Top Dystopian Covers

For this week’s dystopian list, I’m going to indulge in some cover love, because they’re so pretty! Or, perhaps, creepy, since these are dystopian after all.

In the interest of not just throwing a bajillion covers at you willy-nilly, I’ve broken them down into groupings of what made them so awesome. To this end, I have actually had to exclude a couple of my favorites, like Wither, Taken and The Summer Prince. Most of the ones excluded were outliers that didn’t really fit a category.

Powerful Heroines:
Everyone knows by now that I freaking love powerful heroines. To go along with my kickass heroines, I appreciate a cover that highlights her badassery. I love the trend of showing women ready to beat you up on covers, rather than running away or looking seductive. This just fits dystopias way more.

Dualed (Dualed, #1) – Elsie Chapman
Stormdancer (The Lotus Wars, #1) – Jay Kristoff
Defiance (Defiance, #1) – C. J. Redwine
Partials (Partials, #1) – Dan Wells

Each of these heroines is ready to face an enemy. Both Dualed and Stormdancer show an armed heroine about to battle. In Defiance, though she’s kneeling, she looks ready to spring up and take action at any moment. Partials does feature a girl walking away, but there is something about the set of her shoulders and her practical clothing that hints at her grim determination to face whatever’s coming.

Dudes Can Look Cool on Covers Sometimes:
If you read my Cover Snark posts, which you totally should (ahem), then you know about my distaste for guys on covers. They just look ridiculous most of the time for reasons I find hard to relate, but that might stem from a childhood viewing of far too many romance novels. The grimness of dystopian settings can counteract the cheese factor of a guy on a cover successfully, so let’s give them props for that!

Death Sentence (Escape from Furnace, #3) – Alexander Gordon Smith
A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter M. Miller Jr.
The Water Wars – Cameron Stracher

So, I may have cheated a little with the middle two, in that the men/boys aren’t viewed up close, but I’m going to let myself slide (I’m so magnanimous, no?). Still, I really like both covers; they have masculine appeal and a guy on the cover without looking weird. Though Death Sentence is in no way a pretty cover or my favorite, it is notable for being one of the only covers to pull off shirtless guy without looking like it’s been done for the sexy factor. Water Wars also really works for me, despite the closeup of the attractive guy’s face. The water seeping from his eyes adds a nice creep factor, making it unique among so many other pretty faces.

Beautiful Scenery:
There’s something about the fact that some of my favorite dystopian covers show beautiful landscapes or space. I think dystopia and I think gritty, ugly, destroyed, but they can also be gorgeous, as these prove.

Wastelands – John Joseph Adams, ed.
Earth Girl – Janet Edwards
Midnight City (The Conquered Earth, #1) – J. Barton Mitchell
Gravity (The Taking, #1) – Melissa West

What makes these work is the sense of desolation that I get from each one. They’re gorgeous, and I do kind of want to go to there, but they also somehow manage to establish a tone hinting at the darkness within. This is done, I think, with the darker colors and the blank spaces.

Black White and Read All Over:
In digging through dystopian covers, another trend I noticed among my favorite covers was that some of them were very simple, making use of limited colors. From these, I discovered that while blue is a popular color for a dystopian landscape, black, white and red are most common on a simpler dystopian cover.

Jennifer Government – Max Barry
IQ84 – Haruki Murakami
Numbers (Numbers, #1) – Rachel Ward
Battle Royale – Koushun Takami

Creeps Me Right the Hell Out (Just Like It Should):
Dystopias and post-apocalyptic novels are scary, or, at least, they often are. Most of the covers I’ve already shared aren’t really that intimidating. Sometimes, though, designers manage to design a dystopian cover that horrifies me without the help of the book inside. Of course, there’s one missing that regularly terrifies me during my Goodwill book hunts, but I don’t think it’s supposed to be scary, so I’m not including it.

Ashes (Ashes Trilogy, #1) – Ilsa J. Bick
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
Unwind (Unwind Trilogy, #1)- Neal Shusterman
This Is Not a Test – Courtney Summers
Stung – Bethany Wiggins

*shudders* I am looking at these for you guys. First up, Ashes. Those blank eyes with the lines across them draw your eyes in so that you can’t look away until you start sobbing in fear. This cover horrifies me and, though I don’t like to look at it, I think it fits the book perfectly, unlike the redesign.

Pretty much every iteration (including the one that’s just a glass of milk..somehow it’s so ominous) of A Clockwork Orange will inevitably create a sense of, at the very least, discomfort in the viewer. This one’s my personal favorite, although I think the movie tie-in edition may be more terrifying. The horror comes from the pain evident in the positioning of the mouth, not to mention the flames where the rest of his head should be.

