Based on curated lists from the Huffington Post, ShortList, Wired and more, suggestions from readers on Goodreads and Reddit, and picks from dystopian fiction authors like Neal Shusterman, Joelle Charbonneau, David Brin and Lois Lowry, here is a roundup of the 110 best dystopian novels ever written. To compile the final rankings, I assigned a weighted score to each novel that appeared on a previous curated list and combined these scores with votes from readers and authors to produce a cumulative score that distinguished the 110 best dystopian novels from the more than 250 novels that garnered at least one vote (books in a series were considered a single entity and are listed by the title of the first book in the series).
As a bonus feature, I’ve produced two downloads:
- The favorite dystopian novels of fourteen contemporary dystopian fiction authors
- A one-page PDF shopping guide to The 110 Best Dystopian Novels.
You can access both of these free resources using the form below. And now, on with the list!
These books were cited by individual readers as their favorites within the genre but did not earn enough points on my rating scale to crack the top 110 novels. They are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.
Feed by M.T. Anderson (2002), Genesis by Bernard Beckett (2006), The Postman by David Brin (1985), The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner (1972), The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau (2013), Matched by Ally Condie (2010), A Scanner Darkly (1977) and The Man in the High Castle (1963) by Philip K. Dick, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (2008), The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (2003), Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (2009), Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (2007), Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix (1998), Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress (1993), Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder (2012), Oasis by Dima Zales (2016)
Download recommendations for the best dystopian novels from authors Bernard Beckett, David Brin, Joelle Charbonneau, Jeanne DuPrau, Jasper Fforde, Catherine Fisher, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Nancy Kress, Maria V. Snyder and Dima Zales using the form at the top of this post.
More accurately, the one-listers. Tied at number seventy-five in the rankings, each of these thirty-six books appeared on one curated list of the best dystopian novels. This group is a smattering of lesser-known books by famous dystopian writers like Anthony Burgess, Aldous Huxley and H.G. Wells, as well as the two oldest books on the list and several novels that never quite garnered mainstream attention. The novels are listed alphabetically by the author’s last name.
75. High-Rise by J.G. Ballard (1975)
75. City of Bohane by Kevin Barry (2011)
75. Jennifer Government by Max Barry (2003)
75. The Holy Machine by Chris Beckett (2004)
George Smiling falls in love with a robot prostitute named Lucy and must flee from both the hyperrational city-state Illyria and the religious fundamentalist Reaction.
75. Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat by Andrez Bergen (2011)
75. Kallocain by Karin Boye (1940)
75. Red Rising by Pierce Brown (2014)
75. Swastika Night by Katharine Burdekin (1937)
75. The Wanting Seed by Anthony Burgess (1962)
75. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (1959)
This series of loosely connected vignettes about a narcotics addict who travels from New York to Tangiers to the nightmarish urban wasteland called Interzone was included in TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005.
75. Nova Express by William S. Burroughs (1964)
75. Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody (1988)
Carmody began work on the first novel of this seven-book series at the age of fourteen and reworked the story during high school and college. The post-apocalyptic series follows Elspeth Gordie’s struggle against the governing Council and the religious Herder Faction, both of which condemn Elspeth for her mysterious mental powers.
75. Walk to the End of the World by Suzy McKee Charnas (1974)
75. The White Mountains by John Christopher (1967)
75. The Penultimate Truth by Philip K. Dick (1964)
The second of Dicks’ five appearances on this list (more than any other author), this novel depicts a future in which humans live in underground bunkers, producing weapons for the nuclear war that has driven them below the earth.
75. Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow (2012)
This tale of a hacker filmmaker fighting against tyranny in dystopian Britain won the 2013 Prometheus Award for best libertarian science fiction novel and is available for free on Doctorow’s website.
75. The Republic of the Future; or, Socialism a Reality by Anna Bowman Dodd (1887)
A direct dystopian response to the utopian literature of the late nineteenth century, this novella is the oldest book on the list, followed closely by…
75. Caesar’s Column: A Story of the Twentieth Century by Ignatius L. Donnelly (1890)
Narrator Gabriel Weltstein’s 1988 letters to his brother tell of his experiences as a wool merchant attempting to avoid an international cartel and sell wool directly to American manufacturers in this novel published under the pseudonym Edmund Boisgilbert, M.D.
