The Twelve Kingdoms

The Twelve Kingdoms

Art from Pencil Board (Anime Merchandise).
(Jūni Kokuki)
Genre Fantasy, drama, romance
Light novel
Written by Fuyumi Ono
Illustrated by Akihiro Yamada
Published by Kodansha
English publisher
Demographic Female
Imprint X Bunko White Heart (Volumes 1-7), Shinchō Bunko (Volumes 1-8: Reprint & New Volume)
Original run 1992 – present
Volumes 8
Anime television series
Directed by Tsuneo Kobayashi
Studio Studio Pierrot
Licensed by
Network NHK
English network
Original run April 9, 2002 August 30, 2003
Episodes 45

The Twelve Kingdoms (Japanese: 十二国記 Hepburn: Jūni Kokuki, also known as "Record of 12 Countries" or "Jūni Kokki," a common alternate reading) is a Japanese series of light 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.[1]

The Chinese mythology-influenced books were adapted into an anime television series in 2002. The Studio Pierrot production aired on Japan's NHK from April 9, 2002 to August 30, 2003, totaling 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. A new Book of "The Twelve Kingdoms" will be released in 2016.[2]


The Twelve Kingdoms is a series of novels that focus on a world inspired by Chinese mythology, where twelve different kingdoms exist under the rule of an individual chosen by the Tians. The series does not exclusively focus on one character, though the stories of Youko Nakajima, the protagonist of the first novel, and Taiki, the protagonist of the second book, are most prevalent in the series.


One of the major stories of the series centers around a red-haired girl named Youko Nakajima from Japan who is suddenly transported to the world of the Twelve Kingdoms and searches for her destiny. However, neither the series nor the anime concentrates solely on Youko and they do tell stories of other characters. The anime uses Youko as a framing device for telling other stories while the novels do not.

The novels focus on several characters other than Youko, including Taiki, a timid rare black Kirin who serves the ruler of Tai, and Enki and Shouryuu, the Kirin and King of En respectively. Other major characters include Keiki, the Kirin, of Kei who brings Youko to the Twelve Kingdoms; Gyousou, a general chosen by Taiki to become King of Tai; Shushou, the Queen of Kyou; Shoukei, the disposed princess of Hou, and Suzu, a peasant girl who is unexpectedly transported from Japan to the Twelve Kingdoms.

Each of the Twelve Kingdoms has a monarch and a kirin, a mythological beast who first selects, and then serves, the monarch of his or her kingdom, and can assume human form. Though only a few rulers and Kirin are in the main focus of the story, many are encountered in the series and play a significant role.


The Twelve Kingdoms tells several stories from the world of the Twelve Kingdoms, located on several islands in another dimension accessible from our world through magic (though the other way around is normally impossible). On the islands, magic works and societies similar to classical China exist. While the inhabitants of the Twelve Kingdoms are aware of the existence of our world as the lands of Hourai (Japan) and Kunlun (China), the reverse is not true. The inhabitants of the kingdoms speak a different language than the language of our world, both of which can be learned by either side. Only extraordinary circumstances can enable the two worlds to affect each other for certain periods of time.

In this world, there are a total of thirteen lands. At the center of the world lies the Koukai (the Yellow Sea) and Mt. Hou 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. The ruler will have immortal life as long as he keeps the kingdom healthy and their heads are not severed from their body.

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 (虚海) (Void Sea) which surrounds the lands of the Twelve Kingdoms.

Known Locations

Twelve Kingdoms
Map of the Twelve Kingdoms.


There are eight 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).

