The 11 Best Dystopian Novels to Add to Your Bookshelf

Add one of the best dystopian novels to your reading list to challenge your thinking.

Dystopian novels use fiction to explore political themes by looking at what could be in an imperfect world, often in the near future.

Sometimes they set the stage as a utopian society, only to find that the society hides a dark secrete. Sometimes they take place on earth that has been through major destruction, only to show how the human spirit comes through.

Dystopian novels are widely popular, especially with young adult readers. Here are some of the best dystopian novels available on Amazon and in your favorite bookstore. If you are looking for a new engaging book to read, there are some of the best dystopian novels to add to your reading list.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale has become a major motion picture and for good reason. In this dystopian novel, society faces declining birth rates, and fertile women become handmaids whose only purpose is to have children with married men, even though they themselves are not married.

This horrifying work of science fiction will leave you thinking, and that is what the best dystopian novels should do.

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”

Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale
  • Atwood, Margaret (Author)
  • German (Publication Language)
  • 324 Pages - 01/01/1989 (Publication Date) - Fawcett Crest (Publisher)

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games

In the first book of The Hunger Games series, author Suzanne Collins explores what happens if teenagers are asked to fight to the death in order to maintain law and order. One of the tributes, as these teens are called, defies the rule and fights to keep herself and another tribute alive. The heroine, Katniss Everdeen, because of the symbol of rebellion.

The Hunger Games and its sequels explore exactly what happens when someone defies the “establishment” when the powers that be are clearly in the wrong.

“If Peeta and I were both to die, or they thought we were….My fingers fumble with the pouch on my belt, freeing it. Peeta sees it and his hand clamps on my wrist. ‘No, I won’t let you.’ ‘Trust me,’ I whisper. He holds my gaze for a long moment then lets go. I loosen the top of the pouch and pour a few spoonfuls of berries into his palm. Then I fill my own. ‘On the count of three?'”

Suzanne Collins
The Hunger Games
  • Suzanne Collins (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 384 Pages - 05/24/1972 (Publication Date) - Scholastic Press (Publisher)

3. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

In A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess explores what happens if criminals are allowed to take over after dark. In this dystopian fiction novel, the author shows the clear balance between good and evil, with decided times when evil is allowed to take over society. 

One of the features that set A Clockwork Orange out is the inventive slang of the teen gangs that come out after dark.

“Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?”

Anthony Burgess
Clockwork Orange
  • Burgess, Anthony (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 05/23/2014 (Publication Date) - Reclam Philipp Jun. (Publisher)

4. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451

In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury explores a bleak dystopian future where a fireman is ordered to destroy printed books and the houses that hold them. He never questions this reality until he meets a neighbor who explores life in the past when books were not feared.

Fahrenheit 451 is a classic that is still being explored by generations today. 

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, he said, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

Ray Bradbury
  • BRADBURY RAY (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages - 04/01/2001 (Publication Date) - HARPER COLLINS (Publisher)

5. The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Giver

It may be juvenile fiction, but The Giver by Lowis Lowry is a Newbery Medal winner that follows a 12-year-old boy named Jonas who discovers a dark secrete in his dystopian community. It is an easy read but has a deep meaning. 

Through the story, Jonas learns to challenge the rules and order of his dystopia and explore the power of individuality. 

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”

Lois Lowry
The Giver Movie Tie-in Edition: A Newbery Award Winner (Giver Quartet, 1)
  • Lowry, Lois (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 07/01/2014 (Publication Date) - Clarion Books (Publisher)

6. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road

The Road is a novel set in a post-apocalyptic world that follows a father and son as they try to survive. Set in America after a catastrophic event, the book examines the individualistic nature of survival after a serious event.

Though it is melancholy, The Road shows just how challenging life can be after a serious event.

“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”

Cormac McCarthy
The Road (Oprah's Book Club)
  • acclaimed Cormac McCarthy's latest novel The Road
  • searing postapocalyptic novel
  • Cormac McCarthy (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 287 Pages - 03/28/2006 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

7. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World

Brave New World is a classic dystopian book set in 2540. Instead of setting up a sad, horrific setting, this book shows what it would be like if life were perfect, numbing the population. 

