The pull of dystopian fiction is undeniable and the number of books available within the genre can be overwhelming. After the craze in the 2000s and 2010s, there was a massive spike in YA dystopian novels, and while it might have slowed, it hasn’t really let up. So if you’re looking for where to begin, we have compiled the 20 best YA dystopian novels that you must read.
Best YA Dystopian Novels
YA dystopian novels took the book world by storm in the last few decades, even though the subgenre has existed within literature for nearly a century. There is a certain pull concerning characters fighting autocratic governments with society on the brink of collapse and the near guarantee that right will prevail. These novels also offer criticisms and warnings about our own society.
The recent surge of YA dystopian fiction often pivots from the twentieth-century dystopian classics by featuring a female protagonist rather than male. Although, the books listed here include a variety of perspectives.
The books on this list feature blends of science fiction and fantasy, romantic subplots, class disparity and struggle, as well as totalitarian governments. There is sure to be a book on this list to fit whatever type of dystopian literature you’re in the mood for, and we hope you enjoy this compilation of the best YA dystopian novels. Let us know in the comments if your favorite is on this list and if you agree with our top 20.
1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
A list of the best YA dystopian novels must include the trilogy that reignited the dystopian theme in young adult literature. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was by no means the first in the genre, but it has had a long-lasting cultural impact.
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before — and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender.
But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
2. Divergent by Veronica Roth
Next on our list of the best YA dystopian novels is another major series that has donned many bookshelves. Divergent by Veronica Roth also takes place in a dystopian version of North America with a totalitarian government. Similar to The Hunger Games, Divergent also features a romantic subplot.
In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue. Candor for the honest, Abnegation the selfless, Dauntless the brave, Amity the peaceful, and Erudite the intelligent.
On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is — she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are — and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into her new life.
But Tris also has a secret, one she has hidden from everyone because she knows it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves…or it might destroy her.
3. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Our next recommendation is a trilogy that, similar to the other books on our list so far, has a screen adaptation. The Maze Runner by James Dashner is a trilogy following a boy named Thomas as he struggles to escape a hellish maze.
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers — boys whose memories are also gone.
Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out — and no one’s ever made it through alive.
Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying: Remember. Survive. Run.
4. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett
The next best YA dystopian novel on our list is also the only proper standalone we’ve included. It is also a newer release, first published in 2019.
No one speaks of the grace year. It’s against the rules.
In Garner County, girls learn they have the power to lure grown men from their beds, to drive women mad with jealousy. They believe their very skin emits a powerful aphrodisiac, the potent essence of youth, of a girl on the edge of womanhood.
That’s why they’re banished for their sixteenth year, to release their magic into the wild so they can return purified and ready for marriage. But not all of them will make it home alive.
Sixteen-year-old Tierney James dreams of a better life — a society that doesn’t pit friend against friend or woman against woman, but as her own grace year draws near, she quickly realizes that it’s not just the brutal elements they must fear. It’s not even the poachers in the woods, men who are waiting for a chance to grab one of the girls in order to make a fortune on the black market. Their greatest threat may very well be each other.
With sharp prose and gritty realism, The Grace Year examines the complex and sometimes twisted relationships between girls, the women they eventually become, and the difficult decisions they make in-between.
5. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
The fifth book on our list of the best YA dystopian novels is the first in a series that highlights class disparity in a frightfully reminiscent dystopian world. Noughts and Crosses is the first book in the series of the same name.
Two young people must make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.
Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go.
In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum. A romance that is to lead them both into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?
6. The Selection by Kiera Cass
The Selection by Kiera Cass is another first in a series of the same name. While this series has received mixed reviews, it is undoubtedly popular with more than a million ratings on Goodreads and an average 4.10 rating. This is another dystopian novel with a romantic subplot.
For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime.
The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.
But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn’t want and living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.
Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she’s made for herself — and realizes that the life she’s always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
7. Matched by Ally Condie
The next book on our list of the best YA dystopian novels is the first in a trilogy. Like many of the others on this list it features a totalitarian society and we follow the main character in her struggle for independence and freedom of choice.
In the Society, officials decide: Who you love, where you work, and when you die.
Cassia has always trusted their choices. It’s hardly any price to pay for a long life, the perfect job, the ideal mate. So, when her best friend appears on the Matching screen, Cassia knows with complete certainty that he is the one.
That is until she sees another face flash for an instant before the screen fades to black. Now Cassia must make an impossible choice: Xander or Ky. Between the only life she’s known, and a path no one else has ever dared to follow — between perfection and passion.
8. Legend by Marie Lu
Legend by Marie Lu is the first in a series that emphasizes class disparity and the regulation of information by a totalitarian government. It is a must read if you enjoy dystopian literature and are looking for more young adult books to add to your reading list.
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors.
Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths — until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.
9. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
The next recommendation on our list of the best YA dystopian novels is another science-fiction romance that fits within the themes of a repressive regimentation. In this trilogy, Lena and Alex will go against government regulations in an attempt to embrace their own individuality and find love.
In an alternate United States, love is now a dangerous disease, and the government forces everyone who reaches eighteen to have a procedure called the Cure. Living with her aunt, uncle, and cousins in Portland, Maine, Lena Haloway is very much looking forward to receiving the Cure and living a safe, predictable life. She watched love destroy her mother and isn’t about to make the same mistake.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena meets enigmatic Alex, a boy from the “Wilds” who lives under the government’s radar. What will happen if they do the unthinkable and fall in love?
10. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Our next recommendation is another beginning to a series of the same name. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi blurs the lines between science fiction and fantasy. In this series we follow a girl with frightening powers in a world on the verge of collapse.
Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.
The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares.
The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.
The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war — and The Reestablishment has changed its mind.
Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.
Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
11. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
In addition to featuring the common elements of a totalitarian government and themes of freewill, this next dystopian novel is also a scathing critique of the societal pressures and standards surrounding beauty. It tackles the pressure to conform. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld is the first in the Uglies series.
Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunning pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll get to live in a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.
But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world — and it isn’t very pretty.
The authorities offer Tally a choice: Find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. Tally’s choice will change her world forever…
12. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Our next recommendation for the best YA dystopian novels is another blurring of genres. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard is primarily a romantic fantasy. But it can also be classified as a science fiction novel with its dystopian elements, and that’s why we’ve included it on this list.
This is a world divided by blood — red or silver. The Reds are commoners, ruled by a Silver elite in possession of god-like superpowers. And to Mare Barrow, a seventeen-year-old Red girl from the poverty-stricken Stilts, it seems like nothing will ever change.
That is until she finds herself working in the Silver Palace. Here, surrounded by the people she hates the most, Mare discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy the balance of power.
Fearful of Mare’s potential, the Silvers hide her in plain view. They declare her a long-lost Silver princess, now engaged to a Silver prince.
Despite knowing that one misstep would mean her death, Mare works silently to help the Red Guard, a militant resistance group, and bring down the Silver regime. But this is a world of betrayal and lies, and Mare has entered a dangerous dance. Reds against Silvers, prince against prince, and Mare against her own heart.
13. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy
This next recommendation offers a unique spin on the classic dystopian tropes, because in this world there hasn’t been just one apocalyptic event: There have been four. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy introduces a world that is in its fifth such reckoning against an alien invasion.
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: Trust no one.
Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors.
To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother — or even saving herself.
But Cassie must choose: Between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
14. Cinder by Marissa Meyer
This next recommendation is another first in a series. The Lunar Chronicles are fairy tale retellings, beginning with a science fiction retelling of Cinderella.
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing as a deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless Lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl: Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg.
She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.
15. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Our next recommendation brings mass surveillance to a new level with a world in which even your thoughts are not your own. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness is the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy.
Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think. Just as they hear everything he thinks.
Todd is just a month away from becoming a man. But in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him. Something so awful Todd must flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too.
With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: A girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World?
Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.
16. Scythe by Neal Schusterman
This is another trilogy on our list of the best YA dystopian novels. Scythe by Neal Schusterman presents an idyllic, supposedly utopian society; however, all is not as it seems when our protagonists must now take up the role of executioner.
A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life — and they must do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.
Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe — a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.
17. The Host by Stephenie Meyer
Next on our list might be a bit surprising if you only recognize the author from her Twilight fame, but Stephenie Meyer also wrote a highly successful YA dystopian novel: The Host. While Meyer has said there will be two sequels to this novel, that was more than a decade ago and nothing further has been released since The Host was published in 2008. Therefore, this make this novel the second standalone on our list.
Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.
As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.
18. The 100 by Kass Morgan
Our next recommendation for the best YA dystopian novels is another first in a series of the same name and has been made into a TV show. The 100 features a post-apocalyptic setting and futuristic purgatory where our protagonists are potentially sent to their deaths for the betterment of the larger society.
Ever since a devastating nuclear war, humanity has lived on spaceships far above Earth’s radioactive surface. Now, one hundred juvenile delinquents — considered expendable by society — are being sent on a dangerous mission: To recolonize the planet. It could be their second chance at life…or it could be a suicide mission.
Clarke was arrested for treason, though she’s haunted by the memory of what she really did. Wells, the chancellor’s son, came to Earth for the girl he loves — but will she ever forgive him? Bellamy fought his way onto the transport pod to protect his sister, the only pair of siblings in the universe.
And Glass managed to escape back onto the ship. Only to find that life there is just as dangerous as she feared it would be on Earth.
Confronted with a savage land and haunted by secrets from their pasts, the hundred must fight to survive. They were never meant to be heroes, but they may be mankind’s last hope.
19. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Contrary to some of the titles on our list of the best YA dystopian novels, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is set in the not-too-distant future. It is the first in a duology.
In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS.
Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines. The puzzles are based on their creator’s obsession with old pop culture. They also promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win. While also confronting the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.
20. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
The last recommendation we have for you on our list of the 20 best YA dystopian novels is Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. This series does not feature a bureaucratic, authoritarian regime. However, it does follow one young girl and a fight for humanity.
The remnants of the human race are trapped on a planet that is constantly attacked by mysterious alien starfighters. They are defeated, crushed, and driven almost to extinction. Spensa, a teenage girl living among them, longs to be a pilot.
When she discovers the wreckage of an ancient ship, she realizes this dream might be possible. But that’s assuming she can repair the ship, navigate flight school, and persuade the strange machine to help her. Because this ship, uniquely, appears to have a soul.
Final Thoughts on the Best YA Dystopian Novels
There are so many great books within the dystopian subgenre of YA science fiction and fantasy. Therefore, it was incredibly difficult to whittle this list down.
Do you agree with our top 20 best YA dystopian novels? We hope this list helped you find your next great read, or reminded you of a few old favorites.
Looking for more book recommendations?
If you’re looking for more dystopian novels, check out our list of 20 books like 1984.