The Start of a Long Journey: Yona of the Dawn Manga Volumes 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions and loose thoughts on volumes 1-3 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.


A Terrible, Terrible Birthday

I’m no stranger to the beautiful and cruel world of Yona of the Dawn. I followed the anime when it first aired many years ago. Loved it. Since then, I decided to pick up the first NINE volumes of the manga to hopefully quench my thirst for a sequel we’ll probably never get. Wellll, you know how I do these things—the manga sat on my shelf for a good couple years, untouched, and the dust started to collect.

Until now! My rekindled love for manga has motivated me to tackle my shelves before buying new titles, which naturally placed volume one of this long-awaited read in my hands. And guys, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Yona is a wonderful shoujo fantasy series with a compelling cast of characters living in an interesting Asian-inspired world. BANG. What more could you want?

But in case you know nothing about Yona, the shoujo manga follows the titular Princess Yona, whose bright red hair makes her the crown jewel of the Kohka Kingdom. After her doting father, the king, is murdered in cold blood by her childhood friend and lover, Su-won, Yona flees for her life with her faithful guard Hak. Now, Yona sets out on a journey to reclaim her country with hak, which includes tracking down the four dragon warriors of ancient lore.

Out on the Run

Right off the bat, I think the most striking thing about Yona’s world is the choice to use Korean-inspired names instead of the typical Japanese names. In fact, the series draws more inspiration from Korean culture than it does Japanese, making it an intriguing blend of both cultures. The series carries with it a heavy traditional feel, but also contains a surprising amount of fun and comedic moments despite the tragic start.

Following their flee, Hak seeks out his home village of Fuuga to avoid further pursuit from Su-won’s soldiers. The village’s chief (and Hak’s foster grandfather), Mundeok, is an admirable figure who I’m sure could’ve taken in Yona and raised her very well—but that wouldn’t be much of a story then, would it?

No, instead, Yona puts her foot down and decides to leave the village herself, demanding Hak continue to stay at her side. (The audacity, I know!!) Shortly after, Yona and Hak confront their pursers, and we get the powerful scene where Yona slashes her own hair—which she is adored for—to free herself from Kang Tae-Jun’s captivity. If that’s not symbolic of a woman choosing strength and independence over frailty and vanity, I’m not sure what is. The passing of Yona’s cut lock to Su-won leads him to believing that Yona has truly perished, which deeply hits him, interestingly enough. Like, Su-won isn’t a good guy, but, is he truly bad . . . ?

She with the Crimson Hair

Volume 3 is where we finally start to get a glimpse of the overall plot Yona is about to take up. Now that we’ve become acquainted with Yona’s rare fiery side as well as Hak’s reliability and loyalty on and off the battlefield, we are introduced to Ik-su, a lackadaisical priest who fled the capital when the regime changed years ago, and Yun, a haughty young pretty boy whose talents in cooking, fashion, and herbal remedies will prove incredibly useful on their journey going forward.

Ik-su tells Yona (and the reader) a great deal about the world, the legend of the dragon warriors, and Yona’s role in all of it. He prophesizes the assembly of the four dragon warriors, and how their coming together will awaken the monarch and resurrect the red dragon of dawn. The spirit of the dragons is passed down through four individual bloodlines, each of which still bear fealty to their beloved crimson dragon even to this day.

After a sad parting, we leave behind Ik-su, and Yun joins us in traveling to the White Dragon Village. There, in the land of the wind, we meet the first dragon warrior, a beautiful young man named Gija who possesses the “arm of a dragon,” scales and all. Although Gija bumps heads with Hak, the pain in Gija’s arm makes him realize that joining Yona is his life’s calling—and the destiny that has been passed down his family for generations. Another bittersweet parting between Gija and his grandmother sets us on the long quest to finding the other dragon warriors.

A Fantastic Historical Fiction Drama

Mizuho Kusanagi’s art style is the stuff of legends. Almost flawlessly, she recreates an era in time that dates back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea. Mind you, it’s all historical fiction, so none of the setting is real, but Kusanagi reimagines this period from architecture and fashion style to customs traditional of this period. It’s such, SUCH, a gorgeous manga.

All of Kusanagi’s characters are beautiful (as one might expect in a shoujo manga), but also brazen and fierce. There’s a fire in Yona’s eyes that is unmatched; in Hak’s, a gaze of strength and familiarity; and in Su-won, a dark, melancholic sadness. Each cover piece alone is a work of art, as the coloring is so pretty and vibrant, much like Yona’s captivating red hair.

So, will I be reading more Yona of the Dawn in the future? Well, duh—I already bought the first nine volumes, or did you already forget? Haha! Seriously though, if I didn’t already have them, I would’ve placed an order immediately following the second volume. Yona has a lot of promise, which comes as little surprise given how highly talked about this series is. I’m excited to embark on this long journey with Yona, and I do hope you’ll be tagging along for the ride.


