It should be quite apparent by now, but I am a sucker for fantasy romances. A pretty princess, a bishie bodyguard, a couple of tragic events and you are all set to make me happy!
Akatsuki no Yona is but another entry in the “princess forced to run away with her bodyguard’ genre, but boy is it a good one.
For the sake of posterity, here is a Manga-Updates Link, but I recommend that you DO NOT read the description there. It doesn’t have any major spoilers, but you might as well avoid it as doing so will make the first chapter or two more powerful.
With that said, it is rather hard to describe this manga, but basically:
Bad things happen. A young princess and her bodyguard have to run away from their home. Then they must learn to survive in the wild.
When you boil it down to its basics, the description really does sound basic and it would probably sound worse if I mentioned that all of her future companions are hot bishies.
But, it is the little details of the princess’s journey that this manga does really well.
You can’t help but get sucked into the world with its politics, figureheads and myths. It is not a terribly original world, but a well realized one.
The characters in Akatsuki no Yona are very well defined and distinct. Each character has his or her problems and are who they are because of a series of events. That is to say, character personalities don’t feel like they have been moulded out of thin air, but rather sculpted over time.
I am only going to cover three characters here, but the rest of the cast (especially Yoon and Seiryuu) are great as well.
At the beginning of the manga, Yona is supposed to be a spoilt, weak little princess. The idea with characters like hers is that you don’t show an incredibly strong character, but through growth, they become much stronger.
Unfortunately, ideas are good and all, but so many stories fail at that. It is hard to enough to build a base character that is easy to work upon and even harder to actually do the work.
Mizuho Kusanagi definitely succeeds with Yona.
At the beginning, when Yona was a weakling, I liked her because she was adorable, felt endearing and she made some great faces.
But the Yona that comes after that is incredible.
I have a massive crush for fierce princesses and good heavens is Yona fierce. And yet, as fierce as she may be, she isn’t a savage. She doesn’t beat people up or kill in bloodlust, no, when I mean fierce, I mean she posses massive resolve.
She is tired of being weak and thus, she works endlessly trying to become strong. She is tried of always relying on others and thus she works hard so others can rely on her.
Watching her grow is a massive treat and you can’t help but hope that she gets over her phantoms and becomes as strong as she wants to be.
I’d like to think that I have high standards for male characters, but I probably don’t. You could give me a bishie who isn’t terribly annoying, is good at fighting and I’d be all over him (metaphorically of course).
Son Hak is a bishie who isn’t annoying and is damn good at fighting. So, of course I like him.
But that doesn’t mean he is shallow. He isn’t as developed or as well defined as Yona, but he is far from being a shallow character.
He genuinely cares for Yona. He understands her well and even though as her bodyguard and old friend, he sometimes wants to be overprotective, he holds himself back because she doesn’t want to be protected. That is to say, if it is something she wants, he will place it above her safety (though grudgingly so).
His loyalty towards Yona and love for her makes it so much fun to watch the two interact.
It is quite obvious that Hak has feelings for Yona and that is A-OK because they are my OTP.
Soo-won is an interesting character to say the least. Without spoiling much, let’s just say that we aren’t supposed to like him too much and yet, I actually really like him.
The circumstances behind his actions are still not totally clear, but he isn’t a bad person. If anything, he is the single most complex character in this manga. There are moments where he has flashbacks and they make you choke because they are so very sad.
The flashbacks of the other characters are sad because you feel sorry for them. They have suffered greatly and are rightfully upset/angry. In the case of Soo-won though, it was his actions that brought about emotional turmoil, both his and the turmoil of others. He feels incredibly guilty and yet, in his mind, he had no choice.
I don’t know if his deeds will ever be forgiven, but Soo-won makes my heart ache in the best of ways.
The art is quite simply, incredible.
The characters are drawn relatively distinct from one another. The male designs are kind of similar, but fortunately, their clothing and personalities differ enough to differentiate between them (for the most part).
Yona’s character design is excellent. She is very cute and yet, she is elegant enough to be a princess. Her red hair looks really nice. (I think I have a thing for red haired bishojous)
I alluded to this earlier in that section on Soo-won, but this manga is packing in emotional moments. The cast is great, but it is these little moments of sadness, joy, triumph or despair that make this manga shine.
Goodbyes, farewells and forgotten childhood dreams pop up in some shape or form with most characters and they never fail to leave an impression. This manga does such a good job of showing the blissful pasts of characters only to brutally juxtapose it with their present. It is painful, heartbreaking and it really makes you feel for these characters.
You don’t just watch them roll through emotions, you roll along with them.
The emotional moments are not limited to the past dreams though. There are moments where something is said or done and you get hit in the face with an emotion packed espresso. I can’t describe it (at least not without spoilerific examples), but it is these moments that make this manga worthwhile.
I am being serious here. You need to read this manga. You will like the characters. You will like the art. Most importantly though, pretty much every other chapter, you will clutch your chest because you will be subjected to such melancholy and heartfelt heartbreak. Don’t be scared, you want to feel this way. You really do. Trust me.
p.s. The mangaka also made NG Life which is a great manga that I really should finish one of these days.