Dystopian literature typically explores societies characterized by oppression. Dystopian stories leave us feeling without hope, at a loss, bleak. Typically, we meet our characters after the downturn of society and are introduced to their world as we also get to know them. This format is ripe with political, social and environmental commentary.
Though many of these novels are considered classic literature at this point, and are generally required reading for high school students, more modern authors are taking on this genre. Some even adapted it for YA audiences.
From Huxley to Ishiguro, here are some of the best dystopian novels, for when you’re in the mood for despair.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
1984 by George Orwell
This classic novel was first published in 1949, and is considered one of the most famous cautionary tales of all time. The novel is set in a totalitarian society in the year 1984. The government, led by a figure known as Big Brother, exercises complete control over every aspect of the citizens' lives. The novel explores themes of political oppression, surveillance, propaganda, and the consequences of unchecked power. And of course, shoutout to Animal Farm, another dystopian novel from Orwell.
The Giver by Louis Lowry
A classic middle school English class novel, The Giver tells the story of a society that tried to enforce “sameness” as a way to peace.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
A refreshing modern take on a dystopian society with extreme heart and heartbreak for the readers.
The Time Machine by HG Wells
A man invents an extraordinary device – the Time Machine. This miraculous invention whisks through sunsets, landscapes, oceans, and centuries in the blink of an eye. However, instead of unearthing groundbreaking revelations, the Time Traveler confronts the harsh realities of both present and future life.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Published in 1932, this dystopian novel brings us into a world divided into an intelligence based social hierarchy.
Another modern novel, Station Eleven was published in 2014. Author Emily St. John Mandel brings readers into a world post a destructive swine flu epidemic that has killed the majority of people.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
A graphic novel that explores the themes we see over and over again with dystopian novels; the loss of identity and personality within a controlling environment.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Horrifying on many levels, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a society that has outlawed books. The firemen in this world are tasked with destroying any that still exist.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
First published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale has since become a symbol of feminism in the United States and globally. Atwood creates a contained world that defiles women and locks them away.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Published in 2011, Ready Player One is set in 2045. We follow protagonist Wade Watts as he looks for an Easter Egg inside of a video game.
The Day of The Triffids by John Wyndham
A combination of both science fiction and a dystopian story, The Day of The Triffids brings readers into the fresh aftermath of an apocalyptic event. And the horrifying tragedy that the protagonist has to uncover.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
First published in 2008, The Hunger Games is a series of novels that outline a world where a tribute from each district must compete against each other in order to survive.