The Hunger Games series ignited a generation’s imagination. While it wasn’t the first story to feature a teen girl standing up against a sinister dystopian system (I have a particular soft spot for Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series), it was the one that exploded into the mainstream. Katniss became a beloved character for many readers, particularly teen girls, who loved reading the story of a heroine who was often awkward, sometimes cantankerous, but deeply loyal and incredibly skilled at survival. I loved the fact that Katniss’ special abilities of archery and foraging had come not from being “the chosen one” but from a lifetime of surviving in a dire situation.
Many YA stories that followed The Hunger Games trod similar ground, creating dystopian worlds with sinister governments that put teenagers through horrific trials and centering teenage girls who had the exact qualities necessary to tear these oppressive systems down. While the popularity of dystopia has waned a little, the genre is still going strong, and many recent YA dystopias and thrillers break new and interesting ground that will intrigue an audience while still appealing to Hunger Games fans. These books create unique dystopian worlds or take a twisted look at our own world, giving us protagonists that are sometimes heroic and sometimes more morally grey but always compelling. If you’re looking for a new story to explore now you’ve left Panem, these books are a perfect place to start.
Their Vicious Games by Joelle Wellington
The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future, but Their Vicious Games brings a similar level of murderous competition to our dystopian present. Adina, a Black scholarship student at a predominately white and rich academy, is on track to get to Yale until one mistake leads her to lose everything. The only way to get it back is to join The Finish, a series of life-or-death challenges where twelve girls must fight not only to gain a charmed future but to survive. Wellington’s debut novel skewers the hierarchies of privilege and racism that hold up our current society and challenges the reader to think about what they would do — play the Game, or break the system?
The Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman
Panem is a richly drawn fictional land, and readers who were fascinated by Collins’s worldbuilding will love diving into the equally intricate closed city of Espera. A city where no one can enter or leave without special dispensation, Espera is controlled by two warring assassin guilds, Comma and Hummingbird. Isabel, the daughter of two of Comma’s most notorious assassins, thinks she has escaped the world of the guilds and is hiding in obscurity in a lesser-known borough of the city. However, it soon becomes clear that she has carried her violent past with her — in more ways than one.
The Last Girl by Goldy Moldavsky (Known as The Mary Shelly Club in the U.S.)
One of the central hooks of The Hunger Games is the idea of games becoming deadly. While Katniss and her peers know that the Games the Capitol runs are intended to kill all but one of the participants, The Last Girl features a game that just seems like harmless fun — at first. Following a traumatic event, Rachel starts a new school and soon falls in with the Mary Shelley Club, a group of horror movie-loving teens who run challenges known as Fear Tests. Initially, Rachel loves taking part in the group’s pranks, but as the games continue, they become far more deadly.
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
One of the reasons that The Hunger Games struck such a chord with teen readers is that it follows a young woman who is fighting to stop her sister and other girls from being killed by a system that treats them as expendable. There’s a similar drive in Iron Widow, which follows Zetian, a girl who joins the war effort as a concubine and co-pilot of a giant mecha in order to assassinate the man who murdered her sister. When she learns that she can kill male pilots using the psychic link that is an integral part of the piloting process, she decides that she will stop future girls from being killed by dismantling the whole system.
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
Another story focusing on the bonds between teenagers put in an impossible, life-or-death situation, Wilder Girls, is the tale of a group of girls stranded in a boarding school following a horrific, body-morphing plague. With only a few girls spared the ravaging effects of the Tox, they must band together to survive. But when her friend goes missing, student Hetty must head out into the plague-ridden woods to find her.
We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia
Another story about breaking down corrupt systems in a dystopian world, We Set the Dark on Fire, tells the story of Dani, a girl at an elite school designed to train girls up to become the perfect wives for powerful men. This book looks at the strict class stratifications that have come together to form this society and focuses on the role of a teenage girl as the figurehead of a movement that aims to tear it all down.
I Feed Her To the Beast and the Beast is Me by Jamison Shea
The Hunger Games explores how ordinary people can become monstrous when the competition gets really cut-throat. In I Feed Her To the Beast and the Beast is Me, we follow Laure, a young Black ballerina determined to succeed in the high-stakes world of the Parisian ballet, whatever the cost. In this case, the cost involves a pact with eldritch forces that threaten to rob Laure of her humanity, becoming more monstrous the higher she climbs.
S.T.A.G.S. by M.A. Bennett
First in an ongoing series that tells a horrifying story about an elite group playing dangerous games with the lives and safety of marginalised people, S.T.A.G.S. is set at an expensive private boarding school. Scholarship student Greer is invited to a hunting weekend by one of the school’s most old-money students. But when she gets to his country estate, she finds that she and the other outsiders who have been invited are the ones who will be hunted.
Survive the Dome by Kosoko Jackson
In an all-too-believable dystopian scenario, young journalist Jamal travels to Baltimore to report on a rally against police brutality, only to be trapped in the city when the authorities activate a terrifying new security measure. The Dome is an impenetrable barrier, trapping everyone inside the city and holding them under martial law. Jamal and his new friends Marco and Catherine must not only survive, but expose the corruption at the heart of law enforcement.
If you’re looking for even more dystopian fiction, try our list of 40 of the Best Dystopian Novels. If you like your YA books nail-bitingly tense, have a look at our collection of 15 of the Best YA Thriller Books. Spend some time, too, getting reacquainted with the enduring power of The Hunger Games series.