19 Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature

Sonia Akavan
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(That You Can Actually Read!)

I really got into Dystopian books and movies in the last few years. In the late 2000’s I was also hooked on reading Utopian novels. After getting the taste of them, I searched constantly for similar stories. I have compiled here the best Dystopian and Utopian works of literature for you to read.

The list of dystopian and utopian books below are in no particular order. In the description of each book, I have also included a brief overview for each work. I am assuming you are familiar with the book.

NameCategoryProduct
The GiverBest Overall
The Giver
UtopiaBudget Pick
Utopia
UtopiaUpgrade Pick
Utopia

1. The Giver

Our rating: 9 / 10


The Giver

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Pros:

  • The world is described in vivid detail
  • The world is easy to visualize
  • The reader easily forms an emotional attachment to the characters
  • The book raises important philosophical questions

Cons:

  • The first half of the book is very slow
  • The second half of the book is a little bit more difficult to understand if you are unable to visualize the world
  • Some parts of the story are hard to believe

2. Utopia

Our rating: 7 / 10


Utopia

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Pros:

  • Literary and historical context
  • Helps readers to think about what is going on in the world today

Cons:

  • Complex writing style

The well-known historian and writer Thomas More wrote the book Utopia in 1515.

At the heart of the book is the island of Utopia. The island is not at war and everyone lives a life of peace and prosperity. The people of Utopia don’t work, except those who collect gold to act as fiduciaries of the land. The Utopians are very balanced in what they do, and they are extremely respectful of people and their property.

Utopia is a book written to make a statement. The island of Utopia is very different from the rest of the world and More is using the book to point out what he sees as weaknesses in the social structure then and now.

3. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

Our rating: 7 / 10


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

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The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is one of the companion novellas to The Hunger Games designed to introduce you to President Snow's past. While I didn't particularly like The Hunger Games, I did rather enjoy this book. It's a fun read with a good story and an interesting take on the Dystopian genre.

What the story does best is that it introduces a lot of the hidden elements of The Hunger Games that I'm sure the filmmakers were hoping you wouldn't notice. The book explores why The Hunger Games are the reason that Panem has peace and is the reason the districts haven't tried to rebel for over 75 years. The book also fills in a little bit of the history of how Panem came to be, which is good.

The characters of the book are fun as well. It was interesting to see the way that District 13 was run by President Coin. It was interesting to see the way that Katniss and Gale conducted their days while on a wild goose chase.

4. Wranglestone

Our rating: 7 / 10


Wranglestone

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Pros:

  • Beautifully written Novels
  • Life lessons

( The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency)

Rex Stuart writes the adventures of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s first lady policeman, in a series of novels that are funny, touching, and a pleasure to read.

The first book in the series, "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency", is the foundation for a number of spin-off TV series on the BBC and is a gorgeous debut novel to this wonderful series. It introduces us to Precious Ramotswe and to the world that she lives in. She spins a tale of wisdom and a reminder of what it means to be human.

5. 1984

Our rating: 7 / 10


1984

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Pros:

  • A classic dystopian tale
  • Highly relevant for modern times

George Orwell’s futuristic classic is considered by some to be one of the greatest novels of all time.

Set in a totalitarian dystopic society where there is perpetual war and a government that spies on the private lives of its citizens and is always listening, the book follows the story of Winston Smith, a civil servant who lives in London and works at the Ministry of Truth falsifying history.

The book revolved around the government's control of its people by using newspapers, newsreels, posters, and the alteration of history to ensure the people grow to love and even respect this insane totalitarian society, in many ways like what happened in modern times with the rise of fake news, government control of "alternative facts", and propaganda.

6. Divergent

Our rating: 6 / 10


Divergent

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Pros:

  • Dystopian novel
  • Fast-paced
  • Great sci-fi
  • Inventive and exciting
  • Dystopian fans will love it

Cons:

  • Some find it too dark
  • Readers who like very cheerful novels might find this one too depressing

Divergent is the first in a three book series. It tells the story of Beatrice Prior, a sixteen-year-old living in a futuristic Chicago. The book tells of the society she lives in, and how a pivotal choice she must make when it is her time to take an aptitude test that will determine her place in society for the rest of her life.

