I’ve heard mixed things about Christianity, and know a limited amount of only one country’s iteration of Buddhism. As such, I had no idea what I was getting into when I began to read Saint Young Men, published in English by Kodansha Comics.
“Christianity? Buddhism? What does any of that have to do with this?” you ask. Well, this manga is set in modern Japan, like your usual manga. It’s about two guys renting an apartment together during their vacation there, see. Those two roomies are none other than Jesus Christ and Buddha.
At the very least, you don’t need to do research on either religions, for the translators have already done it for you. There are notes in every volume on all the religious references to help you understand what’s going on. Thank God too… for there’s a LOT of stuff to get, especially since Buddhism in particular varies between countries, and this Buddha seems to encapsulate a little of everything.
Let me just say that this is one of the most unique comedic portrayals of religious figures that I have ever seen. In Western culture, most interpretations of religious figures (particularly Jesus) that I’ve seen in pop culture have been done in comedic matters that try to be funny by being offensive on purpose, such as that iconic Family Guy episode where Jesus chainsmokes and is kind of an A-hole (for the record, I do know about the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, but in this post I’m talking about more fictional portrayals). By comparison, Saint Young Men is a simple portrayal of these two kind of just being regular guys; they are on vacation after all.
With this being a slice-of-life, the characters are where it’s at, since you need incentive to read about people doing boring everyday stuff. In Saint Young Men, Jesus and Buddha are genuinely good friends, which- intentional or not- promotes a social commentary to where people of different faiths can exist in harmony together. I find their interactions to be similar to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Jesus is aloof and acts more like Laurel, while Buddha plays the straight man and behaves more like Hardy (although he too is a bit of a goofball). Their relationship is fun and wholesome, and gives Saint Young Men a refreshing and relaxing feel.
As for the art, Saint Young Men is very simple. It reminds me of the Descending Stories manga I covered a while back, but since this manga isn’t as serious, the style doesn’t clash. The characters are very expressive, and the panel flow is strong.
The one nitpick that I have with Saint Young Men is Jesus and Buddha being in it. “But you just said-” Allow me to explain! As previously mentioned, I’m not at all offended by these figures’ portrayal. However, their existence seems a bit… marketable. Regardless of if the mangaka genuinely wants to make a great manga with this premise, the presence of these figures inherently makes Saint Young Men an easy impulse buy (it worked on me, even). If I merely described it as “two guys live together in a flat in Tokyo”, would you be interested? Probably not. Maybe you’d be interested if I said “a Christian man and a Buddhist man live together in a flat in Tokyo”, but regardless, the actual content of the manga isn’t that much different from a bog-standard slice-of-life. There isn’t even any commentary on the social state of the figures’ respective religions, which might be a turn-off for people who like that kind of stuff.
Current Verdict: 8.4/10
Saint Young Men is a great manga. It’s a fun, fluffy comedy about two gods living life. Of course, you will need a mind as open as Breath of the Wild’s overworld in order to enjoy it.