Adventures from China: Monkey King is an ambitious and successful twenty-volume graphic novel adaptation of Journey to the West. Based on true events, Journey to the West was first published in the 16th century and is considered to be one of the most iconic and beloved novels in China. Journey to the West has been translated into many languages, as well as adapted for graphic novels, movies, and television.
Volumes 1 and 2 are devoted to the origin of the Monkey King and the havoc he wreaks throughout Heaven and Earth before being trapped by the Buddha for 500 years. Born from a stone egg nurtured by the elements since the beginning of time, the Monkey King’s extraordinary strength and ambition steer him to become leader of the monkeys, to train in the ways of martial arts and transfiguration, and to eventually seek immortality. In order to keep an eye on him, the Jade Emperor in Heaven gives the Monkey King a job managing the stables. This quickly becomes beneath Monkey, leading to the self-proclaimed title of QiTiangDaSheng, the Great Sage Equal to Heaven. Monkey makes many allies and enemies, most of whom cross his path again as he travels West half a century later.
In volume 3, Monkey meets and is rescued by the monk San Zang who was sent by the Tang Dynasty to bring back the Mahayana Buddhist scriptures. The Goddess of Mercy has tasked Sun Wu Kong (Monkey’s given Buddhist name) along with the Jade Dragon, Zhu Bajie (aka Pigsy) and Sha Wu Jing to be San Zang’s disciples, as described in volumes 3-5.
Once the disciples are assembled, volumes 5-20 become episodic with a clear pattern, which is how the narrative is set up in the original novel. San Zang’s flesh is rumored to grant eternal life. A demon, usually someone who was once a leader in the Jade Emperor’s palace and has fallen from grace, kidnaps San Zang. San Zang’s trusting nature often puts him at odds with Sun Wu Kong, who can always tell a demon in disguise. Once San Zang has been captured, the team must rescue him, sometimes resorting to asking for assistance from the Goddess of Mercy or other celestial beings. In addition to battling demons, each traveler must battle his own shortcoming: San Zang and his lack of trust in Sun Wu Kong; Sun Wu Kong’s anger and pride; Pigsy’s greed, and Sha Wu Jing’s disinterest in jumping in to help right away all threaten the journey.
As one would expect from an epic tale, there is plenty of action, drama, and humor as the protagonists journey for over a decade to fulfill their quest. The art and text work well to convey the battles the travelers face along the way. The numerous Earthly and Heavenly characters from Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist origins are all distinctly drawn, and enough information is given for readers unfamiliar with Chinese history and culture.
Having read the English translation of Journey to the West, it is clear that the dialog and overall tone of the story is very similar to the novel. The art in this series is on the traditional side and has more of a classic feel to it, especially the color tones. While the art isn’t as immediately striking to look at as some other full color graphic novels, the style fits well for retelling this tale. Sufficient but limited text per page with more of a focus on movement and character emotions keep the pace moving and interest levels high.
While it is possible to break up the collection, the story will be most enjoyed and understood if read in order in its entirety. Each volume has a list of new characters at the beginning and a plot summary and analysis at the end. Battle violence and sporadic visuals of characters drinking make this most suitable for fifth grade and up. Recommend to fans of action manga such as Dragonball Z (which is based, in part, on Journey to the West), as well as those who love adventure quests. A great addition to most collections if you have the resources and space to invest.
Adventures from China: Monkey King, vols. 1-20
by Wei Dong Chen
Art by Chao Peng
Vol 1: Birth of the Stone Monkey
Vol 2: The Bane of Heaven
Vol 3: Journey to the West
Vol 4: Enemies and a New Friend
Vol 5: Three Trials
Vol 6: The Sacred Tree
Vol 7: The Expulsion of Sun Wu Kong
Vol 8: Treasures of the Mountain Kings
Vol 9: The Stolen Kingdom
Vol 10: The Realm of the Infant King
Vol 11: Fight to the Death
Vol 12: The Lost Children
Vol 13: Trust and Temptation
Vol 14: The Duel
Vol 15: Fanning the Flames
Vol 16: The Golden Temple
Vol 17: The Seven Sisters
Vol 18: Bands of Brothers
Vol 19: Masters and Disciples
Vol 20: The Journey Ends
JR COMICS, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: All Ages