Dark Academia

Dark Academia holds a special place in my heart. Though the subgenre mostly evolved in YA spaces, this list primarily focuses on adult media. To quote Pamela Paul's article in the New York Times (linked here):

Some notes for the uninitiated: Dark academia is a subculture devoted to spaces like stony Oxford libraries, long, arched hallways and walls painted lamp black. Since the 2010s, it’s been a popular aesthetic among the tweens, teens and 20-somethings — tweedy with a twist, preppy with a dash of shade, more gothic in spirit than goth. It’s white shirts, plaid skirts, dark blazers, knee socks or opaque black tights, scuffed loafers. There may be argyle.


The cultural touchstones of dark academia are many and various, but the quintessential dark academia film is “Dead Poets Society” with its midnight poetry and tortured souls. Its ur-bible is Donna Tartt’s 1992 best-selling novel, “The Secret History,” the story of a murderous group of classics undergrads with names like Edmund (Bunny) Corcoran and Francis Abernathy. These are stories that feature bacchanals, clandestine gatherings at night and steep ravines. Free verse flows.


From these ancient ’90s roots, the dark academia (see also: “whimsigoth”) subculture has waxed and waned since the 2010s, recently resurging during the suitably grim pandemic. The whole Harry Potter phenomenon, with an emphasis on Slytherin, was a key mobilizing force, as was the magic-inflected young adult fiction of Leigh Bardugo, especially “Ninth House,” set in a dark and twisted version of Yale. According to Book Riot, dark academia can be about academic settings with a dark twist or “a focus on the pursuit of knowledge, and an exploration of death and morbidity.”

The Raven Boys Raven Cycle Series, Book 1

Maggie Stiefvater

Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue never sees them until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks to her. His name is Gansey, a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble. But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can't entirely explain. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul whose emotions range from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher who notices many things but says very little. For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She doesn't believe in true love and never thought this would be a problem. But as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she's not so sure anymore.

Ninth house

Bardugo, Leigh, author.


Galaxy "Alex" Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale's freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. In fact, by age twenty, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she's thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world's most prestigious universities on a full ride. What's the catch, and why her? Still searching for answers, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale's secret societies. Their eight windowless "tombs" are the well-known haunts of the rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street's biggest players. But 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.

The magicians

Grossman, Lev.


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It starts off like a cross between Harry Potter and Narnia, but the characters are older, and the books include depression, failing relationships, murder, the ghost of a wronged ex-girlfriend, a semester isolated at the South Pole, a mysterious group of magicians hunting the protagonists, a crack house in NYC, and other darker themes. It was a very satisfying read when I was a college student.
- Hanna

The resemblance

Nossett, Lauren, 1986- author.


"Lauren Nossett's artfully written debut, The Resemblance is an exhilarating, atmospheric campus thriller reminiscent of The Secret History and The Likeness. Never betray the brotherhood. On a chilly November morning at the University of Georgia, a fraternity brother steps off a busy crosswalk and is struck dead by an oncoming car. More than a dozen witnesses all agree on two things: the driver looked identical to the victim, and he was smiling. Detective Marlitt Kaplan is first on the scene. An Athens native and the daughter of a UGA professor, she knows all its shameful histories, from the skull discovered under the foundations of Baldwin Hall to the hushed-up murder-suicide in Waddel. But in the course of investigating this hit-and-run, she will uncover more chilling secrets as she explores the sprawling, interconnected Greek system that entertains and delights the university's most elite and connected students. The lines between Marlitt's police work and her own past increasingly blur as Marlitt seeks to bring to justice an institution that took something precious from her many years ago. When threats against her escalate, and some long-buried secrets threaten to come to the surface, she can't help questioning whether the corruption in Athens has run off campus and into the force and how far these brotherhoods will go to protect their own"--




Struggling to acclimate to her new home in Scotland, PhD student Isabel Henley, when her friend Rose is kidnapped, is forced to complete Rose’s research by following a paper trail from Genoa to Florence, and finally to Paris, where solving a 400-year-old mystery could save both their lives.

Gideon the ninth

Muir, Tamsyn, author.


Muir's Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cutthroat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as arcane revenants. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.

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I also highly recommend the audiobook version, which is also available through ICPL.
- Hanna

The secret history

Tartt, Donna.

