For many people, starting to read a new category of books can be challenging. Where do you begin? When it comes to something like YA books, do you start with award winning YA books? Do you start digging your way into the best selling YA books? Maybe launch into completed YA book series? Perhaps another way to begin reading your way into the category—or a way to snoop on the reading habits of others, whether or not YA is new to you or old hat—is to find out what the top YA books are.
I’ve pulled together this look at the top YA books by going to the place where readers like to congregate: Goodreads. As with my look at the top YA horror books over on Goodreads, this will be an imperfect list because any list is imperfect.
To develop this list of top YA books on Goodreads, I pulled from the most popular YA books list on their website, but I didn’t rely on it entirely. I looked at the ratings, the number of reviews, and the spread of the ratings by percentage. Another list I pulled from was a list of popular books across all of Goodreads with at least 100 ratings and a star rating of at least 4. This allowed me to avoid relying entirely on one system of how books on the site are labeled. As anyone can shelve books in any way they please, this means sometimes YA books are misshelved as something not-YA, or vice versa.
Likewise, we’re all aware of the phenomenon where a book becomes popular and many choose to read it, whether or not it’s in their usual reading wheelhouse. That inevitably means lower ratings for some books. To make some more sense of the numbers, in addition to looking at the number of ratings and the average rating itself, I looked at the percentage of ratings that were 4 or 5 stars. This means some books with a tremendous number of ratings and even a high rating average may not have made the cut. I stuck with books where the average rating was over 4 stars. You won’t see Twilight, Eragon, or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children here because, despite their high rating numbers—over a million for each—all three had an average rating under 4 stars. Likewise The Maze Runner, despite high ratings and a large number of them, came in under 70% in combined 4–5 star ratings.
I stuck with books published for a YA readership. I did not include classics that teens often read or books that, as the publishing landscape has changed, many are reclaiming as YA titles. I included only the first books in a series here, though noted beneath those titles when follow-up books were also wildly popular. Books in a series tend to taper off in popularity after the first, so it’s noteworthy when they maintain popularity. I’ve kept this list to one book per author. Middle grade books are not included here, despite the fact Harry Potter is often categorized as YA (for the record, I’m of the mind this particular series is one that spans middle grade and YA quite perfectly: the early books being middle grade and the later YA).
Worth noting: this is a fairly white list of books. But this makes some sense, as many of the biggest books came out before authors of color saw heavier marketing dollars and pushes to consumers. A number of books by authors of color fall just below the top 15 here, and many were published years after the top titles here. This suggests we’ll see those books, as well as several others, rank in the top 15 in the near future. I’ve included some of those titles at the end of this list to give a glimpse of their rankings, ratings, and popularity.
That said, let’s take a look at the top YA books!
The Top 15 YA Books
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
It shouldn’t be surprising to see this phenomenon at the top of the list. Given the book’s expansion into a franchise that reached readers of so many ages, that it’s the top YA book on Goodreads makes sense. It has an unbelievable 5.75 million ratings as of this writing, a 4.3 star average, and 84% of those ratings are 4 or 5 stars. The other titles in the trilogy ranked highly as well, though, as is the case with series books, the number of ratings is lower with book two and book three.
2. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
This is another book that isn’t surprising to see at the top of the top list. The film’s success, coupled with Green’s meteorological growth at the time of the book’s release, make clear why it maintains a 4.32 average star rating and close to 3.1 million ratings total. Seventy-nine percent of those ratings are 4 or 5 stars. It’s the highest rated book by Green, followed not too far behind by his debut, Looking for Alaska.
3. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
There’s a lot at play with Zusak’s book hitting the top of this list, aside from the fact it is wildly popular and has been since release. There is a film version, of course, but because Goodreads is a globally used website, this particular title likely has a huge readership in Zusak’s home country of Australia. In Australia, this book is marketed not as YA, but as adult. Hitting that market, in addition to the YA market in the U.S., likely helps keep this book at a near 4.4 star average rating, with 84% of all ratings at 4 or 5 stars.
4. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Despite the way the film franchise fell apart with this particular series, the inaugural book has maintained a lot of steam. Divergent boasts more ratings than Zusak’s book above—nearly 1 million more, in fact—though the average rating is lower, at 4.21 stars and 79% of its ratings in the 4 or 5 star range. Dystopia might not be the staple it was in the early 2010s, but it hasn’t disappeared.
5. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Something that the top books all have in common, and that we’ll see taper off soon, is that they’ve had film adaptations. A film, when given a nation-wide distribution, inevitably raises the book’s profile. In the case of Perks, that’s at play, as is the fact that the book has been around for 20 years. It maintains a 4.2 average star rating, with over 1.1 million reviews, and 79% of its ratings are 4 or 5 star.
