The right YA horror book can definitely become a mood.

Young Adult (YA) horror and dark fantasy encompass a wide range of sub-genres, often blending elements from various genres to create fresh and unique stories.

What Are The Most Prominent Sub-genres of YA horror and dark fantasy?

  1. Gothic Horror: This often features dark, brooding settings like haunted mansions or ancient castles. Examples might include books by authors like Libba Bray.
  2. Supernatural or Paranormal: Ghosts, demons, witches, vampires, werewolves, and more. Some well-known books in this sub-genre include the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer or The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater.
  3. Slasher Horror: Inspired by slasher films, these books often involve a mysterious killer and a group of teens trying to survive. There's Someone Inside Your House by Stephanie Perkins is a notable YA example.
  4. Survival Horror: Characters are put in situations where they must survive against horrific odds, which might include monsters, the elements, or other people.
  5. Apocalyptic or Post-Apocalyptic Horror: The end of the world as we know it, either during the downfall or after. Zombies often feature here, like in The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.
  6. Dark Fantasy: Incorporates fantasy elements, but with a darker, more ominous tone. Some prominent examples include The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo or An Ember in the Ashes series by Sabaa Tahir.
  7. Monster Horror: Centered on monsters or creatures that bring horror to the story. This could range from classical monsters like the creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to more modern interpretations.
  8. Historical Horror: Set in a specific time period and often blends real historical events or settings with horror elements.
  9. Magical Realism: Reality blended with magical or supernatural elements in a way that treats the extraordinary as ordinary. While not always strictly horror, they can have dark and eerie undertones.
  10. Fairy Tale Retellings: Classic fairy tales reimagined with a darker, more horrific twist. Authors like Laura Byron and Jessie Cal have explored these dark retellings.
  11. Urban Legends or Mythological: Incorporates contemporary legends or myths in modern settings, turning them into horror narratives.

Now, no matter what mood you are after, chances are you can mix horror into a good story based on your preferences. You might be in the mood for some extraterrestrial creatures. Or perhaps the end of the world… All in all, here are some of the best YA horror and dark fantasy books from the last 5 years – you will not be disappointed.

What Are The Top YA Horror & Dark Fantasy Books?

Rise of Dresca, by Tim McKay

In the aftermath of Ceremai's fall, a nascent force emerges from ancient shadows. An eclectic group, including a lord’s daughter turned assassin, a newly empowered orphan, a scheming captain, and Ceremai's last soldier, are entwined by destiny and venture towards the heart of this burgeoning evil.

As they grapple with looming threats and treachery, Rise of Dresca marks the beginning of the Draemeir Chronicle, inviting readers into Naevoroth—a realm where power and knowledge come at the profound cost of one's mind, determination, and quest for freedom.

After diving into Rise of Dresca, I was thoroughly captivated. The book is a veritable tapestry of action, magic, and enthralling lore that promises the start of an epic fantasy series worth following. Every page screams of bestseller potential, blending relentless action and dark fantasy elements that I found hard to resist.

Tim McKay's storytelling prowess shines, masterfully merging mesmerizing narratives with detailed world-building. It's no surprise that reviewers like Pikasho Deka and Julio Carlos have sung its praises. For anyone, especially teens and young adults, looking for a spellbinding journey into a monster-filled fantasy realm, this is it. I was utterly entranced from the very first page.

The Inbox, by Daniel Ortiz

This thrilling story follows Devon Owens' story. He is 23 years old and he has no idea what to do with his life. Everything changes to 180 degrees when he gets an apparently inoffensive message over the Internet. The stranger drops an unsolicited message and Devon bites it. He replies and starts playing a game.

Things go in completely a different directions. Go through a few more chapters and everything is escalated to another level. The story goes pretty sinister as Devon is trapped in an incredible horror story over the Internet. What is even worse is the fact that it seems there is no escape – will he manage to get out of it safely?

There's Someone Inside Your House, by Stephanie Perkins

The story revolves around Makani Young. She is sent away from Hawaii and ends up living with her grandmother in Osborne – a small town from Nebraska where everyone knows everyone. Just like everyone other teenager, she makes a few friends and even ends up flirting with a few guys around the local high school. She looks normal, but her past is not.

Makani is still struggling to get over some horror stories from her past. Later on, students from her high school end up dead one after another. A series of murders rocks the small town. As the police is getting closer to the killer, the secrets from Makani's past tend to come out. Is this related to the murders? Will she manage to get back to normal?

Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland

Dread Nation covers a girl's story through a totally hostile world – with a series of horror hints, based on your imagination. Jane McKeene has an interesting training schedule. She knows etiquette and weaponry due to a combat school for black girls. Her career seems promising – she needs to protect the wealthy from an incredible pandemic that turns people into walking dead.

However, things go in the wrong direction and some events go unexplained. Families disappear one after another. As Jane starts investigating, she realizes a conspiracy and her whole world is turned upside down. She ends up fighting some unscrupulous enemies – far from home, alone in an empty world. Will she manage to make it back?

Sawkill Girls, by Claire Legran

Sawkill Girls follows three girls – Marion, Val and Zoey. Marion is new and aspiring to find the love of her life. Val is beautiful, well-educated and excellent at manipulating people. Finally, Zoey is a bit of everything. She is a bit upset and sad, as well as lonely and luckless. At a first glance, it sounds like three girls who have absolutely nothing in common.

Somehow, the three come together and their stories go in the same direction after they end up on the Sawkill Rock. It sounds like a heavenly place. Horses roam around freely, water and cliffs provide excellent landscapes and so on. However, there is a legend… The legend of a monster and girls who keep disappearing for decades already. Will the three girls share the same fate?