I Am Legend is a great example of the cover that makes me cringe because of the creepy monsters thereon. This is the best one I’ve found to represent all of those. Zombie books have tons of covers like this.

Unwind and This Is Not a Test do not seem, at first glance, perhaps to fit with the others. They have happier color schemes and nothing overtly terrifying. Unwind‘s cover actually didn’t scare me until I read the book. THEN the cover makes perfect sense and will make you shudder in sympathy. This Is Not a Test‘s frankly odd cover captures the sense of hopelessness in the novel, with added creepiness coming from her facelessness and the subtle blood stains.

Beth Wiggins’ Stung is, actually, the one I have the most difficulty looking at of just about any cover ever. Personal phobias of mine: bees & needles. *looks at cover* *hyperventilates*

Series Wins:
Now, to conclude, here are some series covers that I think get things just right. They blend well and fit the subject matter.

Pure/Fuse – Julianna Baggott
Feed/Deadline/Blackout – Mira Grant 

Bumped/Thumped – Megan McCafferty 

Article 5/Breaking Point – Kristen Simmons

38 responses to “Top Dystopian Covers”

  1. Lilian says:

    When I saw STUNG I was like “What are you talkin’ about? That’s not scary at all! It’s actually beautiful with the wings!” But then you and your bee fears…

    I keep there’s something very wrong with the Death Sentence guy’s proportions. Is his nipple too far left? Or his bone structure? or the weird lack of muscle definition? Hmmmm.

    *shudders at Ashes*

    I remember staring intently at This is Not a Test expecting so see a deformed face or something. When I first saw the cover being featured on book blogs (And didn’t know it was a zombie novel), I was like “What’s this girl doing? Being all melodramatic and stuff. Or is the strong wind being a camera troll? Or is she too lazy to move her hair?”

    Ah, that Clockwork ORange cover is ugly. Which is why I prefer the vectored one with the guy and the gear for his eye.

    WHAT? I THINK NEVER LET ME GO HAS A GORGEOUS COVER. I saw that cover at the book store a few days ago and I picked it up to just stared at her porcelain, doll face. Those eyelashes, that mouth. Pretty.

    I don’t know what Feed is about so I can’t judge if the covers fit, but I always thought they looked like indie covers. Especially Blackout. ew.

    I always love the Bumped series’ covers. Now if only I would actually pick up the book.

    LOVE Pure’s covers. I was going to borrow it from the library but it looked HUMONGOUS. And me being the weakling let it go to borrow something else (a paperback) instead.

    Battle Royale always looks like a manga to me.

    I LOVE ALL OF 1Q84’s COVERS TO BITS. I wanted to buy the 3-volume set edition *o*

    I love Water War’s coers, but I heard the book wasn’t too good. *Sigh* I would’ve already picked it up otherwise.

    I am forever in love with Stormdancer’s cover (definitely amongst my top five covers of 2012). It’s a pity the UK cover is nowhere as gorgeous.
    And I am jealous of Defiance chick’s skinny legs. hmph!

    Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

    • Christina says:

      You just shush. It is not pretty. It is the most horrifying thing ever. For once, I REALLY don’t want a physical copy. NG please! So I don’t have to see it.

      Hmmm, his nipple might be too far to the right (on his body not from our view, but I don’t know). Some people do have weird nipples, like that guy on Community. *shrugs*

      The cover is creepy because you can’t see her face! Why is she doing that with her hair? Is she a zombie about to bite you? Has she committed suicide and is in the process of dying RIGHT NOW? WHO KNOWS!

      Really? You like that cover better? Ugh. Well, my edition and your edition can’t be friends.

      EWW. BABIES ARE HORRIFYING. KEEP YOUR DAMN BABIES OFF OF MY BOOK COVERS. I only bought that book when I found a copy with the movie tie-in cover. THERE WILL BE NO BABIES ON MY SHELVES.

      I do wish Blackout had the title written in blood like the first two, but I like their simplicity. They’re also very memorable. To each her own, though. I mean, you think Stung and baby faces are pretty, so my value of your opinion’s pretty low at this point. :-p

      I actually didn’t like the cover for Pure until Fuse came out, but they work so well together. Also, a review I read finally told me what the Pure cover was supposed to be. For some reason, I did not see that it was a dome, perhaps because of how tall it is.

      Which is why it’s awesome!

      I haven’t seen the three volume set edition. *goes to the google* Oh, okay. Actually, I have seen that. You should know that it’s on sale on Amazon right now for 17 bucks. Just saying.

