I have a particular fondness for stories that mess around with world religions, particularly if they do so with humor, respect, and insight. Two of my favorites are Saiyuki by Kazuya Minekura and Saint Young Men by Hikaru Nakamura. Saiyuki is currently available in a four-volume complete hardcover “Resurrected Edition.” Saint Young Men is an ongoing manga, now with seven omnibus volumes available in hardcover.
Saiyuki is a very loose retelling of the ancient Chinese legend of the Journey to the West (Xiyouji), first told in 1580 by Wu Cheng’en and continued in numerous tales about Son Goku, the Monkey King. Journey to the West is itself a very loose retelling of a real journey by a sixth century holy priest to bring religious texts to China from India, though I rather doubt that the historical Sanzang was accompanied by Son Goku and two other demons. I’m told that the kanji for the title in the manga Saiyuki are pronounced the same as the Chinese name but can also mean “messing around to the extreme.” There are elements in the manga that are recognizable for those who know the history and legends. But for most readers, the journey toward India (in a Jeep) by a very unholy Sanzo priest and his three angsty demon companions on the worst road trip ever, is just pure gonzo fun.
Saint Young Men is a series of short stories with the unlikely premise that Jesus and Buddha are given a year off from Heaven after humanity’s successful reaching of the new millennia, and are living together in a small apartment in Tokyo. The background assumption is that everything written in the history of both Christianity and Buddhism is completely true, even though it might be contradictory. Jesus is into computer games and Buddha can’t resist modern appliances. The two pals entertain their apostles and disciples in the tiny room they can barely afford (because Heaven is not up to date on the cost of living) and enjoy visiting prime Tokyo tourist attractions, leaving random miracles and inner peace in their wake.