Vampires are never going away. We could point to the recent success of Midnight Sun as definitive proof, but the reality is vampires will continue to be a feature of fantasy fiction for as long as the written world. That might sound hyperbolic, but Carmilla, one of the oldest vampire stories, is a strong argument in favor of my case. I will admit my objectivity in the case of vampires could be compromised because I consumed a lot of vampire television shows, books, and movies at an impressionable age. However, even though it’s been a while since the height of Twilight fandom, vampire media—and books especially—are not slowing down.
Before Twilight, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the big-budget releases of Interview with a Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. One of the original horror movie villains was Nosferatu in 1922, and he just keeps coming back to terrify and delight us. Vampires keep coming back because they’re fun, and they’re a fantastic metaphor for so many different social issues. Dracula addressed the fading aristocracy, sucking society dry with their predatory needs. At the same time, in Buffy, vampires served a lot of different metaphorical and thematic purposes, with Buffy fighting the literal demons to process her grief and trauma. She also found love with her sworn enemy—the enemies-to-lovers angst of vampire stories is just irresistible.
Young adult vampire fiction is a bit of a different beast, but it remains so fascinating because you have to wonder what it would be like to be frozen as a teenager. Kicking up the drama of adolescence with the darkness of vampire lore nearly always makes for an entertaining read. Since vampires will never leave us, I’m going to dive into the best YA vampire reads and celebrate the spookiest season the best way I know how.
YA Vampire Books: The Supernatural Perils of Adolescence
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
The friendship between Lissa and Rose is the real lynchpin of this book and the whole series. Despite their different backgrounds (and Lissa’s mortal vampire status compared to Rose’s immortal), they are bonded through their shared trauma. When they’re both sent back to St. Vladimir’s Academy, the danger that Lissa is in from the Strigoi (immortal vampires) is still everyday, and Rose is on guard to protect her as well, despite the fact that Lissa is her guardian. There’s a lot of mythology in this series that’s so fun to delve into, so the Vampire Academy books would be perfect for a marathon weekend read.
The Good Ghouls’ Guide to Getting Even by Julie Kenner
High school filled with vampires can be just as annoying as regular, non-paranormal high school. When Beth Frasier’s junior year gets derailed by a group of vampire jocks, she cooks up a plan for revenge. Along with her friends, Beth focuses on reclaiming her life and goals with the white-hot intensity that only a teen girl could have. The flippant attitude towards the existence of vampires as a part of regular high school is super fun to read, and this is a great read to go between two intense vampire dramas.
Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite edited by Zoraida Cordova and Natalie C. Parker
The title was enough to draw me in to this fantastic collection, and the stories do not disappoint. With stories from bestselling authors like Mark Oshiro, Julie Murphy, and Samira Ahmed, this collection runs the gamut from touching to dramatic to kind of silly. Placing vampires in the context of social media and trying to rebel against their circumstances, these writers all take creative approaches to our favorite undead friends. The queer vampire stories also pull the use of vampirism as a queer desire subtext and make it the text of the character’s experience.
The Fell of Dark by Caleb Roehrig
For a good dose of mystical energy, go to Fulton Heights. Our protagonist August Pfeiffer hates living in a vampire town, but he gets drawn into the supernatural drama of the town because of a hot vampire boy who warns him of coming danger. The small-town paranormal mystery is great and the world-building that Roehrig does in this novel is super engaging. Auggie is a hilarious narrator and is a great point-of-view to follow because of his general distaste for the supernatural happenings of the town.
The Reformed Vampires Support Group by Catherine Jinks
Although the premise of this book is a very “fish are friends, not food” vibe, it goes in unexpected directions and the story gets engrossing quickly. Fifteen-year-old Nina hates the Reformed Vampire Support Group her mother makes her attend, and she really doesn’t have a ton of interest in reforming to more properly live in a world that isn’t built for her. When one of the group members is killed by a silver bullet of unknown origin, the group must rally to find out what happened and protect themselves. It’s a murder mystery with comedy and bite. (I had to do one bite joke. I feel bad, but not bad enough to take out the bite joke.)
Vampires of Manhattan by Melissa de la Cruz
In a continuation of her Blue Bloods series, the members of the coven are all grown up now and fighting the forces of darkness in Manhattan. The new head of the Blue Bloods Coven, Oliver finds his human girlfriend murdered on the night before the Four Hundred Ball. The head of the vampire police, the Venators, comes after Oliver as the prime suspect. To solve the mystery, Oliver has to dive deep into vampire lore and dig up age-old secrets. It’s a great continuation of the characters from Blue Bloods and puts them in complicated new situations and forces them to address the complicated history of the paranormal world they inhabit.
Slayer by Kiersten White
It’s a Buffy book, so I couldn’t avoid including it. White draws out the mythology of the Buffy universe and takes us to the Watcher’s Academy, following twin sisters Nina and Artemis who are being trained as Slayers. In a terrifying turn, Nina is chosen as the Slayer, but she will be the last one. As she trains with her Watcher Leo, she encounters demons and monsters that feel like they’d stepped out of the cutting room floor of a Buffy episode. Nina’s story is just as difficult and engaging as Buffy’s, and it’s a wonderful extension of the beloved series.
The Beautiful by Renée Ahdieh
In 1872, Celine flees from Paris to New Orleans and finds a vibrant new life in this city ruled by the dead. In addition to the spooky historical setting, Ahdieh weaves romance, mystery, and suspense through Celine’s discoveries of the darkness of New Orleans. She is taken in by the Ursuline convent with six other girls, creating space of discussions of their goals and desires. When bodies that appear to have been exsanguinated are found, it seems to be linked to the secret society La Cour des Lions. There’s also a forbidden love element for Celine with the head of the society, Sébastien. The first book of this series is definitely a slow burn, but it’s a confident way to start a series, and it sets up a great background for how the rest of the books will unfold. The descriptions of New Orleans and the period decor and clothing are a joy to read as well.
Carmilla by Kim Turrisi
Adapted from the sensational web series, this book follows the complex relationship between vampire Carmilla and her college roommate Laura. As disappearances start to happen at their college, Laura starts to play detective and Carmilla remains cagey. Her snark is also grating to the sweet and determined Laura, so she starts to delve even deeper to the mystery around her nocturnal roommate. Although the web series is perfect, this novel allows us to get even more of Laura’s thoughts and feelings and draws out more of the mystery. The original Carmilla was about a mysterious woman of the night preying on other young women, and through this adaptation (the web series and the book) it has become one of the best explorations of queer desire through vampires.
The dark, dangerous nature of vampires will always be a fun place to explore. After vampires broke out of the manor houses that defined the early depictions, the possibilities opened up. Issues of mortality, fear of the unknown, and forbidden desires are baked into vampire stories and rich for contemplation. For teenagers, vampires represent the eternal youth that seems attractive when they’re just starting to encounter the fear of growing up. At the same time, they have an appeal of darkness that allow us to explore our own demons and cravings. I’d like to shout out my friends who love talking vampires with me, and I hope we never stop.
There’s a wealth of vampire stories to read, from non-western focus to manga to diverse vampire stories for adults. You could choose to read vampire fiction for the rest of your mortal life and not be lacking for great reads. However, an immortal life might require an expansion of genre.