Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #52 by Drew Barth
The slice-of-life genre has become a staple of manga for decades now. Small stories on the incongruities and oddities of everyday living coupled with a hint of comedic absurdity has turned a genre that focuses on quieter moments into one of the most popular genres being published today. Take Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Menas a staple of the genre. Begun in 2008 and available for the first time in English just this past December, Saint Young Men focuses on two friends leaving their homes to take a gap year in Tokyo. They celebrate Christmas, they struggle to pay rent, they visit amusement parks, and typically live an ordinary life in a small apartment together. And those two friends are Buddha and Jesus Christ.
It isn’t simply the divine cast that has made Saint Young Men such a popular series among fans, but rather the simple humanity of the series as well as Nakamura’s picturesque approach to storytelling and comedy. Many of the stories in this first volume deal with the mundane: having enough rent money after an extravagant purchase, beginning a new hobby, or visiting the local community swimming pool. Nakamura is the kind of artist that is able to dive deep into those simple moments and extract something essentially human about Buddha and Jesus having a small argument over how much money they’ve been spending. More than anything, these are two friends living together—they have their inconsiderate moments and they are able to work through their issues together as well.
Much of the comedy in the series as well stems from the clashing of these friend’s two personalities. Jesus is the impulsive one who will spend most of their money at the end of the month with rent coming due, while Buddha is much more level-headed, but still has his own moments of indignation. As the series progresses, a rapport between Jesus and Buddha develops and we see aspects of their personalities beginning to influence the other. Nakamura continually strikes a wonderful balance in the characters here: they maintain themselves as serialized comedic characters—never lapsing into easy tropes—but still showing aspects of growth throughout. Maintaining these characters over the years has been one of the main reasons why Saint Young Men has persisted as a favorite across the internet despite its limited availability.
Saint Young Men now joins a pantheon of manga that, after over a decade of publication, is finally available for western readers to read legally. Coupled with the recent translations of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, many fan favorite series are finally seeing official releases from publishers like Viz Media and Kodansha USA and this can only be a good thing as the decade continues. There are still dozens of series that have yet to receive official, published releases, but hopefully Saint Young Men is only the beginning to more fantastic manga into eager reader’s hands.
Get excited. Pick up something fun.
Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.