12 Best Bildungsroman Authors You Must Read

Do you love a good coming-of-age story? If so, you may want to check out some of the best bildungsroman authors and the young adult novels they wrote. 

There are many challenging literary terms to learn, and one that many people struggle with is the word bildungsroman. This is a German word that comes from bildung, meaning education, and the focus is on personal growth as the story unfolds. This is a vast literary genre, and the bildungsroman genre focuses on the life experiences of children and teenagers as they grow into young adults. There are numerous English, German, and American authors that wrote great stories that speak to readers of all ages. 

If you are looking for a coming-of-age novel, a novel of education, or a novel of formation and personal growth from the 20th century, then take a look at some of the top authors of bildungsroman novels below. 

Best Bildungsroman authors

1. Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens is one of the greatest fighters of all time, and one of his most famous books is titled Great Expectations. Some people believed this to be his greatest work ever, and it follows pick, an orphan. He has to do a lot of dirty work, but he dreams of growing up to be a gentleman. Suddenly, he finds himself facing the weight of expectation and has to grow up quickly.

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” – Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

You can pick up a copy of Great Expectations on Amazon.

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Great Expectations
  • Dickens, Charles (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 328 Pages - 12/04/2020 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

2. J. K. Rowling

It is difficult to talk about coming-of-age stories without talking about the Harry Potter series. Without a doubt, Harry Potter is one of the most popular book series of all time. It follows the story of Harry, a prodigious wizard, who survives an attack by one of the biggest villains in all of literature. Eventually, he goes to study magic and uses his skills to save the world while teaming up with numerous friends along the way.

“Yes, exactly. I heard he’s a sort of savage — lives in a hut on the school grounds and every now and then he gets drunk, tries to do magic, and ends up setting fire to his bed.” “I think he’s brilliant,” said Harry coldly.” – J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter

If you haven’t yet read the books, you can find them on Amazon.

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Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7)
  • Brand New in box. The product ships with all relevant accessories
  • J. K. Rowling (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 07/01/2009 (Publication Date) - Arthur A. Levine Books (Publisher)

3. Charlotte Bronte

Bildungsroman author: Charlotte Bronte
Painted by Evert A. Duyckinck, based on a drawing by George Richmond, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jane Eyre is one of the greatest books of all time. Written by Charlotte Bronte, the story follows orphan Jane. She is hired by Edward Rochester to care for Adele at Thornfield Hall. Jane has a mixture of emotions during her journey. She finds the family kind but also believes him to be troubled. Eventually, she falls in love, leading to a lot of twists and turns.

“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.” – Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

You can learn more about this fantastic story for yourself by picking up a copy of the book on Amazon.

Jane Eyre (Wordsworth Classics)
  • Charlotte Bronte (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 448 Pages - 08/31/1997 (Publication Date) - Wordsworth Editions Ltd (Publisher)

4. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Goethe is considered one of the greatest writers of all time. One of his most popular works is Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister is a story of someone learning more about himself. In many ways, this book is referred to as the first bildungsroman, and it significantly influenced the evolution of German writing. The story takes place during the middle of the 18th century. The character tries to overcome his economic background to make something more of himself.

“From youth, I have been accustomed to direct the eyes of my spirit inwards rather than outwards; and hence it is very natural, that, to a certain extent, I should be acquainted with man, while of men I have not the smallest knowledge.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship 

You can discover more about this story by purchasing a copy on Amazon.

Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Goethe: The Collected Works, Vol. 9)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 396 Pages - 04/03/1995 (Publication Date) - Princeton University Press (Publisher)

5. Harper Lee

Without a doubt, one of the best bildungsroman novels is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is a book that takes place in a relatively quiet southern town. Suddenly, there is a crisis of conscience, and the story explodes on the pages. When it was published in 1960, it became an immediate success. Furthermore, it earned the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. This is a moving novel that focuses on the very root of human behavior, including humor, love, hatred, cruelty, and kindness. 

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

If you haven’t yet read this book, you can find a copy on Amazon.

To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Gregory Peck
  • Atticus Finch
  • Scout
  • Boo Radley
  • Truman Capote

6. J. D. Salinger

JD Salinger is another one of the greatest bildungsroman authors ever. Even though he has a lot of excellent books from which to choose, The Catcher in the Rye is at the top of the list. The story follows a 16-year-old child who lives in New York. First, he has to go to boarding school in Pennsylvania, and then he spends some time in the underground areas of New York City. The story is fascinating and will your attention throughout its gripping pages.

“That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall in love with them, and then you never know where the hell you are. Girls. Jesus Christ. They can drive you crazy. They really can.” – The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger

You can pick up a copy of The Catcher in the Rye for yourself on Amazon.

