The Hunger Games is one of the most popular book series in the past several years—if not ever. Even if you’ve been living under a rock since 2008 when the first book came out, it’s likely you still would have managed to hear about these books somehow. The Hunger Games trilogy is more than deserving of all the praise it receives. It features an inventive dystopian world, a compelling and fiercely independent female protagonist, and plenty of exciting action scenes.
If you’ve sunk into a book depression since finishing the series, you’re in luck! Here are seven essential reads for every Hunger Games fan.
1) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
In a nightmarish, dystopian version of future Japan, forty-two junior high students are sent to a deserted island and ordered to fight to the death. This gruesome ritual is part of a military project referred to simply as The Program, which uses fear to control the population. The teens are given weapons and forced to murder one another until only one is left standing. The only rule is that one person has to die every twenty-four hours, or else everyone else will be killed.
This thriller was published in 1999—nearly a decade before The Hunger Games landed on bookshelves. Yet the similarities between the two stories are profound. Young people who live in a dystopian society are dropped into an isolated setting where they are forced to kill one another by an authority who rules by fear and intimidation.
But while both stories feature teens, no one would ever call Battle Royale a young-adult novel. It is substantially darker in tone and much, much more violent. The way it delves into the psychology of each student—rather than just one main character—is utterly fascinating and will send you flying through the book’s 666 pages.
2) Divergent by Veronica Roth
In future Chicago, society has been divided into five factions based on developing a particular virtue: Abnegation (the selfless), Candor (the truthful), Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the knowledgeable), and Dauntless (the brave). Tris is forced to choose between staying with her Abnegation family and being true to herself. After she shocks everyone with her decision, she heads down a new and thrilling path while working to keep a secret hidden. Because there’s something different about Tris—and in this world, different is dangerous.
The Hunger Games comparisons are inevitable when it comes to this extremely popular series. Both trilogies feature strong young women who live in a future society where citizens are divided into different groups, and (rather reluctantly) end up facing off against an oppressive authority. Tensions are high throughout each story, and death is always on the menu.
Divergent has plenty of unique touches that keep it from being just a Hunger Games clone, though. The facets of each faction are well executed and the training Tris goes through is extremely cool and Matrix-esque. Tris is a fantastic character and the story’s romantic elements are very engaging.
3) Matched by Ally Condie
Cassia has always trusted that the Society knows best. After all, the Society makes choices that ensures its citizens will have the perfect jobs, long lives, and ideal mates. When she sees her best friend on the Matching screen, she feels sure that he’s the one … until another face flashes for just a moment before fading to black. Now she has to choose between Xander and Ky—one representing the life she’s always known, and the other a new, dangerous path she’s never walked before. Which will she choose? Perfection or passion?
Cassia doesn’t have as many chances to show off her physical aptitude as Katniss or Tris, but she is tough and brave in her own way. The world of this novel is so well-drawn and reminds one of The Giver by Lois Lowry, another dystopian classic.
The characters have great depth here and the relationships between them are deeply compelling. The chemistry between Cassia and Ky is positively electric and their scenes together will definitely keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next.
4) Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Soon Tally is going to get the operation that will turn her from a repulsive ugly into a stunning pretty. After she becomes a pretty, she’ll get to live in a high-tech paradise where she’ll have fun all the time. But when Tally’s friend Shay runs away before her own operation, the authorities give Tally a choice: find Shay and bring her back, or remain ugly forever.
Like Divergent and Matched, the Uglies trilogy ticks off the Hunger Games boxes of featuring an independent female teen who uncovers dark secrets of her dystopian society. These books also include compelling characters and an engrossing love triangle.
Uglies has a very different premise than The Hunger Games, though, which (on the surface) seems a bit less horrifying than children murdering children. The first book manages to make a long journey Tally takes on her own continuously engaging with cool, futuristic survivalist details. The fact that Tally rides a hoverboard everywhere is just icing on the cake.
5) The Maze Runner by James Dashner
When sixteen-year-old Thomas wakes up in a mysterious lift, he has no memory of his previous life. Then he discovers that the small group of teenage boys that surround him are in the same position. Outside the four-mile high walls of the Glade is an ever-changing and deadly maze. It’s the only way out, and no one has ever made it through the maze alive. Once a month a new boy arrives. But then, a girl appears.
Like The Hunger Games, this series revolves around a group of teens dropped into a dangerous situation by an evil authority. But these books have much more of a Lord of the Flies vibe, especially considering the mostly male cast.
This series is a non-stop thrill ride as the characters desperately work to find a way to escape. The action is so cinematic that it’s not surprising that the novels were adapted into a successful film trilogy.
6) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
In 2070, Earth has been devastated by two wars with the “Buggers”, a technologically superior alien race that has attacked and nearly destroyed the Earth. Now the Buggers continue to threaten the human race’s survival. A six-year-old genius named Andrew “Ender” Wiggin is sent to the Battle School, which is located in orbit above the Earth. The school was built to train soldiers that will battle against the Buggers.
Many modern dystopian novels can tie their roots back to this 1994 sci-fi classic (James Dashner has explicitly said so). While Ender’s Game includes far more traditional sci-fi elements than The Hunger Games—space, aliens, etc.—it features fighting games that children are forced into by the government, and the “one young protagonist against the world” dynamic that so many of the novels on this list share.
The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game also both have futuristic technology, though the gadgets included in Ender’s Game are quite a bit more realistic—the “desks” the children use are an awful lot like the touchscreens we use today. The books in this series are fast-paced and feature strong, well-developed characters. With the children’s brutal treatment of one another, the story constantly has you guessing who the true evil really is.
7) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
At the start of every November on the fictional island of Thisby it comes time for the Scorpio Races, where jockeys ride atop blood-lusting water horses. The first jockey to cross the finish line wins a fortune—if he can stay alive. Sean Kendrick has been champion several years in a row and longs for freedom from his cruel employer and his employer’s even more sadistic son. Meanwhile Puck Connolly has to do something to save her family from eviction. So she becomes the first girl ever to enter the competition. As the Sean and Puck train for the race, a deep bond forms between the two. But only one of them can win.
Along with Battle Royale, this is the only other book on this list that is a standalone rather than part of a series. In many ways The Scorpio Races sounds like The Hunger Games on horseback. A young, independent female protagonist takes part in a deadly competition while a love story develops between her and one of the other competitors.
But this is actually a much quieter story than The Hunger Games. A lot more time is spent on character development than action(though when the action comes, it is spine-chilling and ruthlessly violent). By the end of the book Sean and Puck feel like close friends, and even the many side characters are charming and fully-formed.