Top Six Buddhism-Inspired Comics

Via John Pappas
on Jul 3, 2010
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*The inner dork strives*

This was originally inspired by a great post on Buddhist Images in Comics by the Rev. Danny Fisher.

At the suggestion of the Ven. Dr. Yifa, who told me that the kids were all huge fans of the film Bulletproof Monk (which is based on a comic book), I presented on Buddhism and comic books.  My presentation, entitled Bulletproof Monks, Green Lamas, and Thunderlords:  Images of Buddhism in Popular Comic Books, was thrown together rather quickly (with invaluable assists from the super-fun website Comic Book Religion Database), but I think I still able to start an interesting conversation with the kids and parents.

I might make a real paper out of this material some day, but I’ll tell you a little bit about it now (with a few examples).

I hope that he does do a real paper off of this material…The seedy kingdom of dork would be pleased.  I’ve been wanting to list a few of my favorite comics that have a heavy or light dose of Buddhism present within the pages (and ideally not as sub-standard as Wolverine bowing to a Shinto shrine once in a while).

After reading Blake Wilson’s “Six Buddhists that wil kick your ass” I decided to reprint (in true comic fashion) this old post and provide my own “ass-kicking” Buddhist comic characters and comics.

  • Lone Wolf and Cub ~ Kazuo Koike & Goseki Kojima:  There is a nice undercurrent of the koan Mu running through this entire series.  Granted, its flowing underneath an orgy of death, violence and boobs but it is there none-the-less.  Also as a prime example of Zen practice in parenting; The interactions between Daigoro and Ogami Itto are simply amazing and the ending of this series will haunt you for weeks.
  • After Ogami Ittō’s wife Azami gives birth to their son, Daigorō, Ogami Ittō returns to find her and all of their household brutally murdered, with only the newborn Daigorō surviving. The supposed culprits are three former retainers of an abolished clan, avenging the execution of their lord by Ogami Ittō. However, the entire matter was planned by Ura-Yagyū (Shadow Yagyu) Yagyū Retsudō, leader of the Yagyū clan, in order to seize Ogami’s post. During the initial incursion, an ihai (funeral tablet) with the shogun’s crest on it was placed inside the Ogami family shrine, signifying a supposed wish for the shogun’s death. When the tablet is “discovered” during the murder investigation, its presence condemns Ittō as a traitor and thus forfeits his post.

    The 1-year-old Daigorō is given a choice by his father: a ball or a sword. If Daigorō chose the ball, his father would kill him, sending him to be with his mother; however, the child crawls toward the sword and reaches for its hilt. This assigns him the path of a rōnin, wandering the country with his father as “demons” – the assassin-for-hire team that becomes known as Lone Wolf and Cub, vowing to destroy the Yagyū clan to avenge Azami’s death and Ittō’s disgrace. (from Wikipedia)

  • Vagabond ~ Takehiko Inoue:  More violence and a fictional retelling of the life and times of Miyamoto Musashi (a famous Japanese swordman).  One of the main characters is Takuan Soho – A practicing Zen Monk in the Rinzai tradition (the writings of which can be found in the book “An Unfettered Mind“).  Takuan runs through the series as trainer/father-figure and guide to Miyamoto Musashi (and, ironically, his rival Sasaki Kojiro).  Blunt and honest, Takuan helps to capture Miyamoto Musashi by appealing to his human frailities and then sets him free to become a better swordman.  In true Buddhist fashion those same frailities that got him caught in the first place are the ones that make him a stronger swordman.

  • Shaman King ~ Hiroyuki Takei: Loaded with more religious references than a camel has spit.  Its fun and it makes me laugh….especially the duo of Buddhist monks that turn into a mega-metal band.  Silly for the most part and not really ass-kicking.  Miyamoto Musashi pops in as a (hungry?) ghost in this series.

