If you daydream of cavernous hallways obscured in shadow or mahogany desks littered with waxed-sealed letters and a bone or two, you need to read these dark academia books. Dark academia dominates aesthetic-related content on platforms like TikTok and Instagram. With autumn on the way, you’ll want to stock up on books that deal in morally grey characters, foreboding themes and a dash of pretension.
With that said, authors of color aren’t adequately represented within dark academia. This aesthetic draws on the romanticization of higher education and a canon of “classics,” which has a long history of racism and exclusion. While this list includes two authors of color, most books in the dark academia genre are by white authors.
However, if you’re looking for more inclusion in your dark academia, Ariel Yisrael has some great suggestions in “Finding Diversity in Dark Academia.” As she explains, “The lack of diverse voices in dark academia doesn’t appear to be done intentionally, so it is only by acting intentionally that this lack of diversity can be undone.”
Read on for some of our favorite dark academia picks to add to your reading list this fall.
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt
Only a literary giant who demanded her boyfriend call her “my lad” while donning trousers could write a book like “The Secret History,” which arguably set a precedent for contemporary dark academia literature. Often described as a dark academia thriller, Tartt’s novel follows a group of elitist Classics students seduced by mythology, their charismatic professor and one another. Even the flow of the prose enthralls you, like the unsteady, insatiable hand of a poet. Consider “The Secret History” your introduction to dark academia and its delicious devilry.
“A Lesson in Vengeance” by Victoria Lee
Replace mythology with witchcraft and adult thriller with queer YA thriller, and “The Secret History” has morphed into “A Lesson in Vengeance.” Felicity Morrow mourns her deceased girlfriend, but she returns to the halls of Dalloway School to finish her education.
Her grief swallowed her love of the occult, and now Dalloway’s history of witchcraft no longer intrigues her as it once did. But Ellis Haley, a 17-year-old aspiring novelist, wants to dip into that history. Digging up the past begins to set a chain of events in motion that forces Felicity to face darkness she didn’t know existed.
“Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo
Another paranormal fantasy in an academic setting, Leigh Bardugo’s “Ninth House” chronicles Galaxy “Alex” Stern’s first year at Yale University. After a series of poor life choices, Alex survives an unsolved multiple homicide.
When she wakes up in her hospital bed, the dean of Yale University offers her a full ride. All she has to do is collect intel on Yale’s secret societies. Alex agrees, but the occult activity broiling at her new university is more sinister than she anticipated.
“Mexican Gothic” by Sylvia Moreno-Garcia
Answering the epistolary plea of her newlywed cousin, Noemí, a socialite from Mexico City, finds herself in an ominous household reigned by a dying patriarch who happens to be a little too fascinated by eugenics. Her debutante dresses and manners are more suited to the city than a gothic mystery, but she’s determined to help her bedridden cousin.
She finds herself picking through a web of family secrets, both seductive and terrifying. And escape might be impossible. Moreno-Garcia re-imagines the classic Gothic novel to unveil the evils of colonization, and the twist ending will launch you down a Wikipedia rabbit hole.
“If We Were Villains” by M.L. Rio
Most of M.L. Rio’s book leaves us unsure whether Oliver Marks’ decade in jail for murder was warranted or not. The man who convicted him demands the truth on his release date. Oliver’s former years at an elite performing arts college dance across the pages. A tangled play full of stock characters, from heroes and villains to temptresses and tyrants, becomes even more tangled when the casting changes and the play bleeds into real life.
“The Atlas Six” by Olivie Blake
The Alexandrian Society, an organization of magicians and academics safeguarding lost knowledge, inducts new members each decade. The inductees will gain an enviable life of wealth and prestige.
Atlas Blakely has selected this decade’s six candidates, including a telepath, a naturalist and an empath. Only one will be eliminated. The other five will achieve greatness. The next year of their lives risks everything they are.
“The Picture of Dorian Grey” by Oscar Wilde
An immoral Victorian novel ripe with philosophical questions centered on a fashionable man who trades his soul to remain youthful and beautiful. This dark and cynical study on hedonism is a requirement among fans of dark academia and the classics.
“Kafka on the Shore” by Haruki Murakami
If you like Muriel Barbery’s “Elegance of the Hedgehog,” Murakami’s “Kafka on the Shore” is an obvious read. Metaphysical puzzles driven by a teenage boy and an old man run amok in this befuddling novel.
Kafka Tamura runs away from home to either evade an Oedipal prophecy or seek out his estranged mother and sister. Aging veteran Nakata finds himself pulled toward young Tamura. Through Nakata’s mental disabilities, we explore the most fundamental and instinctual things in life. Though the content may not be obviously inspired by dark academia, fans of the aesthetic will drool over the mystery of “Kafka on the Shore.”
If you liked this guide, be sure to check out our piece on light academia books to add to your reading list.
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