Are you strongly social, athletic and brave, or are you an intellectual, intuitive, and kind? Tris truly doesn’t know and the aptitude test comes as a surprise to her. Surely, she must be Divergent, because she doesn’t fit into society’s expectations, and that’s where all the excitement begins.

7. The Maze Runner

Our rating: 6 / 10


The Maze Runner

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Pros:

  • Gripping plot
  • Solid character development
  • Excellent pacing
  • Suspenseful
  • Lots of deatail

Cons:

  • Some inconsistencies in names
  • A little preachy

Runners are a special group of boys in a society where boys live underground and enter through the Maze, a complex maze that has a total of seven doors. Runners attempt to find a way out of the maze through the maze walls to help the other boys. The series is set in a dystopian world.

The first book in the series, The Maze Runner, starts by introducing us to Thomas, one of the newfound runners, and follows him throughout his first day of life. After graduating, the boys at the END, an underground organization that knows about the Maze, talk to the boys about the Maze and get them ready to enter.

There is an introductory course dubbed the Grievers, where the Maze is explained, and its rules. We meet Gally, a boy who used to be a champion Runner, and a couple of other boys who tell the runner's story thus far, and the necessity of waiting.

8. Gone

Our rating: 6 / 10


Gone

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Pros:

  • Complex and well-developed characters
  • Great prose
  • A love story with a great sense of romance
  • A great storyline
  • Deals with issues of death, war, and vengeance
  • Eye-catching cover art
  • Epitome of "gothic" fiction in many ways
  • A benchmark novel in terms of its narrative setting, characters, and style
  • It's considered one of the best pieces of American literature of the 20th century
  • Best-selling novel of all time

Cons:

  • Not a story for everyone
  • May need a few re-reads for some in order to gain the true appreciation for it
  • The prose tends to be flowery and ornate

"Gone With the Wind" is a novel written by Margaret Mitchell and it covers 4 years of the American Civil War told from the viewpoint of the Southern Belle Scarlett O'Hara.

Scarlett is a young Southern girl who is preparing to marry her true love but soon her whole life is changed when the war arrives and her family estate is taken over by the Northern Army. Scarlett becomes a ruthless business woman willing to do anything to keep her family fed.

9. They Both Die at the End

Our rating: 6 / 10


They Both Die at the End

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Pros:

  • Great character development
  • Unique premise
  • Inspirational

The award-winning Young Adult novel from a gifted young writer Adam Silvera has won the Printz Honor, the Stonewall Honor and the Coretta Scott King Honor all for Best Young Adult Literature.

They Both Die At The End is a science fiction novel and a modern day romance set in New York City. It follows the story of two teen boys, Matty and Rufus, who make a suicide pact.

However, the novel takes an unexpected twist when the two boys wake up only to find out that this is a time after the end of the world and they are the only people who can see the world’s impending end.

10. Bird Box: A Novel

Our rating: 6 / 10


Bird Box: A Novel

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Pros:

  • Curl up and escape in this eerie novel this fall
  • Jill's methods of survival will give you pause
  • Parts of the book are eerie, but they keep you hooked
  • The author is donating all proceeds of the book to charity

Some unspecific but monumental disaster has occured in this world, and there's a bit of a mystery to it. There are dangerous creatures out there that are referred to by some as "the creatures", "the demons", and "the monsters." People who see the creatures suffer from a psychotic break and kill themselves. The book starts out nine months after all this happens, when the first snippets about it begin to trickle out.

Something that I like with apocalyptic books like this is that they make me think and consider, to consider how I would handle the situation, how I would protect my kids if a similar disaster were to happen. This book is different from other stories in this genre because it is told from the point of view of a mother, who has a toddler, and a baby, and is pregnant with another child.

11. Island

Our rating: 6 / 10


Island

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Pros:

  • Good mix of genres
  • Beautifully dedicated to free will
  • Satisfying ending
  • Fast and entertaining read

Cons:

  • Faults in the antagonist's plans
  • An overly complicated plan
  • Long winded introduction to the antagonist

12. Gulliver's Travels

Our rating: 6 / 10


Gulliver's Travels

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Pros:

  • Fine Example of Satire
  • Swift's Brilliant Character and Event Development
  • Very Insightful Analysis of Humanity & Humor
  • Written in 1726 and Still Relevant in Today's World

Cons:

  • Not a fan of Satire?
  • It's Written Over 350 Years Ago

Swift's classic satire is still popular among the world's intellectuals. The main characters are developed very well and the journeys they go on draw the reader in. Gulliver is a doctor and goes on voyages to explore new worlds. On his travels he finds elements of both utopia and dystopia throughout his adventures. Some quotes from the book included:

[Do not] "Judge of everything by its appearance. Do not believe that everything is as it seems." Swift's use of irony in book is superb. It allows readers to delve deeper and deeper into the meaning of the book as the plot unfolds. This book is a great example of how to use irony in a way that is not overkill or predictable.