FICTION Tartt, Donna

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Apparently, this book is the quintessential dark academia novel. I haven't read it yet, but it's on my to-read list!
- Hanna

The Cloisters : a novel

Hays, Katy, 1982- author.


"The Secret History meets Ninth House in this sinister, atmospheric novel following a circle of researchers as they uncover a mysterious deck of tarot cards and shocking secrets in New York's famed Met Cloisters. When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination. Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers' more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. As the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs. A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat"--

The lost apothecary

Penner, Sarah, author.

FICTION Penner Sarah

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientèle. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary's fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries. Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary's in a stunning twist of fate, and not everyone will survive.

The name of the wind

Rothfuss, Patrick, 1973-

SCIENCE FICTION Rothfuss, Patrick

My name is Kvothe. I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. You may have heard of me. So begins a tale unequaled in fantasy literature—the story of a hero told in his own voice. It is a tale of sorrow, a tale of survival, a tale of one man’s search for meaning in his universe, and how that search, and the indomitable will that drove it, gave birth to a legend.

A lullaby for witches

Fox, Hester, author.

FICTION Fox Hester

Margaret Harlowe never quite fit in with her kin, but in the tangled woods surrounding her family's estate she cultivated her uncanny power. Whispers of "witch" dogged her footsteps, and Margaret's power began to wind itself with the tendrils of something darker. One hundred and fifty years later, Augusta Podos takes a dream job at Harlowe House, the historic home of a wealthy New England family that has been turned into a small museum in Tynemouth, Massachusetts. Stumbling across a reference to a daughter who has nearly been expunged from the historical record she investigates- and wakens something sinister, a dark power that binds one woman to the other across lines of blood and time. If Augusta can't resist its allure, everything she knows and loves-- including her very life-- could be lost forever. -- adapted from back cover

The library of the dead

Huchu, T. L., author.


Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghost talker, and she now speaks to Edinburgh's dead - carrying messages to the living - but when she learns someone is bewitching children she investigates and discovers an occult library, a taste for hidden magic, and a wealth of Edinburgh's dark secrets.

Dead Poets Society


Robin Williams portrays English professor John Keating, who, in an age of crew cuts, sport coats and cheerless conformity, inspires his students to live life to the fullest, exclaiming "Carpe Diem, lads! Seize the day. Make your lives extraordinary!" The charismatic teacher's emotionally charged challenge is met by his students with irrepressible enthusiasm--changing their lives forever.

Little witch academia

Yoshinari, Yoh, 1971- author.

MANGA Yoshinari Little

"Ever since Atsuko 'Akko' Kagari saw her first Shiny Chariot magic show, she's wanted to become a real witch. Now, she's been accepted to Luna Nova Academy, a premiere magic school. While Akko doesn't come from a magical family, she's as stubborn as can be, and she won't let anything stop her from fulfilling her dream!"--Provided by publisher.

The Rithmatist

Sanderson, Brandon.


As Wild Chalklings threaten the American Isles and Rithmatists are humanity's only defense, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice.

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I saved the best for last. This book has been on my mind for several years as I wait for the next book in the series to be published. The rich world and very technical magic system are great. Even when re-reading, or re-re-reading, I find surprises.
- Hanna

If we were villians

Rio, M. L., author.


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.

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My colleague Kendall recommended this book. I've gotta say, it sounds like a great read for a cold, dark winter night.
- Hanna


Awad, Mona, author.


"Samantha Heather Mackey couldn't be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England's Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort--a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other "Bunny," and are often found entangled in a group hug so tight they become one. But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies' fabled "Smut Salon," and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door--ditching her only friend, Ava, a caustic art school dropout, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the sinister yet saccharine world of the Bunny cult and starts to take part in their ritualistic off-campus "Workshop" where they magically conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur, and her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies are brought into deadly collision. A spellbinding, down-the-rabbit-hole tale of loneliness and belonging, creativity and agency, and friendship and desire, Bunny is the dazzlingly original second book from an author whose work has been described as "honest, searing and necessary" (Elle)" --

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This book is interesting for the casual reader, and it contains many layers and twists for someone more analytically minded. The setting reminds me a little too much of Iowa City, if I'm being honest. I loved the character development. The novel also made me turn and glance at the dark parts of my soul in an indulgent way.
- Hanna