The dark academia trend shows no signs of fading away. The term was coined in 2015 to signify a particular subculture: an intense and all-consuming passion for learning, especially classic literature and ancient languages, observed in romanticized terms.
On the surface, dark academia draws a lot on gothic architecture (bonus points if it’s universities or libraries), dusty books, early to mid-century collegiate clothing, and a uniform color palette of blacks, whites, beiges, and browns. You will not find a glimmer of pink or yellow in the wardrobe of a dark academia aficionado.
As far as books go, dark academia also draws on (very often) delightfully pretentious people who, as Book Riot writer Zoe Robertson put it, “…can’t go a sentence without citing Shakespeare and spend their free periods retreating into the shadows of their secret cult.”
Dark academia books don’t always include romance. But that’s not the case for the books included in this list: whether they’re romance novels or simply novels with romantic elements, these books put rapidly beating hearts and star-crossed lovers side by side with murderers and students of ancient Greek. As one does.
Beware, though: some of the romance in these books might make you want to take a vow of chastity. It is still, after all, dark academia.
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
This YA novel is set at the prestigious Niveus Private Academy. Fellow students, Devon and Chiamaka team up in order to unveil Ace, an anonymous texter who threatens to reveal their secrets.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
There are few things I love more than dual timelines in books, which is why this one is right up my alley. In 1902, the Brookhants School for Girls had to close after several mysterious deaths. But now, a book about the school is set to be adapted to film, so a cast is sent to the ruins of what was once all splendor.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Only the most special students have a place at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school in ’90s England. But what makes them special? That’s what former student Kathy, newly reunited with her former classmates Ruth and Tommy, is going to find out years later.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
Magical dark academia? Yes, please. At 16, Breen finds herself joining a residential program for gifted students. There, she learns about the existence of demons, and a secret society that hunts them down called the Legendborn. She also finds out that there’s more to her mother’s death than meets the eye.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
The only thing I love as much as magical dark academia? Historical magical dark academia. Set in 1895, Gemma is sent from India to a boarding school in England after her mother dies by suicide. There, she develops visions, and discovers that she’s being followed by a young Indian man. But what does he want?
If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio
One of the few non-romance romantic dark academia books in this list features Oliver, a man who is getting out after ten years in prison. The man who put him there, Detective Colborne, wants to know why — and what his former classmate James has to do with it.
Half Truths by Claire Contreras
Is it truly a dark academia book without a secret society? Mae doesn’t have cause to wonder, because upon transferring colleges, she finds The Eight. This society may hold the answers she needs to learn about her missing brother and friend.
These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever
This book has been described as The Secret History meets Call Me By Your Name, in case you were wondering what you’re getting out of it. Paul meets Julian as a college freshman in the ’70s, and their bond quickly grows. But there’s a side to Julian that Paul is unprepared for.