by Kimjin; adaptation by Soyoung Jung
published by Netcomics; $9.99 US
Review by Rob Vollmar
Most of my manga/manhwa acquisitions happen because I am familiar with the artist or because a trusted critic recommends it for my attention. Kingdom of the Winds got my money the old-fashioned way, with a striking cover and an intriguing premise well-articulated by the marketing blurb on the back. It also helps that the story is not only historical fiction, but it covers a geographic area and time period (Korea around the time of Augustus’ reign in Rome) about which I know almost nothing.
Kingdom of the Winds focuses on the royal family of the kingdom of Goguryeo, one of three kingdoms that were the cultural foundation for modern Korea. While the story has as many characters as King Yuri has wives and children (hint: it’s a bunch), the reader is invited to experience the story through Prince Muhyul, who will someday become king himself. Kingdom thrives on conflict and balances the threat of invasion from neighboring kingdoms with the internal power struggles taking place as King Yuri advances rather menacingly towards his own death.
Kingdom of the Winds also expands on the exploration of Korean natural mysticism that is used to such striking effect in manhwa like Bride of the Water God and Dokebi Bride. The cosmology in Kingdom hews closer to Dokebi Bride in the sense of danger that accompanies the manipulation of these primal forces. Kingdom, however, uses these gods and their powers as the engine for elaborate battles that can stretch on for several pages.
Artist Kimjin’s character design for the supernatural beings, in particular, is imaginative and the battle scenes frenetic sometimes to the point of abstraction. The human characters suffer some, though, from a reliance on costuming over iconic design to keep them differentiated. Visually, overall, I think Kingdom of the Winds has a lot to offer a potential reader. Kimjin makes excellent use of setting in the opening chapter, the pitch black of a rainy night to create a kind of atmospherics I might associate with Lone Wolf and Cub.
The story, however, is Kingdom‘s stronger selling point. Prince Muhyul’s dilemma of keeping peace within his family as his father grows more paranoid by the day, while maintaining his vigilance against foreign enemies, is a compelling one. Kimjin aggressively uses flashbacks to give the kind of context needed to fully appreciate the complex relationships that bind each character together. The sum is a dense story that rewards multiple reads and even comes with a little map and historical essays at the end to draw it all together. While the large cast and occasional histrionic battle sequences may put off some readers, the well-researched and compelling story was more than enough to leave me looking forward to the next volume.