedy shatters their friendships and love affairs, and reveals a terrible secret. Soon Jess must face the question she fears most: what is the true cost of an extraordinary life?

Summer Sons – Lee Mandelo

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This is a 2021 September release so be on the lookout. Andrew and Eddie were best friends bonded more deeply than brothers, until Eddie left Andrew behind to start his graduate program at Vanderbilt. Six months later, Eddie dies of an apparent suicide. He leaves Andrew a horrible inheritance: a roommate he doesn’t know, friends he never asked for, and a gruesome phantom with bleeding wrists that mutters of revenge. As Andrew searches for the truth of Eddie’s death, he uncovers the lies and secrets left behind by the person he trusted most, discovering a family history soaked in blood and death. Whirling between the backstabbing academic world where Eddie spent his days and the circle of hot boys, fast cars, and hard drugs that ruled Eddie’s nights, the walls Andrew has built against the world begin to crumble, letting in the phantom that hungers for him.

Never Saw Me Coming – Vera Kurian

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian - Penguin Books Australia

Another September 2021 release. It’s a thriller but definitely falls under dark avenues of academia. Meet Chloe Sevre: a freshman honor student and leggings-wearing hot girl next door, who also happens to be a psychopath. Her hobbies include yogalates, frat parties, and plotting to kill Will Bachman, a childhood friend who grievously wronged her. Chloe is one of seven students at her DC-based college who are part of an unusual clinical study for psychopaths. The study, led by a renowned psychologist, requires them to wear smart watches that track their moods and movements. When one of the students in the study is found murdered in the psychology building, a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins, and Chloe goes from hunter to prey. As she races to identify the killer and put her own plan into action, she’ll be forced to decide if she can trust any of her fellow psychopaths—and everybody knows you should never trust a psychopath.

YA Dark Academia

If We Were Villains – R L Rio

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One of my favourite DA reads. If you’re a Shakespeare fan, this will be right up your alley. Oliver Marks has just served ten years in jail – for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the man who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened a decade ago. As one of seven young actors studying Shakespeare at an elite arts college, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingenue, extra. But when the casting changes, and the secondary characters usurp the stars, the plays spill dangerously over into life, and one of them is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless.

The Orchard – David Hopen

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Ari Eden’s life has always been governed by strict rules. In ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn, his lonely days are dedicated to intense study and religious rituals. So when his family announces that they are moving to Miami, Ari seizes the chance for reinvention. Enrolling in an opulent Jewish academy, Ari is stunned by his peers’ wealth and ambition. When the academy’s golden boy, Noah, takes Ari under his wing, Ari finds himself entangled in the school’s most exclusive group. These friends are magnetic and defiant—especially Evan, the brooding genius of the bunch. Influenced by their charismatic rabbi, the group begins testing their religion in unconventional ways. Soon Ari and his friends are pushing moral boundaries and careening toward a perilous future—one in which the traditions of their faith are repurposed to mysterious, tragic ends.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl

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After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue van Meer is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge—and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah’s friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide—or misguide—her. 

Truly Devious – Maureen Johnson

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Sixteen-year-old Stevie has an obsession with all things crime. Podcasts, mystery fiction, cold cases, you name it – Stevie is the expert and she dreams of one day becoming a great detective. When she’s accepted into the exclusive, and extravagantly funded, Ellingham Academy, Stevie is surprised but also excited. Founded in the 1930s by business tycoon, Albert Ellingham, the school is famous for its troubled past involving two murders and the kidnapping of Ellingham’s family, all unsolved. The only clue in the case: a morbid poem sent by someone known only as ‘Truly Devious’. When given the opportunity to choose a personal project, Steve’s choice is simple – solve the Ellingham murders. But when one of the students in her class dies mysteriously, Stevie begins to realise that perhaps real-life detective work is different from what she expected.