13. The Wall: A Novel

Our rating: 6 / 10


The Wall: A Novel

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Pros:

  • The time travel is handled extremely well
  • This novel touches on the horrors of war and everyone’s role in it
  • The chapters are short and snappy
  • The story is really imaginative

14. The 5th Wave: The First Book of the 5th Wave Series

Our rating: 6 / 10


The 5th Wave: The First Book of the 5th Wave Series

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Pros:

  • Fun, engaging writing style
  • The book is completely free of profanity
  • The main characters are appealing
  • It has a satisfying ending
  • Predictable tech/society

Cons:

  • It is really long
  • Not all the characters are appealing
  • The protagonist becomes slightly annoying with some of her actions

We know there are three more books in the series, but the reviews on Amazon are bad, so you can stop reading after the first book.

This book is the first in the series of the 5th Wave. It is a story of a 16-year-old girl named Cassie who was preparing for the end of the world. At first, she thought the aliens were angels, but they were not. The aliens were destructive, killing thousands, to many of humanity. They had caused earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, etc.

The secondary characters are Cassie’s three-year-old brother, Sammy, and Jenni, a neighbor mat Cassie believes to be the best friend. The story progresses as the aliens also make plans to exterminate the humans with four waves and a fifth wave coming.

15. The Walled City

Our rating: 5 / 10


The Walled City

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Pros:

  • Well-developed characters
  • Tied closely to Chinese history and culture
  • Cites a real place in China

Cons:

  • Complicated family dynamics
  • Political undertones can be difficult to grasp

If you are a lover of fantasy and folklore set in the modern world, The Walled City will definitely hit the spot. It has the fantasy component set in the real city of Chongqing, China. It also utilizes a similar narrative structure to China Miéville's urban novels in that the story often cuts between different groups of people involved with the main plot. In this case, the plot is a complex struggle between different factions in the titular walled city of Chongqing.

Nieh's writing is effortlessly readable. She's able to take on topics like poverty, religion, corruption, and most importantly family, in a way that feels like it's telling a short story from your friend's life. There are several points where I was close to tears and several points where I was laughing. This is her debut novel, and I can't wait to see what she does next.

16. The Handmaid's Tale

Our rating: 5 / 10


The Handmaid's Tale

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Pros:

  • Well Written
  • Features multiple genres
  • Intense atmosphere
  • Overtly feminist
  • Captures the horrors of polygamy

Cons:

  • Lack of central/secondary character development
  • Lack of background on the narrator
  • Lack of central plot

The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel by Canadian author Margaret Attwood. It is set in the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic military-controlled totalitarian state in what was formerly the United States.

The novel explores themes of women in subjugation and religious fanaticism. Atwood addresses issues of gender, race, and class that had received little serious treatment in the science fiction community.

The Republic of Gilead devotes all of its efforts to propagating the species and eradicating "gender traitors," or those who are fertile and yet engage in activities considered to be "un-women" (such as reading or pursuing a career).

17. The Power

Our rating: 5 / 10


The Power

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Pros:

  • Unique concept
  • Suspenseful
  • Intriguing characters
  • A unique premise
  • World building is fantastic
  • Future feels very real

Cons:

  • The ending left me feeling unsatisfied
  • An ideological issue with the story

"Somewhere on the path from childhood to womanhood, Tayla Harris realizes she has the ability to channel electricity and is an “Electric,” a title that both awes and stigmatizes her. In order to hide her ability, she transfers to an all-girls school where girls like her are unwelcome. But her power to channel electricity is uncontrollable, and the one person who can teach her how to wield it properly has gone missing. As Tayla struggles to control, contain, and hide her power, she will find a way to harness it, or go mad trying."

