If We Were Villains follows seven theatre students obsessed with Shakespeare who believe that they are untouchable and the creme de la creme of their elite arts academy. With a bright future, each of the students know what they want and in what archetype they fit except for Oliver who feels like an understudy, an outsider.
But when for their next project the casting is mixed up and hidden talents shine in the most unexpected places, jealousy and rage bubble up in the group. It ends with Oliver in jail and the detective who rooted for him wondering what really went down in that academy. As this dark academia novel blew up on BookTok, fans have been hungering for more such dangerous and mysterious stories.
Dark academia is a thrilling young adult genre with a modern take on gothic novels. Sometimes taking academia seriously, the stories are set on academic grounds with a more than suspicious aura surrounding the students as they navigate their world.
Well, here are 10 books with a similar premise if you enjoyed M. L. Rio’s If We Were Villains.
The Secret History – Donna Tart
Similarities – Dark academia, mystery, LGBT, literature
If you have been looking for something that has exactly the same vibe as If We Were Villains but a little different, The Secret History is for you. A bunch of elite students obsessed with literature have an unhealthy and strained relationship with each other before one is murdered and the story is narrated by the outsider of the group. Sound familiar? But this time the murderer and the events leading up to the murder would make Oliver and his group feel like they are living in a fairytale.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Saenz
Similarities – LGBT, unrequited love
Bonded by their weird, old-school philosophical names, Ari and Dante soon become the best of friends. In this coming-of-age story, the boys go through the struggles of boyhood, puberty, finding a purpose and love. But at the same time, they enjoy each other’s company till Dante is forced to move away and realises he has feelings for his best friend while Ari is busy gallivanting with girls.
Ninth House – Leigh Bardugo
Similarities – Dark academia, mystery
With a bad hand of fate, Alex Stern has lived a miserable childhood as a school dropout, is involved in the underground world, has crappy jobs and is the only survivor of a homicide case. However, just as she is about to give up, she is offered a chance to study at Yale.
However, since she can supposedly see ghosts, she is enlisted to join the secret club Ninth House which is obsessed with occult magic. But when her classmate goes missing and another girl is murdered, Alex can’t help but shake off the feeling that her club may have something to do with it.
Vicious – V.E. Schwab
Similarities – Dark academia, mystery
In this fantasy novel, college students Victor and Eli are two ordinary roommates who start spending their time working on the impossible when they realise that near-death experiences can grant people superpowers. But as they push the limit of what is possible, an incident has Victor going to jail and their project gets buried. Now years later as other people with superpowers pop up, Eli takes it upon himself to kill them while Victor has mysteriously escaped prison.
They Both Die at the End – Adam Silvera
Similarities – LGBT, mutual pining, bittersweet ending
In a world where technology can predict when someone is going to die, Mateo and Rufus, two complete strangers are told that they only have a day to live. Through an app, they decide to meet up and live their last day like it is the first. However, they are both distracted by their own personal struggles. But as they start opening up and help fulfil the other’s last wish, they realise that they’re in love.
Ace of Spades – Faridah Abike-Iyimide
Similarities – Dark academia, LGBT, mystery
While Devon and Chiamaka are the only Black students in the elite Niveus Private Academy, they could not be more different. Devon is a wallflower, a music student while Chiamaka is the heart of her batch, the popular girl loved by all. But when both students become the school’s next prefects, their world begins to unravel. They are targeted by an unknown online entity Ace who knows all of their secrets and is out to get them and ruin their lives.
The Song of Achilles
Similarities – LGBT, literature, pining, bittersweet ending
The Song of Achilles is a queer-coded retelling of Illiad’s Homer as it focuses on the lives of Achilles from his childhood right up to the infamous Trojan War. But the catch is that it is told through the eyes of his supposed best friend, Patroclus. As they train together, go on adventures together and fight together, Achilles’ mother does her best to tear them apart as she has great designs for her son.
Dead Poets Society – N.H. Kleinbaum
Similarities – Dark academia, literature, bittersweet ending
Tired of the mundane routine at the elite Welton Academy, an all-boys school, Todd Anderson and his classmates have more or less stopped paying attention to what goes on in class. That is till one day, John Keating, an optimistic and cheerful English professor enters their world and changes their lives.
Teaching them how to live in the moment and to live gloriously, the boys join the secret club – Dead Poets Society. However, that seems to clash with the futures their parents have planned for them and soon their newfound love for life is threatened.
Blue Bloods – Melissa de la Cruz
Similarities – Dark academia, mutual pining, mystery
While most of y’all may know De la Cruz for Disney’s Descendants, us OG fans know about the impact she left during the vampire era of pop culture with the book series Blue Bloods. Like Oliver in If We Were Villains, Schuyler feels like an outsider as she goes to a private school with snobby rich students who seem to share an inside joke that allows them to look down on the rest of the school.
But when a murder takes place, her reaction suddenly puts her in the spotlight. She is invited to join the school’s elite secret committee which doesn’t bat an eye at the murder of their classmate.
Plain Bad Heroines – Emily M. Danforth
Similarities – Dark academia, mystery, LGBT
In the 1900s, two young girls in an all-girls school are obsessed with the writer of a scandalous book. In commemoration, they open the Plain Bad Heroines club in their boarding school’s orchard. That is where their bodies are later found with no clue on what really happened.
Decades later, a similarly path-breaking book by Merritt Emmons based on their deaths is adapted into a horror film. As the filming of Plain Bad Heroines begins in the now-abandoned school, mysterious incidents have everyone spooked.
So there we have it, our 10 book alternatives to read when you’re finished with ‘If We Were Villains’.
What do you think of our picks? Do you agree? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know in the comments below!