Essays

11 Books Every Edgy Millennial Read As A Teen

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Were you a teenage edgelord? Did you grow up on Something Awful, Rotten, or — god forbid — 4chan? If you’ve hung up your hot takes, but still remember your cringiest years without total disdain, you’re in luck. I’ve got 11 books every edgy Millennial read as a teen that will take you on a walk down memory lane.

If you have to ask whether you were “edgy” or not, you probably weren’t. Millennial edginess hinged on shock value, whether carefully calculated or fired off in an unending barrage. It was… memorable, to say the least.

And look, if you were a Millennial edgelord who feels bad about some of things you did or said — like the videos you made your friends watch or the off-color jokes served South Park-style? Well, take comfort in the fact that you — hopefully — aren’t like that anymore. Because let’s face it, a lot of our peers turned out to be South Park Republicans or worse.

Now, if you’re here to discover what edgelord culture was like, you deserve a warning. Although they might be nostalgic reads for some, most of the books every edgy Millennial read as a teen are not for the faint of heart. I’ve tried to include content warnings whenever possible, but in case I missed a few, consider this your blanket warning: dead dove, do not eat.

black and white photo of someone smoking  on the floor of a kitchen

11 Books Every Edgy Millennial Read As A Teen

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews book cover

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

It seems like everyone’s mom had a copy of this one on her bookshelf. Flowers in the Attic is the first novel in a series following the Dollanganger family. The story here centers on four siblings — Chris, Cathy, Carrie, and Cory — who go to live with their mother, Corrine’s, wealthy parents following the death of their father, Christophe. There, they learn that their late father was their grandfather’s half-brother, making Corrine and Christophe’s marriage an incestuous one. Corrine and her mother conspire to get back in her dying father’s good graces by sequestering the children in an isolated suite of rooms — effectively hiding their existence from their grandfather. Flowers only grows more twisted from there, with murder, rape, incest, and rampant child abuse playing critical roles in the story.

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite book cover

Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite

I’m convinced: if you read this book in adolescence, you’re part of the Hannibal fandom now. Set in New Orleans at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Exquisite Corpse follows four gay men, two of whom are cannibalistic serial killers. When Andrew and Jay first meet, each intends to torture, kill, and consume the other. Instead, the two men join forces, launching into a sadistic love affair. A second plot follows Lucas, a pirate radio DJ whose growing despair over his HIV-positive status leads him to reach out to his teenage ex-lover, Tran — a decision that puts him on a collision course with Andrew and Jay. Exquisite Corpse carries numerous content warnings, including the obvious cannibalism and torture, as well as homophobia, anti-Asian racism, and necrophilia.

Lilith's Brood by Octavia E. Butler book cover

Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler

Originally published in three separate volumes between 1987 and 1989, Octavia E. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood centers on a small group of humans who have been saved from Earth’s apocalypse by the Oankali: a race of tentacled aliens who adapt and survive by breeding with other species. After spending 250 years in status aboard the Oankali ship, a human woman named Lilith wakes up to find that the aliens have restored her home planet to its previous glory, but they want to introduce humans’ “talent” for cancer into their own gene pool… by having Lilith breed with an Ooloi — a third-gendered Oankali. Despite being published 35 years ago, Lilith’s Brood feels incredibly timely to read today, at a time when we’re — unfortunately — still debating biological essentialism, how to live on a dying Earth, and matters of consent.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey book cover

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

If you were a fan of this book, you can probably quote the whole thing. The Gashlycrumb Tinies contains an alphabet rhyme that chronicles the deaths of 26 children, beginning with “A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs.” It’s dark, it’s funny, and it’s what every edgy emo kid was reading in the early 2000s.

Confidential Confessions by Reiko Momochi book cover

Confidential Confessions by Reiko Momochi

If you take ABC Afterschool Special, dial the stakes up to 11, and turn it into a manga, you get Confidential Confessions. This manga anthology series deals with self-harm, coercive sex work, sexual assault, drug addiction, and more — all involving teenagers. Its willingness to confront these issues head-on makes Reiko Momochi’s manga series downright shocking at times, and even ill-advised to read. One story contains an in-depth discussion of suicide methods that has stuck with me for the last 20 years, so this is your so-not-edgy warning to make sure you’re in a good headspace if you’re picking this one up.

Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami book cover

Coin Locker Babies by Ryu Murakami

There are some books you just can’t un-read, and Coin Locker Babies is one of them. Based on a real-life phenomenon in 1980s Japan, the novel centers on two young men, Hashi and Kiku, who are abandoned in coin-operated lockers as newborns. I’d tell you this book becomes downright distressing in places, if one of those places wasn’t its very first line. If you’re a fan of the utter weirdness of postmodern fiction and can stomach the novel’s grossest scenes — including the aforementioned first line, in which Kiku’s birth mother sexually molests him before taping him up in a box and abandoning him — you’re in for a wild ride with this one.

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk book cover

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk has a knack for taking things to a weird place, but it’s his most experimental novel that deserves attention here. Haunted follows 17 writers, alternating between their experiences on a doomed retreat and the stories they write and share. The most famous of these stories is “Guts,” the tale of a teenager whose masturbation habits put him in a life-or-death struggle at the bottom of his family’s swimming pool. Dubbed “the purest distillation of Chuck’s style and sensibility” by Peter Derk, reading “Guts” was a like a rite of passage for edgy, bookish Millennials. Other stories in Haunted deal with all forms of sexual exploitation, dismemberment, transphobic violence, and suicide, so trust me when I tell you that a masturbation accident is the least of your worries here.

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates book cover

Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates

Quentin P wants to create the perfect companion. So he kidnaps young men, drugs them, and lobotomizes them with an ice pick. Inspired by Jeffrey Dahmer’s killing spree, Zombie takes the form of Quentin P’s diary, walking us through the killer’s fascination with his victims, his methods of torture, and his personal opinions regarding the quality of his work. It’s far from an easy read, and it hasn’t aged all that well. Reading Zombie in the 21st century, you’re bound to notice its problematic conflation of mental illness with criminality and homicidal tendencies.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami book cover

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

Before The Hunger Games, there was Battle Royale. Koushun Takami’s subversive novel takes place in a near-future, fascist Japan. As in Panem, terror is the name of the game, and how better to keep the people from rising up than to kidnap their children and force them to kill one another? Trapped on an island rigged with explosives and each given a random weapon, a class of 9th graders must duel to the death if they want to make it out alive. Along the way, we learn about their tragic home lives, which include sadism and sexual abuse. As their numbers dwindle, a handful of the teens mount a resistance effort no one can forget, making Battle Royale perhaps the most triumphant book on this list.

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vásquez book cover

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vásquez

Although he’s perhaps best known for creating Invader Zim, Jhonen Vásquez’s breakout project was Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. The eponymous Johnny C. is out to rid the world of assholes, jerkwads, and people who could hurt him. He’s left rivers of blood in his wake, often killing in broad daylight, but no one ever links him with his crimes. When Johnny’s anonymity — and evident immortality — begin to weigh on him, however, his mental state deteriorates, and he finds himself going toe-to-toe with God, Satan, and his own demons. Riddled with violence and gore, JTHM may be the tamest entry on this list.

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel book cover

Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel

As of 2020, roughly one-third of Millennials have at least one diagnosed behavioral health condition. We may have Gen-Xers like Elizabeth Wurtzel to thank for helping reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. That doesn’t change the fact that many of us struggled to access mental health care growing up. Many continue to struggle today. Wurtzel’s 1994 memoir, Prozac Nation, was a beacon to Millennials who realized they were different from their peers — and consequently learned that they were not alone.


Want more books every edgy Millennial read and loved? Check out these lists of dark and twisty books and books Millennial kids read that could never be published today.

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