If it were a person . . . if this were a battlefield . . . I’d need my arrow to fly true. Drawing your bow means taking a life—or letting someone take yours.Yona


Afterword

I could talk on end for how much I love Hak, how much I love Yun, and how endearing of a protagonist I find Yona to be growing into. But, I’ll save that for future manga write-ups. After all, this is only the first three volumes, and there are well over 20 volumes available in English! I do hope you’ll continue with my reading of Yona of the Dawn. What are your thoughts on this highly beloved series? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Yona of the Dawn Review

Late into the simulcast season I decided to pick this one up and boy did I make the right decision! Today, let’s dive into the soft and beautiful world of “Akatsuki no Yona: The Girl Standing in The Blush of Dawn.”

Sheltered yet joyful Princess Yona was having a great day. Her birthday was right around the corner, and the love of her life, the charming Soo-won, was visiting the Kohka Kingdom. Before she could tell her gentle father the king of her unrequited love, however, she witnesses the man she loves sinking a knife into the king’s chest – her father was assassinated. Confused, upset, and torn apart by the dreadful betrayal, the red-haired Princess Yona flees the palace with her loyal servant Hak.

On her journey to renew the kingdom by befriending the four dragons, AKA beautiful boys, she realizes that while the late king prohibited violence, there were many who were suffering during this time. Yona finds the determination to protect her people, taking up the sword and bow with unwavering spirit.

Here’s the interesting bit though: While the cunning Soo-won brutally killed Yona’s father, he did so to protect the kingdom. Sure he is labeled as the “antagonist,” but his motives might be more pure than we think, as he pops in and out of the story curing the problems of villagers and rekindling the kingdom’s faith . . .

Yona of the Dawn follows a simple premise. Find the four dragons, stop the new king, and save the world. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Tales of Symphonia might enjoy Yona for its traditional journey setting, though it’s not as near as grand.

Other than its somewhat boring and overused plot, another beef I have with this show was the unsatisfactory ending. If a season two is confirmed, then I immediately withdraw this complaint. Otherwise, it’s ultimately a prologue for something magnificent. “As the heroes, now all assembled, stand by the cliff’s edge with weapons in hand, the king’s army appears on the horizon” – kind of ending. Seriously, the last dragon boy is introduced in the final episode . . . there better be a sequel.

Princess Yona is a beautifully dynamic character. She starts off as the typical fragile, pampered princess but gradually develops into a fierce and brave fighter – one to be feared! I thought Yona would be plain at first, but heck no – she’s on FIRE! Such a great independent girl woman.

Her smartass companion Hak is a badass, too. Swingin’ his glaive around, knocking down enemies left and right, he also harbors a very intimate side with Yona . . . it’s almost as if he can’t hold it back . . . but that’s more to follow up with in the hopeful second season.

Young “protector” of the clumsy oracle is Yun, one of the more invest-worthy characters in the series. Standing as a child who grew up during the late King II’s weak reign, Yun was hit the hardest during these poor times. Flash forward to the present and the acclaimed “bishonen” speaks with sass and a quick-temper. His growth continues as he crosses paths with royalty in the form of the Princess, whom he despises at first, but grows to love more than anyone else. :3

The charming dragon boys + Hak and Yun remind me so much of the Host Club from Ouran High School Host Club. Their conversations with each other are quirky and comical, yet they also have fantastic solo moments and tragic stories. Though these lovable dudes don’t live up to Ouran’s standards, they’re still pretty fun to watch! Heads up that the jokes are pretty stale. Just saying.

The art is pretty decent. Combat scenes are done smoothly and character designs are ornate. Specifically speaking, the animation used for Yona’s flowing red hair contrasts brilliantly with the background. Add that with her angry violet eyes and you literally have the dawn striking your heart.

The OST supports the theme of the anime immensely. The first opening and main theme “Akatsuki no Yona” by Ryo Kunihiko is SOOOOO TRADITIONAL AND GORGEOUS. Second OP, “Akatsuki no Hana” by Cyntia is a bit spunkier, complimenting the action and twists driving the show. To calm down is “Akatsuki” by Akiko Shikata (one of my fav artists), reflects the oriental atmosphere. Great songs!

Yona of the Dawn starts off a bit slow, but grows into an adventurous drama about a girl reclaiming her torn-apart kingdom. The varying characters help to lighten the mood, but sometimes their constant antics ruin serious moments. It’s a give-and-take gimmick, but otherwise, they make you chuckle. 😀

Yona of the Dawn offers enjoyable characters and a heartwarming story. I only wish the adventure would continue, and I have a strong feeling it will. This anime is a hidden pleasure, giving you all kinds of feels and wrapping up everything nicely; no noticeable plot holes besides a necessary continuation of this goddamn beauty! Shojo or reverse harem fans, go Yona of the Dawn. It takes a bit to get its motor started, but after that it’s pure satisfaction. Even if you don’t care for the more shojo bits, there are plenty of great sword fights and a very original second half in store!

“I am the proud princess of Kouka Kingdom, so I should not complain but do something about it myself.” – Yona

This review was a bit shorter than my usual ones, but there’s not much else to say! I can’t wait for a home video release by FUNimation. Thanks for reading and slice that like button to pieces if you liked my review (LOL)! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host