Yona of the Dawn (Akatsuki no Yona) by Mizuho Kusanagi is one of my favourite manga serials of all-time. It’s a shōjo, historical fiction, fantasy series that revolves around a princess named Yona who is exiled from her kingdom in the wake of terrible deception. She flees with her close comrade and bodyguard to avoid death and destruction. This is a super succinct synopsis of what the manga entails, but I don’t want to give more information because the best way to experience what it’s all about is to read it.
I know that it’s not finished yet and still in production, but it’s just such quality storytelling and artwork that I know I will love it until the very, very end, and today I’m going to give you five reasons why you should check this serial out, if you haven’t already!
5. Fantasy & Historical Lore
🐲 The history of the different nations in Yona of the Dawn, all vying for power in their own ways, are as complex and familiar as the history of the nations of our own, working to create a grounded foundation for the manga’s many important themes.
🐲 Within Yona’s country, Kōka, there are a number of tribes and each one is associated with a specific element, which defines their identity as a collective; akin to Avatar: The Last Airbender.
🐲 The fantasy is inspired from a mixture of Japanese, Chinese, and Korean cultures, and uses familiar tropes pertaining to dragons to give the history, political climate, and mythology of the series more depth.
🐲 The way the mangaka uses the dragons in the story is an imaginative take on a fabulous, classic fantasy trope.
4. Delightful Cluster of Colourful Characters
🏮 This is one of the few serials that I have read where even the most minor and inconsequential characters have layers to them, more than a few have almost as much as the main cast.
🏮 None of the characters are overwhelmingly extravagant. Yes, you have a few that have unique abilities tied to the fantasy bits, but even so, they are simple people who are genuinely built. This makes the narrative rich and spirited. Their backstories can be related with by anyone who has ever experienced bullying, alienation, and hatred in any shape or form.
🏮The male characters that surround Yona are crafted using typical shōjo tropes, yet they never detract from individual and collective character growths, story progression, or fill the pages with unnecessary romantic fluff. They work simultaneously to poke fun of the relative tropes they’re built upon, while exhibiting how a well-written character following said tropes can work to truly enhance the story.
3. Political Intrigue
🗡️ A devastating and shocking death kicks off the manga, setting a tone of complex political intrigue and suspense. The political climate that opens up as a consequence of the death creates many avenues of unanswered questions. On the surface, it’s easy to assume the straightforward and obvious explanation, but as you read more of the series, you begin to realise that nothing is as it seems. It constantly keeps you guessing, holding you in pleasant anticipation.
🗡️ The balance of ambiguity is done excellently. We see just enough of what the antagonist is planning to view them as a vile and malevolent person, but then we get morsels of their humanity that tosses everything we know about them into question. This is how suspense works and it does it better than quite a few epic fantasy novels I’ve read.
2. Beautifully Sophisticated Artwork
🖋️ Everything about Yona of the Dawn, in terms of art, is extraordinary.
🖋️ The panels are wonderfully rendered with attention to detail in mind; delicately crafted to help draw you into what is going on with an incredibly magical aesthetic.
🖋️ Since manga is limited to black-and-white most of the time, the mangaka uses the shading technique magnificently, utilising a vast spectrum of greys between black and white to emphasise the most minute elements. This works to highlight the different cultural influences from the attire to the ethnicities of the characters, and more, not to mention how superbly it shows the settings and environments.
🖋️ The action is so easy to understand and get excitedly swept away in. Brimming panels of ass-kicking shenanigans are never overbearing on the eyes, and never have things seemingly blending into one indecipherable blob, which I’ve noticed is an issue I have with action-heavy manga in general, but you find that here.
1. A Fantastically Strong & Heartfelt Heroine
🔥 Yona undergoes an intensely jarring life experience within the first volume of the series, one that almost cripples her to the core.
🔥 Unlike other females of the genre, who become victims to their circumstance and lay around whining and waiting to be rescued, Yona gets up, dusts herself off, and tackles her problems head-on. While being a victim, she refuses to allow herself to be victimised by her pain and suffering. Even if it pertains to something she has no understanding or knowledge about, like defending herself. Instead of relying on others to protect her, she works her ass off to learn how to fight so she can stand with her fellow comrades, not behind them.
🔥 The traumatic event she experiences does fill her with grief and shock, to the point where she crumbles. The sadness and profound sense of hopelessness that consumes her nearly destroys her. But she recognises that there are people who care about her and she uses that support system to be better. This is a notion rarely explored in manga: emotional support systems. Even in the midst to become independent and self-assured, she’s not above asking for help when she needs it. She’s not filled with a sense of pride that makes her spurn her friends’ help so she can pretend to be strong, and that makes her so much stronger than any other female lead I’ve encountered.
Even if you do not typically read manga, I still recommend Yona of the Dawn to you. The only thing you need to be able to enjoy the series is have a fondness for spectacular narratives and an appreciation for beautiful art. It truly is a rare gem of its kind and I cannot recommend this enough, but I will keep trying ’cause I love, love, love this manga.