Snow White with the Red Hair by Sorata Akiduki
Over the last year or so, I’ve been rediscovering my passion for Snow White with the Red Hair. Some of you may recall that I absolutely loved the anime and its cast. The manga extends far beyond the anime (and that’s saying something when, as of this writing, the English release is still about 10 books behind the Japanese).
Shirayuki is a self-possessed young woman who made a life for herself as a herbalist in the kingdom of Tanbarun. When she is ordered to become the concubine of the prince, Shirayuki instead decides to leave her home for the neighboring country of Clarines. In no time at all, she is working in the castle of Clarines as a court herbalist swiftly taking on new challenges, and falling in love with a very different prince than the one she left behind.
Despite the title, Snow with the Red Hair is not really a fairy-tale retelling, and the title is only vaguely related to the series’ initial meeting between the main cast. Beyond that, Snow White with the Red Hair becomes about the intertwined lives of Shirayuki and Prince Zen as they pursue their goals, grow as people and a couple, and the people, politics, and machinations of the kingdom around them.
Prince Zen is the second prince of Clarines and ripe to start taking on real responsibilities in the vast kingdom. Zen is down-to-earth, enjoys a little mischief, and chafes at the royal title but also wants to do what is right for the people of Clarines. In the mix is a lovable cast of side characters including the unflappable swordswoman Kiki, the earnest aide Mitsuhide, the aloof messenger Obi, the enigmatic first prince Izana, and the list goes on and on.
The love story at the center of Snow White with the Red Hair is incredibly satisfying and stands up to being a long series without adding in too much overwrought drama. Firstly, Shirayuki and Zen are quick to say they have feelings for the other and want to figure out what that means for them. Second, manga-ka Sorata Akiduki is masterful at creating swoony moments and slow builds. Third, Shirayuki and Zen have major stories outside of their romance that are just as interesting. (Fourth, possibly for me only, is that I am somehow able to 100% believe in Shirayuki and Zen’s love while simultaneously rooting for Obi.)
The story of Clarines goes further and becomes more grandiose than I would have imagined. Two years have passed in the series as of vol. 16 and so much has happened. Shirayuki and Zen have experienced adventures, setbacks, balls, political manipulation, victories, loss, friendship, separation, joy, doubt, love, and so much growth in their lives. Those around them have had similar trajectories and the world just keeps opening up further.
Snow White with the Red Hair boasts strong characters, heartfelt romance, a balance of drama and humor, and a well-crafted world to set it all in. Picking up the manga a few years after the anime has made me even more of a fan of Shirayuki, Zen, Obi and the rest of the gang, and I look forward to every volume to see where the story takes them next.