Dystopia Series You Should Check Out INSTEAD of The Hunger Games

It’s Tuesday, May 19th, and that means the newest installment of Suzanne Collins’ smash series The Hunger Games (Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes) has been released. I was originally excited by this publication, as I devoured The Hunger Games and the books that followed as they came out…but then I read the excerpt, naming the villain Coriolanus Snow as the subject, and that left a sour taste in my mouth.

So while The Hunger Games will always have a place in my heart, I won’t be picking up the newest book. Because of this, I thought it might be fun to compile a list of YA dystopian series people can dig into BESIDES The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fifth Wave, and all the other ones that come up on every dystopian booklist. These titles run the gambit of the dystopian subgenre- from political dystopias to post-apocalyptic tales to climate change stories, there’s something for all fellow lovers of dystopias (and even those new to the subgenre)! I hope you enjoy:


Ink & Bone by Rachel Caine

Books about books? Yes please! More about Ink & Bone (currently a five book series):

Ruthless and supremely powerful, the Great Library is now a presence in every major city, governing the flow of knowledge to the masses. Alchemy allows the Library to deliver the content of the greatest works of history instantly—but the personal ownership of books is expressly forbidden.

Jess Brightwell believes in the value of the Library, but the majority of his knowledge comes from illegal books obtained by his family, who are involved in the thriving black market. Jess has been sent to be his family’s spy, but his loyalties are tested in the final months of his training to enter the Library’s service.

When his friend inadvertently commits heresy by creating a device that could change the world, Jess discovers that those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Though written almost 12 years ago, readers will find disturbing parallels between life as we know it now and the world in Little Brother- more about the first book in the two book series here:

Marcus aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, his injured best friend Darryl does not come out. The city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: “M1k3y” will take down the DHS himself.

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Will I ever shut up about this series? Probably not! This is potentially one of the best audiobook productions of all time, and I’m particularly partial to space dystopias! More about Illuminae:

This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.

The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto an evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit.

But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it’s clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.

Proxy by Alex London

Okay sooooo I haven’t read this series just yet but multiple friends (librarians included) have sung the praises of this series and of Alex London, so I had to put it on the list (and move it up the TBR of course!). About Proxy:

Knox was born into one of the City’s wealthiest families. A Patron, he has everything a boy could possibly want—the latest tech, the coolest clothes, and a Proxy to take all his punishments. When Knox breaks a vase, Syd is beaten. When Knox plays a practical joke, Syd is forced to haul rocks. And when Knox crashes a car, killing one of his friends, Syd is branded and sentenced to death.

Syd is a Proxy. His life is not his own.

Then again, neither is Knox’s. Knox and Syd have more in common than either would guess. So when Knox and Syd realize that the only way to beat the system is to save each other, they flee. Yet Knox’s father is no ordinary Patron, and Syd is no ordinary Proxy. The ensuing cross-country chase will uncover a secret society of rebels, test both boys’ resolve, and shine a blinding light onto a world of those who owe and those who pay. Some debts, it turns out, cannot be repaid.

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

Mindy McGinnis’ books always have a dark edge to them, and Not a Drop to Drink (and the book to follow) are no different. This one gave me flashbacks both to Dry by Neal Shusterman and The Gunslinger Series by Stephen King, so fans of both should check it out- more about Not a Drop to Drink:

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

I finally read this one after friends, acquaintances, and teens had ceaselessly sung its praises…and y’all, they weren’t kidding. This is a good replacement for Divergent in that a main character slowly uncovers the seedy underpinnings of her government and the only life she’s ever known. More about We Set the Dark on Fire:

At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

Looking for a dystopia you can see on screen? Lucky for you, 2021 will bring Chaos Walking, a film adaptation of The Knife of Never Letting Go starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley. About The Knife of Never Letting Go:

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee—whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not—stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden—a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

Rebel Seoul by Axie Oh

Lucky for readers, the follow-up to this action-packed novel came out at the end of last year. This is an excellent readalike to Legend or Want; more about Rebel Seoul:

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

I truly don’t understand how I haven’t seen more of this one on bookstagram or my Twitter feed; Tochi is an incredible author (and a hilarious tweeter) and this futuristic dystopia is both gripping and gorgeous! More about War Girls:

After a great war, the East Pacific is in ruins. In brutal Neo Seoul, where status comes from success in combat, ex-gang member Lee Jaewon is a talented pilot rising in the ranks of the academy. Abandoned as a kid in the slums of Old Seoul by his rebel father, Jaewon desires only to escape his past and prove himself a loyal soldier of the Neo State.

When Jaewon is recruited into the most lucrative weapons development division in Neo Seoul, he is eager to claim his best shot at military glory. But the mission becomes more complicated when he meets Tera, a test subject in the government’s supersoldier project. Tera was trained for one purpose: to pilot one of the lethal God Machines, massive robots for a never-ending war.

