Title: Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn / 暁のヨナ )
Author: Mizuho Kusanagi (Story & Art)
Genres: Shoujo, Adventure, Drama, Romance, Fantasy
Published: August 2009 – present
Volumes: 32 [Ongoing]
Japanese Publisher: Hana to Yume (magazine); Hakusensha (tankōbon)
English Publisher: Viz Media
Available to Purchase in English?: Yes (Indigo / Amazon / Barnes & Noble)
[Caution: This review contains light spoilers for this title.]
Synopsis: Once upon a time, the kingdom of Kouka was ruled by a red dragon in human form. By his side, four warriors imbued with dragon blood helped him lead the kingdom to prosperity. Time passed, and this tale became a legend to tell children.
As the sole princess of Kouka, Yona lives a life of lavish ease. In love with her cousin, Su-won, and protected by her bodyguard, Son Hak, she wants for nothing and remains sheltered from the harrowing reality outside the castle walls. Contrary to this peaceful illusion, Kouka is about to undergo a political upheaval. After her beloved Su-won stages a bloody coup and murders her father, Yona is forced to flee with only Hak by her side.
Though surrounded by enemies on all sides, the banished princess still yearns to save her kingdom. Her solution comes from an exiled priest, who tells her that her only hope is to find the four legendary dragon warriors. Guided by this seemingly fictitious myth, Yona sets out to find these warriors, determined to restore her kingdom. (MAL)
Can you really be surprised that I’m covering yet another reverse harem full of bishounen? No? Neither am I. ;D Welcome to the dark side.
I think I started reading this series after watching some of the anime when it was released between late 2014 and early 2015. I remember being intrigued by this young redheaded princess, and how she was so clearly out of her depth in the early episodes but was trying so hard to prove herself to her childhood friend Hak and her mythical dragon companions.
What’s kept me reading all these years later? A plot that’s got a considerable amount of action, although the series is admittedly starting to hit the point of “hurry and finish it up already” so I haven’t been as on top of reading it as I have in the past. Recent volumes have finally started revealing some big secrets in the plot so I’m hoping the series will end soon but will be “busy” with events and no filler until its finale.
Plus the bishounen. Akatsuki no Yona has very lovely cast of eye candy, each with their own special relationship with Yona. A couple have romantic interest in her, a couple just want to protect her…. So many potential ships ripe for fanfiction. And then there’s Hak. Ah, the trusty childhood friend. One of my oldest ships. Even the antagonist of the series, Su-Won, is a very handsome young man.
*cough* Have I mentioned I liked reverse harems?
Akatsuki no Yona is a story of betrayal, death and war, but there are many moments of comedy and romance too. This series is a nice blend of many genres, and despite there being several battles there’s not too much blood or gore either (thankfully). Many of the moments I remember clearest from the manga are when Hak or Yona bump into Su-Won somewhere in the world and there are several pages of wide-eyed silence, as the three of them remember their former friendship and try to reconcile those cherished memories with being on opposite sides of the battlefield at present. Hak in particular because while Yona’s closeness to Su-Won could be chalked up due to her crush on him, Hak and Su-Won were truly like brothers, and throughout the series Hak has taken Su-Won’s actions harder than Yona herself.
So as per my usual, like the other series I am the most drawn to and invested in, Akatsuki no Yona is a manga that rests heavily on its cast of characters. I am drawn to the tragic history between Hak, Yona and Su-Won, and I want so badly to see whether Yona and Hak will ever get their revenge or if forgiveness will be the path they take in the end. The relationship between Yona and her 4 dragons also keeps me reading, for they protect Yona as she tries to navigate the world (including her former homeland) with Su-Won at its helm. And last but definitely not least, I love the relationship between Hak and Yona. No spoilers from me here but I think they’re a cute couple and I love how protective Hak is of her, and how he chooses to slowly step back and give her more room to grow as the story progresses. I have my fingers crossed for a happy ending for these two, but of course only time will tell what the author has planned for them.
Typically in reverse harems, each male character (sometimes also a potential romantic interest) usually has a very different personality, which is one big reason why I think I am drawn to reverse harems. In Akatsuki no Yona, Hak is the strong protector. Jae-ha is the older, flirty playboy. Zeno is always friendly and cheerful, seeming almost childlike sometimes despite being [ahem] much older. Kija is like the cute BFF who has a crush on Yona but will never act on it, choosing to admire her from afar instead. Lastly is Sinha, who quietly but fiercely protects Yona. So you have this assortment of bishounen, all with unique personalities, and as a result her relationship with each character is very different. Yona is the most open with Hak because they’ve known each other the longest and due to her feelings for him; Yona’s closest moments with Jae-ha seem to come when she is tired, weak or sleeping; I feel like Yona is the most playful with Kija and Zeno because of their lighter personalities; and with Sinha I feel like Yona is at her most quiet or reflective perhaps due to his silent nature. Both the dragons and Yona have different aspects of their personality highlighted depending on who they are in the presence of. Other reverse harems I enjoy, such as Saiunkoku Monogatari, have this in common with Akatsuki no Yona too.
As mentioned in the beginning of this review, recent events in the manga are finally starting to dig at the heart of the plot. Why did Su-Won kill Yona’s father and take over as king? What is Yona’s role in the dragon mythology? What will happen to Kouka if Yona is not able to overthrow Su-Won… if that even ends up being her final decision? Maybe she’ll choose to let Su-Won rule for the time being. Will the dragons stay in Kouka with Yona if Su-Won remains king? Some hints have been dropped regarding earlier branches of Su-Won and Yona’s family tree (they are cousins), and some treachery which happened in the years leading up to the start of Akatsuki no Yona – give me more juicy details please, dear author!! Why oh why is Su-Won as twisted as he is?
Do I Recommend This Title?: Definitely! If you don’t mind that it’s on the longer side and focuses a lot on war and battle strategy, there is still a lot of comedy, subtle romance, and genuine friendships to help round out Akatsuki no Yona. Its lead by a very strong female character who continues to grow and develop as the series progresses, even 30+ volumes in, something I feel we don’t get enough of in the anime industry. The rest of the main cast is relatively developed as well, with each dragon getting their own mini-arc as they are found by Yona. This title definitely ranks in my top 10 favourite manga titles, if not my top 5.
Final Score: 9.5/10