Review of Saint Young Men (Volume 1) by Hikaru Nakamura published by Kodansha Comics

I found this on Netgalley and was instantly drawn by the description – Jesus and Buddha returning to Earth to share a flat in Tokyo for a gap year. 

What I didn’t realise initially is that this is a manga and that’s not something that I’ve read previously. I also didn’t realise that this one has been waiting some time for an official English release. It was published in April 2019 and the good news is there’s a new volume every month. It’s available from outlets such as Barnes and Noble, Kobo and Indie Bookstore.

The first thing I had to do was look up how to read it. The website had some very useful instructions:

So you basically read from right to left in case you’re wondering. 

But that’s exactly why it’s good to step outside your comfort zone and read something totally different because I really enjoyed Saint Young Men. The artwork is excellent, it’s black and white with lots of detail and excellent facial expressions at times, conveying moods and feelings perfectly. There’s often subtle background details like slogans on t-shirts. 

The writing is excellent too. The characters of Buddha and Jesus have an endearing friendship and they find themselves in lots of unusual situations such as meeting a gangster in a sauna, doing a stand-up comedy routine, taking a commuter train and attending a theme park. 

There’s lots of clever humour in Saint Young Men, as you’d expect it pokes fun at both of the characters and their respective religions but in a quite a subtle way – for example they are called hippie and man perm.  

It’s more a case of taking a different perspective, which you may do after reading this too. Jesus is portrayed as a consumerist who’s keen on spending money and likes blogging whilst Buddha is much more frugal and enjoys manga. Although they often disagree – for example whether to watch the parade or go to the theme park shop to buy a souvenir they always work it out amicably between themselves. 

There’s also some handy translation notes at the back, these explain some of the cultural and religious references and help put some of the situations and associated humour into context. 

There’s also a specially-penned afterword by British Museum curator Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, who helped acquire pages from Saint Young Men for the British Museum genga collection.

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