Through exploring a perfect dystopia, Huxley expounds on how society can degrade and lose its intelligence simply through self-indulgent behavior.

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”

Aldous Huxley
Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited
  • Aldous Huxley (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 340 Pages - 07/05/2005 (Publication Date) - Harper Perennial Modern Classics (Publisher)

8. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go

In Never Let Me Go, a caretaker looks back at her childhood. By exploring these memories, Ishiguro skillfully explores what the dystopian society could look like. Rather than taking place in the future, this book takes place in England in the 1990s, but in an alternate reality. 

As the story unfolds, the author carefully reveals a story of cloning, organ donation, and the challenges they produce.

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

Kazuo Ishiguro
Never Let Me Go
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Ishiguro, Kazuo (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 03/14/2006 (Publication Date) - Vintage (Publisher)

9. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

The Time Machine

This classic explores what happens if a Victorian scientist creates and uses a time machine. He finds a carefree world with adults that act like children. Yet after further exploration, the scientist finds a dark side to this seemingly idyllic future.

The Time Machine was one of the first science fiction books ever written. This fact makes it worth adding to your list.

“Nature never appeals to intelligence until habit and instinct are useless. There is no intelligence where there is no need of change.”

H.G. Wells
The Time Machine
  • Wells, H.G. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 113 Pages - 11/07/2018 (Publication Date) - SDE Classics (Publisher)

10. The Stand by Stephen King

The Stand

A discussion of dystopian novels must include Stephen King. In The Stand, King explores what happens to the world after someone accidentally unleashes a biological weapon. Survivors must avoid the pandemic while also building a new world.

The Stand is a cautionary tale as well as a great piece of fiction that keeps the reader guessing.

 “The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there…and still on your feet.”

Stephen King
The Stand by Stephen King (2012-08-07)
  • Stephen King (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/01/1800 (Publication Date) - Anchor; Reprint edition (2012-08-07) (Publisher)

11. Nineteen Eight-Four by George Orwell

Nineteen Eight-Four

Finally, George Orwell’s 1984, written in 1949, explores what life would be like in 1984 when the globe was in a perpetual world war. In the fictional country of Oceania, Big Brother is a dictatorial leader. 

This book shows what life in a manipulative, authoritarian government would be like. From this book comes the phrase “Big Brother is watching.”

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

George Orwell
1984: 75th Anniversary
  • George Orwell (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 320 Pages - 04/01/1983 (Publication Date) - Berkley (Publisher)

A Final Word on the Best Dystopian Novels

Dystopian novels explore what happens in the world after a serious catastrophic event or political takeover. These sci-fi books and tales are popular because of their look at what life on the earth would be like if everything went wrong and humanity faced the end of the world.

Many of the best dystopian novels make political statements through fiction writing. This makes them something worth studying both in English and in government or history classes.

FAQs About the Best Dystopian Novels

What is the most famous dystopian novel?

For Reading Addicts ranks The Handmaid’s Tale as the best dystopian novel of all time. Also on the list is Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.

What makes a great dystopian novel?

Dystopian authors take a look at what the future may look like if political ideologies take over or a catastrophe occurs. They are often somewhat realistic but have some science fiction mixed in.

Further Reading

Our Always Up-to-Date List of Great Books to Read

Best Productivity and Time Management Books

Best Self-help Books

The Best Writing Books

Best Leadership Books

Best Grammar Books

Best Sci-Fi Books

Audible: Is It Worth It?

Best Philosophy Books

Best Creativity Books

Best Business Audiobooks

  • Nicole Harms has been writing professionally since 2006. She specializes in education content and real estate writing but enjoys a wide gamut of topics. Her goal is to connect with the reader in an engaging, but informative way. Her work has been featured on USA Today, and she ghostwrites for many high-profile companies. As a former teacher, she is passionate about both research and grammar, giving her clients the quality they demand in today's online marketing world.