People have been searching for books that are as engrossing, endearing, and eye-opening as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games series ever since the first novel initially took the world by storm in 2008. Personally, I was completely captivated by Katniss as a self-deprecating, compassionate, strong female lead (check out more great female leads here), and in awe of Collins’ deft ability to make you care deeply about any character Katniss met within two pages of them being introduced (Cinna! Haymitch! Finnick! Beetee and Wiress!). My obsession with The Hunger Games — yes, I definitely attended midnight showings of the movies on release day — ultimately led to me reading a slew of dystopian novels and becoming more widely fascinated with the subgenre.
These are the best books like The Hunger Games series that I’ve found over the years. Many of them are also young adult dystopian series, but there are also a handful of contemporary science fiction and fantasy series and standalones that The Hunger Games’ initial once-young, now-adult fans should check out.
Operating under the guise of military research, the Republic of Greater East Asia implements a program that forces 50 randomly selected students to fight to the death. The rules are brutal and sadistic: If 24 hours pass without at least one death, the metal collars around the students’ necks explode, eliminating all and leaving no winner.
Famed for its no-holds-barred graphic violence, Battle Royale is definitely not for the faint of heart. Many people believe Hunger Games was directly inspired by (or, worse, copied from) Battle Royale, but author Suzanne Collins has said repeatedly she had never heard of Takami’s work (or the lauded film adaptation) before penning Katniss’ story.
A 1994 Newbery Medal winner, this book initiated the dystopian YA craze that the Hunger Games series took to a whole new level. Twelve-year-old Jonah lives in a calm, peaceful, but tedious world. Strong emotions are suppressed and individual wants are discouraged. When he receives his work assignment to become the Receiver of Memory, his whole life and outlook change as he learns tragic truths about the society he lives in and what came before. Political warnings, philosophical quandaries, and emotionally charged imagery make this a perfect read for avid Hunger Games fans.
And did you know? The Giver is actually the first book in a quartet that’s set in the same dystopian society. Read the next book, Gathering Blue, or check out this omnibus that contains all four books.
Many have touted The Arc of the Scythe series as “the new Hunger Games”; it also comes with a dash of the aforementioned The Giver.
You see, things appear very utopian here: disease, war, and poverty — and thus natural death — have been eradicated, and everyone in society lives in peace, governed by an AI called Thunderhead. But certain people are called upon to become Scythes, a position where they have to choose which people live or die in the name of population control. This engrossing story follows Citra and Rowan as they navigate the moral complexities of their gruesome job. Shusterman is no slouch in the dystopian YA genre, having also penned the widely lauded Unwind series.
Equal parts sci-fi, dystopian lit, and epic war fantasy, Red Rising paints a bleak picture of a futuristic, color-coded caste society. Members of the Red caste are relegated to backbreaking underground work to make the surface of Mars inhabitable for other castes.
Enter Darrow, our young protagonist who makes a world-shattering discovery: The colony broke through to the surface years ago and the Red caste has been living a life of slavery while others enjoy a self-indulgent lifestyle above. Driven by grief, rage, and a desire for justice, Darrow infiltrates a deadly competition in which ruling caste members fight to the death for power and control. This is for fans of Collins’ series who are looking for something even gritter and gut-wrenching.
The official description of this debut says it’s Station Eleven meets The Hunger Games, and it’s easy to feel the presence of those works here. The main character, Gwendolynn (she prefers to go by Lynn, for obvious reasons), was taught by her father how to wield a bow with deadly accuracy (hey, Katniss). And Lynn’s trying to survive in a world ravaged by a man-made flu (what’s up, Station Eleven?). But the atmosphere of this is much more like a traditional thriller, and it speaks to some of our worst fears about nuclear war.
Mare Barrow has red blood but Silver powers, a fact that threatens to destroy the basis of an unjust social caste system. With the king determined to keep her powers a secret, Mare must rely on her unwavering strength and wit if she is to survive. The Red Queen series is a perpetual chart-topper and one of the greats from the YA dystopian heyday.
The Knife of Never Letting Go is a provocative exploration of masculinity and dehumanization from the gut-wrenching point of view of a boy on the cusp of manhood who trusts only his dog. Where Suzanne Collins set the conventions of the contemporary dystopian YA genre, Ness set out to defy standards in this strange, bold, hauntingly beautiful trilogy.