6. City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Although the film version of the first book in Clare’s first series didn’t gross the same way as other franchises did, the series made for television was far more successful. As this is the first book that introduces the world Clare builds out in future books, it’s not a huge surprise to see this one leads in ratings. It has over 1.45 million ratings, with a 4.11 average, along with 74% of ratings either as 4 or 5 stars.
7. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Besides being the book that started YA literature as its own separate category, Hinton’s book is a classroom staple in many middle school curriculums. Although it doesn’t quite have the same million-plus rating numbers as the previous six books, it has a sizable 813,000, with a 4.08 average rating. Seventy-four percent of its ratings are 4 or 5 star. For a book over fifty years old—and the only book published prior to 1999 on this list—that’s not too shabby!
8. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The first book on this list not to have a film adaptation—at least yet! It recently resold film rights after no initial film was made, so it might see the screen in the not-too-distant future. Published first in the UK and the brought to the U.S. market, Rowell’s YA debut has a 4.08 average rating, with 75% being 4 and 5 star reviews. It has over 740,000 ratings.
9. The Selection by Kiera Cass
This is the first book on the list written by a woman of color—Cass is half Puerto Rican. The series, which is fantasy, plays into a lot of what readers love about reality television. The series has over 730,000 reviews on Goodreads, with an average 4.14 star rating. Seventy-five percent of its star ratings are 4 or 5. There is no film adaptation of the book, and while Cass published a book prior to this one, this was her first book published specifically for YA readers. She’s yet to publish a new title following the series conclusion.
10. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
It’s really neat to see debut novels on this list. Cinder, the first in Meyer’s popular series, launched her career ,which has spanned more than one series as well as more than one format (she’s done graphic novels as well as YA novels). The first book has nearly 600,000 ratings averaging 4.15 stars, along with 77% of the total reviews being either 4 or 5 stars. This is another title on the list without a film adaptation. Like Clare above, Meyer got her feet wet in fan fiction, which likely helped build her early readership.
11. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
The first book in a series which had a film made from it, but a film that ultimately was not successful. The series, however, continues to thrive with readers. Boasting a 4.13 average rating and over 500,000 total ratings, 75% of readers gave this one 4 or 5 stars. This series launched Mead’s popularity with subsequent series.
12. Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Maas’s books are wildly popular not only with teen readers but also with adult readers; this is especially true with her later series. But the first book in her first series tops the top YA books list, with nearly 500,000 ratings, 79% of those ratings being 4 or 5 stars, and an average rating of 4.22. Subsequent books in this series, as well as her other series, rank high as well. Maas began and established her early writing life in fandom, like Clare and Meyer. There is no film.
13. The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
While Aveyard’s debut doesn’t yet have a film franchise behind it, the first book in the series has an impressive 450,000 ratings, with 74% of them being either 4 or 5 stars. The average rating is 4.06. Subsequent titles in the series are also popular, though not at the same scale. This was her first book.
14. Legend by Marie Lu
The first in a series—and the debut book—by Marie Lu, this title launched her career. There’s yet to be a film adaptation, though Lu continues to publish new series titles, as well as publish in the comic format. She’s the second author of color on this list, and her book has a 4.18 average rating, with 372,000 ratings. What’s most impressive, though, is 78% of reviews being 4 and 5 star.
15. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The only reason this book isn’t higher on the list is that it was only published two years ago. The next-closest book in terms of publication date is The Red Queen, published in 2015. Given the successful film and the fact that this book continues to top the bestseller list, it’ll likely rise to the top of the top before too long because, in addition to having 325,000 ratings with a 4.53 average, an astounding 91% of the ratings are 4 or 5 stars. That’s not a typo. Only 8% of reviews are not 4 or 5 stars. This book had the highest percentage of 4 and 5 star ratings of any on this list, as well as any considered for it.
The top YA books are a really fascinating study in scope. They feature every genre, as well as showcasing some of the trends and waves that have hit the YA world. We see dystopia, vampires, first books in series, and, without question, we’re at the start of seeing books by authors of color about teens of color making their way onto the list. This, of course, isn’t a trend but instead a telling indication of how the work done to increase shelf space for marginalized voices—as well as publicity and marketing for those titles—has allowed these books to rise because they are needed and because audiences want them.
For those interested, here are the next few books by authors of color in the rankings of top YA books. It’s possible they, too, might find themselves ranking higher in the years to come.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han, with a 4.16 average rating, 336,027 ratings, and 78% of those ratings being 4 or 5 star.
Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, with a 4.08 average rating, nearly 300,000 ratings, and 74% of those ratings being 4 or 5 star.
Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, with nearly 200,000 ratings, a 4.34 average rating, and 83% of those ratings being 4 or 5 star.
Unwind by Neil Shusterman has a 4.18 average rating, with over 175,000 ratings and 79% of its ratings in the 4–5 star range.
An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir has a 4.31 average rating, 145,000 ratings, and 85% of those ratings are 4 or 5 star.