The King's Beast is an action-adventure fantasy story written and illustrated by Rei Touma. Readers might know Touma's other Viz-published series, such as The Water Dragon's Bride and more notably, Dawn of the Arcana, which this manga shares its setting with. These titles also come from the same monthly shojo magazine, Cheese!, in which The King's Beast has been running since January 2019.
In The King's Beast Vol. 1, Touma appears to be continuing the fantasy trend that she's excelled at in the past -- this time in a world where beast-humans exist. These demi-humans, or Ajin, are very human in appearance, with the exception of fanged teeth, fluffy ears and tails. They couldn't be drawn any less intimidating, and they aren't inherently, but like most stories with this setup, humanity proves to be jerks regardless.
Touma draws a beautiful, Chinese-inspired world filled with cute Ajin and pretty bishonen princes, which sets the tone for a rather different story. However, it's quickly discovered that despite the soft and pleasant look familiar to any shojo manga reader, discrimination and injustice abound in the world of The King's Beast. Humanity has used its numbers advantage to subdue the Ajin, placing unfair restrictions and laws on them, like forcing men into the military and women to work in brothels.
After the murder of her twin brother, a girl named Ko Rangetsu refuses to accept the living hell that she has been born into. Instead, she disguises herself as a man and makes a name for herself in the military to eventually earn a place in the imperial palace as a prince's guard, or "beast-servant." Once she's on the inside, she will avenge her brother.
Rangetsu is a straightforward protagonist with a simple goal, but it's easy to respect her plight and love for her brother. She's an Ajin but she does not possess any sort of magical techniques. But she is extraordinary in her own way, possessing a drive to out her brother's killer and a resolve to continue fighting even when things don't go according to plan.
Stories about a subjugated race are a dime a dozen, and revenge stories even more so. However, like any good story, it's the execution that makes it worthwhile. Akin to Disney's Mulan, there are immediate stakes here, as the discovery of Rangetsu's identity could end in her sharing the same fate as her brother if she's not careful.
Her being assigned as the youngest prince's beast servant has already made her a target by unknown enemies, including other Ajin, so there is a more aggressive threat thrown into the mix in this first volume, and she must constantly be on her guard. Despite the familiar tropes, the mystery of her brother's killer's identity and their motivations makes for an exciting read.
In terms of action, this volume is a bit lacking, especially as an action-adventure series. Fights are sparse and so little happens that they aren't particularly engaging. Some Ajin possess magical abilities, so there certainly is a seed of something interesting there that will likely blossom in later volumes. Overall, while the character designs are detailed and flow beautifully on the page, movements can be rigid, but this is a minor nitpick.
Despite being set in the same world of Dawn of the Arcana, in this first volume, the setting of that manga is only briefly mentioned as a far off land. This appears to be the extent of the two titles' connection, so newcomers should have no problem enjoying The King's Beast without having read Rei Touma's previous works. For those wanting a shojo fix, The King's Beast Vol. 1 is a pleasant read that will certainly deliver.