Elizabeth Moss in 'The Handmaid's Tale'

The 10 Best Dystopian Novels, Ranked

If you think the world is bad now? Just WAIT. It gets worse. Way worse.

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Authors have dreamed about all the countless ways the future can go wrong and will go wrong, so much so that a new genre was born from the collective unease: dystopian fiction. These novels are the worst—meaning they’re the best in their field.

10. The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Dystopian fiction tends to be a genre written primarily for older audiences, but The Hunger Games brought the idea of the future getting worse to teens! In a totalitarian nation known as Panem, the country is divided into twelve different districts that all serve the interests of the Capitol, where the ruling class live. How do they subjegate the people? Through The Hunger Games, a battle royale where two teens from every district are selected to compete in a battle to the death. When Katniss Everdeen of District 12 volunteers in her sister’s place, she makes a vow to bring the whole system crashing down. Themes about the attention economy and classism make this novel feel more relevant int 2024 than ever.

9. I,Robot

The cover of "I,Robot" featuring a robot torso

Before it was a movie with Will Smith, I, Robot was a sprawling sci-fi novel written by one of science fiction’s best and brightest: Isaac Asimov. In a not to distant future, human needs are met with the help of robotic servitors. They are our assistants. Our janitors. Our chauffeurs. Our pawns. But what happens when the robots don’t want to be second class citizens anymore? I’ll tell you what happens, you get a novel whose existence inspired The Matrix, Detroit: Become Human, Ex Machina, and a bevy of other works about civil rights of synthetic life.

8. A Clockwork Orange

Cover of "A Clockwork Orange"
 (Reclam Philipp Jun)

Before it was immortalized on film by Stanley Kubrick, Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange was a seminal novel about the world’s most unstable force: teenagers. The youth culture present in this near future society is one of extreme violence and depravity. Gangs of kids wander the street robbing and killing, but when one of them is captured by the government and “re-educated” with an experimental procedure, the little psychopath’s rights are called into question. Do even the lawless deserve equal protection under the law? A question for the violent times of tomorrow.

7. Animal Farm

Cover art of George Orwell's "Animal Farm"

While George Orwell’s 1984 is seen as his dystopian magnum opus (we’ll get to it) Animal Farm also serves as a clever metaphor for how even the best intentioned societies can curdle. Animal Farm takes place on farm like any other, except these farm animals have ideas about how their government should be run. The novel is a metaphor for how political tends to bring out the worst aspects of humanity. Whether in animal or human being, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

6. The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
(Clarion Books)

The Giver may seem like a utopia on the surface, but it’s a dystopia like all the other cities on this list. Set in a peaceful society where people’s bad memories of the past are wiped away, only one person known as the Receiver of Memory is privy to the secrets of the human race. In order to maintain peace, the elders of this society eliminate the free will of everyone else. A good idea on paper? Not even in the pages of this book. You’ll soon find out why.

5. Neuromancer

neuromancer book cover

William Gibson’s Neuromancer singlehandedly created one of the most famous subgenres of dystopian fiction: the cyberpunk world. World ruling tech companies? Check. The dissolution of the middle class in favor of a heavily stratified society? Check. Gangs of street kids using advanced technology to scrap together a living operating outside the law? Check. It’s high tech, low life! Without Neuromancer there would be no Bladerunner, no Akira, and definitely no Cyberpunk 2077.

4. The Parable of the Sower

Octavia Butler & Damian Duffy- Parable Of The Sower
(Abrams Books)

The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler is a unique entry on this list, as it’s about transforming dystopia into utopia. Set in a near-future Earth ravaged by climate change and social inequality, a young woman discovers that she possesses “hyper-empathy”, which allows her to be highly attuned to the suffer of others. Rather than pursue a career in therapy, the woman instead decides to form a new religion called Earthseed, the tenants of which will (hopefully) help her change the world for the better.

3. The Handmaid’s Tale

Cover art for "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is a downright frightening novel. While some entries on this list feel far fetched, The Handmaid’s Tale seems like it could actually happen. After far-right religious fundamentalist order overthrows the American government and establishes a theocracy in the continental United States, the social order is replaced by a patriarchy on steroids. Widespread infertility in the human race only exacerbates the problem, leading the new society to assign fertile young women as “handmaids” (a nicer way of saying “sex slaves”) to the men that rule it. One handmaid however decides to bite the hand that feeds, and bite hard.

2. Brave New World

Cover art for Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World"
(Chatto & Windus)

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is a utopian dystopia story centered around a society that is ruled not by fear or force, but by pleasure. The powers that be have genetically modified humans to belong to different social casts based on predetermined intelligence, with the highest ranked humans able to pursue indolent lives of pleasure while the ignorant by design masses are made to work menial jobs. But what happens when a member of the upper caste decides to stop taking his prescribed happy drugs experience the wider world outside of his city? Revolution, possibly.

1. 1984

Cover art for George Orwell's "1984"

1984 by George Orwell is the gold standard for dystopian fiction. It was such a seminal work that the adjective “Orwellian” was created to describe tyrannical governments both real and fictional. Set in the totalitarian Western society of Oceania, low level government bureaucrat Winston Smith begins to challenge ideals of his nation’s ruling political party after he meets a charismatic young woman who shares his skepticism. The lovers attempt to survive while evading the Thought Police and The Party, while serving the interests of a top secret resistance movement. 1984 is dark, dreary, cynical, depressing, terrifying, heart breaking, and totally necessary. It’s chief lesson? Always be wary of your government, before your government gets too wary of you.

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Jack Doyle
Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.