Intro to Superhuman Studies, the Novel
January 30, 2014 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of novels (or stories in other media) that fit a particular mold exemplified by Harry Potter. The basic premise is that the protagonist is living a (usually particularly unpleasant) mundane life when they are unexpectedly contacted by a representative from a secret supernatural (or otherwise fantastic) society and then.... invited to enroll in a school.

Necessary Criteria:

1. There must be an actual school with classes and teachers.
2. This school must teach a set of skills or powers so far beyond what is available to the general populace as to seem like magic.
3. The existence of the school, and even the society that supports it, should be largely or entirely secret from the general populace.

Bonus Criteria:

1. The protagonist is the only student who was not raised within the secret society that runs the school
2. The protagonist turns out to be far more advanced/gifted than his fellow students
3. The school at first seems to be a utopia to the protagonist, but is then revealed to have a dark underbelly.

Examples I am already aware of:

Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling)
The Magicians (Lev Grossman)
Lexicon (Max Barry)
Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
Professor Xavier's School (The X-Men Universe)

The last two are kind of borderline.

posted by 256 to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The Wizarding Schools trope page at TVTropes might be a good place to start.
posted by gauche at 12:50 PM on January 30, 2014

All Men of Genius
posted by bq at 12:51 PM on January 30, 2014

The beloved "A Wizard of Earthsea" by Le Guin? Or the less-good "Master of the Five Magics" by Lyndon Hardy?
posted by wenestvedt at 1:01 PM on January 30, 2014

Tamora Pierce's The Circle of Magic books fit most of your criteria.
posted by MsMolly at 1:08 PM on January 30, 2014

Maybe The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan? It's been a while since I read it, but the Camp Half Blood probably counts as a school.
posted by wsquared at 1:11 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

For better search criteria, this kind of pattern (though the school pattern is optional) is often filed under the Monomyth or Hero's Journey tropes.
posted by homodachi at 1:12 PM on January 30, 2014

Magician's Academy
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:19 PM on January 30, 2014

The House of Night Series by P.C. and Kristin Cast fits the bill. In these, supernatural means vampyre, but without a lot of the Twilight silliness.
posted by thatquietgirl at 1:21 PM on January 30, 2014

The Nightmare Affair is a pretty close match, except the main character isn't the normal human who is contacted and invited to join the school--instead, it's the guy she has a crush on. He's a significant secondary character who becomes her partner in magical stuff. Some of your bonus items get partial credit too.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:42 PM on January 30, 2014

Gakuen Alice
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:49 PM on January 30, 2014

Oh, Zero Sight and The Academy are popular self-published books with this premise too. They're missing a lot of polish, but they have fun moments.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:53 PM on January 30, 2014

River Tam in Firefly goes through something like this, only her ordinary life was great (she was rich, educated, loved) and the secret school was horrible (she was isolated and tortured).

In the star wars universe, the jedi (as portrayed in the prequels) seem to follow this pattern, where jedi bring children who appear to have special gifts (ugh, midi-choloreans) to the jedi council, which decides whether to accept them for training.

The Company novels by Kage Baker feature cyborgs that rescue children from death and delivery them to The Company, who makes them into cyborgs in an academy.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:02 PM on January 30, 2014

PS238, a secret (primary) school for superheros (and villans).
posted by bonehead at 2:23 PM on January 30, 2014

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell, has a very Harry Potter inspired series of books/fanfiction (Simon Snow, by Gemma Leslie) inside the book. I think that Vampire Academy might work.
posted by jeather at 2:54 PM on January 30, 2014

Doesn't meet your bonus criteria, but: The Mysterious Benedict Society and its sequels.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:55 PM on January 30, 2014

If you're willing to give up the "entirely secret" criterion, then To Aru Majutsu no Index and To Aru Kagaku no Railgun are pretty close. Certainly the distopian aspect you're looking for is part of it. (The "Level 6 Shift project" is ugly ugly ugly. It's no wonder it nearly drives Mikoto mad when she learns of it. Telestina's "Child Errors" project is bad, and the "Chemicaloid" project, too. There is a lot of human experimentation going on in Academy City.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2014

In season 3 of Community, Troy's recruitment into the secretive and elite...air conditioning repair school.
posted by Naanwhal at 3:45 PM on January 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm sure other anime fit this mold but Bleach comes to mind, if you grant that the scholarly part is actually more like tutoring by the adepts of a school. Some spoilers will show up as I enumerate things so beware...

Prereq: Protagonist mundane, check.
#1) Invited to enroll in a school, meh, this one may be the weakest as it's more of a clan/teams of individuals who excelled in their schools but besides that...
#2) Extranormal skills/traits, pretty much the basis of the show/book/story.
#3) School as a secret/unknown. Yep, and layers within layers.

Bonus #1) Protagonist as an outside/exception, again very much so.
Bonus #2) Protagonist >>> Others in the program, bullseye again.
Bonus #3) School as a(n?) utopia but then an underbelly is shown to be darker than midnight? Again, a really close if not exact fit.

*shrug* I've been meaning to make the effort to read the manga more as I got my feet wet in the anime on Cartoon Network (and also via the internets) and this may have pushed me over the edge to get caught up.
posted by RolandOfEld at 4:02 PM on January 30, 2014

In order of fitting most closely to your specification, Diana Wynne Jones's Charmed Life, where Eric Chant is sent to magic school, and the book's predecessor The Lives of Christopher Chant, where the young Chrestomanci is removed from ordinary school to be sent to a tutor for magic training. There are two other books in the series which end with magically talented young people being sent to study under the Chrestomaci: The Magicians of Caprona and Witch Week.
posted by glasseyes at 4:16 PM on January 30, 2014

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