Originally published in 2009 in weekly installments and then collected in 20 manga volumes, Yona of the Dawn has finally made its debut in America. Released on August 2nd, we take a look to break down the good and the bad!
Yona of the Dawn Vol 1 (Viz Media)
So what’s it about? The Viz Summary reads:
Princess Yona lives an ideal life as the only princess of her kingdom. Doted on by her father, the king, and protected by her faithful guard Hak, she cherishes the time spent with the man she loves, Soo-won. But everything changes on her 16th birthday when she witnesses her father’s murder!
Why does this book matter?
Adapted into anime (which doesn’t happen to every manga mind you), series creator Mizuho Kusanagi has crafted a historical drama that involves royalty and the death of a king. In a lot of ways this series feels like it could fit in the Game of Thrones universe as the drama is strong and the characters even stronger.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
She’s going to kick so much ass…but not just yet.
Kusanagi has crafted an addictive melodrama, one you’ll be drawn into if you give this book a chance. The trick is how she develops and reveals the relationships between Princess Yona and two boys who eventually become men. This triptych creates a satisfying love triangle and while a bit cliched (Yona has a crush on the wrong man and the right one would die for her…and she’ll probably realize that too late), Kusanagi does a good job making each relationship feel realistic. That’s in part due to the setting in ancient Korea where there are kings and generals ruling things. She’s a spoiled princess for sure, but she has a good heart and doesn’t know any better. It’s Hak and Soo-Won who bring out the best in her which makes their inclusion all the more important.
Kusanagi also inserts well timed flashbacks to when Soo-Won, Hak and Yona were just kids. You can tell as children they were great friends and the ways of the world hadn’t swayed them. Kusanagi also establishes the king and father of Yona very well making sure we’re aware he’s very kind, but that there’s something’s definitely fishy about his behavior.
It isn’t until the big twist, about a quarter through this book, that we find out the king has been murdered. This sequence is masterfully paced and well laid out giving the scene a very unnerving and dramatic feel. Truth be told, Kusanagi is very good at composing many of the pages (even when she uses the customary childlike version of a character or the faces we come to expect from manga). This sets things off and changes everything and if it hasn’t been spoiled for you who is the culprit of her father’s death you’ll be in for a big shock.
The coolest element of this series is Yona herself. She’s introduced as a somewhat spoiled but good hearted girl who lost her mother. Then she loses her father and loses all emotion. She’s been through a lot and the narrative feels like it could be going in the direction of retribution for her in reclaiming the kingdom. Anyone else think this sounds like Daenerys?
It can’t be perfect can it?
This is a very good manga that’s not exploitative at all nor is it cutesy and childish with the romance. The romantic elements do show a more childish view of things, but the characters are young after all. Maybe it’s just me, but Yuna’s crush on Soo-Won – her cousin – does seem pretty insane, but this is set in a much older time.
This manga is sold as a historical fantasy and if you’re expecting fantastical elements you’ll need to wait a bit longer. There isn’t much in the way of fantasy in this volume and it sits amongst historical fiction more than anything else.
The only other quibble is how Kusanagi shows Yona escaping the murderer of her father. It’s not entirely believable nor is it clear how it even happens. She’s rescued by her friend, but after a panel of them fleeing they’re simply alone. It’s a dramatic beat that loses its drama due to this confusing segue.
Is It Good?
Yona of the Dawn is a fantastic first volume if you’re a fan of character work and melodrama. It sets things up perfectly, is good for a big surprise, and has a solid premise worth checking out. Look out Daenerys, there’s another rightful queen to keep an eye on as she reclaims what’s rightfully hers!
Don’t believe me? Check out a free preview here.