75. Contagious by Jacqueline Druga (2014)
75. The Flood by Maggie Gee (2004)
75. Facial Justice by L.P. Hartley (1960)
75. Sand by Hugh Howey (2014)
75. Ape and Essence by Aldous Huxley (1948)
75. One by David Karp (1953)
75. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee (1981)
75. The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing (1974)
75. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta (2011)
75. Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy (1976)
75. The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle (2013)
This book is the first installment in The Origin Mystery technothriller trilogy about global genetic experiments, ancient conspiracies and the mysteries of human evolution. A film adaptation of the series is currently in development at CBS Films.
75. How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (2004)
This novel about teenagers stranded in England after a terrorist attack during the third world war won the 2004 British Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the 2005 American Printz Award, which recognizes the “best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit.”
75. Brilliance by Marcus Sakey (2013)
75. Alongside Night by J. Neil Schulman (1979)
75. Underground by Chris Ward (2014)
75. The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells (1910)
75. The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn (2004)
75. After the Event by T.A. Williams (2014)
The Dark Horses
If you’ve plowed through most of the big names in the dystopian genre, these books are hidden gems that deserve to be read.
74. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (1951)
73. Partials by Dan Wells (2012)
72. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)
71. Across the Universe by Beth Revis (2011)
70. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (1993)
64. The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner (1969)
This story of race wars and weapons cartels in 2014 America won the 1970 British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) Award for Best Novel.
64. War with the Newts by Karel Capek (1936)
64. Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem (1994)
64. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin (1970)
This novel about a future technocratic society in which eugenically uniform humans are programmed into docility won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1992 (the Prometheus Awards were not established until 1979).
64. Bend Sinister by Vladimir Nabokov (1947)
64. Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (2014)
The first installment of the Southern Reach Trilogy, this book about a biologist, anthropologist, psychologist, and surveyor exploring the abandoned and deadly Area X won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 2014 Nebula Award for Best Novel and the 2014 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel in the literature of psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantastic.
63. Mockingbird by Walter Tevis (1980)
The New Bloods
Prefer contemporary fiction? Here are five books published in the past twenty-five years that haven’t quite garnered the notoriety of some of the bigger hits.
62. Wither by Lauren DeStefano (2011)
61. Legend by Marie Lu (2011)
60. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004)
A novel of six nested stories that move from the remote nineteenth-century South Pacific to a distant, post-apocalyptic future, this book won the British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award and was adapted into a 2012 film starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
59. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami (1999)
58. The Diamond Age; or, a Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson (1995)
In twenty-first century Shanghai, a state-of-the-art interactive device falls into the hands of a street urchin named Nell, putting the entire future of humanity at stake. Stephenson’s follow-up to Snow Crash won the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Novel in English-language science fiction or fantasy and the 1996 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
The Old Guards
A collection of novels more than forty years old, or in the case of Love Story, Shteyngart’s third novel and one that has a distinctly mature feel.
56. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner (1968)
This sprawling tale of an overpopulated world dominated by powerful supercomputers, mass-marketed psychedelic drugs and routine genetic engineering won the 1969 Hugo Award, the 1969 BSFA Award and the 1973 Prix Tour-Apollo Award for the best science fiction novel published in France during the preceding year.
56. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010)
An engrossing combination of a chilling portrayal of near-future America in the ever-accelerating information age and a tender love ballad to human existence that I’m very happy to see on the list.
55. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (1974)
This novel about a world-famous talk-show host who wakes up one morning to discover that he has become anonymous in a totalitarian society where lack of identification is a crime won the 1975 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
53. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (1971)
Winner of the 1972 Locus Award for Best Novel, this book depicts a violent future world in which a man discovers his dreams have the ability to alter reality.
53. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (1935)
The Post-War Collection
Published well after World War II, these novels move beyond the totalitarian state dystopias that dominate many of the genre’s early classics (although Kristen Simmons’ Article 5 revives that vision in a young adult context).
51. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan (2002)
51. The Female Man by Joanna Russ (1975)
50. Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (1983)
49. The Stand by Stephen King (1978)
48. Blindness by José Saramago (1995)
46. The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (2008)
The first installment of the Chaos Walking Trilogy about a world in which all living creatures can hear each other’s thoughts, this novel won the 2008 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the 2008 James Tiptree, Jr. Award for works of science fiction or fantasy that explore the understanding of gender. Its sequel, The Ask and the Answer, won the 2009 Costa Children’s Book Award.