The Mary Shelly Club – Goldy Moldavsky

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New girl Rachel Chavez is eager to make a fresh start at Manchester Prep. But as one of the few scholarship kids, Rachel struggles to fit in, and when she gets caught up in a prank gone awry, she ends up with more enemies than friends. To her surprise, however, the prank attracts the attention of the Mary Shelley Club, a secret club of students with one objective: come up with the scariest prank to orchestrate real fear. But as the pranks escalate, the competition turns cutthroat and takes on a life of its own. When the tables are turned and someone targets the club itself, Rachel must track down the real-life monster in their midst . . . even if it means finally confronting the dark secrets from her past.

Ace of Spades – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

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When Niveus Private Academy students, Devon Richards and Chiamaka Adebayo, are selected to be part of the school’s senior class prefects, it looks like their year is off to an amazing start. Not only does it look great on college applications, but it officially puts each of them in the running for valedictorian. Shortly after the announcement is made, though, someone who goes by ‘Aces’ begins using anonymous text messages to reveal secrets about the two of them, threatening their carefully planned futures. As Aces shows no sign of stopping, what seemed like a sick prank quickly turns into a dangerous game, with all the cards stacked against them. Can Devon and Chiamaka stop Aces before things become deadly?

The Ivies – Alexa Donne

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Everyone knows the Ivies: the most coveted universities in the United States. Far more important are the Ivies. The Ivies at Claflin Academy, that is. Five girls with the same mission: to get into the Ivy League by any means necessary. Even if it means disrupting class rankings or sabotaging academic competitions. In order to best secure their chances, each of the Ivy girls agree to apply to a different school, thus stopping them from competing against one another. As you might imagine, things don’t exactly turn out that way. When one of the Ivies turns up dead mere hours after being accepted into a different school than the one allocated to her, the question becomes: was it one of her friends taking out revenge or another student finally taking matters into their own hands?

The Year of the Gadfly – Jennifer Miller

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Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom’s Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers for even minor infractions. Iris Dupont, a budding journalist, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vicious rumours. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter’s instinct, and her own troubled past.

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder – Holly Jackson

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This one doesn’t have an academic setting BUT it does revolve around a school project with a dark topic. Pretty and popular, senior Andie Bell was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, who then killed himself. It was all anyone could talk about. And five years later, Pip sees how the tragedy still haunts her town. But she can’t shake the feeling that there’s more to it. She knew Sal and he was always so kind to her. How could he possibly have been a killer? Now a senior herself, Pip decides to reexamine the closed case for her major project. She soon discovers a trail of dark secrets that might actually prove Sal innocent… and the line between past and present begins to blur. Someone in Fairview doesn’t want Pip digging around for answers, and now her own life might be in danger.

How We Fall Apart – Katie Zhao

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Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app. They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too.

The Basic Eight – Daniel Handler

The Basic Eight eBook : Handler, Daniel: Amazon.com.au: Kindle Store

So apparently Lemony Snicket also writes dark academia. Meet Flannery Culp, a world-weary high-school senior. She is primed to take on the few remaining obstacles that stand between her and the rest of her life: the SAT, college applications, the fall semester….Mercifully, there are a few distractions: 1) her friends, the Basic Eight and 2) Adam State, the object of her affections. If only things hadn’t gotten out of control. If only Flan had stayed away from the absinthe. Then she wouldn’t be a topic on daytime talk shows, or incarcerated, or have time to edit her journals…. 

One of Us is Lying – Karen M. McManus

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Had to include this fan favourite – even though it’s more along the lines of mystery in an academic setting. Five students enter detention. Less than an hour later, one of them is dead. Our suspects: Addy, the popular girl who can’t seem to do anything without her boyfriend. Cooper, the rising, young baseball star with a wicked fastball. Nate, the school drug dealer, currently on probation and the easy scapegoat. And Bronwyn, top of her class and destined for Yale. All have secrets, but which of them murdered Simon, Bayview High’s resident blogger and gossip king, to stop them getting out?