      Really? I haven’t heard much of anything about The Water Wars. I probably will read it eventually. That’s one I remember checking out from the library when it first came out (I get it first!) but then didn’t have time to read.

      I LOVE the UK cover, but it’s spoiled by the ridiculous pantsuit she’s wearing.

    • Lilian says:


      If she was a zombie, I imagine more blood on her skin. But her skin is even better than mine. hmph. I still think she is being over-dramatic.

      “Really? You like that cover better? “
      Really? You prefer this screaming guy with a block of fire over his head in your edition?

      “so my value of your opinion’s pretty low at this point. :-p”
      I AM THE ART MAJOR!MY FUTURE PIECE OF PAPER OF A DEGREE SHOULD MEAN SOMETHING EVEN IF I END UP AT MCDONALDS. You are the type of people with such exotic tastes that makes it hard for designers!

      BABIES ARE CUTE! Except zombie babies..maybe. And Chuckie (I will always think of him as a baby). A murderous baby.
      And I just think of her as a child, not a baby!

      I didn’t know Pure was a dome either. I thought it was some weird sized planet. Or a head a first. a shiny head.

      I have a feeling I have to return this stack of books. Stupid school.
      I am too exhausted with textbooks to read!

      “You should know that it’s on sale on Amazon right now for 17 bucks. Just saying.”
      *O* It was for like 40bucks at the bookstore. Maybe I can buy it along with my OMG-WHY-IS-THIS-S-EXPENSIVE textbooks!
      I saw some guy reading it a while ago on the bus. I wanted to steal it.

    • Christina says:


      She’s deciding whether to commit suicide. Whether to let the zombies bite her, okay?


      Cry moar, designers.


      I thought it was a girl’s head with a butterfly sitting on it. A girl with the straightest shiniest hair ever.

      Awesome. You deserve it for suffering through ALL of the textbooks.

    • Lilian says:

      Yes, I don’t. Let’s just accept you are the weirdo and move on.

      If you say so. Though I more amused if she’s just having a bad hair day.

      Did you mess up the word babies with brain tumors? MINUS THE VOMITING/FOOD THROWING/POOPING PART, BABIES ARE CUTE.

      I do, I do deserve it! *buys a smoothie*

    • Christina says:

      You’re the weirdo. Moving on. Works for me.



    • Lilian says:

      I WAS A CUTE BABY! Or a cute toddler…I sat on cans of baby formula and held up Campbell soup cans. I must’ve been fated to be an artist!
      I was not oddly shaped! Though I was pudgy…

      YESH! SMOOTHIES ARE TEH BESTTEEST. I swear one of the smoothie stands on campus uses less than fresh fruits and just dumped a lot of sugar to cover it up though.

    • Christina says:

      I’ve seen you on GR.

      Ewwwww. Way to change the topic from delicious smoothies to rotten fruit. Too bad they don’t employ Ned from Pushing Daisies.

  2. Great picks! My first thought though: no Throne of Glass? That UK cover intimidates me. That girl can kick my ass no doubt.

    Wasteland’s cover made me gasp audibly. And as I said before, I love Gravity’s cover.

    Finally, I think Bumped and Thumped’s covers are hilariously perfect.

    • Christina says:

      I don’t think of Throne of Glass as a dystopian, but I do love that cover. If I didn’t have a signed ARC, I would so order the UK edition, because the US cover is awful.

      Isn’t Wastelands beautiful?

      They’re so cute.

  3. Nori says:

    I totally agree with you about the after effects of the creepiness of Unwind! SO terrifying. Also, are you excited or slightly dreading its sequel (like I am) which comes out now in a matter of days? I’ve kinda always loved The Uglies covers by Westerfeld (before they changed them). Also, I don’t know if you consider it dystopia, but I love the cover to Cinder.

    • Christina says:

      I do consider Cinder at least vaguely dystopian, but it’s not my favorite cover. It creeps me out actually. I like the Scarlet cover better.

      Also, I like the new Uglies covers better. Wah wah!

      The sequel could be so bad, but I hope it’s not!

  4. Anya says:

    I’m a sucker for beautiful scenery. Not like “pretty picture of park,” but “pretty picture of dystopian city.” (*totally judging books by their covers. but also christina’s reviews.*)

  5. The character on the cover of The Water Wars is a boy, really? I haven’t read the book, but I thought it was a girl on the cover. S/he has very pretty features.

    Have you read 1Q84? It’s awesome.

  6. Kat Balcombe says:

    I always love the Scenery covers – they have that gorgeously creepy feeling – I’m not the hugest fan of people on covers – so I like about three covers a year!

