15 Manipulative Characters That Give These Novels An Unexpected Bite

If you can't get enough of shows like Killing Eve and BoJack Horseman, I've got 15 books with manipulative characters that you're going to absolutely adore. Whether these characters are the protagonists or the villains of their tales, I assure you, you'll love to hate them.

I love a good book filled with unlikable characters, and the closer those characters are to the forefront of the narrative, the better. Likable protagonists and satellite cast members turn into Mary Sues and Marty Stus in a heartbeat, but a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad character gives a story some bite. And that bite only goes up in value when the unlikable character turns out to be pulling the strings behind it all in some Machiavellian sort of way.

If you're like me, you're going to love the 15 books I've picked out for you below. Every single one has at least one manipulative character for you to idolize and despise, if not more, so get ready to find your new, problematic fave in one of these titles.

Check out the 15 books with manipulative characters that I've picked out for you below:

'Adèle' by Leïla Slimani

The title character of this novel leads a secret double-life, pursuing her sex addiction with partners she hides from her unsuspecting husband, and ignoring the consequences her actions may have for their family.

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'You' by Caroline Kepnes

When bookstore worker Joe becomes obsessed with aspiring writer and customer Beck, he begins tracking her movements and inserting himself, more and more prominently, into her life.

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'The Fifth Season' by N.K. Jemisin

The first book in N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy, The Fifth Season weaves together the tales of three women — Damaya, Syenite, and Essun — whose lives are controlled by a powerful state government that seeks to harness their unique, magical talents. To that end, they are abused, forced to reproduce, cast aside, and ostracized by various powerful men in their lives.

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'The Talented Mr. Ripley' by Patricia Highsmith

When con man Tom Ripley takes on the task of influencing a young American expat to return to the U.S., he soon finds himself in a world of money and leisure that he's reluctant to leave behind.

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'The Parking Lot Attendant' by Nafkote Tamirat

A young hustler named Ayale becomes the object of affection for a unnamed teenage girl in this debut novel from Nafkote Tamirat.

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'Geek Love' by Katherine Dunn

Al and Lil Binewski breed their own batch of sideshow freaks in this unsettling 1989 novel. The eldest of the Binewski children, Arturo the Aqua Boy, convinces his legions of fans to travel with his family-owned circus, lopping off limbs as they go.

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'Breath, Eyes, Memory' by Edwidge Danticat

At the age of 12, Sophie finally gets the opportunity to build a relationship with her estranged mother, but her new life, which takes her from Port-au-Prince to Brooklyn, reveals why the two have seldom seen each other.

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'Sharp Objects' by Gillian Flynn

When a missing-persons case involving a teenage girl sends reporter Camille Preaker home for the first time in years, she returns to the home where her sister died during their childhood, under the thumb of her controlling mother.

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'Out' by Natsuo Kirino

After her co-worker commits murder to free herself from a good-for-nothing husband, Masako agrees to help her cover up the crime, but her motives are not as pure as her friend might hope.

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'The Girls' by Emma Cline

In the late 1960s, a friendless teenager named Evie falls in with a group of ethereal young women, including the fascinating Suzanne, who introduce her to their charismatic messiah. A story based on the Manson Family, The Girls runs on manipulation.

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'The God of Small Things' by Arundhati Roy

Bitter relatives tear their family apart in this slim, poignant novel from Arundhati Roy, which centers on a Syrian Christian family that fractures across decades in Kerala. Twins Rahel and Esthappen grow up and watch their household fall apart at the hands of a bitter relative who lies and manipulates people to ruin the lives of others.

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'Kushiel's Dart' by Jacqueline Carey

In this novel of court intrigue, an enslaved girl named Phèdre trains as a courtesan and spy to serve her master, Anafiel Delaunay, but finds herself framed for a crime she did not commit.

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'Swing Time' by Zadie Smith

Tracing a childhood friendship through its ups and downs, Zadie Smith's Swing Time offers a glimpse into the world of toxic relationships as its unnamed narrator deals with the dramatic life of her friend, Tracey, who carries out abusive pranks for attention.

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'What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal' by Zoë Heller

A lonely, aging history teacher attempts to make friends with a new faculty member, only to find herself caught up in the intrigue surrounding the other woman's affair with a student in this novel from The Believers author Zoë Heller.

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'Like Water for Chocolate' by Laura Esquivel

Thanks to a family tradition carried on by her overbearing mother, Tita can never marry. When the man she loves marries her sister instead, Tita pours her emotions into her cooking, influencing the behavior of everyone who eats food from her kitchen. Meanwhile, her mother and older sister continue to control every aspect of Tita's life, deciding whom she can see and when.

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