Of all the internet trends and different camps of aesthetics that permeate social media, I've always had a soft spot for dark academia. The trend really gained traction and popularity over the past few years on social media platforms like TikTok, but the genre has existed in literary form for decades now.
For those who don't know, the dark academia aesthetic revolves around an interest in literature and studying the humanities, wearing and decorating with dark, muted colors, sweaters, classical history and pursuing a higher education. A lifestyle we all live, to at least some degree, as we're all college students.
This aesthetic perfectly fits autumn, and as we're settling into October, here are some dark academia-themed books to crack open as the leaves change.
"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt
A classic in the genre, many consider "The Secret History" to be the definitive dark academia novel. And while I think there are others that are totally worth the read, there's a reason I placed this one first. It's an incredibly layered story with genius satire that criticizes upper-class elitism in a subtle way. You'll have to go back and read it twice to fully appreciate it.
The novel follows a small group of students who attend an exclusive liberal arts school in New England and are part of an even more exclusive Greek language program. Our narrator is Richard Papen, a student from a working-class background desperate to fit in with the elites.
While this is a murder mystery, it's less of a "whodunnit" and more of a "whydunnit," which I'll say nothing else about as it's best to go into this book knowing as little as possible.
"If We Were Villains" by M.L. Rio
Without giving Tartt's novel away, if you've read "The Secret History," you'll start to notice a few key similarities in the plot and characters. It follows a troupe of student actors at a university who have formed an incredibly close bond during their time in the program.
The students specialize in Shakespeare and over the course of the novel, put on "Julius Caesar," "Macbeth," "Romeo and Juliet" and "King Lear," all of which brilliantly foreshadow and reflect the plot.
Surprisingly, it's Rio's debut novel and an expert one at that. At the start of the novel, our main character Oliver Marks is being released from jail, and the plot follows him in a flashback of his time in school. It's totally chilling, gripping and yet so heartwarming at the same time. The imagery and visuals in this book are so intense that I can still vividly picture certain moments I read years ago.
If you're a fan of Shakespeare or theater, you have to make this one a priority on your list.
"Vicious" by V. E. Schwab
Of Schwab's books, my favorite by far is "The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue." And while I highly recommend any book lover read it, "Vicious" is far more on-theme and another one of Schwab's best. I discovered this title after reading the other and instantly fell in love with it.
This book also takes place at an exclusive school, a common theme in the dark academia genre — it's in the name after all. While the others so far have been realistic fiction, this one has a touch of fantasy which is Schwab's strong suit.
It follows two roommates testing out their newfound superpowers, but don't let that throw you off. This wasn't exactly compelling to me either at first, as I don't know how well the superhero and dark academia genres mix. But it really plays with the idea of being a superhero in a fresh way that makes this a must-read.
"Babel, or the Necessity of Violence" by R.F. Kuang
While we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, we may have to make an exception for Kuang's "Babel." This one was on my to-be-read list for a long time, and I'm so glad I finally pulled it off my shelf.
The gorgeous cover art of a city scene may have been what drew me in, but the incredible writing is what made me stay. Not only is this dark academia, but it's also a historical-fantasy fiction set in Oxford, England. It has a complicated but well-thought-out plot that critiques and examines capitalism and imperialism in the U.K.
While it's a bit darker than some of the other titles on this list, you'll zoom through it as it's impossible to put down.
If you find yourself in a reading rut and you happen to love the dark academia aesthetic, you're guaranteed to love these page-turners. With their dark themes and plots that revolve around a mystery, they're absolutely perfect to pick up this fall!