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.
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.
MetaWars: Fight for the Future - Jeff Norton
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.
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*
Now, to conclude, here are some series covers that I think get things just right. They blend well and fit the subject matter.