The best young adult books with an antihero

Who am I?

I used to only think I could write stories about black-and-white, role-model heroes who never questioned their moral compass and always had clear goals. But life hit me upside the head with how gray it can be when I took a job working with war-rattled refugees. I discovered my own worldview needed room for heroes with broken, darker edges. Antiheroes are messy characters with human goals that may be broken, but still fight to do what's right. When a story is free to explore the shadows, it feels real. These heroes aren't just one color. They remind us we’re all broken, but we can find light in the darkest places.


I wrote...

The Walls of Orion

By T.D. Fox,

Book cover of The Walls of Orion

What is my book about?

Orion City has been on lockdown for ten years. Courtney Spencer, a disillusioned barista doomed to live a “normal” life in a quarantined fishbowl, is certain she’ll never see over the Wall again. Until one rainy evening, Courtney unintentionally befriends W, an eccentric customer who leaves a switchblade in the tip jar. The unexpected acquaintance opens the door to a frightening string of questions that flips everything she knows upside down. 

Intrigued and terrified to expand her world, Courtney finds herself toeing a knife’s edge between the law and justice, learning quickly that the two are not always compatible. In a gritty urban clash of hope and fear, passion and survival, The Walls of Orion explores the edges of light, dark, and the gray in between.

The books I picked & why

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The Hunger Games

By Suzanne Collins,

Book cover of The Hunger Games

Why this book?

An antihero, by definition, lacks the traits of a conventional hero, like selfless ethics or a kind personality. Katniss certainly doesn’t fit the traditional archetype. She’s the least "heroic" character of the bunch at the start of the series: her only instinct is survival, which I can respect. But Katniss feels real. Her fierce protectiveness of her little sister, her awkward and sometimes abrasive social skills, her self-preserving fear—these traits could belong to any of us. I don’t know how I’d act if I got dropped into an arena where my compassion was pitted against my will to live. Alongside Peeta’s noble intentions, Katniss’ motives may look selfish. But arguably, she becomes the most effective freedom fighter by the end of the series. A dark, character-driven story charged with realistic politics, The Hunger Games features an antihero that feels more human than many I’ve read.


Renegades

By Marissa Meyer,

Book cover of Renegades

Why this book?

Told from the perspective of a villain in a world full of superheroes, Renegades has to be one of my favorite stories. Right off the bat, Marissa Meyer sucks you into the depth of Nova’s pain, gripping a reader’s heart with the fury and tragedy that drives this antihero’s feud against the superheroes ruling her society. I don’t cry often in books, but I was moved to tears by the first few pages — empathizing on a visceral level with why Nova would fight for the Anarchists, the villains who raised her. Yet, as this series progresses, we see Nova’s moral dilemmas deepen as she grows to care for the heroes she’s supposed to infiltrate. Of all books I could recommend featuring antiheroes, this one is a must-read for anyone who enjoys a lovable, compelling cast of characters. 


Enna Burning

By Shannon Hale,

Book cover of Enna Burning

Why this book?

This lovely novel is book #2 in the Books of Bayern series, so I'd highly recommend reading Shannon's fantastic The Goose Girl first — a retelling of an old folk tale. Enna is by far my favorite character of the series, and once she got her own book, this one quickly became one of my top reads. Enna is passionate, headstrong, and a little reckless. She doesn't always make the best decisions, and most importantly, the power she wrestles with flares against her own character flaws, which makes the conflict in the story deeply personal and human. We all wrestle with inner demons of some shape or size. But what if our inner demons could flame out and burn people around us? Enna Burning features a strong protagonist who isn’t your typical fight-for-the-good-guys heroine. In fact, she might just find herself burning for the enemy.  


A Spell for Chameleon

By Piers Anthony,

Book cover of A Spell for Chameleon

Why this book?

This one’s an oldie, but a goodie. This fantasy tale follows Bink, an average plain-Joe hero. Without any magical powers, he’s exiled from his magical homeland of Xanth to the realm of Mundania, a land without magic. While trying to get back to his home, he meets a powerful exiled sorcerer named Trent, declared by all of Xanth to be a villain hellbent on taking the Xanthian throne. Trent is a character that’s stuck with me for a decade since reading this book. In spite of his flaws and debatably delusional dreams of grandeur, he’s perhaps the most admirable character of the story. He not only sees Bink’s true potential, where no one else does, but he believes in a greater good for Xanth he’s willing to fight for. If you’re ready to get behind a charismatic, flawed yet beautiful powerhouse of an insurrectionist, this book’s for you. 


The Host

By Stephenie Meyer,

Book cover of The Host

Why this book?

Hands down, The Host is one of my favorite books. The main character, Wanderer, is the bad guy: an enemy of the human race, part of a species of aliens who took over the globe and forced humanity underground. However, as we learn more about her through her tumultuous relationship with her “host” body, a human girl whose brutal fighting spirit clashes with Wanderer’s gentle nature, this alien protagonist turns out to be the most selfless and truly heroic character of the whole book. I won’t spoil the ending, but if you’re interested in emotionally deep, complex tales of overcoming barriers of hatred and plumbing the depths of what it means to be human, The Host is a spellbinding read.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in anti heros, survival, and love triangle?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about anti heros, survival, and love triangle.

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