Looking for your next favorite epic historical anime series? Kingdom should fit the bill nicely.
It’s an intricate, sprawling tale that currently spans 57 manga volumes and two seasons of anime, with a third returning this Spring 2021 season. This return will conclude the series’ hiatus that began, due to COVID, after the first four episodes launched in the Spring 2020 season.
Whether you’re just getting into this action-packed epic or you need a refresher, consider this your beginner’s guide to Kingdom.
It’s enough to get you started so that you can jump right into this wonderfully complex adventure with everything you need to know! And yes, you may have just stumbled on your new favorite anime series.
NOTE: Spoilers ahead!
What is Kingdom about?
Set in China during the Warring States Period, this epic begins with two young war orphans named Xin and Piao—slaves in the state of Qin who dream of becoming the greatest generals in the world.
As they grow up during a tumultuous era, the land is constantly under siege and warring kingdoms continue to plot against one another in a never-ending battle for supremacy. Since they are slaves, they are bereft of the resources and assistance they need to rise through the ranks.
But that doesn’t stop them from sparring religiously every day, both equally matched in talent and ability.
During one of their sparring matches, a high-ranking official takes notice of the pair. Later, this high-ranking official, Lord Changwen, visits them and requests that Piao come work for the Royal Court. Xin is unable to join, but continues to train in hopes of catching up to his friend.
One night, Piao makes his way back to Xin, heavily wounded and seemingly close to death. The king’s half-brother staged an uprising in an attempt to take over the position of king himself, and as such, Piao was caught in the middle of it. Before Piao passes away, he gives Xin a map and asks him to go to Heibei Village.
As Piao breathes his last, Xin vows to find Piao’s pursuers and kill them. However, when he reaches Heibei Village he sees a person who looks just like Piao! Xin discovers that Piao was acting as a stand-in to the King of Qin, the High King Ying Zheng. Now, Ying Zheng sees Xin as a sword for his protection, but Xin sees this as an opportunity to pursue the dream he and Piao shared.
From there, Kingdom spirals into an exciting, intricate narrative rife with satisfying battles, interpersonal relationships, character growth and revenge.
Who are the characters of Kingdom?
Kingdom‘s sprawling scene is an interconnected web of people and places that might get disorienting if you move through the anime series and manga too quickly.
To get you started, here are a few of the most important characters to keep in mind as you get to know this historical epic.
Xin is a more hotheaded, adventurous individual than Piao, and often uses his strength to his advantage. He’s quick to run at the mouth even when it could get him in trouble, yet he’s passionate about his dream of becoming a great general.
He might seem dim-witted at a glance, but he is incredibly motivated to pursue his dream. Xin shows tremendous growth throughout the series – beginning his military career as a foot soldier stuck on a squad with the “leftovers”, to becoming the Commander of a thousand men who make up the Fei Xin Force.
Eventually, Xin and Ying Zheng become close and support each other on a bloody path towards a unified Middle Kingdom.
Despite looking identical to Piao, Zheng couldn’t be more different. He’s icy in reception to Xin when they first meet and appears to have little regret for what happened to Piao, as it was necessary to save the kingship. He’s calm and calculating, but is able to hold his own in battle as well.
Zheng ascended to the throne at the young age of 13. His immaturity and the fact that his mother was a mere dancer instigated conflict and allowed for enemies, such as his half-brother Cheng Jiao, to plot a coup. After taking the throne back from Cheng Jiao, and publicly announcing his goal of unifying the Middle Kingdom, Zheng creates even more enemies while gaining new and sometimes unexpected supporters.
Throughout the series, he grows into his role as king, while continuously overcoming the obstacles that his dream imposes. Together with Xin, they strive for unification.
He Liao Diao
We first meet He Liao Diao in Heibei village. Dressed in an unusual disguise, they offer to help Zheng and Xin escape the village in exchange for money.
While they were introduced in Heibei village as an outlaw of sorts, they actually came from the ferocious and legendary Mountain Folk, and that connection immediately aided Zheng and Xin on their mission to retake the throne from the king’s half-brother.
Their relation to Zheng and Xin quickly evolves into something more, and the three become quite close.
Later on, they begin going to tactician school, and eventually are called upon as an official tactician to help serve the Fei Xin Force. While it may have been obvious to most, it took Xin 73 episodes to discover that Diao is a girl.
