Dark Academia: A Primer

Dark Academia: A Primer

Back to school time with autumn coming soon is the perfect time to delve into some Dark Academia books.

Let’s talk a bit about what Dark Academia books are. While it’s an entire aesthetic thanks to social media, one that makes my Goth heart sing, I’m focusing on the books not the looks.

These books are shadowy, suspenseful stories that use academia as a setting. So, think boarding school, college, university, even libraries where something dark and mysterious is taking place. Sometimes whatever’s happening is supernatural and sometimes it’s plain old-fashioned human evil.

There’s an air of exclusivity and secrecy in these stories. A hidden world that most people aren’t extended an invitation to join.

Dark Academia Books

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A Secret History by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt’s novel A Secret History is credited as the first book to truly create a Dark Academia vibe. Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries.

But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality, their lives are changed profoundly and forever. They discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

book cover for the ninth house
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Known for her Grishaverse fantasies, Leigh Bardugo has also written a Dark Academia book, Ninth House. Galaxy “Alex” Stern is an unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in LA by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early. She landed in a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. At 20, she’s the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple-victim homicide.

Alex is offered a second chance to attend Yale on a full scholarship. Searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Their occult activities are more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And, sometimes, they prey on the living.

book cover for Magic for Liars
Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

Sarah Gailey’s debut, Magic for Liars, not only has Dark Academia vibes but we also get some detective noir going on with twin sisters. One’s a professor at a school for the magical; the other is a detective with a lot of unresolved issues including alcoholism.

Ivy Gamble is perfectly happy with her life. Her almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. She doesn’t wish she was like her estranged twin sister, magically gifted professor Tabitha. But then she’s hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. And Ivy begins to question everything she’s ever believed.

book cover for A Deadly Education
A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik is the first in a new fantasy series. It’s about a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death–until one girl begins to unlock its many secrets. Enter a school of magic unlike any you have ever encountered. No teachers, no holidays, and no friendships save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate . . . or die.

The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere. El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies. But she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out untold millions.

It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. So El is trying her hardest not to use her power . . . at least not until she has no other option.

Meanwhile, her fellow student, the insufferable Orion Lake, is making heroism look like a breeze. He’s saved hundreds of lives–including El’s–with his flashy combat magic. In the spring of their junior year, after Orion rescues El for the second time. He makes her look like more of an outcast than she already is, El reaches a conclusion. Orion Lake must die.

But El is about to learn some lessons she never could in the classroom: About the school. About Orion Lake. And about who she really is.

Bonus recommendation

If you’re in the mood for something other than a traditional book, get your Dark Academia fix with The Umbrella Academy. Read it as a graphic novel or watch the adaptation.

book cover for The Umbrella Academy
The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way

The Umbrella Academy

The Umbrella Academy, volume 1 by Gerard Way. In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-seven extraordinary children were spontaneously born by women who had previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, ‘To save the world.’ These seven children form The Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.

In conclusion

Now is the perfect time to explore the Dark Academia subgenre – when dark and mysterious things happen at school.

Additional suggestions

If you’re looking for additional suggestions, explore our online resource, NoveList Plus.

Sign up for Recommends, our personalized book suggestions service. Twice a month, you’ll receive email with recommendations based on the genres you choose.

Listen to the Booklovers Podcast where library staff share their book picks.

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