“Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll.” Psalm 40:7
Perhaps you can guess what the following titles have in common: Bleach, Full Metal Alchemist, One Piece, Dragon Ball, Slam Dunk, Sailor Moon, Death Note, Nausicaä and My Hero Academia. If you haven’t guessed already, these are all famous Japanese manga series. Manga (漫画) are Japanese comics or graphic novels and the word means literally “whimsical or impromptu pictures.” Although the concept of manga is centuries old, the present form originated in the 19th century and is now available in a variety of genres, including adventure, comedy, drama, history, science fiction, mystery, sports and fantasy. The popularity of these Japanese comics exploded in post-war Japan and the early series of Astro Boy and Sazae-san were the initial best sellers in a rapidly expanding market. People of all ages now read these graphic novels as an increasing variety of manga series are written to appeal to diverse demographic groups.
The popularity of such simple pictorial stories has given rise to the establishment of manga cafes throughout Japan where customers leisurely sip on their drinks and enjoy the vast inventory of mangas provided for their reading pleasure. These Japanese comics are typically printed in black and white on low quality paper to make them more affordable and range from 200 to 800 pages in length. The more popular manga series are often animated into TV shows or full-length movies and several have worldwide appeal. The term “manga” is now fully incorporated into the English language to describe this unique genre of Japanese literature.
A prevalent theme in many manga is that of a hero who overcomes incredible obstacles and challenges to achieve some noteworthy objective. This common heroic motif often found in manga recently served to spur a Japanese Christian publisher to develop and produce a pictorial Bible series based on the life of Christ, entitled “Manga Messiah.”
Many hints of God’s coming Chosen One are scattered throughout another written record now familiarly known to us as the Bible. In one of Jesus’ early public appearances in his hometown of Nazareth, we are told that he stood up in the local synagogue and deliberately selected and then proceeded to read a well-known messianic prophecy recorded in Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) Upon the completion of this reading, Jesus handed the scroll back to the synagogue official and shockingly announced to the assembled audience that, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (v.21)
Jesus’ journey from that point on was marked by triumph and trials and at first glance, his story seemed to end in tragedy as he followed the lonely path ordained for him by his Heavenly Father. Though recognized by few and reviled by many, Jesus heroically conquered death and sin through His selfless sacrifice on the cross. In so doing, this became the greatest story ever told that ended not at a cross, but with an empty tomb. Even better, this is no mere fanciful tale recorded by a creative mind for a new manga series. In this story, God is both the author and the principal character who achieved the supreme goal for all mankind–forgiveness of sins. That’s a story worth retelling.