S.T.A.G.S – M. A. Bennett

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At St. Aidan the Great School, or S.T.A.G.S., new things, and new people, are to be avoided. Unfortunately, Greer MacDonald, scholarship student, is very much a new person. Usually ignored or mocked by the schools most admired circle of friends, The Medievals, Greer is surprised when they offer her an invitation to attend an exclusive weekend retreat at a private estate. It’s billed as a weekend of “huntin’ shootin’ fishin’,” and rumor has it that the invitee who most impresses the group will be given the privilege of becoming a Medieval themselves. As the weekend begins to take shape, however, it becomes apparent that beyond the fancy clothes and elaborate multi-course dinners, there are predators lurking, and they’re out for blood…

Looking for Alaska – John Green

Looking For Alaska :HarperCollins Australia

I can hear you saying ‘WHAT?’ from here. Yes, when you compare LfA with the DA list above, it ticks a lot of boxes. School setting, dark themes, a tragedy, discussions about life, death and literature…You see what I mean? Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . After. Nothing is ever the same.

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Magical Dark Academia

Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo

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This book is all kinds of dark academia. Ninth House introduces an alternate Yale where rich and powerful members of eight secret societies engage in dangerous occult rituals dealing with everything from necromancy and portal magic to shape-shifting. These societies are kept in check by a small ninth house, Lethe. Every three years Lethe recruits a freshman, opening their eyes to the uses and dangers of magic. Twenty-year old Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is a high school drop-out from LA with the ability to see ghosts. After somehow surviving an unsolved multiple homicide, Alex is mysteriously offered a scholarship to Yale and the freshman position in Lethe. The book alternates between two storylines- winter & spring. The former deals with Alex’s arrival at Yale and her learning about magic and the societies. The latter follows her investigating the death of a young woman on campus with several unexplained connections to the societies.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

Amazon.com: A Deadly Education: A Novel (The Scholomance Book 1) eBook:  Novik, Naomi: Kindle Store

In A Deadly Education, our lead is Galadriel ‘El’ Higgins, a loner teenage witch with a talent for destructive magic and a dark, end the world type prophecy hanging over her head. El is currently in her penultimate year at Scholomance, an international school for young mages with a frightening survival rate. Dropping out isn’t an option so students have little choice but to push through their coursework whilst trying to avoid getting eaten by one of the many monsters (maleficaria or ‘mals’) lurking throughout the school’s corridors and crevices. And even then, they still have to make it through graduation – a monster-mage blood bath of epic proportions, survival of which depends largely on students’ ability to form alliances. However, this school year has proven to be more deadly than normal and if she wants to see it through, El might just need to start finding some allies.

The Atlas Six – Olivie Blake

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This book has been on my TBR for forever and it sounds so good. Every ten years, six unique and talented magicians are chosen to be considered as initiates into the Alexandrian Society, a secret group of magical academicians who act as caretakers of lost knowledge from great civilisations of antiquity. Yet, only five will make the cut and receive power, wealth and prestige. Enter: Libby and Nico, who exert control over elements of physicality. Reina, who intuits the language of life. Parisa, a telepath who can traverse the subconscious. Callum, an empath who can influence the workings of a person’s inner self. And Tristan who sees through illusions to a new structure of reality. Recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they will have a year to qualify for initiation and will be judged on their contributions to subjects of impossibility: time and space, luck and thought, and life and death. Most of them will succeed. Most of them.

A Lesson in Vengeance – Victoria Lee

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This one’s slightly less outright ‘magical’ than others, but I’m including it here anyway. After dropping out following the death of her girlfriend, Alex, Felicity Morrow has returned to Dalloway School. She’s even back in her old dormitory, said to be haunted by the spirits of The Dalloway Five – a group of girls gruesomely and mysteriously killed centuries prior who some believe were witches. The school doesn’t like to talk about its troubled history, but the students do. Before Alex’s death Felicity was researching the deaths as part of her senior thesis but she’s now determined to leave it all behind her. However, she soon finds herself drawn to new student Ellis Haley, a prodigy novelist similarly researching the Dalloway Five. When Ellis asked Felicity for help, she can’t bring herself to say no. But when history starts to repeat itself and new information comes to light about Alex’s death, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway and in herself.