    I have a slightly different cover to Battle Royale (red with black silhouettes) and it’s one of the favourites on my bookshelf because the spine makes it really stand out.

    • Christina says:

      Haha, yeah, people are very popular on covers these days. I don’t mind so long as they’re not dudes. You don’t mind if they’re undead, though, right?

      Oh, I actually have that Battle Royale cover myself, but I like this cover better. haha.

    • Kat Balcombe says:

      Oh undead people are totally OK on covers – the undead-er the better!

  7. I LOVE the covers for Dualed and Stormdancer!! So epic in their badassery. ALso I think my runner ups would be the Julianna Baggott series, Pure was such a good book and I am dying to get my hands on Fuse. Great post Christina!

    • Christina says:

      Dualed and Stormdancer are seriously amongst my tippy toppy favorites.

      I was sort of meh on Pure. The world building was epic and creepy, but I wasn’t super into the characters. Still, I hope she hits her stride in the next one. Besides the cover is both beautiful and bone-chilling.

  8. These covers are awesome. I like the one of Partials because I think she’s walking toward the city rather than away from something. Ashes is great creepiness. This is not a Test…love her hair in her face. I think (even though you don’t like the series lol) you should have included at LEAST The Dead Tossed Waves. I love that cover!

    • Christina says:

      Yup, the partials cover shows that the heroine can be walking away, but not look weak.

      I considered those covers, but the post was already so long! There are too many good ones, so I couldn’t highlight all of them. Actually, closest to making the list was The Dark and Hollow Places, because that cover creeps me out! Only slightly less than those others do. :-p Dead Tossed Waves is a nice cover, though. Don’t get me wrong!

    • Oh yeah, The Dark and Hollow Places is creepy!

    • Christina says:

      For sure. The others are too pretty, but that one looks like a photograph of a dead girl taken by a serial killer or something.

  9. M.A.D. says:

    I love all these covers!! Maybe it’s silly, but I really am influenced in my reading/buying choices by how *epic* a book cover looks lol

    Water Wars, Wastelands, and Ashes are probably my favorites 😀

    • Christina says:

      Oh, me too. Pretty covers pretty much always go directly to my GR to-read shelf. Only rarely will a plot keep me from adding something if the cover is good enough. Shameful but true.

  10. Aneeqah says:

    I love the cover for Taken!! That is just SO gorgeous. <3 It would have been neat if you did a miscellaneous cover section, since some dystopia covers are gorgeous and completely different from others!

    Anyways, I love the cover for Dualed as well. And Gravity too! That one is so pretty, yet it does convey a slightly dark vibe as well. And Unwind’s cover. *shudder* It sends chills up my spines! I love how that works so well with the book (and by the way, that book is AWESOME, as is the sequel, Unwholly, if you haven’t picked it up!).

    Fabulous post! I love looking at pretty covers. =)

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, I rather wish I had, but it’s too late now. Maybe in a future dystopian month or next week or something! I think I’ve also got the Taken cover in a probation of sorts…I love it, but I want to know if it fits with the subject, you know?

      Ahhhh! I really need to read Unwholly, but I suspect it will be some time until I get there. 🙁

      Thanks! Me too! I look at covers every Thursday. 🙂

  11. Adriana says:

    Yes, we need more female badassery on covers 😀

    Water Wars is a GUY on the cover! *gasp* I always thought it was a girl… Questioning life…

    Yes! Just like it should… I Am Legend is freaking me out.

  12. roro says:

    awesome covers and a couple of those books are my favorites

  13. The cover for This is Not a Test seriously freaks me out. She just looks so wrong! The other ones are creepy too (Unwind looks way to scary for me). I absolutely love the cover of Gravity. Sooooo pretty.

    • Christina says:

      Right? Something is definitely off in the This Is Not a Test cover, so that, though it looks kind of innocent at first glance, it’s actually horrifying. Unwind does have some scary scenes, but if you can read other dystopias you’ll probably be alright. Maybe? I don’t know. I’m bad at guessing. Books don’t scare me too often.


  14. These all are really attractive covers! Several are on my to-read list, because I like the covers. :p Really, I do judge a book by its cover.

  15. Jaime Lester says:

    Dystopians really do have some of the best covers out there. I love Defiance and Stormadancer covers. They are 2 of my favorites on the list. I also like Article 5 series covers, This is not a Test, and all 4 in the Beautiful Scenery category. The creepiest to me, by far, is the I Am Legend cover. Gives me the heebie jeebies. Thanks for the great post.

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