Saint Young*Men (aka Saint Oniisan) starts with a unique & sacrilegious premise: Jesus & Buddha, needing a break from heaven, end up sharing an apartment in present day Tokyo. Each chapter features the pair discovering some new modernity (manga, public baths & swimming pools, roller coasters, bargain shopping) with silly results.
For example: Jesus parts the waters of the swimming pool. Buddha weeps while reading Tezuka’s Buddha, which inspires him to write his own manga (no one gets it). Jesus tries to put aside his selfish desire to see a parade (Buddha wants to go souvenir shopping), but fails (and terrifies bystanders) when his stigmata spurt blood. At the public bath, a Yakuza gets the wrong impression when he asks Jesus who wounded him, and Jesus cheerfully answers “The government.” You know, typical stuff.
Jesus has admirers at the konbini (source).
Saint Young*Men succeeds largely because manga-ka Hikaru Nakamura pushed aside any urges she had for religious commentary or criticism, and went straight for comedy. That decision created a minor miracle: a religious comedy that manages to be funny without ridiculing either faiths or their followers. Instead of irony, Saint Young*Men offers a “grandpa joke” vibe, emphasizing puns and nudge-nudge in-jokes (like Jesus’ horror at being offered a dead fish). It’s such a light touch, in fact, that some Catholic & Protestant churches in Japan have distributed the comic.
Buddha & Jesus debate if they can get the senior discount at an amusement park.
So when English language write-ups of Saint Young*Men note the unlikelihood of a licensed American version, I don’t see why. We have sensitive believers here, but manga readers rarely fall into that group. Also, compared to pop phenom South Park, whose pilot featured Jesus & Santa in a death brawl over Christmas, Saint Young*Men seems positively wholesome. Considering the series’ popularity and critical acclaim in Japan, and the amount of blogger buzz it has already generated (sans an anime series or long print run), I’d be more surprised if someone doesn’t snatch up the license.
You can read more about Saint Young*Men at MangaCast, watashi to tokyo, kyuuketsukirui, & Otaku Champloo. The first five chapters are available in English at Megchan’s Scanlations (the source for the excerpts) or at onemanga.com.
Jesus & Buddha try a roller coaster.