12 chilling dystopian books for ‘Squid Game’ fans

12 chilling dystopian books for ‘Squid Game’ fans

In Reading Lists by Emma Contreras

12 chilling dystopian books for ‘Squid Game’ fans

After I finished binging Squid Game, my first thought was, “Holy crap, that was intense.” My second thought was, “Was Squid Game based off a book? If so, I need to find it ASAP.” Although the insanely popular K-drama is inspired by anime and manga, it’s a completely original work. 

But fret not: There are several books like Squid Game that promise to take you on adrenaline-filled rides with danger lurking around every corner.

High risks and high rewards set the stage for books like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games in which contestants are forced into brutal competitions. Squid Game, one of Netflix’s most successful series to date, capitalizes on a similar premise, with cash-strapped players competing in perverse and twisted versions of children’s games at risk of their own lives. 

Get ready to zip up your track suit and compete as if your life depends on it. These thrilling life-or-death survival books, like Squid Game, pit players against one another in gruesome fights to the finish.

1. Kill Creek by Scott Thomas

A horror-obsessed podcast host invites four masters of the macabre to spend the night at Kill Creek, one of the most haunted houses in the country. Unable to resist the lure of free publicity, bestselling author Sam McGarver reluctantly agrees. 

Just like the contestants in Squid Game, the unsuspecting guests are lured under false pretenses into a brutal fight for their lives. A chilling read from start to finish, Thomas’ paranormal debut was declared a top horror book of 2017 by the American Library Association. 

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2. The Hunt by Andrew Fukuda

Looks like meat’s back on the menu! Human meat, that is. A new generation of bloodthirsty creatures have taken over in Fukuda’s post-apocalyptic world. Gene, a human in disguise, is selected to participate in a competitive hunt for the last remaining humans. 

The Hunt mixes human-vampire romance with Squid Game-level brutality to kick-off an action-packed trilogy.

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3. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins 

We couldn’t put together a list of life-or-death survival games without including Collins’ fan-favorite dystopian novel. Under the totalitarian regime of the Capitol, every district is forced to watch a gruesome live-streamed competition in which 24 contestants enter — but only one can walk away alive. 

With an unlikely heroine at its heart, The Hunger Games laid the groundwork for a new generation of YA literature and spawned a $3 billion dollar blockbuster film series that now includes the newly released prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.

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4. Secondborn by Amy A. Bartol

In a society where firstborns are celebrated and born to rule, secondborns are regarded as nothing more than government property. (You don’t want to know what happens to the thirdborns.) 

Secondborn Roselle St. Sismode is called to serve in the military during the most violent uprising in Fates Republic history. Determined to forge her own path, Roselle spares an enemy’s life on the battlefield — a decision that could cost her her life.

If you appreciated the heart-pounding action of Netflix’s Korean dystopian drama, we highly recommend giving Secondborn a chance. 

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5. The Feed by Nick Clark Windo

Imagine a world in which everyone and everything is constantly connected. It’s like the Digital Age of today except worse — much more all-consuming and 10 times more invasive. However, all bets are off when the Feed crashes and the main characters’ daughter is kidnapped. 

Windo’s chilling debut, adapted to the small screen by Prime Video in 2019, serves as a cautionary tale against too much reliance on technology and social media. 

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The Lottery has been thrilling and chilling readers ever since its release over 70 years ago. Now, you can experience every unsettling detail and disturbing scene in full-color glory brought to life by Jackson’s grandson in this award-winning graphic adaptation

It’s a short story that continues to pack a punch, made even more bleak and shocking with Hyman’s illustrations. 

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7. The Long Walk by Stephen King

King draws readers in with a deceptively simple premise: 100 boys partake in an annual competition in which contestants must walk at a steady pace. Easy, right? 

But because this is a list of books like Squid Game, you already know that sinister twists await the players of the game. Similar to the South Korean series, The Long Walk touches on themes of friendship, class, and power. 

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8. Red Rising by Pierce Brown

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. When Darrow, a Red, makes a world-shattering discovery, he infiltrates a deadly competition in which the ruling elite fight to the death for power and control.

One of the most fascinating parts of life-or-death competitions in dystopian fiction is how easily the lines between right and wrong can be blurred. Darrow, like Gi-Hun, is a good person forced to do ugly things, making Red Rising a heartrendingly painful read at times. 

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9. Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

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.

Books like Battle Royale, famed for their no-holds-barred graphic violence (meaning not for the faint of heart), paved the way for future dystopian novels and shows like Squid Game.

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10. The Troop by Nick Cutter

What starts as an idyllic weekend camping trip soon turns into the stuff of nightmares for Scoutmaster Tim Riggs and his troop when a sickly looking stranger interrupts the troop’s bonfire. The interruption kicks off a chain of terrifying events rife with stomach-churning scenes that are guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. 

The Troop scared the hell out of me, and I couldn’t put it down,” says the king of horror himself, Stephen King. “This is old-school horror at its best.”

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11. After the End by Amy Plum

What would you do if you found out your whole life was a lie? Juneau believes that she and her clan are some of the only survivors of an apocalyptic World War III until everyone she knows disappears and she’s forced to make her way in an unfamiliar modern world. 

Plum’s would-be dystopian fiction cleverly turns the genre on its head by introducing supernatural elements and an unexpected romance. 

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12. Endgame: The Calling by James Frey

Every generation calls forth 12 Players to stand at the ready. They’ve never been called… until now. The time has come for this generation’s Players to engage in a deadly game in which only one can survive and save the world.

The stakes are higher in Frey’s YA dystopian fiction novel than they are in Squid Game as the Players are competing to prevent world destruction. However, like Squid Game, the unique premise will hook you from beginning to end and have you binging the whole series as quickly as you can.

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About the Author: Emma Contreras

Emma is an Everand booklist curator and a freelance content marketing writer covering finance, business leadership, and B2B SaaS communications.