With secret orders to report on Tera, Jaewon becomes Tera’s partner, earning her reluctant respect. But as respect turns to love, Jaewon begins to question his loyalty to an oppressive regime that creates weapons out of humans. As the project prepares to go public amidst rumors of a rebellion, Jaewon must decide where he stands—as a soldier of the Neo State, or a rebel of the people.

Want by Cindy Pon

This is another series I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of on social media! Not only are the covers draw-droppingly gorgeous, but this futuristic dystopia addresses issues that are even more pressing today than when the first book came out. More about Want:

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

The Light at the Bottom of the World by London Shah

I’m ashamed to say that I might not have discovered this one if it wasn’t for the urging of a friend who got her hands on an advanced reader copy. This one may have flown under my radar initially, but it is a beautiful (and haunting) exploration of a future world ravaged further by climate change. More about The Light at the Bottom of the World:

At the end of the twenty-first century, the world has changed dramatically, but life continues one thousand feet below the ocean’s surface. In Great Britain, sea creatures swim among the ruins of Big Ben and the Tower of London, and citizens waver between fear and hope; fear of what lurks in the abyss, and hope that humanity will soon discover a way to reclaim the Earth.

Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Leyla McQueen has her own problems to deal with. Her father’s been arrested, accused of taking advantage of victims of the Seasickness-a debilitating malaise that consumes people,often claiming their lives. But Leyla knows he’s innocent, and all she’s interested in is getting him back so that their lives can return to normal.

When she’s picked to race in the action-packed London Submersible Marathon, Leyla gets the chance to secure his freedom; the Prime Minister promises the champion whatever their heart desires. The race takes an unexpected turn, though, and presents her with an opportunity she never wanted: Leyla must venture outside of London for the first time in her life, to find and rescue her father herself.

Now, she’ll have to brave the unfathomable waters and defy a corrupt government determined to keep its secrets, all the while dealing with a secretive, hotheaded companion she never asked for in the first place. If she fails, or falls prey to her own fears, she risks capture–and her father might be lost forever.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe is one of the books (and the series) we CANNOT keep on the shelves at the library. Truly, Neal Shusterman is a classic dystopian author in my opinion (Dry, Unwind, etc) and the final Scythe book came out earlier this year (lucky for you!). More about Scythe:

Thou shalt kill. 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 are commanded to 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.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Yes, I know An Ember in the Ashes is popular but heck, I had to (and wanted to) include it. It’s a perfect selection for those who are looking for more historically based and/or fantastical dystopias, so here’s more about An Ember in the Ashes:

Laia is a slave. Elias is a soldier. Neither is free.
 
Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.
 
It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.
 
But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.
 
There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.


I feel I would be remiss to not include my favorite dystopian standalone titles, so here’s five that I am always recommending to anyone and everyone!

Internment by Samira Ahmed

This book was a true gut-punch of a read, as it is something all-too-real that could actually happen in this current administration. Internment will make you uncomfortable and reassess how you react in the face of injustice…which is exactly what we need right now. About Internment:

Rebellions are built on hope.

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Heart-racing and emotional, Internment challenges readers to fight complicit silence that exists in our society today.

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow Thieves explores real experiences by indigenous peoples, but juxtaposed in a futuristic dystopian world. Truly I am always on the lookout for more indigenous #ownvoices lit because I feel like it isn’t as well-promoted, and this one is a beautiful and jarring novel. More about The Marrow Thieves:

In a futuristic world ravaged by global warming, people have lost the ability to dream, and the dreamlessness has led to widespread madness. The only people still able to dream are North America’s Indigenous people, and it is their marrow that holds the cure for the rest of the world. But getting the marrow, and dreams, means death for the unwilling donors. Driven to flight, a fifteen-year-old and his companions struggle for survival, attempt to reunite with loved ones and take refuge from the “recruiters” who seek them out to bring them to the marrow-stealing “factories.”

The Grace Year by Kim Liggett

Yes, this one has been all over the blogs and the bookstagram feeds, but it’s for a good reason. For those looking a contemporary to Margaret Atwood’s classic The Handmaid’s Tale, The Grace Year is a perfect fit. More about The Grace Year:

No one speaks of the grace year. It’s forbidden. In Garner County, girls are told 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.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is the book that always comes to mind when I think dystopia. While it’s not exactly a fun read during an actual global pandemic, this is a beautiful and detailed look at human nature when structures crumble into the dust. More about Station Eleven:

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

It can be argued (and I personally think it’s true) that Battle Royale served as an inspiration for The Hunger Games. Like The Hunger Games, it has been turned into a classic film (and truly one of my favorites) and it deserves all the reader love. Learn more about Battle Royale:

Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing.

Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan – where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller – Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world. Made into a controversial hit movie of the same name, Battle Royale is already a contemporary Japanese pulp classic, now available for the first time in the English language.


Fellow devotee to dark dystopias? Share your favorite in the comments below!

Until next time…

3 thoughts on “Dystopia Series You Should Check Out INSTEAD of The Hunger Games

    1. qsreads says:

      I love villains, but they do have to have redeeming qualities…and he just doesn’t. I would prefer the story of someone else honestly.

      Like

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