Infidel, by Pornsak Pichetshote

Infidel may seem a bit unrealistic at first, but the problem evolves into a dramatic issue later on. A Muslim lady and a bunch of other people move into a building that seems to be haunted. The interesting part is that all the entities tend to feed off xenophobia and pretty much everyone in the building has a different race or religion.

The story builds tension as you go through each chapter. It thrills and pushes your imagination to another level. What makes it so exciting? The fact that it is like nothing you have read before. The story is unique. The fact that entities feed on things that people cannot control is also unique. It is a horror story that seems pretty believable.

Alice Isn't Dead, by Joseph Fink

Mixing a bunch of horror features, a rich imagination and a fast paced thriller action, Joseph Fink's story covers a truck driver who refuses to believe love is dead. Keisha Taylor has a good life with her wife Alice. But one day she disappears. Months go by and no one can find her – the police assume she is dead. Keisha holds a funeral and tries to move on with her life.

But whenever a tragedy strikes the USA, she keeps seeing Alice in the news. She is always somewhere in the background. Again, then again and again. She shows up at every major tragedy. Keisha gets a new job as a truck driver, only to be able to drive across the USA and search for her wife. The discoveries she makes go way beyond her – and your – expectations.

Dracul, by Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker

If you love Dracula, the story around the Romanian count and all the movies around it, you will probably love this release too. The story takes place in 1868. Bram Stoker is 21 years old. He is about to face the evil that no one wants to see. He only has a rifle, a few crucifixes and some holy water – he only has to survive one night, but he is also desperate to take note of what he witnesses too.

It sounds similar to Dracula's original story, but there are some plot twists. This book is practically a prequel to the original Dracula. It is based on texts and notes left behind by the traditional author. The thriller is supernatural and brings in a plethora of horror accents around Dracula, Bram Stocker and the women around them.

The World Of Lore, by Aaron Mahnke

You know it. You have felt it before and you are frightened by it. Sometimes, you walk into a room or a house and you feel off. Sometimes, it happens as you get into a town. The atmosphere is unsettling and you feel like something is lingering around. The darkness takes you over, even if you cannot actually see it. You simply feel it and it drives you crazy.

This book takes you to the Stanley Hotel from Colorado – great views and a beautiful atmosphere as a new century is about to kick in. One thing leads to another and you end up in England, then back to the USA and so on. Is it a travel book? No. It is a book that takes you from one place to another – some of the darkest places on the planet with lingering evil around.

The Atrocities, by Jeremy C. Shipp

The Atrocities follows an unusual story. It may sound more like a fantasy book, but things go horrible before you even realize it. Isabella comes from a good family. She benefits from private education, but things go wrong. She seems to have a perfect life ahead, but she dies. Her parents want to ensure her education will not be affected. Wait, what?

Therefore, Isabella's tutor Ms Valdez shows up and tries to find the girl. She goes through one maze after another – some of them quite terrifying. But then, she realizes there is no girl. However, she has an unusual feeling. There is no physical girl, but she feels like Isabella is still there. Can she go on with her education after death?

The Rust Maidens, by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste wrote this book like a modern movie. The action goes between past and present every now and then – it can be confusing, but it also reveals some mysteries that will make the book very exciting. The action takes place in 1980. Phoebe and Jacqueline are best friends in Cleveland, Ohio. They have just graduated, but the future looks dark. There is no industry and no potential for a good job.

The horror kicks in pretty fast. It begins with a few footprints of black water on a sidewalk. Later on, girls' bodies go through a series of grotesque modifications. Their fingernails break and turn into glass, while their bones end up exposed through the flesh. They look corroded and more importantly, they look metallic. What is going on?

Final Thoughts on YA Horror and Dark Fantasy Stories

While horror, by definition, seeks to evoke fear and discomfort, YA horror has a particular charm. It manages to strike a balance between delivering chills and maintaining an accessible tone. Unlike some adult horror sub-genres, especially psychological horror which can delve deeply into disturbing terrains and challenge one's sanity, YA horror tends to offer a more “palatable” kind of fright. It’s akin to the difference between a haunted house attraction at an amusement park and a real haunted mansion with a dark history.

One reason for this lighter touch is the target audience. YA literature, even in its darker genres, often emphasizes character development, relationships, and coming-of-age themes. While it doesn't shy away from presenting real challenges and fears, it often offers hope, resilience, and growth amidst the darkness. The horror elements, though genuine and thrilling, are tempered by moments of levity, friendship, romance, and personal triumphs.

Moreover, the horror elements in YA often serve as metaphors for the internal and external challenges adolescents face. A haunted house might symbolize the trauma of a broken home, or a werewolf might represent the uncontrollable changes of puberty. By externalizing these fears, YA horror offers young readers a chance to confront and grapple with their anxieties in a controlled, fictional setting.

In the last 5 years, the YA horror genre has seen a resurgence of captivating tales that both stimulate the imagination and push its boundaries. They are tales of hauntings, monsters, dark magics, and eerie legends, but also tales of young individuals facing these horrors head-on, often discovering their own strength and purpose in the process. Whether you are after the thrills, the mysteries, the romances, or the action-packed adventures, there's something for everyone in this genre. Dive in and let these stories transport you to worlds where the shadows come to life, but where there's always a glimmer of light waiting to pierce through the darkness.

Check out also our epic dark fantasy stories, not specifically for Young Adult readers.

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