To me, Minekura-sama is a god. Her work is beautifully drawn, with deep, intricately real characters, strong page-turning storylines and laugh-out-loud one-liners. A recipe for perfection if ever I saw one. And Saiyuki may well be her best manga so far.
Story: Intense, fast-paced and moving. High-tension battle scenes are perfectly balanced with calm character-interaction moments, and every now and then there's a flashback. Now Minekura-sama can't take full credit for the story, as it's based (quite closely, apparently) on the Chinese "Xiyouji" legend, so it's not like she came up with it. However, since my favourite arc is the "Be There" arc, which is fully
Minekura-sama's invention, I think I can award her high marks here ^^
Art: Ah, the art. You only need to look at the cover of volume one to know that you're dealing with an exceptional artist. The only reason I gave it a 9 rather than a 10 for art is that it takes Minekura-sama a while to get into her stride. In the first volume, the art is - well - kind of rubbish. But DO NOT BE PUT OFF BY IT!!! By the time you hit volume 4, all the "Oh gods, what's with his bendy neck?" moments are gone, and by the end of volume 9 it's as though you're looking at a different manga. Each frame is worthy of a front cover. Magnificent ^^ Just stick with it!
Character: The cast of characters in Saiyuki are some of the most loveable characters I've ever come across. A gun-toting priest, a food-obsessed monkey, a lecherous half-demon and a kind human-turned-youkai. Each of them has a dark tragedy in their past that makes them who they are, and so each character has several layers to their personality, making them extremely believeable and real. Luckily, though, Minekura-sama decided not to make Hakkai a pig, as in the original Xiyouji legend xD He is faar improved as a gorgeous bishonen ^^
[sorry, I keep using ^^, it's a bit of a habit xD moving on!]
Enjoyment: The most enjoyable series I have had the pleasure to read. As I said, the art is wonderful (once you get past the first few volumes), the story is thrilling and the characters are loveable. A better bunch of bishonen you couldn't find anywhere. And it's the brilliant one-liners that make you scream with laughter (well, maybe that's just me xD). Oh and the translators deserve a mention: the Nibley sisters (?) have done the best translating job I've ever seen! And, of course, there's the shonen-ai. Now for those who are uncomfortable with shonen-ai, don't worry - there is nothing explicit, it is all just little phrases and glances that *can* be interpreted in that way, but you can read the entire series just thinking they're all just good friends. Me, I love shonen-ai, and seeing all the subtext just made the series stick in my mind that much more, and is one of the reasons I keep going back to re-read and re-read.
Overall: Fantastic! Amazing! Superb! Unrivalled! I honestly can't recommend this series highly enough. Whether you're interested in comedy, drama, character analysis, beautiful art, shonen-ai, comeraderie, action; it's all here! Saiyuki is the full and ultimate manga package and anyone and everyone should at least give it a try. Go and read it now!! Right now!!