If there’s one aesthetic that lends itself best to a jam-packed shelf, it’s dark academia. With such an emphasis on reading, it’s no wonder that “dark college books” videos have over 1.5 billion views on TikTok alone. But what is it actually makes a book read by a “black university”? The black academic subculture revolves around school life with a sullen belly, in which The New York Times calls it “traditional-academic-with-a-gothic-edge.” If the aesthetic was a wizard classified in a Harry potter house, that would be an equally divided “Slytherin Claw”. It includes features such as:

  • Elite universities and educational institutions, boarding schools or other academic institutions with deep (and often troubling) idealizations of hyper-productivity and studies in general;
  • Coming of Age Stories;
  • the fashion of the 30s and 40s in soft tones;
  • gothic horror;
  • A relentless quest for knowledge at all costs;
  • Fall imagery;
  • + Murder. Often there is murder involved.

Unlike other types of aesthetics like cottagecore or “soft girl”, the dark academia looks at its morbidities … for the most part. The aesthetic as a whole has been criticized for its Western Eurocentric POV which focuses on white academics, although some writers like Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé construct darker academic worlds more representative in their stories.

Without further ado, check out this list of CosmosThe 15 Best Dark Academic Book Recommendations For A Safe Next Read You’ll Read While Brooding By Bath and Body by candlelight.


“The Secret Story” by Donna Tartt

This book is essentially the origin story of the “dark academic moods”, so while we will collectively expand beyond that in later entries, we have to start here. Donna Tartt delivered it all: a cult group of friends, a posh school, a mature protagonist and, of course, the murder of a student eclipsing everything. This is the plan! It is time ! And yes, that’s a great place to start if you want to channel your dark inner academic.



“Mexican Gothic” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

If you dig those TikToks of women in flowing dresses fleeing mansions in slow motion, you might want to pay close attention to this book. Mexican gothic features a dark family secret, Gothic features galore, and a confident protagonist who defends himself (and his cousin) despite a foreboding danger. While it will take a while for the songs to connect, for those of you who have read it already, can we speak about those annoying bathtub dreams? – but the last 50 pages are “absolutely impossible to suppress” kindness.



“Rabbit” by Mona Awad

rabbit follows an MFA student who falls into a cult “rabbit hole” of comrades who seem to function as a pack, and it all looks less like a sorority than a horror show. the heather-The group dynamics and completely bizarre left-turns inducing the WFT make it a dark and wild college race unlike anything else on this list.



“Confessions” by Kanae Minato

If the black academy as a genre nods its head to murder sparingly, Confession heads straight as if you were responding to the prompt “Imagine if your teacher’s last lesson was actually a horror story”. It’s a good old fashioned multi-POV revenge story that takes place after a single mom loses her only child, who drowns in a swimming pool.



“As of Spades” by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

If you miss the days of guessing who Gossip Girl was on the original show, Then this book is for you. It follows two high performing people named Devon and Chiamaka who start to receive disturbing texts with threats of their secrets from someone named “Aces”, and things unravel pretty quickly. Buckle up.



“Piranesi” by Susanna Clarke

While some may (correctly) claim that Susanna Clarke’s debut novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is also considered a dark academic book, Clarke’s most recent work Piranesi has all the building blocks of training: an intellectual pushing scientific and ethical boundaries, revenge, and a strange mystery with as many twists and turns as there are pieces in the narrator’s seemingly endless, museum-like world.



“The Portrait of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

This classic is a staple in many high school AP classes, but if you’ve missed out on a “late 1800s gothic fiction” unit, it’s still worth going. The surface-level plot is as well known as Oscar Wilde at this point – a painter creates a self-portrait of a handsome man, and the portrait ages when he doesn’t – but this summons barely grazes the surface. surface of smoldering evil and the ultimate loss of innocence involved … not to mention Wilde’s signature spirit.



“They Would Like To Be Us” by Jessica Goodman


“Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh

This classic is steeped in nostalgia and follows an officer from WWII as he examines his relationship with a wealthy and aristocratic über family from his childhood by revisiting their sprawling estate, Brideshead.



‘Catherine House’ by Elisabeth Thomas

If you like the kind of book that really sets a * scene * above all else, Catherine House is for you. This book highlights an “experimental” and very selective school called Catherine House, and the new pupil Ines, who begins to realize the real entrance fee as the book unfolds.



‘Maurice’ by EM Forster

If you’ve read this before, you may appreciate the irony of landing on a list of “dark college books,” but the shoe Is it that even adapt to an ending that lays bare the problems of romanticizing such an aesthetic. Maurice is, at its core, a love story. He spent 57 years unpublished in a drawer because Forster feared he would end his career because of the book’s same-sex relationships. Fortunately, it was released in the 1970s with great success and even became a movie starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.



“Special Topics in Disaster Physics” by Marisha Pessl

The vibrations of the English classroom run deep with Special topics in calamity physics, from the names of the chapters (all citing literary works) to the structure of the book itself, which is put together as an informed lesson plan, bonus footnotes included. In a very dark and academically appropriate move, the book follows a clique of genius teenagers called “the Bluebloods”, who are close to a specific English teacher … until she is dead and ‘they wonder what happened.



“The Night Climbers” by Ivo Stourton

From the outset, this novel focuses on a secret society of Cambridge students called “The Climbers of the Night”, making it a dark academic book by definition. Add a love triangle and an intriguing plot, and you have Ivo Stourton’s gripping novel.



“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley


“Society of the Dead Poets” by NH Kleinbaum

What The secret story is to sink into academic books, Circle of Missing Poets is to dark college movies. While the Robin Williams movie wasn’t actually based on a book, it was so popular that NH Kleinbaum went ahead and adapted one based on the plot of the movie. If you’ve read a lot of books that have been adapted for movies, why not do the reverse for a change?


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