The Catcher in the Rye
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • J.D. Salinger
  • First Little, Brown and Company mass market paperback edition
  • J.D. Salinger (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)

7. James Joyce

James Joyce wrote a lot of powerful cultural critiques during his literary career, and one example is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The story focuses on Stephen Dedalus as he grows up in Dublin. He emancipates himself from his family, discovers his identity as he becomes an artist, and explores the role of religion in Ireland. This unbelievable story will encourage the reader to look inward to learn more about themselves.

“His heart danced upon her movements like a cork upon a tide. He heard what her eyes said to him from beneath their cowl and knew that in some dim past, whether in life or revery, he had heard their tale before.” – James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

You can read this beautiful story for yourself by buying a copy on Amazon.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Dover Thrift Editions: Classic Novels)
  • Unmarked paperback copy.
  • James Joyce (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 05/20/1994 (Publication Date) - Dover Publications (Publisher)

8. Thomas Mann

Bildungsroman author: Thomas Mann
Nobel Foundation, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Mann is one of the most creative writers of all time, and one of his shining examples is The Magic Mountain. The book takes place in the Swiss Alps, which used to be a place reserved for the deathly ill. In many ways, the book parallels Europe during the early 20th century. The book is filled with a wide variety of unique ideas, and it will have you asking a lot about society.

“It is remarkable how a man cannot summarize his thoughts in even the most general sort of way without betraying himself completely, without putting his whole self into it, quite unawares, presenting as if in allegory the basic themes and problems of his life.” – Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

Learn more about this fantastic coming-of-age book by purchasing it on Amazon.

The Magic Mountain
  • Vintage International
  • Thomas Mann (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 720 Pages - 10/01/1996 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

9. Louisa May Alcott

Countless people have loved Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and it is one of the greatest examples of a coming-of-age story. It is a story that follows multiple women from various backgrounds as they grow up together. There is a romantic, a tomboy, and a gorgeous girl. Each is devoted to one another as they grow up in New England. It is a book that will speak to people of all ages, and it continues to be loved by modern generations. 

“Love Jo all your days, if you choose, but don’t let it spoil you, for it’s wicked to throw away so many good gifts because you can’t have the one you want.” – Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

You can find this fantastic story on Amazon.

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Little Women
  • May Alcott, Louisa (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 280 Pages - 11/06/2018 (Publication Date) - CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (Publisher)

10. Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse is the author of Siddhartha, which is a fantastic story that follows a wealthy Indian citizen who decides to cast all of his privileges aside to find spiritual fulfillment. It is a great story of sacrifice, personal growth, and inner learning that focuses on the differences in religion, societies, and cultures. This is a great story that will encourage people to learn more about themselves.

“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.” – Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

You can discover the story for yourself by getting a copy on Amazon.

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Siddhartha: A Novel
  • Hermann Hesse (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages - 01/01/1982 (Publication Date) - Bantam (Publisher)

11. Stephen Chbosky

Stephen Chbosky is the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This modern story focuses on a boy who tends to lurk in the background. He observes the world around him until he decides that it is time to become more involved in society. In the process, he learns more about himself. This is a story that everyone can relate to, and it will have everyone asking questions about themselves. 

“It’s just that I don’t want to be somebody’s crush. If somebody likes me, I want them to like the real me, not what they think I am. And I don’t want them to carry it around inside. I want them to show me, so I can feel it too.” – Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower 

You can purchase a copy of this story on Amazon.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Great product!
  • Stephen Chbosky (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 213 Pages - 02/01/1999 (Publication Date) - MTV Books (Publisher)

12. Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath is the author of The Bell Jar, which follows the story of Esther Greenwood. She is talented and beautiful but also struggling to find herself. During the story, readers will track Esther’s breakdown, relating to all of her experiences along the way. This is a story of mental strife and struggle, but also one of triumph and strength. 

“I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

You can purchase a copy of this book on Amazon.

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The Bell Jar
  • Plath, Sylvia (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 06/11/2013 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial Modern Classics (Publisher)

Final Word on Bildungsroman Authors

In the end, these are just a few of the many authors that focus on coming-of-age stories. Even though the literary devices seen in these books were popular during the 19th century, they remain popular to this day.

Whether you are looking for a short story about a teenager, or a novel that follows a young woman as she grows up, everyone can relate to the stories chronicled in these books. Typically, the main character finds enlightenment at the end of the novel. Consider checking out a few of these stories for yourself. 

FAQs About Bildungsroman Authors

What does bildungsroman mean?

Bildungsroman books tend to follow characters as they come of age throughout the story.

Where does bildungsroman come from?

It is a German word that focuses on formative years or spiritual education.
Further reading: Consider reading our article on the different types of genres used for writing.

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