There are a ton of genres within YA, but one rising in popularity lately is dark academia. The first book considered dark academia was The Secret History by Donna Tartt in 1992. Dark academia can be described as a prep school, academic-aesthetic books (think school uniforms, blazers, skirts, etc.), but the plot involves a dark and unforeseen twist. Often the twist could revolve around death, darkness, the occult, and other morbid topics.
These books balance the familiar high school and college experiences with darker and more exciting twists, such as witnessing a murder or dark magic secret societies. These books also highlight some of the pressures of these academic institutions and how underneath polished reputations and the best grades, there is a challenge to young people's mental health and pressures of what society expects.
Enjoy these new and old dark academia books that delve into the dangers of intellectual curiosity, whether from the competition, conspiracy, or something else unexpected.
Dark Academia Novels
The Lies We Tell by Katie Zhao
Anna Xu moving out of her parent's home and into the dorms across town as she starts freshman year at the local, prestigious Brookings University. But her parents and their struggling Chinese bakery, Sweetea, aren't far from campus or from mind, either.
At Brookings, Anna wants to keep up her stellar academic performance and to investigate the unsolved campus murder of her childhood babysitter. While there she also finds a familiar face – her middle-school rival, Chris Lu. The Lus also happen to be the Xu family's business rivals since they opened Sunny's, a trendy new bakery on Sweetea's block. Chris is cute but still someone to be wary of – until a vandal hits Sunny's and Anna matches the racist tag with a clue from her investigation.
Anna grew up in this town, but more and more she feels like maybe she isn't fully at home here -- or maybe it's that there are people here who think she doesn't belong. When a very specific threat is made to Anna, she seeks out help from the only person she can. Anna and Chris team up to find out who is stalking her and take on a dangerous search into the hate crimes happening around campus. Can they root out the ugly history and take on the current threat?
Youngblood by Sasha Laurens
Kat Finn and her mother can barely make ends meet living among humans. Like all vampires, they must drink Hema, an expensive synthetic blood substitute, to survive, as nearly all of humanity has been infected by a virus that’s fatal to vampires. Kat isn’t looking forward to an immortal life of barely scraping by, but when she learns she’s been accepted to the Harcote School, a prestigious prep school that’s secretly vampires-only, she knows her fortune is about to change.
Taylor Sanger has grown up in the wealthy vampire world, but she’s tired of its backward, conservative values—especially when it comes to sexuality, since she’s an out-and-proud lesbian. She only has to suffer through a two more years of Harcote before she’s free. But when she discovers her new roommate is Kat Finn, she’s horrified. Because she and Kat used to be best friends, a long time ago, and it didn’t end well.
When Taylor stumbles upon the dead body of a vampire, and Kat makes a shocking discovery in the school’s archives, the two realize that there are deep secrets at Harcote—secrets that link them to the most powerful figures in Vampirdom and to the synthetic blood they all rely on.
Very Bad People by Kit Frick
Six years ago, Calliope Bolan’s mother drove the family van into a lake with her three daughters inside. The girls escaped, but their mother drowned, and the truth behind the “accident” remains a mystery Calliope is determined to solve. Now sixteen, she transfers to Tipton Academy, the same elite boarding school her mother once attended. Tipton promises a peek into the past and a host of new opportunities—including a coveted invitation to join Haunt and Rail, an exclusive secret society that looms over campus like a legend.
Calliope accepts, stepping into the exhilarating world of the “ghosts,” a society of revolutionaries fighting for social justice. But when Haunt and Rail commits to exposing a dangerous person on campus, it becomes clear that some ghosts define justice differently than others.
As the society’s tactics escalate, Calliope uncovers a possible link between Haunt and Rail and her mother’s deadly crash. Now, she must question what lengths the society might go to in order to see a victory—and if the secret behind her mother’s death could be buried here at Tipton.
My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham
Finch Chamberlin is the newest transfer student to the ultra-competitive Ulalume Academy... but she's also not what she seems. Months before school started, Finch and her parents got into an accident that should have left her dead at the bottom of a river. But something monstrous, and ancient, and terrifying, wouldn't let her drown. Finch doesn't know why she woke up after her heart stopped, but since dying she's felt a constant pull from the school and the surrounding town of Rainwater, like something on the island is calling to her.
Selena St. Clair sees right through Finch, and she knows something is seriously wrong with her. But despite Selena's suspicion, she feels drawn to Finch and has a sinking feeling that from now on the two will be inexplicably linked to one another.
One night Finch, Selena, and her friends accidentally summon a carnivorous creature of immense power in the depths of the school. It promises to grant every desire the girls have kept locked away in their insecure hearts―beauty, power, adoration―in exchange for a price: human body parts. But as the cost of their wanting becomes more deadly, Finch and Selena must learn to work together to stop the horror they unleashed, before it consumes the entire island.
The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass
Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse and definitely more complicated, Jake can see the dead. In fact he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again, they don’t interact often with people. But then Jake meets Sawyer. A troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, he has plans for his afterlife–plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game–one Jake is not sure he’s going to win.
The Murder Game by Carrie Doyle
Luke Chase didn’t mean to get caught up solving the mystery of Mrs. Heckler’s murder. He just wanted to spend alone time with the new British girl at their boarding school.
But little did he know someone would end up dead right next to their rendezvous spot in the woods, and his best friend and roommate Oscar Weymouth would be the one to take the blame. With suspects aplenty and a past that’s anything but innocent, Luke Chase reluctantly calls on his famous survival skills to solve the mystery and find the true killer.