46. Article 5 by Kristen Simmons (2012)
45. Armageddon’s Children by Terry Brooks (2006)
44. Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (1966)
This novel about a detective hunting a killer in an overpopulated New York City of 35 million people was the basis for the well-known 1973 film Soylent Green starring Charlton Heston.
43. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009)
The story of a company man searching for a secret Thai seedbank and an engineered “windup” girl in a world where calories are currency and bioterrorism is rampant, this novel won the 2010 Nebula Award and 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel, as well as the 2010 Locus Award for Best First Novel.
41. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
This novel about a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts around the Great Lakes during the collapse of civilization won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year.
The Lone Rangers
One hero, against nature, virtual reality, gender or faceless bureaucracies—these novels demonstrate the particular psychology and power of the individual human.
41. The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard (1962)
40. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)
In 2044, teenager Wade Watts finds himself in a race to survive a deadly virtual game in this winner of the 2012 Prometheus Award and a 2012 Alex Award (presented by the Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association to ten books written for adults with a special appeal to young adults). A film adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg is slated to begin production in 2016.
39. The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter (1977)
38. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (2011)
37. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925)
Published a year after Kafka’s death, this novel brilliantly depicts the protagonist’s absurd and inexplicable arrest and indictment by a faceless bureaucracy. Spoiler alert: Kafka never completed the novel, so don’t expect a bow-tied ending.
The Davids and Goliaths
Taking the previous category to the extreme, these books depict individuals or small groups pitted against impossible odds in the form of a desolate jungle, legions of enemies, or intricate and nefarious sociopolitical systems.
36. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
35. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore (1989)
34. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)
33. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
A group of British boys stranded on a deserted island try to govern themselves with disastrous results in this novel chosen by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 and awarded a place on both the editors’ and readers’ lists of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.
32. The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (1974)
This story of a physicist who travels to the hierarchical planet Urras to challenge the isolation and hatred of his home world won the 1974 Nebula Award, the 1975 Hugo Award and the 1975 Locus Award, all for Best Novel.
31. Wool by Hugh Howey (2012)
Author A.G. Riddle (The Atlantis Gene) calls this novel about humans living underground on a post-apocalyptic Earth “incredible world-building and an irresistible mystery.”
The Second Fiddles
Books that weren’t quite as popular as other titles by the same author, or books that were somewhat overshadowed by similar novels released around the same time.
30. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut (1952)
29. Delirium by Lauren Oliver (2011)
28. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card (1985)
Included in this category only because of the popularity of the entire Ender series, this novel about a young boy training to fight a hostile alien race won the 1985 Nebula Award and the 1986 Hugo Award, both for Best Novel. Its 1986 sequel Speaker for the Dead won the 1986 Nebula Award and the 1987 Hugo and Locus Awards.
27. Anthem by Ayn Rand (1938)
26. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (2005)
25. The Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009)
24. Unwind by Neal Shusterman (2007)
Three runaways fight for survival in a near-future American society in which unwanted teens are salvaged for their body parts.
The dystopian novels you think of after you’ve exhausted the mainstays. Enjoyed 1984? Check out George Orwell’s other classic Animal Farm. Loved The Hunger Games? Veronica Roth’s young adult Divergent Trilogy hits similar themes and was also adapted for the big screen.
23. Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson (1967)
22. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (1963)
21. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
20. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
TIME Magazine named this story about three adults recalling their childhood days at an exclusive English boarding school the best novel of 2005. The book also received an Alex Award in 2006. Author Lois Lowry (The Giver) praises it especially “for the elegance of the writing.”
19. A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (1960)
After a nuclear holocaust, monks in a Catholic monastery in the desert of the Southwestern United States attempt to preserve the surviving remnants of man’s scientific knowledge in this 1961 Hugo Award-winning novel.
18. Divergent by Veronica Roth (2011)
17. The Iron Heel by Jack London (1908)
16. The Chrysalids by John Wyndham (1955)
The classics that helped define the dystopian fiction genre and launched their own subgenres.
15. Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984)
This book about a crippled computer hacker hired by a mysterious employer to pull off the ultimate hack was the first to win the Nebula Award (1985), the Philip K. Dick Award (1984), and the Hugo Award (1985), the so-called “triple crown” of science fiction.