A Discovery of Witches – Deborah Harkness

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If you’d like some heavy romance with your fantasy dark academia, this is the book. Deep in the stacks of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from a distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of magical creatures soon descends upon the library. Among them is the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire geneticist who Diana is inexplicably drawn towards. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels. For, little does she know, Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries and she is the only one who can break its spell.

The Devil Makes Three – Tori Bovalino

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Tess Matheson only wants three things: time to practice her cello, her sister to be happy, and for everyone else to leave her alone. Instead, she finds herself working all summer at her boarding school library, shelving books and dealing with the intolerable patrons. The worst of them is Eliot Birch: snide, privileged, and constantly requesting forbidden grimoires. After a bargain with Eliot leads to the discovery of an ancient book in the library’s collection, the pair accidentally unleash a book-bound demon. The demon will stop at nothing to stay free, threatening those Tess loves and dismantling Eliot’s strange magic. Tess is plagued by terrible dreams of the devil and haunting memories of a boy who wears Eliot’s face. All she knows is to stay free, the demon needs her… and he’ll have her, dead or alive.

The Magicians – Lev Grossman

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I’m much more a fan of the TV adaptation, but I’d be remiss by not including this book under this section. Quentin Coldwater is brilliant but miserable. A senior in high school, he’s still secretly preoccupied with a series of children’s fantasy novels, set in a magical land called Fillory. Imagine his surprise when he finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the craft of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. Something is missing, though. Magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he dreamed it would. After graduation he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real. But the land of Quentin’s fantasies turns out to be much darker and more dangerous than he could have imagined. His childhood dream becomes a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

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This book has some dark themes but the way it’s written makes it feel a lot lighter than it actually is. Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magical. She is perfectly happy with her life. She has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha. But when Ivy is hired by the headmistress to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

Piranesi – Susanna Clarke

Also see Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

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I can’t explain why this is DA without spoilers so you’ll just have to accept that it fits. Advance warning though, it’s a weird example of it. Piranesi’s house is no ordinary building: its rooms are infinite, its corridors endless, its walls are lined with thousands of statues, each one different from the rest. Within the labyrinth of halls an ocean is imprisoned; waves thunder up staircases, rooms are flooded in an instant. But Piranesi is not afraid; he understands the tides as he understands the pattern of the labyrinth itself. He lives to explore the house. There is one other person in the house—a man called The Other, who visits Piranesi twice a week and asks for help with research into A Great and Secret Knowledge. But as Piranesi explores, evidence emerges of another person, and a terrible truth begins to unravel, revealing a world beyond the one Piranesi has always known.

The Furies – Katie Lowe

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Like A Lesson in Vengeance, this is less ‘magic’ than the other books in this section but because of witchcraft, it’s here. In 1998, a sixteen-year-old girl is found dead on school property, dressed in white and posed on a swing, with no known cause of death. In the present, our narrator Violent looks back on that night and the series of events that led to it. After an accident involving her family, Violet joins Elm Hollow Academy, a private girls school in a quiet coastal town known as the site of famous 17th century witch trials. Violet is soon invited to join an advanced study group, alongside Robin, Grace, and Alex – led by charismatic art teacher, Annabel. While Annabel claims her classes aren’t related to ancient rites and rituals, warning the girls off the topic, the girls start to believe magic is real and they can harness it. But when a former member of the society is found dead nine months after she disappeared, Violet begins to wonder whether she can trust her friends, teachers, or even herself.

