At one point in every reader's life, they stumble upon a genre that changes their lives, not just their TBR pile. For many young readers, it happens around the time they read books like Brave New World in school, but for readers who haven't fallen in love with dystopian books, these YA dystopian novels are the perfect introduction to the essential genre.
I was in middle school when I read The Giver, my first taste of the dystopian genre I have come to know, love, and constantly read. The alternate reality of the novel that was both so unlike and chillingly similar to my own really challenged me to think outside of the box and outside of the book. It forced me to examine what I was reading in the context of the story but also the world around me.
Not to mention, the possibility of that reality scared the crap out of me. But it terrified me not in a way that paralyzed me into silence. It scared me in a way to taught me to speak up and speak out, to ask questions and demand answers, and to pay attention to whats happening around me. It scared me enough to keep me reading the genre, and books like The Handmaid's Tale, Station Eleven, and even The Hunger Games have continued to shape my life.
When you're new to the genre yourself of trying to get another young reader interested, here are 17 YA dystopian novels and series that make the perfect introduction.
1'The Sandcastle Empire' by Kayla Olson
In this near-future dystopian thriller, one young woman will do whatever it takes to survive. After the revolution, everything in Eden's life changed: the Wolfpack, a powerful and dangerous group that controls the world's resources, took everything she had, and now, they threaten to take her life. So Eden flees to the one place she knows is safe, but once she arrives on the neutral sands of Sanctuary Island, she learns that danger is never too far away. A powerful survival story set in richly imagined world, The Sandcastle Empire is a stunning that will leaving you wanting more.
2The Legend Novels by Marie Lu
Set in a futuristic version of Los Angeles, Marie Lu's bestselling Legend novels are staples in the young adult dystopian genre. In a world where the United States is run like a police state and the eastern and western sides of the country are constantly at war, June is a thriving prodigy with a relatively comfortable life among the elite Republic. That is, until her parents are mysteriously killed in a car accident and her older brother is murdered. Determined to hunt down the prime suspect, Day, and take revenge, June finds herself falling for the notorious criminal and working with him to uncover the deadly conspiracy behind her family's death. An action-packed series with the perfect mix of excitement, politics, drama, and romance, the Legend novels are not to be missed.
3'Brave New Girl' by Rachel Vincent
From the bestselling author of The Stars Never Rise Rachel Vincent comes an exciting new sci-fi thriller inspired by Aldous Huxley's classic, Brave New World. In Brave New Girl, Dahlia is just one of five thousand other girls who look, act, and think like her, all clones created from a single genome as part of a project to improve life in their city. But when Dahlia meets Trigger, someone who sees Dahlia as unique and individual, her entire world starts to unravel as she starts to question who she is and what that means in the world around her. A fast-paced read in a carefully built alternate world, Brave New Girl will leave you anxiously awaiting the next series installment.
4'Want' by Cindy Pon
Set in a near-future Taipei where pollution is killing the planet and the wealthy can buy their way to a longer, healthier life, Want is an exhilarating adventure from a sci-fi master. When Jason Zhou loses his mother to the unjust system that causes the poor to get sick and die young, he vows to change things and make a real difference in his city. After enlisting the help of his friends, Zhou embarks on the dangerous mission of bringing down the corrupt Jin Corporation, the manufacturers of the suits that keep the rich alive and the potential cause of the pollution itself. But when Zhou starts to fall for the daughter of Jin Corp's CEO, his plans start to fall apart as he risks not only the future of his city, but the safety of his heart. A gripping story rich with complex characters, Want will get young readers hooked on dystopian fiction.
5'Perfect' by Cecelia Ahern
In Cecelia Ahern's chilling dystopian duology, obedience is a matter of life and death and being found FLAWED is as good as a death sentence. Luckily for Celestine North, her life is pretty perfect. She always follows the rules, is loved by her family, has a dreamy boyfriend, and is popular with her peers and adults alike. But when a situation challenges Celestine's morals and puts her obedience to the test, her whole world unravels as she becomes not only one of the Flawed, but one of the country's most wanted criminals. A nonstop thrill ride, Flawed and its sequel Perfect are utterly unputdownable.
6Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi
A heart-pounding trilogy that mixes dystopian and paranormal fiction, bestselling author Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me series is a daring look into a future world where supernatural powers aren't a blessing, but a prison sentence. Juliette has a deadly power: her touch is fatal, and while she would rather not use it, the Reestablishment has other plans to try and weaponize it. Alongside a band of other Omega Point rebels with unique powers, Juliette sets of on the mission of a lifetime to secure her freedom, take down a corrupt system, and maybe just find a happy ending of her own along the way. Complete with three novels and two short novellas, this is one series young adult readers won't be able to get enough of.
7The Great Library Series by Rachel Caine
Set in an alternate timeline where the Great Library of Alexandria not only survived but became the most powerful establishment in the world, The Great Library novels from bestselling author Rachel Caine will change the way readers think about knowledge and power. The series follows Jess Brightwell, a boy from a book-smuggling family who lands an apprenticeship. What begins as mission to spy on the goings on at the library for his family, however, quickly turns into a life-altering adventures with the other Librarians as they fight to save the world from the devious powers that be.