  • Butsu Zone ~ Hiroyuki Takei:  The adventures of Senju (The Thousand-Hand Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva) who is quested by Amitabha to protect Sachi, an incarnation of the Buddha Miroku. Miroku is supposed to appear in an era when the Dharma is completely forgotten, become enlightenmented, reiintroduce the dharma, becoming a successor of Śākyamuni Buddha.  Senju is there to guide and help plus Bodhisattva MECH-SUITS!!  So awesome.  Read it for free here

  • Buddha ~ Osamu Tezuka:  Well, its a comic version of the life and times of Gautama Buddha and it looks like Astro-Boy.  To be honest I have not read this one yet.  But I have admired it from afar and I have a Borders Gift Card burning a hole in my pocket…

And Lastly….

I am sure that I missed a few good comics out there with a flavoring of Buddhism…I’ve been out of the “Comics-Geek” game for a while so if you have some other additions, please throw them into the comments section below!

The Reverend Danny Fisher, Blake Wilson and John Pappas…Buddhist dorks unite!  The Trifecta of Geekdom!




About John Pappas

John Pappas is a struggling Zen practitioner with a slight Vajrayana palate (but he won't admit it) stumbling between the relative and absolute through the Buddhist Purgatory otherwise known as the Great Plains of South Dakota. Emerging writer, librarian and aspiring hungry ghost, John spews his skewed perception of the dharma all over his personal blog, Subtle Dharma Mouth Punch as well as on the ephemeral Elephant Journal and occasionally (while having no artistic ability to speak of) on Dharma/Arte. John also loves tacos, homebrew, yoginis and obscure Cthulhu references. You can follow him on twitter under the handle @zendustzendirt


16 Responses to “Top Six Buddhism-Inspired Comics”

  1. Ari Pliskin says:

    So great to find other Buddhist/comics geeks! I read the first half of Tezuka's Buddha only. He takes a lot of liberties, but I think it is a pretty decent interpretation. I used it while teaching ancient world history in high school. I had the students write about which elements of the comic conformed to scripture and which were Tezuka's innovation. After that, they also had the option of making their own comics. I always thought that if I had to study a language for a divinity degree, I would try to convince them to let me study Japanese Buddhist comics.

  2. Needs more photos!

  3. Speaker-to-Animals says:

    What, no mention of "Force of Buddha's Palm" (Jademan comics, Hong Kong, circa 1990)?

  4. *gasp* I will have to check it out!

  5. Helena Weizel says:

    There is a series of biographic novels/mangas about modern heroes, a.o. the great, real “buddhist hero” H.H. 14. Dalai Lama, which was recently published by Eiji Han Shimizu (film maker, producer, publisher and “Happiness”-activist) in many languages.
    Its Tibetan version is used to educate children in schools in Dharamsala and the young buddhist monks at the Kopan Monastery in Nepal!

  6. That is awesome! I never heard of that one. I will need to check it out. Does HHDL wear a cape?

  7. mary says:

    Love Osamu Tezuka's Buddha series, liberties taken are not out of tune ,
    How can you not include' Tthe magical life of Milarepa with introduction by Trinley Norbu no less.

  8. Jack Daw says:

    "How can you not include…" Easy! I had no idea it existed. But I do now so I have no excuse. Thanks for the recommendation.

  9. koshinzen says:

    How does one download these comics, I tried to sign on but no answer, thanks for some ideas

  10. koshinzen says:

    The 8 vol set on Buddha, hear there is a Japanese movie coming out, how does one get a DVD will it be in English? Thanks ko shin

  11. Joseph Boquiren says:

    I am reading Vagabond now (on book 8) and have read Osamu Tezuka's Buddha.

  12. Jaime McLeod says:

    Tezuka's Buddha is definitely worth reading, and owning. I've been trying to track down some reasonably priced hardcovers used, because the paperback set doesn't make that cool continuous picture shown above.

  13. Jack Daw says:

    Hmmmm….didn't even think about it but there are some Buddhist/Taoist themes. Ugh, the movie just killed me though.

  14. Jack Daw says:

    I imagine that an english version would come out but don't know when.

    Also Dogen: The Movie which I would very much like to see.

  15. […] systems (myriad!) that have shaped its present today. (Care for some Buddhism-inspired comics? Here […]