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!
Yona reels from the shock of witnessing a loved one’s murder and having to fight for her life. With Hak’s help, she flees the palace and struggles to survive while evading her enemy’s forces. But where will this displaced princess go when all the paths before her are uncertain?
Today I have something a little different, a manga review! At the beginning of September my Fall TBR list totally got derailed when I started reading Yona of the Dawn. I quickly became addicted and binge-read all of the available volumes (19 volumes in total) in English. Huge shout-out to Baltimore County Public Library for having these available! It’s been a long time since I was this addicted to a manga and it makes me wonder what else I’ve missed in the last several years since I’ve been out of the loop on what’s new.
Anywho. Yona of the Dawn! This is a shoujo manga about a princess of a nation trying to make her world into a better place for her people after her own life is unexpectedly turned upside down. I don’t want to say too much about certain events in the beginning but suffice to say, I thought this story was going one direction in the first chapter and then it turned everything on its head and really shocked me. I really loved that! I appreciate when a story can surprise me and go into an unexpected place.
When we first meet Yona she’s a bit of a frivolous princess. Having been shut up in the palace for most of her life by her benevolent father, she’s lived in privilege, blissfully ignorant of the world outside. It’s just before her sixteenth birthday celebration and her cousin (and long time crush), Soo-won, has arrived for the festivities. Along with Hak, her personal body-guard and clan head in his own right, they make up a trio of childhood friends. And then something happens that changes everything. Yona finds herself on the run, with only Hak for protection. First she has to learn how to survive and then she has to learn how to make herself stronger.
I love Yona’s character. At first she’s sort of an almost bratty princess, but then she has to grow up pretty fast. She leans on Hak at first, but then she realizes she has to learn how to rely on herself and she becomes determined to learn how to defend herself and protect those she cares about. She also discovers that the people of her nation are not as well off as she had always, naively, thought. Traveling throughout the countryside, visiting various towns and cities, she finds people poor, starving, addicted to drugs. She starts to question her father’s rule. She becomes determined to make things right and help people. We start to see a leader emerge.
There are a lot of other characters that Yona meets along the way. Because of course it turns out that there’s a prophecy of sorts about the Dragon King coming back and how the fabled dragon warriors will gather together to serve by the Dragon King’s side. This one reminded me a bit of Fushigi Yuugi because of the whole ‘gathering warriors’ bit. Each of the dragon warriors is very much their own character and they have fantastic backstories. Throughout the course of the story we get to know each of them well and what makes them tick–sometimes their stories are really emotional. I love the characters in this so much! The other thing I love about the characters is that they’re not all black or white. Sometimes good guys do bad things and sometimes the typical baddies are really the ones that are saving others. I also really love the relationships between the characters. Some of them are more complicated than others, while some are just super sweet. ❤
The world-building in this is pretty fun and seems to be based on a variety of historical East Asian cultures. There’s also the whole fantasy aspect of the dragon warriors. Each of the four dragons has their own special power. Together they make an awesome team, so I was really excited once they all gathered, finally. The thing that’s most exciting, though, is the story. It just keeps building and building. At first the journey and task at hand seems simple. But then there’s all kinds of politics and diplomacy and saving towns and even fighting armies. This is an adventure with purpose. I’m very much looking forward to seeing where it goes next.
Overall Yona of the Dawn is a story about good people trying to do good things and make the world a better place, but there’s a depth to it that I appreciate. 4.5/5 stars (average for vols 1-19).