9 Action-Packed Books Like Helldivers 2

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Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

On February 8, 2024, Arrowhead Game Studios released Helldivers 2, a co-op shooter that has taken the gaming world by storm. A month after its release, the game was still watching its sales increase as more and more gamers signed on to battle in a relentless co-op style gameplay with bug-like aliens (including the shudder-worthy bile titans) and horrifying robot armies. Developer Arrowhead Games has achieved something extremely special, with players from around the world on Playstation and PC fighting together to achieve common goals. No wonder more people are looking for games and books like Helldivers 2 now.

The reason for the success of Helldivers 2 isn’t just the satisfyingly difficult, impressively real-feeling gameplay and big fun weapons. It’s also how far Arrowhead is willing to push the game’s brilliant satirical tone, reminiscent of sci-fi classic film Starship Troopers (1997), that critiques heavy patriotism, imperialism, and militarization. Helldivers are intensely replaceable cogs in a relentless war machine.

Players are called into this galactic army to protect their Super Earth loved ones from bile-spewing invasion. Their only task? Be a perfect soldier, die for the cause, and don’t question the mission. You don’t play an individual character in Helldivers, but instead play an ever-rotating series of dying soldiers tasked with destroying planets, farming resources, and killing, killing, killing—all in the name of “spreading managed democracy.”

So when I put together this list of books like Helldivers, I kept that in mind. There’s relentless action and fast-paced battle scenes in these books, but there’s also a lot of needed questioning of authority. A lot of wondering if you’re being given the real story or fed endless propaganda meant to convince you that you’re dying for a good cause when really you’re just giving your body for a bloodthirsty empire.

Action-Packed Books Like Helldivers 2

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh book cover

Some Desperate Glory by Emily Tesh

Kyr has trained her entire life to become the perfect soldier and to help avenge the destruction of planet Earth by humanity’s great alien enemy, the Wisdom. But when she is assigned to Gaea Station’s nursery instead of its front lines, and her brother goes missing, she starts to wonder for the first time: is Command being truly honest with us, and do they really have humanity’s best future in mind? This bending, vivid sci-fi is full of action, surprise twists, and anti-military, anti-fascist rebellion.

The Devastation of Baal by Guy Haley book coverThe Devastation of Baal by Guy Haley book cover

The Devastation of Baal by Guy Haley

The iconic Warhammer 40k book series is one of the first things that came to mind while making this list. It’s fast-paced, full of action, with twists on the subject of war and authority. This volume is part of the Space Marine Conquests sub-series. In it, the Blood Angels are under threat. The Hive Fleets, huge plague-like swarms of the insect-like Tyranids, are on their way. The warfront has gathered 30,000 space marines to battle the bugs—but will it be enough?

Iron Widow book coverIron Widow book cover

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

In a cross between Pacific Rim and The Hunger Games, men grow up to be pilots of Chrysalises, giant robots that were built to protect civilization from the aliens on the other side of the Great Wall. This system depends on them brutally exploiting young women by draining their life energy. But if young Zeitan is able to avenge her sister and become the best female pilot Huaxia has ever seen, she’ll have the power she needs to bring that entire system crashing down to its knees.

Onward Towards our Noble Deaths book coverOnward Towards our Noble Deaths book cover

Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki, translated by Jocelyne Allen

In this graphic novel based on real events and experiences, a Japanese infantry unit is struggling to stay alive and do their duty in New Guinea. It’s a scathing account of the nonsensical bureaucracy and rules of the Japanese army. For example, when a team of soldiers is told to go fight with impossible odds, the leaders tell the bureaucracy they’re dead. When they come back alive, instead of being congratulated, they’re told to go find a way to die on duty. Helldivers will enjoy the bleak, bitterly funny mood.

Starship Troopers coverStarship Troopers cover

Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein

The cult-classic adaptation of Heinlein’s novel is a satire…but the book itself isn’t. It only feels like one because the glorification of the military, of martyrdom, and of a society run by violence and the bare, brutal facts of war is so stark. In the midst of this system, one young man enters the troops, hoping to find himself along the way. The book will remind Helldivers of the game’s world, where military, perpetual war, and fear reign supreme. It is philosophical yet difficult to put down.

Silent CIty by Sarah Davis-Goff book coverSilent CIty by Sarah Davis-Goff book cover

Silent City by Sarah Davis-Goff

Orpen is a Banshee, part of a group of women who fight in fierce gangs against the flesh-hungry skrake that rule most of Ireland. She had always wanted to be one, but now older, she regrets her decisions. It turns out the society is run by rigid patriarchal rules. When Orpen starts letting her true feelings slip, she’s surprised to find out how many Banshees are on her side. Through twists and battles, the novel follows their attempts to gain their freedom and form something new.

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi book coverWar Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi book cover

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

In this dystopia inspired by the Biafran War, former child soldier Onyii is a War Girl, a highly trained and skilled soldier at the front lines of battle. Her younger sister, Ify, is an inventor. The problem? In the chaos of war, they find themselves on separate sides. This book has its emotional moments but is plenty occupied with aerial robotic fight scenes, science and tech, and philosophical questions about what it means to be a part-synthetic or augmented human.

Forever War by Joe Haldeman book coverForever War by Joe Haldeman book cover

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

The author pulls on his own experiences in the Vietnam War in this book about young soldiers—including our protagonist, Private William Mandella—being sent far from their homelands to fight on an alien planet and face the horrors, disconnection, and traumas of war. It exposes the economic interests in war as well as the difficulty of returning to society afterward, which is magnified in this book by time dilation (as Mandella experiences months, Earth experiences centuries).

The Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang Book CoverThe Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang Book Cover

The Water Outlaws by S. L. Huang

Lin Chong has always kept her head down and followed orders. An expert arms instructor, she’s proud of her ability to rise through the ranks of a patriarchal, rigid society. But the cruelty of one man undoes all of it. On the run and branded as a criminal, she’s adopted by a gang of bandits, a group of outcasts that defends the marginalized against the harsh, unjust empire. The Bandits of Liangshan will reward readers with their martial arts—inspired battles and their driven dedication to giving citizens the justice they deserve.

Want more book recommendations? Check out our list of 20 must-read novels inspired by video games, our list of 10 great books for young gamers, or our list of eight great fantasy novels like Baldur’s Gate.

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