REVIEW: The Kingdom of the Gods Brings a Zombie Apocalypse to Dynastic Korea

Netflix’s Kingdom was a huge success. The South Korean political thriller treated viewers to some impressive storytelling and zombie-fighting action, and is likely to recieve a third season sometime down the line. The series is actually adapted from The Kingdom of the Gods graphic novel, which is now officially available in English. Unfortunately, fans may be left a little disappointed when venturing into the source material. It’s not a bad read, but instead of providing a rich, plot-heavy backbone for the Netflix series, the South Korean graphic novel is actually quite hollow in comparison — lacking in substance and over in only an hour or two (depending on how quickly you flip through it).

The Kingdom of the Gods is illustrated by Kyung-Il Yang and written by In-Wan Youn, based on a concept from Eun-hee Kim. It’s split into two parts: the main story and a bonus, unrelated side-story. The main story takes place in a wartorn Joseon (dynastic) Korea, following the young Prince Yi Moon, who is pursued relentlessly by political assassins. He runs into the mountain bandit Jae-ha, a grumpy sellsword with a mysterious past. The two forge a close relationship, fending off assassins and endeavoring to return Yi Moon to the throne, saving his people from famine.

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But assassins aren’t their only adversaries. An epidemic of the “living dead” (zombies!) are sweeping through the country, adding some spice to the South Korean thriller. Readers can expect great sword fighting and zombie apocalypse mayhem, as well as enjoyable chemistry between Yi-Moon and Jae-ha.

Unfortunately, it’s way too quick of a read. While there’s a whole lot of action, there’s too little storytelling. Less time fighting and more time establishing the characters, the lore and the political stakes would have been appreciated. Where The Kingdom of the Gods is enjoyable but forgettable, its Netflix adaptation constructs a compelling narrative that hardly resembles its source material. Of course, a two-season political drama is always going to take a story further than a short graphic novel, but there is the feeling The Kingdom of the Gods could have made better use of its time. The resolution is certainly lacking.

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Instead of fleshing out the main story, the second half of The Kingdom of the Gods is an entirely different bonus story. This one is less coherent and more violent. It takes place on a secluded island between Japan and Korea. Juu, a bloodthirsty Japanese criminal, faces off against the Korean criminal Han. The two eventually form a pact, uniting against a common foe with some very bloody fight scenes. It’s not worthless, but most readers would surely prefer a continuation of the main story.

Still, it’s possible to forgive the imperfect plot for the sake of enjoying Kyung-Il Yang’s artwork. The manhwa artist provides detailed, gritty drawings that work great for gore and perfectly fit the graphic novel’s dark tone, making each page a treat to look at. Some may find the artwork reminiscent of Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond.

It’s hard to deny that the premise is fantastic — the Netflix show proves how much potential there is in a zombie-related political thriller thrust into dynastic Korea. While it sports a lack of meaningful storytelling and an unsatisfying resolution, The Kingdom of the Gods remains full of fantastic art, bloody sword fights and zombie apocalypse mayhem. It’s certainly fun while it lasts, it just doesn’t last nearly long enough.

The Kingdom of the Gods is available from Viz on May 19.

KEEP READING: Netflix’s Kingdom: Season 2’s Gory Ending, Explained

The source material for Netflix's Kingdom is finally out in English, and it's heaps of fun… while it lasts.

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