The Twelve Kingdoms is a Japanese series of fantasy novels written by Fuyumi Ono and illustrated by Akihiro Yamada. The first entry in the series called The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow was published by Kodansha in Japan in 1992; the last Kodansha volume was released in 2001. In 2012 the series was resumed under the Shinchō Bunko line from Shinchosha. Shinchosha has also begun reprinting the older volumes with new cover and interior art from Akihiro Yamada. The first new publication of the series in six years was announced for a 2019 release date.
The Chinese mythology-influenced books were adapted into an anime television series by Pierrot in 2002. It aired on Japan’s NHK from April 9, 2002 to August 30, 2003, and totaled 45 episodes.
The novels were licensed in the United States by Tokyopop and the first four volumes were released between March 2007 and November 2010 as part of their Pop Fiction line. Subsequently, the English license reverted to Kodansha. The entire anime series has been released on DVD and Blu-ray in the United States by Media Blasters, which are now out of print. Now, the license is transferred to Discotek Media for a complete series Blu-ray released in 2019.
There are nine novels in the Twelve Kingdoms series, including two short story collections. The novels are illustrated by Akihiro Yamada. Some of the novels have been published in two volume editions such that the total number of volumes consists of twelve books (as released in Japan).
On May 11, 2006, U.S. publisher Tokyopop said in an interview with comic book news website Newsarama that it would be publishing the novels under its “Pop Fiction” imprint. The first book was released in March 2007. The first four books have been released; after the licensing rights to the series reverted to Kodansha, the English publication status of the fifth book and onward will be dependent on Kodansha USA.
The Twelve Kingdoms tells several stories from the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, located on a group of several islands in another dimension accessible from our world through portals created from naturally-occurring magic (though the other way around is normally impossible). The portals occur in the ocean waters of Japan and China, and every so often will end up dragging someone from our world from those waters to the kingdoms’ islands, and/or on rare occasion, pulling an unborn child from the kingdoms into our world, causing them to be born there. On the islands, magic works and societies similar to those of classical Japan and China exist. While the inhabitants of the kingdoms are aware of the existence of our world as the lands of Hourai (Japan) and Kunlun (China), the reverse is not true for any inhabitants of our world. The inhabitants of the kingdoms speak a different language than the languages of our world, both of which can be learned by either side. Only by through extraordinary circumstances can the two worlds affect each other to a respective certain extent.
In this world, there are a total of thirteen lands. At the center of the world lies the Koukai (the Yellow Sea) and Five Mountains where the Gods communicate their will to the Twelve Kingdoms of the world. Each of the Twelve Kingdoms possess their own ruler and its own Kirin, a divine creature which embodies the will of heaven and is entrusted to choose a kingdom’s ruler by Tentei: Emperor of Heaven, and serve as the ruler’s aide. The ruler will have immortal life as long as they keep the kingdom healthy and their heads are not severed from their body. If the ruler’s Kirin dies or is killed, the ruler will die within a year.
The Koukai, known as the Yellow Sea, is surrounded by four inland seas: the Black Sea in the north, the Blue Sea to the east, the Red Sea in the south, and the White Sea to the west. Eight of the Twelve Kingdoms (Kei, En, Ryu, Kyou, Han, Sai, Sou, and Kou) border at least one of these four seas, extending from the center like the petals of a flower. The remaining four kingdoms (Tai, Hou, Ren, and Shun) are not part of the central mainland and are isolated by the Kyokai (Void Sea) which surrounds the lands of the Twelve Kingdoms.