Westerfeld’s novel is a scathing, nuanced takedown of the price we pay for unrealistic beauty standards. Transforming into a Pretty comes at a high cost — perhaps too high for young protagonists Tally and Shay. The twists and turns are shocking and, at times, troubling.
With seven action-packed, bestselling books in the Shatter Me series, it’s a mainstay of the dystopian YA genre. Juliette can kill with a simple touch of her hand, which makes her an ideal weapon. Then she meets not one, but two young men who are immune to her powers. Will she choose the nice guy or the antihero? Mafi’s debut is an ambitious page-turner that will appeal to readers who were torn between Team Peeta and Team Gale.
If you appreciated the devastating realness of Katniss’ struggles in The Hunger Games, then the Life as We Knew It book series is just the bleakness for you. After a meteor strikes the moon, catastrophic climate change effects begin to ravage the earth, and people are forced to hunker down to ride out the apocalypse. The first book follows Miranda, who shares her day-to-day plight and increasing desperation in a series of poetic and heartbreaking journal entries.
Katsa, born with the skill to kill, has known nothing but life as the king’s thug. Despite being forced to use her gift (or rather, curse) to hunt down the king’s opponents, Katsa is determined to retain her mind as her own and serves on a secret council dedicated to keeping the peace as it watches over the seven kingdoms. Graceling, the first of the Graceling Realm series, has all the trappings of an epic YA fantasy: A slow burn romance, vivid worldbuilding, and a showdown between a kickass heroine and a genuinely terrifying villain.
Unique worldbuilding meets a tried-and-true “us versus them” formula in Rossi’s riveting debut novel. Aria grew up in a pod called Reverie, where technology not only keeps people safe from devastating storms, it provides a vast virtual reality world to explore; Perry has grown up in a tribe that lives in the outside world and doesn’t rely on technology to protect them.
Aria and Perry are unwillingly thrust together when Aria is kicked out of Reverie, and they both have to go through the painful process of unlearning harmful stereotypes about each other’s lifestyles to survive. This one’s sure to please any fans of Katniss and Peeta’s high-stakes romance.
Once a century, the mysterious island of Lightlark appears, setting the stage for a battle between rulers of cursed kingdoms. The prevailing ruler will set their people free, but one leader must die. Isla Crown of the Wildings is undoubtedly prepared for battle — until love complicates her chances. Aster gained a massive following by promoting Lightlark on TikTok (@alex.aster), and Universal Studios already licensed the story for the screen. A YA fantasy for fans of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner franchises.
Violet, the bookish daughter of a formidable mother, must put aside her fear to become a dragon rider. But first, she has to graduate (read: survive) Basgiath War College, where everyone and everything seems out to kill her. Yarros’ series has inspired a fervor that rivals that of the Hunger Games fandom’s obsession, and her blend of survival, fantasy, and romance novel is sure to appeal to people who miss the residents of Panem.
There’s nothing more alluring than a badass woman lead in science fiction and fantasy novels, as Katniss and Rin, the protagonist of Kuang’s immensely popular dark fantasy series, prove. In the first installment, The Poppy War, Kuang reimagines China’s history through the experiences of a peasant girl who gains entry into an elite military training academy and discovers she has shamanic powers. The Poppy War trilogy won the Hugo Award for Best Series in 2021 and has quickly become a must-read for fantasy fans.
A magical mashup of dystopian fiction and high fantasy, this first book in the Unwanteds series is whimsical and creative, despite its depiction of a land where creativity means certain death.
Thirteen-year-old residents of Quill are regularly segregated into three groups — Wanted (those who get to go on for more schooling), Necessary (those who till the land), and Unwanted (those who are executed). Alex Stowe is deemed Unwanted and sent off to the Death Farm, but instead finds himself in the hidden world of Artimè. At times, it’s hard to believe this is a middle grade series with how hard it leans into fighting authoritarianism.
Let’s be honest: Nothing compares to rereading Collins’ original series. Equipped with only a bow and a heart of gold, Katniss Everdeen caught cultural fire, igniting the rebel in us all. The Hunger Games is a brilliant, action-packed social commentary on media manipulation that continues to define the dystopian YA genre.
Be sure to check out the prequel novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, that came out 10 years after the initial trilogy, with the film adaptation premiering on November 17, 2023. It follows a young Coriolanus Snow as he mentors Lucy Gray Baird, a tribute in the 10th Hunger Games from District 12. It’s much more of a psychological thriller than the original series, but no less absorbing. (And I’m very sad I couldn’t see the movie on release day!)