There are some corners of TikTok that are meant to be beautiful and bright, like the soft life trend that inspires us to take things slowly and gently. And then, there are other sides of TikTok, where ghosts and witches come out to play—and we see a lot of that in the world of dark academia. With over 3.75 billion views, dark academia is an aesthetic that embodies the dark, gothic nature of higher education. Think preppy Wednesday Addams, with dusty leather-bound books and ivory-covered brick walls.
While this aesthetic can certainly apply to the wardrobe (who doesn’t love a plaid skirt and black chunky sweater moment?), dark academia is also embodied as a setting in some of the most mysteriously thrilling novels on the market right now. Secret societies, ghosts, and yes, blood—these novels bring another layer of goth to the usual creepy academic tale. So slide on your darkest lipstick and light those candles—things are about to get spooky.
If you’re the kind of person who can’t help but watch another rerun of Pretty Little Liars, then get ready to be unable to put down this page-turning thriller. After the mysterious death of one of their best friends, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are assigned a new roommate and are soon digging deep into their best friend’s final days at Grimrose. Faced with ancient fairy tale curses, the girls soon realize the fates that are tied to their own stories and the gruesome endings they must try to stop. The Grimrose Girls is the first in this LGBTQ-friendly series, followed by the series’ most recent release, The Wicked Remain.
Some of the world’s most prized minds have come from Catherine House, and now Ines Murillo finds herself escaping the cruelty of her past for the sanctuary of her new academic life. The school’s director perpetuates a culture of freedom and exploration, but when tragedy strikes, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor and hallowed history—might be hiding a dangerous agenda within the secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most mysterious curriculum. Catherine House will have you canceling plans, lighting your favorite candle, and pouring a glass of wine for a delicious night full of suspense and shocking twists and turns.
After the tragic death of her girlfriend, Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School, which sits deep within the Catskill Mountains, to finish her high school career. At Dalloway, witchcraft is everywhere—especially at Felicity’s old dormitory, Godwin House, where the spirits of the five Dalloway sisters haunt the halls. And while Felicity works hard to steer clear of the darkness that lurks in every corner, she is drawn back in by the new girl, Ellis Haley, a young prodigy novelist who’s on a mission to learn more about the Dalloway Five for her second book. A Lesson in Vengeance is an LGBTQ-friendly story about a girl who struggles with the darkness of her past, only to find history repeating itself in her future.
New York City isn’t all bright lights and big city. Hidden deep within the northern streets of the Bronx is The Cloisters, a small set of gothic buildings that Ann Stilwell finds herself assigned to after taking a job as a curatorial associate for the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the summer. And while her colleagues are obsessed with the collection of medieval art and learning the history of divination, Ann discovers a 15th-century deck of tarot cards that could be the key to predicting the future, turning her summer into a potentially deadly one.
Romance! Suspense! Secret societies! Cruel princes! Dusty libraries! Decadent parties! What else could you ask for in a dark academia novel? Pretty Girls Make Graves is the first in a series by Steffanie Holmes following the story of Georgina “George” Fischer who, although was told not to go outside on Halloween night at Blackfriars University, ended up finding a set of bones in a shallow grave and is determined to learn the truth about the girl to whom they belong. The twists and turns in this book will have you immediately reaching for Holmes’ second, Brutal Boys Cry Blood.
The tales of Shakespeare can be dark enough, and in the novel If We Were Villains, these brutal tales come to life. Ten years after being released from jail, Oliver Marks attends Dellecher Classical Conservatory as one of seven Shakespearean actors. While their years at the conservatory are spent portraying the classic characters of Shakespeare’s stories, real violence during their fourth and final year threatens their world of make-believe, sending Oliver right back where he started—facing the police.
Family secrets, a giant encrusted emerald, a 400-year-old mystery, and the sprawling scenes of Scotland, Paris, and Italy await any reader who dives into The Bequest. After a disastrous affair in Boston, Isabel Henley moves to Scotland to get her PhD with a well-known feminist professor—only to find out her new advisor is unexpectedly dead. In an attempt to rejigger her new life after such drastic changes, Isabel befriends Rose, who shares troubles of her own, only for her to disappear without a trace. Full of gothic suspense, Isabel must piece together a centuries-old mystery to save her friend—and herself.
The dark academia aesthetic isn’t just about university living; it can also encompass other gothic tales with book-smart protagonists, and the Anatomy Duology is perfect for anyone looking for something dark, sinister, bloody, and of course, romantic. Anatomy is the first book in Dana Schwartz’s series about Hazel Sinnett, a girl who is more fascinated by the practice of surgery than finding an eligible suitor. Unfortunately for Hazel, she’s just been kicked out of the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society. Her only hope is to pass the medical examination on her own and help comes in the form of Jack Currer, a resurrection man in a unique position to help Hazel come by the corpses she needs for her studies.
Effy Sayre is obsessed with fairytales—specifically, with her copy of Angharad by Emrys Myrddin, which follows a young girl who falls in love with the Fairy King, only to destroy him in the end. When Effy finds out that Myrddin’s family is holding a competition to redesign the late author’s house, Effy is elated to enter. However, Effy finds the manor to be far from welcoming, and clashes hard with resident Preston Héloury, a young literature scholar who is determined to expose the Myrddin family secrets. Effy and Preston find themselves piecing together Myrddin’s story and legacy, eventually coming across dark forces, both mortal and magical, that are conspiring against them. This Gothic mystery has a dash of romance that screams dark academia.
At age twenty, Galaxy “Alex” Stern has been through a lot. Raised by a hippie mom in Los Angeles, Alex has survived drug-dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and even a horrific multiple homicide. On her hospital bed, Alex is offered the opportunity to attend Yale on a full ride—but she has no idea what the catch is, or why she’s been chosen to attend the elite institution. Searching for answers, Alex is tasked by her mysterious benefactors with uncovering Yale’s secret societies and infiltrating them herself. Though Alex knew of the rumors about some of the activities of these societies, she never imagined that they would end up being more sinister and extraordinary than she initially suspected. Forbidden magic and raising the dead blend with the ivy-covered halls of Yale University for the perfect dark academia fantasy novel that launched Leigh Bardugo to massive success.
Ten years after graduating from the elite Duquette University, Jessica Miller is eager to return for the reunion and set the record straight on her reputation. She wants her fellow alumni to see her flanked by her six best friends, beautiful and confident—not the way she left Duquette, back when Heather Shelby’s murder sent everything into a tailspin. However, the reunion brings more controversy than reconciliation, and not everyone is ready to move on from Heather’s mysterious murder. With the six friends reunited, they are forced to reconcile with what really happened that night that Heather was killed. Told in two racing timelines, In My Dreams I Hold A Knife is a story about love, ambition, and obsession that you won’t be able to put down.