Vicious – V E Schwab

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You can’t go wrong with a Schwaby read. Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl with a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

Nevernight – Jay Kristoff

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Couldn’t resist the chance to use one of my favourite books. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined. Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest group of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to her vengeance. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Vita Nostra – Sergey and Marina Dyachenko

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A Ukrainian approach to fantasy dark academia. While vacationing, Sasha Samokhina meets the strange and sinister Farit Kozhennikov. When Farit directs her to perform a task, Sasha finds herself powerless to refuse in the face of potentially terrible consequences. As the days go on, Sasha continues to carry out tasks for Farit until eventually he directs her to enter the mysterious Institute of Special Technologies. Even though she doesn’t wish to go, Sasha feels like the school is where she should be and so begins her education. She soon discovers that the institute’s “special technologies” are unlike anything she’s ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, lessons maddeningly obscure, and work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school punishes their families for transgressions and failures. Despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.

Middegame – Seanan McGuire

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Not a favourite of mine but popular with many others. Roger and Dodger are twins. While Roger has always had an aptitude for words and languages, his sister views the world in numbers and equations. Having grown up at opposite ends of the country, the two only meet when they realise that they have a psychic connection with one another. Little do they know that they are the carefully crafted experiments of an alchemist named James Reed, designed to embody the two halves of the Doctrine of Ethos, language and mathematics, believed to be the key to commanding all things. Reed seeks to use these abilities to ascend to a place known as The Impossible City, and in doing so gain unimaginable power. But the more Rodger and Dodger try to fight their destiny, the faster it seems to sneak up on them.

The Ravens – Kass Morgan & Danielle Paige

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Kappa Rho Nu isn’t your average sorority. Their parties are notorious. Their fundraisers are known for being Westerly College’s most elaborate affairs. But beneath the veil of Greek life and prestige, the sisters of Kappu Rho Nu share a secret: they’re a coven of witches. For Vivi Deveraux, being one of Kappa Rho Nu’s Ravens means getting a chance to redefine herself. For Scarlett Winters, a bonafide Raven and daughter of a legacy Raven, pledge this year means living up to her mother’s impossible expectations of becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Scarlett knows she’d be the perfect candidate — that is, if she didn’t have one human-sized skeleton in her closet…. When Vivi and Scarlett are paired as big and little for initiation, they find themselves sinking into the sinister world of blood oaths and betrayals.

Dark Academia Aesthetic Reads

Below are a couple of books that are generally considered to be DA reads in terms of aesthetic rather than the genre. I thought I’d include them for interest.

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In the Mood for a DA Movie or TV Series Instead?

Thought this would be a fun little bonus to add on to the reading list. Some of these are very much DA genre and others are more about the vibes and aesthetic. Some are both! Either way, enjoyable times to be had.


There we have it! As I’m sure you’re aware, this is by no means an exhaustive list because…I would be dead before I finished it. That, or slowly losing my sanity. Still, I hope this is helpful for those who are curious about the genre and looking to read some of the books within it.

Do you have a favourite dark academia book, movie or TV show?

16 thoughts on “The Dark Academia Reading List: 49 Books of Tragedy, Elitism, Secrets, Violence and the Pursuit of Knowledge

    1. I know right? The longest list post I’ve ever done! Never again. Hopefully you end up finding some new favourites. 😊
      Piranesi is one of those under the radar DA books that you don’t realise actually is DA for like three quarters of the book.

  1. I suppose I’ve never really been clued into Dark Academia as a genre, but when I read your bullet points about what makes a book Dark Academia my brain instantly went “oh, it fits A Discovery of Witches perfectly,” so I was really happy to see it included on the list. It has been one of my favourites for a while now so it has actually opened up a new genre for me to explore, which is great!

  2. As someone who has certainly developed an obsession with dark academia, I cannot thank you enough for this extensive list. Many were already on my TBR and the many others will be added to it right now. There’s just something addictive about this genre, and I love seeing people as appreciative of it as I am. A fantastic post, Ashley! Happy to have found your blog.

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