Wow. I didn't know what to expect going into this book. The premise sounds super dark and ominous, and it is dark and ominous. I absolutely love Naomi Alderman as an author, and she did not disappoint with her new release The Power.

18. Never Let Me Go

Our rating: 5 / 10


Never Let Me Go

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Pros:

  • Exceptionally Well-written
  • Amazing Characters
  • Good worldbuilding
  • Surprises the reader at the end
  • Fantastic exploration of human nature by examining some really interesting human cloning themes

Cons:

  • Confusing in the beginning
  • Some predictability

This book is an exceptional novel and Ishiguro does a great job of getting into the characters heads. It explores some good themes like genetics and what it means to be human. It's quite suspenseful in parts without resorting to having an action packed fight scene. I definitely wouldn't recommend this as a summer read but I think it's the type of book that could be brought to a family BBQ and be enjoyed by people of all ages.

19. The Last: A Novel

Our rating: 5 / 10


The Last: A Novel

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Pros:

  • Considered a masterpiece
  • Intriguing themes
  • Heavy criticism on war-mongering

Published in 2006, The Last is the third and final novel in Child’s post-apocalyptic trilogy.

The books continue the story of Change, rebellion, and the fight those of the Grasslands are waging against those in the Dome.

The Grasslanders rely on the Dome dwellers “ the Eliters … for supplies and other objects, but the Eliters don’t exactly provide all those things.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are 5 traits of dystopian literature?

As mentioned earlier, dystopian literature is used to address contemporary social, political, and environmental changes to which there exists some concern, alarm, and discomfort. Huxley, for example, wrote of the use of propaganda, soft totalitarianism, and the role of technology in a regulating society. Often, in many of the best works, a dystopian society is something approaching a utopia, or an ideal, toward which a society strives, albeit a society of severe inequality and severe restrictions on the freedom of the individuals who live within it.

These are some of the characteristics of a dystopian society:

  1. There is a very strong emphasis on social stratification, especially along lines of class, social status, and wealth; often the government controls this social structure and maintains the status quo.
  2. There is the presence of some kind of oppressive government system, especially one that is centralized, has immense power, and is usually led by a single leader.

What is Utopia literature?

As the science fiction genre flourished, authors turned more and more attention to descriptions of idealized societies. The genre of utopian literature can be traced to Sir Thomas More's Utopia, published in 1516. The publication came right in the middle of the Reformation and Protestant movement, which reformed the Church and changed how people thought about the Faith. As you might expect, the modern utopians take the ideal society in Utopia and incorporate it with modern, largely secular principles.

As a genre, utopian literature is about the creation of ideal societies. In the Utopian novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the authors focused on the scientific advancements (particularly in biology and engineering) that would enable such a society. This literature is, obviously, strongly influenced by the technological advances of the day.

What is dystopia in literature?

Literary dystopia has come to be a genre of its own; it combines the elements of science fiction, fantasy, and even horror with an emphasis on human failure, the dark side of human nature, and the destructive power of technology. Most importantly, the term dystopia has been attributed to the belief that human society might be heading that way or that the time to act is now.

The genre began as satire and was popularized in great works of literature like Brave New World and 1984. However, it became a genre in and of itself with the publication of A Handmaid’s Tale, another hugely popular dystopia novel.

What are the characteristics of utopian literature?

Utopian literature is a form of an optimistic literature that offers a vision of possible human achievement or a different society operated by a positive, often technological advancement. Many authors created Utopian fiction as a reaction to their present world. As it has evolved, many authors have used a Utopian setting as their primary foundation, on which they build their stories.

The characteristics of Utopian literature are: 1. It’s usually set in the future. 2. Overall, it’s positive, optimistic, often featuring a new, innovative technology. 3. It’s anti-establishment and encourages humans to overcome social and political inequality. 4. It’s often historically based, although much literature is entirely fictional and not based on any historical speculation or developments in the real world.

The following list includes some of the most famous Utopian and dystopian works.

Conclusion

Education has always led towards more knowledge and enlightenment, and literature has always reflected the need for education with a push for social change and improvement. So it's no wonder that some of the most influential literary works ever written are about the decline of a society and man's fight to reach a utopian society where the people are free and equal.​

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
The GiverBest Overall
The Giver
UtopiaBudget Pick
Utopia
UtopiaUpgrade Pick
Utopia