Book Kanji title Romaji title Original title, literal translation Notes
Publication date ISBN English publication title
1 月の影 影の海 Tsuki no Kage, Kage no Umi Shadow of the Moon, Sea of Shadow 2 Volumes
June 1992 (Kodansha Volume 1)
July 1992 (Kodansha Volume 2)
July 2012 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 1)
July 2012 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 2)
ISBN 978-4-06-255071-0 (Kodansha Volume 1)
ISBN 978-4-06-255072-7 (Kodansha Volume 2)
ISBN 978-4-10-124053-4 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 1)
ISBN 978-4-10-124052-7 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 2)
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow
Yoko becomes the monarch of Kei.
2 風の海 迷宮の岸 Kaze no Umi, Meikyū no Kishi Sea of Wind, Shore of the Labyrinth 2 Volumes (Kodansha release)
1 Volume (Shinchosha reprint)
March 1993 (Kodansha Volume 1)
April 1993 (Kodansha Volume 2)
October 2012 (Shinchosha reprint)
ISBN 978-4-06-255114-4 (Volume 1)
ISBN 978-4-06-255120-5 (Volume 2)
ISBN 978-4-10-124054-1 (Shinchosha reprint)
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind
Taiki chooses the ruler of Tai
3 東の海神 西の滄海 Higashi no Watatsumi, Nishi no Sōkai Sea God in the East, Vast Sea in the West 1 Volume
June 1994 (Kodansha release)
January 2013 (Shinchosha reprint)
ISBN 978-4-06-255168-7 (Kodansha release)
ISBN 978-4-10-124055-8 (Shinchosha reprint)
The Twelve Kingdoms: The Vast Spread of the Seas
The King of En suppresses a rebellion.
4 風の万里 黎明の空 Kaze no Banri, Reimei no Sora A Thousand Miles of Wind, The Sky at Dawn 2 Volumes
July 1994 (Kodansha Volume 1)
September 1994 (Kodansha Volume 2)
April 2013 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 1)
April 2013 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 2)
ISBN 978-4-06-255175-5 (Kodansha Volume 1)
ISBN 978-4-06-255178-6 (Kodansha Volume 2)
ISBN 978-4-10-124057-2 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 1)
ISBN 978-4-10-124056-5 (Shinchosha reprint Volume 2)
The Twelve Kingdoms: Skies of Dawn[3]
Yoko, Suzu and Shoukei free the Wa Province in Kei
5 図南の翼 Tonan no Tsubasa The Aspiring Wings 1 Volume
February 1996 (Kodansha release)
October 2013 (Shinchosha reprint)
ISBN 978-4-06-255229-5 (Kodansha release)
ISBN 978-4-10-124059-6 (Shinchosha reprint)
Shushou becomes ruler of Kyou.
6 黄昏の岸 暁の天 Tasogare no Kishi, Akatsuki no Sora The Shore at Twilight, The Sky at Daybreak 2 Volumes
May 2001 (Kodansha release both volumes) ISBN 978-4-06-255546-3 (Kodansha release Volume 1)
ISBN 978-4-06-255550-0 (Kodansha release Volume 2)
Risai meets Yoko to request help in finding Taiki.
7 華胥の幽夢 Kasho no Yume The Dream of Prosperity 1 Volume
September 2001 (Kodansha release) ISBN 978-4-06-255573-9 (Kodansha release)
Five short stories, set in Tai, Hou, Kei, Sai and Sou: "Toei" (冬栄), "Jogetsu" (乗月), "Shokan" (書簡), "Kasho" (華胥), "Kizan" (帰山)
8 丕緒の鳥 Hisho no Tori The Birds of Hisho 1 Volume
July 2013 (Shinchosha release) ISBN 978-4-10-124058-9 (Shinchosha release)
Four short stories set in Kei, Ryu, and other locations in the Twelve Kingdoms: "Hisho no Tori" (丕緒の鳥), "Rakushou no Goku" (落照の獄), "Seijou no Ran" (青条の蘭), and "Fuushin" (風信).

Before she started work on Twelve Kingdoms, Fuyumi Ono wrote The Demonic Child (魔性の子 Mashō no Ko) (Kodansha: September 1991, ISBN 978-4-10-124021-3; Shinchosha reprint: July 2012, ISBN 978-4-10-124051-0), a horror novel about a boy from another world. She later worked certain events from this novel into the Twelve Kingdoms series. Short stories set in the various kingdoms include Kasho (華胥), Toei (冬栄), Shokan (書簡), Kizan (帰山) and Jogetsu (乗月); these stories have been collected into one volume, Kasho no Yume. One short story, Drifting Ship (漂舶 Hyouhaku), published in 1997, accompanied the drama CD for Higashi no Watatsumi, Nishi no Sōkai[4] and remains uncollected elsewhere. In February 2008, the new Twelve Kingdoms short story, Hisho no Tori (丕緒の鳥) was published in Shinchosha's Yomyom magazine, followed by Rakushou no Goku (落照の獄) in September 2009.[5] Hisho no Tori and Rakushou no Goku were later collected into a volume of short stories titled Hisho no Tori, along with two new previously unpublished stories in 2013.[6]

U.S. release

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.[7] 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.

