The Key to the Kingdom Volume One is a manga by Kyoko Shitou, and it was published in North America by CMX in 2007. The series is rated “T+” for older teens; after reading this volume, I would have to agree with this rating.
The series is set in the kingdom of Landor, which is in the middle of a war with a couple of neighboring kingdoms. At the beginning of the story, the king of Landor and his older son are both killed in battle. The next in line for the throne is Prince Astarion, but he has spent more time reading books and being pampered than learning how to use a sword. The nobles are rather uneasy about Astarion ascending to the throne, and arguing wages between various nobles about who will succeed. During a meeting, Astarion declares that he doesn’t want to rule.
However, a surprising announcement is soon made to the kingdom. It is declared that whoever can find a fabled hidden treasure called the “Key to the Kingdom” within two years shall ascend to the throne. However, if no one locates the artifact within that timeframe, Astarion will become the new king. Several nobles, including Astarion, head out to search for the “Key to the Kingdom.”
Captain Baddorius Urius, the best friend of Astarion’s older brother, accompanies Astarion. While on the battlefield, Badd had made a promise to watch over Astarion as his older brother lay dying. Astrarion doesn’t trust Badd, and uses his brains to try to get away from his traveling companion. During this volume, they both come to learn of the Dragon Men, who were capable of controlling the dragons when they were still alive.
By the time I finished reading Volume One of The Key to the Kingdom, I thought there was a decent attempt at trying to establish the world that the series takes place in. The story was OK, but I didn’t get so caught up in it that I felt a need to rush out and try to find the next volume in order to see what happens next. It’s not that this was a bad story, but there just didn’t seem to be a strong enough hook to grab the reader and keep them interested in what was happening.
When it comes to the art, there seems to be a focus on trying to give many of the main males a “bishonen” (“beautiful boy”) look in their designs. The main female, the daughter of one of the nobles, seems to have been inspired by female shojo designs from the 1970s; this is particularly true in regards to her eyes and hair. While there are occasional panels with close-ups of characters that have impressive detail, the majority of the art didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
If you enjoy shojo manga stories that have a medieval feel to them and have a strong focuses on “bishonen” characters, then you will probably enjoy reading The Key to the Kingdom.