A new generation of manga comic books with biblical and Catholic themes are sweeping through the Christian book market.
Manga is the Japanese word for “comic book,” and refers to a style of Japanese comic strips characterized by complex story lines, black-and-white illustrations and edgy figures drawn with large eyes.
Manga comic books offer children an alternative to the colorful art work and narratives of traditional illustrated children’s Bibles.
The first manga Bible comic book came out in 2007: “The Manga Bible: From Genesis to Revelation” (Waterbrook Press, $14). It was followed by “Manga Messiah” (Tyndale, $6), which depicted Jesus’ life.
“The Manga Bible” was created and drawn by the prolific British-Nigerian comic artist Ajibayo Akinsiku, also known as Siku, who attended the London School of Theology.
Like most comics, both “The Manga Bible” and “Manga Messiah” are light on narrative and heavy on modernized dialogue. “The Manga Bible” is based on the New International Version but takes considerable liberties with the text. For example:
“Come on, guys, these ‘giants’ are only flesh and blood. We’ll take them apart,” an Israelite tells his brothers when contemplating the invasion of Canaan in “The Manga Bible.”
Launching the idea
Two years after “The Manga Bible” and “Manga Messiah” appeared, Jonathan Lin, a young Catholic entrepreneur in the United States, was trying to think of a new business to launch.
His father asked him why there were no manga comic books on lives of the saints. A longtime fan of Japanese animation, Lin loved the idea.
Shortly after this conversation, he launched Manga Hero — a publishing company dedicated to producing manga-style comics on biblical and Catholic themes.
What sets Manga Hero apart from the other manga Bible publishers is that the detail of the stories, which often focus on a single biblical character.
So far, the company has produced two multi-volume Bible manga series — one on the Old Testament heroine Judith and the other on St. Paul.
The Gospel through art
“We decided to use the manga format because, in the last decade, manga has experienced explosive growth in popularity throughout the world,” Lin told Our Sunday Visitor. “We want to use manga as a tool to show the youth and the world that the Church is not afraid of modernity and evolving culture.”
Manga Hero comics aim to fulfill the Church’s mission to present the Gospel message in new languages and cultures, Lin said.
The company released “Habemus Papam” in 2011, a short manga comic on the election of Pope Benedict XVI. They also recently released the “Action Bible,” a full-color comic book version of the entire Bible that won the 2011 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Christian Book Award.
Father Matthew Kinney, an associate pastor at St. Anthony Marie de Claret Church in Kyle, Texas, and a longtime manga and anime fan, said he supports biblical comic books.
“As a Catholic priest, I am keenly aware of the history of religious art and how religious art has, for centuries, been a tool for learning and understanding the Faith,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity for evangelization because of the popularity of the manga style among both Christian and non-Christian readers,” the priest added.
Robert Hutchinson writes from California.