The best young adult books set in the afterlife

Who am I?

I grew up with the cartoon Beetlejuice, fascinated by the composed Lydia running around a bright and insane afterlife. Any cheerfully gothic story I would latch on with glee. Perhaps this is why fantasy has always been my favourite genre, and why I cannot help but mix dark and light, and why my first novel naturally took place in the afterlife. I wrote my first book for my brother, because he was as interested as me in all the weird in the world, but unlike me, he had dyslexia and hated reading. He received the story in instalments and to my amazement and pride, he just gobbled them up. 


I wrote...

Voice from the Dead: A Young Adult Portal Fantasy in the Afterlife

By Aster Shock,

Book cover of Voice from the Dead: A Young Adult Portal Fantasy in the Afterlife

What is my book about?

After being killed by bullies at 16, Tosho collides with a mind-bending afterlife that's gripped in a battle for leadership of the dead. But while a vibrant resistance group of teens welcomes him with open arms, someone in the afterworld wants him gone. Not only is Tosho carrying a heinous family legacy, but he had a gift for angering the powerful in his past life. Now, someone with a monster of a grudge is set on taking their revenge and devouring him down to utter oblivion. Pursued from one end of the afterworld to the other, the trap closes in. Barely escaping the gnashing jaws of the nightmares hunting him, Tosho must figure out who wants him gone, or his new friends will become victims once again.

The books I picked & why

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Half World

By Hiromi Goto,

Book cover of Half World

Why this book?

This novel is a wonderful East meets West tumble into the afterlife that will leave an impression on you long after you close the book. The main character is nothing like the usual hero, but an overweight 10-year-old, taciturn, lonely, but most of all, fiercely determined to save her mother. 

We follow Melanie into a creepy and harsh underworld heavily influenced by Buddhist beliefs and discover the terrible truth about monsters and how they are created. This book is like a Japanese Alice in Wonderland where no punches are held back, celebrating courage, family, and tenacity.  


Sabriel

By Garth Nix,

Book cover of Sabriel

Why this book?

In this story we follow an apprentice necromancer, Sabriel, in her search for her disappeared father. Regularly, she has to step into the afterlife, and each time it is a more desperate and dangerous journey, hard to get back from. 

There are many worlds within worlds in that one, between a kingdom set in science versus the old kingdom seeped in magic, between the living struggling in a perpetual winter, and the afterlife, dark and void, between the present lost in a broken post-war era versus the past desperate to repair what was lost. This is an adventure that starts a wonderful journey on the shoulders of many heroic young women and many shaped dangers.


Underworld

By Mathieu Burniat,

Book cover of Underworld

Why this book?

This must be one of the strangest works I have read in a long while, and I admire it deeply. It surfs on the documentary graphic novel trend. It exists to teach people about the disastrous impact of intensive farming on the environment, and more particularly on dirt. Not a very attractive topic, despite how serious it is – but, and that’s where this comic is so innovative, it twists all this knowledge around a suspenseful battle royal orchestrated by Hades in the Underworld. Unlikely, isn’t it? I loved discovering the facts while cheering on my main characters, two lost 16 years old, who struggle to survive in the underground. While it is directed at teens, I would recommend it to the above 16 only, as there is gore (this book follows the Hunger Games pattern of only one survivor) and nudity. 


Passage: A Novel

By Connie Willis,

Book cover of Passage: A Novel

Why this book?

Technically this might be an adult book, but I read it as a teen and it gripped me completely. It was my first encounter with Connie Willis and I became an unconditional fan. This one is different from the other books on my list as it is a SciFi novel, starting with a medical deep dive into near-death experiences, or, more accurately, the replication of safe near-death experiences in labs… or are they? 

Willis is the queen of urgency, and throughout this unusual novel we are wrenched and rushed and held to the edge of our seat in suspense. The afterlife looms into every corner, every thought, every event, like another character – and best of all, it mostly looks like the sinking Titanic. It’s a wonderful blend of SciFi and historical novel, written like a thriller. I highly recommend it, though, I warn you, this is a monument of a book with 700 pages of tension.


The Books of Magic

By Neil Gaiman, John Bolton (illustrator),

Book cover of The Books of Magic

Why this book?

Like all of Neil Gaiman’s works, this comic book is haunting and meaningful. Laced with DC references, philosophy, and nightmares, we lose ourselves in its strange world, or should I say, worlds? We follow Tim, a 13-year-old on the brink of becoming one of the greatest magic wielders of all time. But magic comes at a cost, and perhaps he should know that, or at least that’s what the four unlikely guides of our hero believe. And here starts the trip into magic and its many worlds, including a great meeting with Death herself in the afterlife.

This must be my favourite personification of Death ever, managing to be both fun and kind. This is a great meaty adventure comic that really makes you travel and gives you an experience like no other. Don’t expect childishness here, and don’t put it in the hands of too young an audience as it tackles many serious or dark topics. The illustrations are a real bonus too, beautiful, and express so many more things than what is in the words.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the afterlife, spirits, and near death experiences?

5,809 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the afterlife, spirits, and near death experiences.

The Afterlife Explore 52 books about the afterlife
Spirits Explore 12 books about spirits
Near Death Experiences Explore 10 books about near death experiences

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Bloody Jack, True Grit, and Gideon the Ninth if you like this list.