Title Publication date ISBN Notes
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Shadow March 2007 (Hardcover)
February 2008 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-59816-946-1 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4278-0257-6 (paperback)
The Twelve Kingdoms: Sea of Wind March 2008 (Hardcover)
February 2009 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-59816-947-8 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4278-0258-3 (paperback)
The Twelve Kingdoms: The Vast Spread of the Seas March 2009 (Hardcover)
November 2009 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-59816-948-5 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4278-0259-0 (paperback)
The Twelve Kingdoms: Skies of Dawn March 2010 (Hardcover)
November 2010 (Paperback)
ISBN 978-1-59816-949-2 (hardcover)
ISBN 978-1-4278-0260-6 (paperback)

Anime adaptation


The anime casts Yoko Nakajima, a Japanese girl who is suddenly transported to another world and eventually discovers that she is the empress of the kingdom of Kei, in the role of the main character; however, in the novels, Yoko is only one of many main characters and her story is focused upon in only two novels.

The anime focuses on the Kingdom of Kei and the events surrounding it. Several of the other countries are introduced, the most prominent being Kou, En and Tai, while Kyou, Hou, Sai and Ryuu play a minor role compared to the other three. The rest of the kingdoms are only introduced by name and a brief description of the current ruler and taiho. The anime also introduced the characters Asano and Sugimoto to accompany Yoko to the Twelve Kingdoms. Their role is to externalize some of Yoko's problems that were internal in the novels.[8]


The anime closely follows Yoko and is divided into the following parts:

Yoko travels to the world of Juuni Kokki, develops as a person and starts to embrace her new destiny.
Mostly a recap of the episodes 1-13.
Partial story of the black Kirin, Taiki.
Yoko and Rakushun correspond by bird, and we see how they settle into their positions in Kei and En. Based on the short story Shokan (書簡).
The story of Suzu, Shoukei, and Yoko as they struggle with a rebellion in Wa Province of Kei.
Short closing of past events in the Kingdom of Hou. Based on the short story Jogetsu (乗月).
A story from the past about the King of En and his kirin, Enki suppressing a rebellion. 45 is mostly a recap of the previous four episodes.


Kunihiko Ryo - "Juuni Genmukyoku" (2002)
Sample of Kunihiko Ryo's "Juuni Genmukyoku" (2002), the opening theme music of The Twelve Kingdoms anime series.

Problems playing this file? See media help.

Kunihiko Ryo's instrumental opening theme “Jūni Genmukyoku” has been praised for its "sweeping score" that suits "the high fantasy series very well." The end of the song has also been praised for having an "exciting" sound similar to later "swashbuckling main themes" for the Pirates of the Caribbean (2003-2011) film soundtracks and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2006) video game soundtrack.[9]


Kodansha printed a fifteen-volume "animanga" series in 2002-2004 by combining images from the anime series with printed dialogue and sound effects. To date, this has been released only in Japanese.


Konami has released in Japan two games based on Twelve Kingdoms, both produced by Takashi Shimomichi. They are Juuni Kokuki: Guren no Shirobe Koujin no Michi and Juuni Kokuki: Kakukakutaru Oudou Kouryoku no Uka. Both games contain footage from the anime and many stills of the characters are used during conversation and during battle. The games are sprite-based, with small sprites used on-screen and larger, highly animated sprites used during battle.

Juuni Kokuki: Guren no Shirobe Koujin no Michi was released for PlayStation 2 on August 28, 2003. It follows Yoko's journey to becoming Empress of Kei. While classified as an RPG, it is often described as an adventure game. The game was re-released in Konami's The Best lineup on June 9, 2004. Yoko is capable of summoning Keiki's Shirei into battle as well as having additional party members.

Juuni Kokuki: Kakukakutaru Oudou Kouryoku no Uka was released for PlayStation 2 on April 4, 2004 and is a sequel to the first game, continuing with Yoko's problems after she becomes the monarch of Kei. Game data from the first game can be loaded into the second. This game contains more RPG elements than the first with party-/menu-based battles becoming standard. Many of the event scenes are pulled from the novels but there are also scenes made just for the game.


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