Read These Five Cooking-Themed Manga to Improve Your Culinary Mojo

Cooking and reading are two passions that don't intersect as often as they should. This tends to be doubly true if one's preferred reading material gravitates more toward comics and graphic novels than cookbooks and chefs' biographies. This doesn't mean that exceptions don't exist however, and while Illustrated storybooks might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to upping your kitchen game, cooking-themed manga is a popular and respected genre in Japan. The manga series gathered here are notable for their attention to, and obvious affection for, food and cooking, as well as for the fact that each of these makes a point of sharing easy, step-by-step recipes for the delicious dishes featured in the stories.
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  • Yakitate!! Ja-pan

  • Original Run: 2002-2007
    Author: Hashiguchi Takashi
    Here we get the story of young Azuma Kazuma, and his quest to create a national bread for Japan, one in which the country can take pride and that will appeal to the Japanese palate even more than rice. This laudable, if unusual pursuit (given that neither breadmaking nor bread consumption have played a significant historical role in Japan's culinary traditions) takes Kazuma, in the series' initial story arc, from his grandfather's small-town rice farm to Tokyo with the intention of honing his breadmaking craft. Kazuma is endowed with the rare and legendary gift of "Solar Hands," meaning that his unnaturally warm hands speed and enhance the fermentation process in the dough he touches. Recognizing this as an obvious benefit when he turns up at bakery Pantasia seeking employment, he finds that applicants must compete in a series of recruitment baking challenges to earn a place with the establishment, which is regarded as Japan's most prestigious bakery. Working against Kazuma, aside from immediate missteps that threaten his chances of acceptance, is a host of competitive bakers that don't mind breaking the rules to outdo their rivals at any cost.

    This manga's longevity after beginning as a 5-week run speaks to its popularity, which extended across all age demographics, as well as to the baking industry in Japan. The explanations of various baking techniques and terms woven throughout the narrative are a key feature that make this manga as educational as it is entertaining.
  • Cooking Papa (Kukkingu Papa)

  • Original Run: 1985-Present
    Author: Ueyama Tochi
    One of Japan's longest-running volume-based manga series, this story is centered on Araiwa Kazumi, a salaryman, husband, and father with a knack for creating great meals for his family. Because his office is mere minutes from his residence and his wife's demanding career and decided lack of culinary skill afford her scant opportunity for cooking at home, Araiwa shoulders that responsibility with zeal. He takes great pains, however, to conceal his kitchen skills from his officemates, going so far as to lie to them that the fantastic meals he often shares at work are his wife's creations. He maintains this facade for fear of obliterating his gruff workplace image and being viewed as emasculated for enjoying cooking, a role traditionally held by the woman of the house.

    Although the series leans into some familiar (some might even say "worn") tropes like the "masculine character with an 'unmanly' interest" and the "career woman with no time for 'domestic' tasks," it subverts others, like traditional household roles of husband as emotionally absent breadwinner and wife as homemaker who stays in the kitchen. Each story in this series features an illustrated recipe introduced and explained step-by-step by Araiwa. While the main recipe focus is on Japanese cuisine like soba, sashimi, and rice soup, one can also find guidance on how to prepare dishes like ice cream, casseroles, and cakes.
  • Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma

  • Original Run: 2012-Present
    Author: Tsukuda Yūto
    Yukihira Sōma's lifelong dream has been to surpass the culinary accomplishments of his father, Chef Yukihira Jōichirō, by pursuing a career as a professional chef in his dad's restaurant. The elder Yukihira unwittingly bottlenecks his son's aim by accepting a job that requires him to close the restaurant and relocate overseas. Though disheartened by this setback, young Yukihira Sōma finds himself reinvested in his goal when his father issues him a challenge to survive in an elite culinary academy with a graduation rate of a mere 10 percent. This manga series brings the reader along as the junior Yukihira navigates the experiences of developing relationships with other students as well as his culinary skills.

    Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma enjoyed two notable distinctions in 2014. It ranked 12th on the list of Top 20 Manga for Male Readers published in that year's edition of manga guidebook Kono Manga ga Sugoi! And taking third place in Japan's Nationwide Bookstore Employees' Recommended Comics of 2014. The series is generous with illustrated recipes bearing names like "Yukihira Style Shalyapin Steak Don" and "Spanish Mackerel Cooked with Peppers and a Garnish of Spring Cabbage Puree" and recommendations by the characters. Easy-to-follow steps and a fun format contribute to a series that offers up a wide variety of main dishes, sides, and desserts.
  • Kitchen Princess

  • Original Run: 2004-2008
    Author:Kobayashi Miyuki
    This shōjo (targeted toward girls) romance/cooking manga introduces readers to 13-year-old aspiring chef Kazami Najika. Saved from drowning a few years before the story opens, Kazami's aim is to find and fulfill a promise she made to her mysterious rescuer, a boy she's dubbed her "flan prince" because he gave one to her after saving her. Having promised to make him the best-tasting dessert in the world, Kazami traces the silver spoon from the flan she was given to Tokyo's Seika Academy, a school to which the utensil is unique. The series follows Kazami's quest to find her prince to Seika Academy, where she finds work at the campus diner under talented but lazy Chef Fujita, and competes in cooking competitions, while making new friends and attracting new suitors from among her schoolmates.

    Flan being both an integral story element and one of the many food prep instructionals presented throughout the series doesn't mean the recipes are confined to desserts dishes. How-tos for pulling together s like Chicken Doria, Vegetable Potage, Onion Gratin Soup, and more await the kitchen-minded comic fan in this series that took the 2006 Kodansha Manga Award in the children's category.
  • Addicted to Curry

  • Original Run: 2001-2012
    Author: Funatsu Kazuki
    When Sonezaki Yui, daughter of famed chef/restaurateur Souichirou, discovers a mysterious stranger lying in the street, her first instinct is to give him something to eat. She learns that his name is Koenji Makito, and that he not only knows her father, but owes the man a debt for saving his life years earlier. Finding the elder Sonezaki away traveling to improve his cooking skills because his restaurant business verges on closing from lack of customers, Koenji determines to repay his debt by helping Sonezaki Yui save the underperforming establishment. Though somewhat perverted, Koenji is skilled at cooking curry of every regional style—albeit in his own unconventional style— from having traveled the world learning the craft. Together he and Sonezaki will face down obstacles from hostile takeover attempts to fierce and underhanded competing establishments, and everything in-between.

    As one might expect, curries are the focus of the recipes presented at the end of each chapter in this series. Whether you're seeking the perfect spice-rich accompaniment for your Green Tea Rice or you just need to get some Curry Ramen into your life, there's a recipe in here that suits your curry needs. Included for each how-to are easy, illustrated directions with information about the approximate number of servings, and other good information. Volume 1, chapter 4 even gives readers notes on "helper ingredients" (like banana, mango jam, and even coffee, as a few examples) that help draw forth and complement the best flavor elements of curry, adding richness and depth to the finished meal.

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