Ruler: Kim Jong Il, North Korea
Son: Kim Jong Un
Age: 27 or 28
Heir Jordan: No one outside North Korea had seen a photograph of Kim Jong Un as an adult until April, when the government-run Korean Central News Agency released an image of Kim Jong Il touring a steel plant with a 20-something man dressed in a dark suit and a red tie. North Korea watchers believed at the time it was Kim the younger, who Kenji Fujimoto, Kim Jong Il's former personal chef, describes as "a chip off the old block, a spitting image of his father in terms of face, body shape and personality."
Facts about Kim fils -- who was named a four-star general in the North Korean army at a landmark congress of the North Korean Workers' Party on Sept. 27, possibly in anticipation of succeeding his ailing father -- are hard to come by. He attended an international boarding school in Bern, Switzerland, under a pseudonym until he was 15; his former classmates describe him as a shy boy who loved Michael Jordan, skiing, and action movies. He is the youngest of Kim Jong Il's three sons, but believed to be his favorite. Kim Jong Nam, Jong Un's older half brother, was assumed to be the designated heir until he disgraced himself in 2001, getting caught trying to enter Japan on a fake passport. ("I wanted to go to Disneyland," he told police.) Kim Jong Chul, Jong Un's older brother, is considered by Jong Il to be "no good because he is like a little girl," according to Fujimoto.
Jong Un's presumed succession, however, will be considerably more difficult than his father's. Jong Il was named Kim Il Sung's heir two decades before assuming the reins of the family business. Jong Un, by contrast, may have only a few years before his father's health gives out. And he will inherit a country that is down at the heels even by North Korean standards: A disastrous currency revaluation last winter has reportedly thrown what is left of the country's economy into chaos, leaving many North Koreans desperately hungry and fomenting a worsening discontent with the Kim regime that has broken into the open in the form of riots. As a neophyte to intrigue within the Workers' Party and military elite, Jong Un could have power struggles on his hands should his father's health fail suddenly. And he has a rival in his aunt Kim Kyong Hui, Jong Il's reportedly vindictive and abusive sister, who was promoted alongside Jong Un on Monday and may be charged with shepherding his development.
Image used on the homepage: Kok Leng Yeo/Flickr
Above: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images