14. The Children of Men by P.D. James (1992)
13. The Running Man by Stephen King, under the pseudonym Richard Bachman (1982)
12. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
This novel about a vicious fifteen-year-old criminal brainwashed by the state was included on TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written between 1923 and 2005 and was awarded a place on both the editors’ and readers’ lists of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels. It was adapted into the 1971 Academy Award-nominated film by Stanley Kubrick.
11. The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006)
This post-apocalyptic tale of a father and son’s journey across a lifeless landscape won the 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, one of the oldest British awards for English-language fiction, as well as the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Author Jeanne Du Prau (The City of Ember) raves “Probably among the most hideous versions of the future ever imagined, but so well-written and compelling that I actually read it twice.”
10. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
A twelve-year-old boy discovers the secrets of his apparently utopian society in this 1994 Newberry Medal winner. I consider Lowry’s book the standard for young adult dystopian fiction, and it continues to inspire my work decades later. Author Joelle Charbonneau (The Testing) recommends it “because a world without emotion is a safe one and one that might not be worth living in… but you can see why people would think that removing intense emotions would be good for world peace.”
9. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
8. We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (1924)
7. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (1968)
This novel about a bounty hunter tasked to find and kill rogue androids posing as humans was the inspiration for the 1982 film Blade Runner starring Harrison Ford.
6. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
Wells coined the term “time machine” for this story of a scientist who journeys from Victorian England to the far distant future to discover that humans have diverged into two distinct species. This book also inspired my debut dystopian fiction novel Our Dried Voices. Author Jasper Fforde (Shades of Grey) says “As a ‘world gone wrong,’ The Time Machine works very well and brimmed full of social comment and reversals—the geographic underclass yet social overclass literally feeding upon the social under- but geographic over-class. Darkness and light, the seen the unseen—and all of this wrapped up in a love story.”
The Standard Bearers
In young adult, modern and totalitarian sub-genres of dystopian fiction, these three books served as models for many that came after them.
5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2008)
This trilogy set the bar for contemporary young adult dystopian fiction. It ranked second behind the Harry Potter series in a 2012 NPR poll of the top 100 teen novels as chosen by readers. In the same year, the trilogy surpassed Harry Potter to become the top selling book series on Amazon.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
This novel about a woman’s resistance to a totalitarian Christian theocracy which has overthrown the United States government won the 1985 Canadian Governor General’s Award for English-language fiction and the inaugural Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987. Author Margaret Peterson Haddix (Among the Hidden) says “When I first read this, decades ago, I thought of it as fascinating but far-fetched. I wish I could still think of it as far-fetched.”
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
Bradbury depicts a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn the ones they find in this winner of the 1954 American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature. The novel later won the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award in 1984 and a 1954 Retro Hugo Award in 2004, one of only four Best Novel Retro Hugos ever given. Author Maria V. Snyder (Inside Out) says “I recently picked up the 50th-anniversary edition and re-read it. The story is still relevant today and it’s scary that many of the things Bradbury predicted, like reality TV shows, have come true.”
The Big Two
No surprises here. These two novels blew away the competition, appearing at or near the top of almost every list. Any conversation about the best dystopian novels starts and ends with these books.
2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
Set in London in the year AD 2540 or 632 A.F (After Ford), the novel anticipates modern developments in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation, and classical conditioning, and appeared on both the editors’ (fifth) and readers’ (eighteenth) lists of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels. Author Bernard Beckett (Genesis) recommends it “not because it was an excellent example of its genre, but because it was an excellent example of a novel.”
1. 1984 by George Orwell (1949)
Orwell’s chilling depiction of the ultimate totalitarian society and an Earth reshaped by world wars was chosen by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005 and was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels (thirteenth on the editors’ list and sixth on the readers’ list). In the words of author Chris Beckett (The Holy Machine), “it’s the definitive dystopian account of totalitarianism and totalitarian thinking.” “Big Brother,” “Newspeak,” “thoughtcrime” and other terms coined by Orwell in this book have become so ingrained in popular culture that they are recognized even by those who have not had the pleasure of experiencing this novel. 1984 is simply the model for what dystopian fiction can and should be.
For more dystopia, download a list of the best dystopian novels according to fourteen contemporary dystopian fiction authors and a one-page PDF shopping guide to The Best Dystopian Novels using the form below. And to stay up-to-date with your dystopian reading, check out the best dystopian novels published in the years after this list: