20 Dark Academia Romance Books to Swoon and Obsess Over
Chances are you’ve seen the dark academia aesthetic by now: tweed, cardigans, piles of worn books, skulls next to dying candles — all with that dirty brown filter that we used to apply on all of our Instagram photos. Think of schools like Oxford and Cambridge, more often boarding schools. Given the current fascination, especially with Gen Z, of nostalgia for an era they didn’t experience, it makes sense that dark academia is seeing a renaissance — especially on platforms popular with Gen Z and Gen Alpha, like Tumblr, Instagram, and TikTok. Enter: dark academia romance books.
What is dark academia romance?
A lot of books have this setting, so what makes dark academia dark academia? When you look beyond the thirst for knowledge and learning, there’s something deeper at play. Maybe it’s the character’s intention, maybe it’s a secret of the school, but most importantly, there’s a fascination with death.
The best part about this sub-genre is that it can also span multiple literary genres. And I’m super excited about this list because there’s a little bit of everything: romance, dark romance, horror, literary fiction, thriller, fantasy…there’s something for everyone.
Let’s also address an elephant in the room: diversity. Historically, the genre has been known to be exclusive to both white authors and white characters. Dark academia has been called out for its Eurocentricity because of the genre’s roots in classical literature. This list should be way more diverse than it is. And it is my sincere hope that this changes in the future. If there are titles that I missed, I genuinely want to hear about them!
Young Adult Dark Academia Romance Books
The Devil Makes Three by Tori Bovalino
Tess and Eliot meet at their boarding school library, where Tess is working for a summer job, and Eliot is a frequent visitor. Annoyed by his constant appearance, Tess makes a bargain with Eliot that leads them to discover a mysterious tome in the grimoire collection. And unwillingly, they unleash a demon. It’s the last thing she wants to do, but Tess will need to work with Eliot to lock the demon up and again and perhaps she won’t hate him as much.
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
Each decade, the famed Alexandrian Society selects six magicians to be considered for initiation. But the journey to acceptance will be anything but easy, and the candidates are told upfront that only five will ultimately be considered for admission. Libby, Nico, Reina, Parisa, Callum, and Tristan are this year’s initiates and what’s a tortured, competitive group without some romantic sparks?
Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé
Within the walls of Niveus Academy, drama is unfolding. An anonymous texter, Ace, has started revealing secrets of fellow students, Chiamaka and Devon, and the two must team up together to unmask Ace. On the surface, Chiamaka and Devon appear to have nothing in common other than the color of their skin, but as more secrets are revealed the connection between the two is revealed.
A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee
Felicity Morrow has returned to Dalloway School after taking a year off to mourn the death of her girlfriend. Before her leave, Felicity dabbled in witchcraft and other dark magic like the rest of the school and was fascinated with the story of the Dalloway Five (students who previously died on campus). But her plans immediately go awry when she attracts the attention of the new student who wants her help researching.
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn
When Bree is accepted into a special program for high schoolers on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, she intends to leave behind her past and immerse herself in the curriculum. But her plans go awry when there’s a magical attack during her first night. And she’s the only witness. The attempt to wipe Bree’s memory fails, and she becomes obsessed with the secret society and the mages known as “Merlins.” She partners with Nick, a former member to take the group down.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
After her mother’s death, Gemma leaves India to attend a prestigious boarding school in England, known as Spence. Also plagued with horrific visions, Gemma feels completely isolated in her new surroundings. Then she notices a young Indian man who has been following her. He’s been sent to keep an eye on her. And does his presence have anything to do with the magic brewing at Spence?
The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl
Ariane is dead, seemingly murdered by mysterious circumstances. Although the police are convinced her death was by suicide, her friends Ella, Yuki, and Rory are determined to discover the truth. The arrival of Nani at Grimrose Academie, their new roommate, spurs them into action and they start to make discoveries about their friend’s final days and how it leads to something even darker with the school.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
We were all waiting for this one, right? This fan-favorite series starts with the introduction to Blue Sargent and the titular Raven Boys: Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah. Blue comes from a family of clairvoyants but has never shown an aptitude for the gift until one night she happens upon the boys. Adding to the plot is that Blue has been told that she will be responsible for the death of her true love and she’s never worried about that before…until she met the Gansey and the Raven Boys.
The Good Girls by Claire Eliza Bartlett
Welcome to Jefferson-Lorne High School, full of your typical stereotypes. And after the murder of student, Emma Baines, three students shoot to the top of the suspect list: partier Claude, cheerleader Avery, and top student Gwen. Emma? She was known as the “good girl.” As the book dives deeper into Emma’s past, stereotypes and tropes are broken and the time before the next “good girl” murder starts ticking down.
My Dearest Darkest by Kayla Cottingham
Finch is the newest student at Ulalume Academy, but she is hiding a secret. After an accident that should have killed her, well, doesn’t, Finch continues to feel odd. Like she should have died. And she doesn’t know who or what kept her alive. Selena immediately can tell Finch is different and feels drawn to her. The two become linked after they accidentally summon a dangerous creature, who offers to grant their deepest wishes, in exchange of human body parts.
Adult Dark Academia Romance Books
Gothikana by RuNyx
Corvina has always felt untethered to anything, but after she is accepted to the University of Verenmore, she decides it’s a sign. Vad is a part-time professor at Verenmore; between working on his thesis, he has become keenly aware of the dangers of the school and the horrifying disappearances that they cannot seem to stop. The history of the school interests Corvina and she begins digging, also catching the attention of Vad.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth
Taking place in two time periods, this book has roots both in the present day and 1902. The Brookhants School for Girls was once a glowing institution but was forced to close after a string of mysterious deaths, spurred by the discovery of the bodies of two students obsessed with a writer named Mary MacLane. Now over a century later, the school is back in the public after a book spawns a film adaptation, leading a cast back to the ruins to film, starring current It Girl, Harper, and former child star, Audrey.
These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever
Paul and Julian are academic rivals and immediately upon meeting, they are drawn to each other. Paul is insecure and looking for intimacy, while Julian is charming but holds an evil side. As their bond grows stronger, Paul becomes desperate to hold their relationship together, leading to a violent act that shakes up their world and binds them even close together. And maybe there’s something more sinister at the core of their relationship.
Half Truths by Claire Contreras
Get ready for a suspenseful slow burn. Mae transfers during her senior year of college to discover the truth about her brother and her friend, who are nowhere to be found. During her search, she meets Logan, who just happens to be everywhere she is. Seemingly by coincidence. Then Mae discovers The Eight, a secret society that may hold all the answers she seeks. And also the enigmatic, Logan.
Realm of Ash by Tasha Suri
Although technically the second book in Suri’s Books of Ambha series, Realm of Ash can be read as a standalone. On the brink of war, the Ambhan Empire is falling apart, and their only shred of hope lies in the mysterious realm of ash. Arwa, who is in debt to the royal family, is one to attempt the journey. In tow is Zahir, the disgraced prince. The two spend countless hours researching and digging through archives, trying to find any secrets to succeeding in their upcoming mission.
The Ritual by Shantel Tessier
At Barrington University there is a secret society known as The Lords. When Blakely attracts the attention of member, Ryat, he offers her an opportunity to ditch her life of rules and schedules and break free of her chains. Blakely agrees and is quickly drawn into the world of the Lords, where it’s not so much of a society, but a fight for survival. And dark possession.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop makes a magical discovery within the walls of Oxford’s Bodleian Library — a manuscript that may change the trajectory of her life. Diana is a descendant of a line of witches and wants nothing to do with magic, so she immediately banishes the book to deep within the stacks. But hiding it does nothing, and the consequences immediately haunt her. This is when Matthew, a vampire geneticist comes into play, forming a connection both intimate and forbidden.
The Lessons by Naomi Alderman
Mark Winters surrounds himself with a group of impressionable young students. The owner of a hidden-away mansion and an unending money supply, he has created a university of his liking. A university where no practical skills are learned. And the students, unfortunately, learn this the hard way when a tragedy leaves them unprepared. At the center of the story is James, our narrator, who brings the characters together.
A Lesson in Thorns by Sierra Simone
When Poe takes the librarian job at Thornchapel, she has two intentions: the first is to find out the truth about her mother’s disappearance and also to avoid Auden, the owner. Her searches lead to uncovering secrets of the house and into the world of Auden and Auden’s enemy, St. Sebastian. Mystery, jealousy, and obsession abounds as the three grow closer and Poe nears the truth about her mother.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
I feel like I haven’t stopped talking about this book for years. Set in a dystopian version of late ’90s England, Hailsham is a very secluded and exclusive boarding school, where its students are put under very strict and unusual rules that they are expected to adhere to. It is also universally understood amongst the students that Hailsham is only a stop on their journey and at some time in the future, they will all be required to leave. The reason? Unknown.