Lately, I’ve fallen in love with manhwa (comics from Korea) in a big way. The latest specimen to please me is Goong: The Royal Palace, originally an ICE Kunion title but now being released by Yen Press.
Goong: The Royal Palace, Vol. 1
By Park SoHee
Ice Kunion, 200 pp.
Goong: The Royal Palace begins by asking a question of its readers. “Let’s turn back the clock, shall we? Imagine if Korea was still ruled by royalty. Imagine Korean palaces hustling and bustling with royal servants and politicians instead of tourists. Yes, let’s imagine, instead of an empty, cold palace, one that is made vibrant by the lives of the royal family.”
What emerges is the story of Chae-Kyung Shin, a relatively normal high school girl who makes bad grades and enjoys fangirling over the royal family with her friends. The crown prince, Shin Lee, attends their school but is seldom seen, since school officials erected a swanky new building to house the classrooms he uses. After finally encountering him and finding him to be rather rude, Chae-Kyung is surprised soon thereafter when she overhears him proposing marriage to a classmate. It turns out that his mother has informed him that it is time for him to marry. If he doesn’t have someone particular in mind, then he’ll have to marry someone of his father’s choosing. And, because this wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise, his father ends up choosing Chae-Kyung to be that bride because of a promise between the old king and his best friend, Chae-Kyung’s grandfather.
While the premise initially seems far-fetched, the story is anchored by small moments of emotional sincerity. Chae-Kyung, as one might expect, is not thrilled with the idea of marrying a virtual stranger, let alone one who isn’t very friendly. She accuses her hardworking mother of selling her in exchange for a more comfortable existence, and is poised to refuse the engagement until she notices the worn state of her mother’s clothes as she urges her daughter to honestly tell the queen her true desires. She decides then to marry the prince for her family’s sake.
It soon becomes evident, though, that she hasn’t really thought through what becoming the wife of the crown prince will do to her existing relationships with family and friends. I love that Goong deals with this issue instead of treating the arrangement like some completely romantic experience. Chae-Kyung must confront the fact that her relationships will never be the same again, and Prince Shin’s well-intentioned suggestion that she can invite her family to the royal country house does nothing to dispel her sadness. My favorite scene is a quiet moment between Chae-Kyung and her mother, who has been trying not to let her sorrow show. She has the best line in the entire volume when she says, “I didn’t want you to see me sad. I wanted to be a cool mom. But who do I have “spa day” with now?”
Prince Shin gets less attention in this volume than Chae-Kyung does, but as his cousin puts it, he’s the one who gets to stay in the same place and eat the same food with the same people. He does, at least, show a nicer side by trying to cheer up Chae-Kyung once she moves into the palace to begin studying royal etiquette and ceremonial duties.
The art is nice to look at, though I prefer the prettier style of the more serious moments, as Chae-Kyung can look exceedingly unattractive in the comedic parts (which are, wonder of wonders, actually amusing). The palaces are drawn beautifully, but my favorite is seeing the queen and Chae-Kyung in their hanbok, the traditional formal dress of Korea. Since the action seems poised to shift to palace life on a more full-time basis soon, I expect I shall get to see even more loveliness in that regard.
To sum up, Goong is good. The premise and characters click for me in such a way that a high potential for addictiveness is achieved, not unlike the abiding love I have for Boys Over Flowers. In other words… more, please!
Volume one of Goong: The Royal Palace is available now.