8'Diverse Energies' edited by Tobias S. Buckell & Joe Monti
Featuring futuristic stories from some of science fiction's most prolific modern writers including Ursula K. Le Guin, Paolo Bacigalupi, Malinda Lo, and more, Diverse Energies is an essential collection for dystopian readers. From corrupt governments to nuclear disasters, each narrative is equally entertaining and as it is thought-provoking. A necessary and vital addition to a library lacking in diversity, Diverse Energies will hook even the most skeptical readers.
9Mirador Series by Dan Wells
A compelling techno-adventure starring a WOC heroine, Dan Wells's Mirador series is an startling dystopian thrill ride that will have readers constantly looking over their shoulder. The year is 2050, and the majority of the population is plugged in and online 24-hours a day thanks to a smart implantable device, the people who control the networks control the world. Marisa Carnesca practically lives on the web with her two best friends, Sahara and Anja, but when they discover Bluescreen, a virtual drug that is supposed to be "perfectly safe," their whole worlds, on and offline, are irreparably changed. Cue corruption, conspiracy, and plenty of action and adventure.
10The Generations Trilogy by Scott Sigler
An engrossing sci-fi adventure, Scott Sigler's Generations Trilogy is a mysterious dystopian series unlike you've ever read before. When a group of teens wake up in an unknown corridor with no memory of where they are or how they got there, one girl takes matters into her own hands to uncover the truth and escape their prison. Throughout the rest of the series, the group of young adults who are known as the Birthday Children, unified under the leadership of the smart, fierce, and unstoppable Em, must fight to survive corruption, danger, violence, and a monstrous enemy like they never imagined. A gripping and satisfying trilogy, the Generations novels will make binge-readers out of anyone who finds them.
11Noughts & Crosses Series by Malorie Blackman
An alternative history in which the roles of ruling Europeans and enslaved African American are reversed, Malorie Blackman's critically acclaimed Nights and Crosses series chronicles the lives of two unlikely friends, Sephy, a dark-skinned "cross," and Callum, a light-skinned nought. Set in a world where slavery is abolished but segregation still runs deep, each installment deftly explores race and prejudice with emotion and a critical eye. A truly enlightening series, Blackman's novels have the power to change lives.
12The Australia Trilogy by J. P. Smythe
Step aboard the spaceship Australia in J. P. Smythe's titillating trilogy about power, corruption, and the will to survive. Chan is 17, and like everyone else on the interstellar transport ship she calls home, she is still searching for a new place to live now Earth is dead. But what if it isn't? What if there is a way to go back home and get away from the murderers, cults, and criminals aboard the Australia? Chan and her rag-tag team of determined will do anything to find out. A dark and exhilarating read, Long Dark Dusk will have you frantically turning pages until the very end.
13True Born Trilogy by L. E. Sterling
In a dystopia where the great Plague decimated the population and left the poor to die and the rich to pay for their prolonged life, two sisters might have the key to saving mankind. That is, if they can stay alive themselves. Lucy Fox and her twin Margot are plague-resistant, and the powers at be will stop at nothing to unlock their secret. But when Margot goes missing, its Lucy who will stop at nothing to save her, even if it means teaming up with the True Borns, a group of resistors lead by two beautiful and charismatic men who are more than they appear. Intense and action-packed, the first two True Born novels will leave you anxiously awaiting the series' conclusion.
14Penryn & the End of Days Trilogy by Susan Ee
A unique dystopian read set in a future where angels have come to Earth to destroy modern humanity, Susan Penryn & the End of Days is an addicting series about family, love, and survival. The novels follow Penryn, a young woman who will stop at nothing to save her sister, no matter how dangerous the street gangs and warrior angels may be. Dark and intriguing, its a titillating trilogy you wish wouldn't end.
15Stone Braide Chronicles by Bonnie S. Calhoun
In her Stone Braide Chronicles, Bonnie S. Calhoun has created an unusual post-apocalyptic America where pollution radiation threatens humanity's survival. Selah Chaves gets by by hunting Langers, mysterious survivors from the land overseas. But when one of her prisoners is stolen and the Lander mark appears on her own skin, Selah's whole life is turned upside down as she goes from hunter to hunted. A provacative series with unforgettable characters and unimaginable adventure, the Stone Braide Chronicles is an under the radar dystopian YA series that will appeal to new and old readers alike.
16'After: Nineteen Stories of the Apocalypse and Dystopia'
If a new reader isn't sure about trying out a new genre, this unique collection of stories of apocalypse and dystopia from diverse authors will give them plenty to explore. From some of the most celebrated names in YA and science fiction including Gregory Maguire, N. K. Jemisin, Nalo Hopkinson, and more, After is absorbing introduction to the rich world of dystopian fiction.
17'The List' by Patricia Forde (Aug. 8)
Written for a middle grade audience but compelling to readers of all ages, The List is a spellbinding book about language, the environment, and humanity's role in protecting them both. In the city of Ark, citizens must only speak from the List, a strict language that includes only 500 words. But Letta is not just another citizen, she is an apprentice to the Wordsmith, and can read every word that has ever been. When her teacher and her master disappears, Letta is put in charge, but after meeting a teenage boy who knows all the banned words she does, she begins to question the List and its purpose. A beautiful and absorbing read you won't soon forget.