Apocalyptic Coming-of-Age: Top Picks for YA Post-Apocalyptic Books

Among the biggest trends in post-apocalyptic fictions are the destructive effects of nuclear warfare, dystopian government, environmental disasters, plagues, zombies, cannibals, and a lawless world. Although none of those seem to be fitting topics for teenagers, many young-adult readers actually find them intriguing, amusing, exciting, and even entertaining. Of course, not every story is great, but there are also plenty of well-written YA post-apocalyptic books with unique ideas and a bit of sophistication. Some of the top picks are as follows.

Snowglobe (2024) by Soyoung Park

Jeon adores Haeri, an actress that looks exactly like herself. In a devastated world where life is frozen cold, watching TV gives Jeon something to cherish. The day that Haeri committed suicide would bring the most unexpected changes to Jeon’s mundane, uncomfortable existence.

YA Post-Apocalyptic Books

Thanks to her remarkable physical resemblance to the dead actress, Jeon is asked to be the secret replacement. This is her chance for a drastic improvement from constant bleakness in a post-apocalyptic cold world to a comfortable life inside an enclosed dome where the climate is mild at worst. The dome is home to actors and actresses whose lives are broadcast to the outside world as a form of entertainment. Jeon soon learns that living in the dome is perhaps even bleaker than the freezing world out there.

The Sound of Stars (2020) by Alechia Dow

Surprisingly enough, there is much to enjoy in the almost-clichéd love story between a real teenage girl and a synthetic creature made by aliens in a post-apocalyptic world. When the spaceships finally descended to Earth, riot and conflict arose, but humans eventually fell victim to a superior adversary. People died and the aliens, known as Ilori, became the dominant power.

YA Post-Apocalyptic Books

Ellie Baker survived the initial onslaught, and so did her parents. Her mother is falling deeper into alcoholism by the day, and her father has been transformed into a loyal, faithful servant only to the Ilori. The best thing Ellie has right now is her secret library, and lending books can somehow ease her day-to-day struggles. When Morris, an artificial Ilori created as an experiment to prepare for the arrival of true Ilori, enters her life, things are about to take some drastic turns for the both of them.

War Girls (2019) by Tochi Onyebuchi

The story in the book is based on the Nigerian civil war and other deadly conflicts in other parts of Africa involving child soldiers. Events in War Girls are set in a post-apocalyptic world following nuclear disasters, climate change, and endless large-scale disputes over natural resources. The main characters in War Girls are sisters, Onyii and Ify.

YA Post-Apocalyptic Books

During the relentless conflict between the Nigerians and the Biafrans over mining rights, Onyii – sometimes referred to as the Demon of Biafra – found herself helpless and lost her limbs. She had no choice but to replace them with mechanical ones. Ify also has her own problems. Her skin is lighter than most residents’ in the war camp, making her an object for bullying. She finds comfort in Accent, an invention that gave her a heightened power of perception and communication, with which she can explore the world in freedom. When Ify disappears and is believed to be dead after an attack by the Nigerians, the sisters discover great things they have never known before.

The 5th Wave (2013) by Rick Yancey

Like The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow, The 5th Wave involves the unfriendly interaction between humans and aliens. Cassie, Sam, and their father managed to survive the previous 4 waves of invasion; now, they can only wait for the 5th wave in a military base that has been transformed into a survivor’s camp.

Sam and all other children have been taken to safety on a school bus. Cassie and her father walked into a bunker only to discover that they are foolishly following an order by traitors. It is a good thing that Cassie escapes, but it only leads her to the sight of her father being executed in the most brutal fashion. She immediately embarks on a journey to save Sam.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009) by Carrie Ryan

Neither aliens nor nuclear winters are involved in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The doomsday event took place decades ago, and it was a zombie apocalypse. Humans are no more, except in a tightly-fenced village where Mary and some neighbors continue to hide in fear. It is of course good to survive an apocalypse, but Mary always wants more and despises her current living conditions.

Mary loves Travis, but she is set to marry his brother instead. To everybody’s surprise, a visitor comes and claims to be from another village. The Sisterhood, who rules the settlement, sends her to prison and turns her into a zombie. The village falls, but thankfully Mary survives along with a few others. And then the most interesting part of the story begins.

We think people are drawn into post-apocalyptic stories because they want to learn about places where lives are even more dangerous than in the real world. The often bleak and little hopeful tales can offer a detailed glimpse into how vulnerable and helpless humans can be in the face of grave danger. Most post-apocalyptic stories combine the element of science fiction, adventures, mystery, drama, and love, making them a perfect gateway to escape from reality.

Do you have any favorite post-apocalyptic novel? Can you name some post-apocalyptic books for kids? We’d love to hear from you.

Other Things You Might Want to Know:

How do you define post-apocalyptic fiction?

First thing first, just about every post-apocalyptic story is fictional in nature. For a novel to be considered post-apocalyptic, the story must be set in the aftermath of a doomsday event. It can be the immediate aftermath or years and decades later. More importantly, the characters are struggling to survive either the short-term impact or long-term consequences of the apocalypse. The story doesn’t even have to mention what the apocalypse might be, but it could be anything from World War III to alien invasions.

What are the main characteristics of the post-apocalyptic genre?

Since the story is set after a worldwide cataclysmic event, the present-day technologies have essentially ceased to exist. If there is any technology left at all, it shouldn’t be as advanced as what we have today. That said, some stories may define an apocalypse as the gradual demise of human civilization, and the world is practically controlled by robots, artificial intelligence, or an exceptionally advanced computer network. The Terminators and The Matrix are few good examples of this case.

Another major characteristic is that some characters never saw the world before the apocalypse. Those who can remember become elderly figures or expert historians of some sort. The newer generation born after the doomsday event might create and believe fantastical/horrific myths about the pre-apocalyptic world.

Why do post-apocalyptic books appeal to teenagers?

Many teenagers feel like they have no control over their lives and are constantly pushed around by their parents, school teachers, and the society at large. Post-apocalyptic novels can offer some perspectives, in which the characters face greater dangers every day yet they manage and survive. Such a viewpoint can make teenagers understand that their real-world problems should be much more manageable. Also, some young adult readers simply like reading stories that depict a world devoid of rules and authorities, and teenage characters possess exceptional powers.

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