The phrase “think outside of the box” or, popularized by Apple “think different[ly] [corrected English mine], have been heard so often that they are now cliché. Nonetheless, it remains relatively rare and difficult to break out of our thought patterns. Whoever thought of using Japanese manga (stylized Japanese cartoon) to tell Bible stories definitely stepped outside the box for a bit of think. Kind of a cool idea, but don’t we have plenty of Bible stories already, why magna? Well, one of the benefits of reading Bible stories in manga form, besides simply being a beautiful literary/art form, is that it takes stories that may be all too familiar to us and makes them fresh. We see them from a different perspective. [Full disclosure: I received free copies of the Next Manga series for an honest review. The chief marketing officer is also a friend from college.]
The Next Manga series covers an astonishing breadth of the Bible. Manga Mutiny tell stories from creation through the Exodus. (By the way, I love the title Mutiny as descriptor of what our rebellion against God is like). Manga Melech
(meaning King) takes you through entry into the promised land to the end of David’s rule. Manga Messengers takes covers the prophets up through Malachi. Manga Messiahcovers the gospel and Manga Metamorphosis cover Acts.
These are stories not only faithfully rendered great Bible stories but do so beautifully. The art work of Ryo Azumi is first class among the manga world, the amazing ability of manga to convey action, emotion and connection in just a few cells is used to is full potential and the writing/dialog is well written. Like short story, manga is delivers a lot in a short space. A great example of that is when Abraham is going to the mountain with Isaac to sacrifice him – the Lord himself will provide a sacrifice (I apologize for the quality of the capture, but I believe it illustrates how much is conveyed quickly):
Another example of quickly establishing the scene before us is Paul addressing the crown in Acts 2 from Next Metamorphosis:
There are many of these places where the intimacy and immediacy are portrayed – Nathan’s accusation of David (Melech) and Moses’ sight of the promised land with the bitterness of not being able to enter (Mutiny) are a couple other examples that come to mind.
For those of us who are well versed in Bible stories, how does these stories take us out of the mode of rehashing old stories?
- They pull us out culturally. You’ve never seen Paul or David like this before. There are times when I’m ready for the Kung Fu to ensue, but seriously, all of the predisposed cultural wrappings are gone to allow the essence of the story to come through.
- They provide a sense of immediacy and action. As the gospel spread in the early days of the church, there was tremendous growth and change. Like Mark’s gospel, these are action packed stories that remind of us the sense of urgency within the early church.
- They provide a fresh way to share God’s redemptive work throughout human history.
What about benefits for those who are young, have challenges with reading or have cultural blinders on that make reading the Bible difficult [By the way, I’m not suggesting that magna or any graphic novel is just for those who can’t read, they are a viable form of literature in their own right.] Clearly the Next series provides access to stories to which they may not have access or avail themselves of that access.
Now, let me address some potential concerns. 1. These stories may distract people from the Bible itself. 2. People may confuse these with fictional cartoons thus putting in jeopardy the historicity of the Bible. 3. These stories dumb-down the gospel. First, ultimately, of course, my desire, and I believe the desire of the folks at Next, is that those who are introduced to Biblical stories will be pointed to their source. As fabulous as these stories are, they are supplement to, rather than a substitution for the original source. Second, there are works of fiction in print just like the Bible; the magna format does not, in itself, suggest fiction and the way they are presented in the Next Magna series clearly communicates otherwise. Finally, it is really a misunderstanding of graphic novels in general, and manga in particular, their just for people who can’t be bothered to read. They are their own genre and art form. Do we suggest poems for the ignorant because they’re shorter than novels? The convey thoughts differently.
In summary, the Next Magna series is a vibrant, faithful look at Bible stories that provide a fresh and unique viewpoint in which to be immersed in and engaged by God’s love and redemption for His people. It also does a beautiful job pointing to the source of those stories – God’s word. I know for me, it’s been a great way to reorient myself to well known stories in a fresh way.