Throughout this historic epic we meet a multitude of characters that play integral roles in the progress of the story. Some additional names to keep in mind are:
Piao, a slave and dear friend of Xin who loses his life while protecting the king as their stand-in. While his death takes place early in the series, it is the pivotal event that leads to Xin’s journey with Zheng.
Qiang Lei, a mysterious member of Xin’s original foot soldier squad who turns out to be an incredible warrior from the Chi You tribe who are known for producing strong women.
General Wang Yi, the last of the six great generals, feared throughout the Middle Kingdom, and someone who Xin looks up to.
Wang Ben, a Qin Commander of the Yu Feng Force that descends from the same clan as Wang Yi.
Meng Tian, a Qin Commander of the Le Hua Force and son of Qin’s Mightiest General Meng Wu.
What about the villains of Kingdom?
Considering this series is all about war, one thing that is never lacking is the existence of enemies.
The first villain of the series is arguably Cheng Jiao, Ying Zheng’s hateful and jealous half-brother. His goal is to take Zheng’s place as king, and murder him! A bit less than halfway into the first season, Ying Zheng defeats Cheng Jiao, ending the coup and retaking his throne.
When war breaks out between Qin and the kingdom of Zhao, Commanding General Wang Yi names Xin’s squadron Fei Xin Force. Their mission is to kill off the enemy’s strongest generals, which they quickly begin to accomplish. Eventually, Wang Yi faces Zhao’s commanding General, Pang Nuan, who murdered Wang Yi’s betrothed many years prior.
After a violent clash, General Wang Yi dies a hero’s death. He passes his army to Teng, his Adjutant turned General, and his notorious scepter to Xin.
It is during the war against Zhao that we are introduced to Li Mu, a strategist and one of Zhao’s new generation of the Three Greats. Li Mu had planned for the death of Wang Yi, which resulted in the waning of Qin’s military power. The neighboring lands of Zhao, Wei, Han, and Chu began launching invasion after invasion.
Eventually, Qin set out to conquer the area around Shanyang in the Kingdom of Wei. This war allows for Xin to get a taste of revenge for the death of Wang Yi. After the Qin army successfully conquers the Shanyang region, Xin encounters Li Mu and can tell that he is up to something truly insidious.
Thus, begins the Coalition Arc, where Li Mu is the puppet master.
The Seven Warring States of Qin, Wei, Han, Zhao, Qi, Chu, and Yan had all been enemies to each other until now. With all armies now working together against Qin, the goal of unification seems unrealistic. Regardless, Ying Zheng and Xin continue to fight!
Is the series historically accurate?
Kingdom is a fictional retelling of the Warring States period of Chinese history; however, several elements of the series are based on real historical figures and events.
The Warring States period concluded in 221 BC when the real Ying Zheng, King of Qin, successfully conquered the other states and unified China.
Many characters such as Wang Yi, Wang Jian, Meng Wu, and Wang Ben are real people who served under Ying Zheng during his conquest of the Warring States.
Xin is also believed to be based on Li Xin, a general of Qin under Ying Zheng. While Kingdom depicts Xin as a slave, the real Li Xin was the son of a governor and fifth generation ancestor of the Han dynasty.
Additionally, the Battle of Changping, mentioned multiple times in the anime series, was a military campaign that took place during the Warring States period in ancient China. The conclusion of the battle was in 260 BC when Qin obtained victory over Zhao. Infamously, Qin’s General Bai Qi brutally executed thousands of prisoners, having many buried alive.
Our final example of Kingdom’s historical context is Hangu Pass which is located on the south bank of the Yellow River in northeast China. During the Warring States period, it was the site of many battles, serving as a chokepoint (a geographical feature that an armed force must pass through to reach their objective) that shielded Qin from outside attack.
This is the historic setting for The Battle of Hangu Pass—the exhilarating event which has just begun in Season 3 of the anime series.
So why should you watch Kingdom?
With 81 episodes currently available, all deeply rooted in the bloody history of ancient China, there’s enough to this story to write a book (or you know, 57 volumes of manga). While this guide is quite brief, we do hope that it helped convey the fascinating complexity and intrigue of Kingdom.
With this, there is no need to fear the epic before you. Binge! Enjoy! There’s no better time than now to catch up on what Kingdom has to offer!
By Holly Tennant and Brittany Vincent