Online Exhibition: Japanese Food Culture: History and Mystery: Food Manga: Culture, Cooking, and Competition


It is no exaggeration to say everyone (except babies and toddlers) read manga. Manga genres can be roughly divided by age and gender of the reader, such as boys, girls, young adult, men, women, etc. Also, there are various genres by subject such as action, sci-fi, horror, mystery, love, comedy. . .  and food. Often known as gourmet or cooking manga, this genre has become one of the popular genres. Although food is the central theme, the gourmet manga works are diverse and across different genres. Works can be comedy, action, romance, and/or history. 

Cooking/Gourmet manga often focuses on a chef, those who cook food in restaurants. So, in this sense, they are manga for professionals who devote their lives to cooking. For example, Aji ichi monme depicts the growth process of a young chef working in a Japanese restaurant. When two chefs are in a contest against each other, the cooking/gourmet manga can be the story of battle. Boys manga depicts food battle stories which sometimes become ridiculously wild. As shown in Yakitate!! Japan, young, genius bread makers show off their extraordinary technique, which is often beyond the ability of human being, who create innovative food which tastes unworldly. The story may also focus on those who eat. The epicurean journalist in Oishinbo does not hesitate to reveal their deep knowledge of food ingredients, thereby providing the readers with the educational information on food. Some manga use food as communication tool. While depicting the daily life of the characters, the story shows what they cook and how they dine together, usually with the recipe of the featured meal. One extraordinary cookbook manga is Danjon-meshi, a fantasy manga which explains how to cook monsters living in a dungeon. Some historical manga introduces what people eat and dine in the certain period or area. The adventure manga Golden Kamui depicts the food culture of Ainu tribe while following the quest of the protagonist Sugimoto, who is trying to find the fortune of gold, hidden by the Ainu people. Sensō meshi is a collection of short stories based on interviews and letters, recreating the experiences and memories related to food during the Second World War. Though many episodes tell how people suffered from food shortage, they also narrate the small happiness they found in food. Despite of dealing sober, serious and often sad stories, the colorful jacket of each volume depicts people devouring food with a big smile, which gives humorous undertone. 

Nigakute amai (Bitter Sweet), 2010-2017

In her workplace, Eda Maki is a highly respected career woman. But being incapable of all kinds of household chores, her room looks like a trash can. She loves junk food while disliking vegetables, throwing away organic vegetables sent by her father who manages an organic farm. One day, she meets a young man, Katayama Nagisa, and somehow she ends up living with him. She fells in love with him and his cooking. He is neat, tidy and staunch organic vegan. On top of that, he is gay. . . A light-touch love comedy with a gender twist. Every episode features easy vegan cooking.

Nigakutei amai kōshiki reshipi (Recipes from Bitter Sweet), 2016

Selected vegan dishes appeared in the comedy Nigakute Amai are introduced with their recipes. The featured recipes include brown rice and tofu bowl along with a yam and rice bowl.

Kinō nani tabeta? (What Did You Eat Yesterday?), 2007-

Yoshinaga Fumi, known as a BL (Boys' Love) author, depicts the every day life of a gay couple and their friends and family; their happiness, trivial worries, occasional quarrels and reconciliations. In each episode, the characters cook and eat, and at the end of each episode, the author makes comments on the food they cook in the episode with its recipe. At the beginning of the story, the protagonists, Shirō and Kenji, were in their early 40s, but they get older as the series continues, and Yoshinaga describes the changing relations between them and their family, friends, and colleagues. A live action drama was created in 2019, which was followed by a new theatrical film, released in 2021.

Seiyō kottō yōgashiten (Antique Bakery), 2000-2002

The author, Yoshinaga Fumi, does not hesitate to express her love of food, and her works often feature delicious food and those who enjoy eating. In this work, Yoshinaga describes the lives of four men who work for a bakery, "Antique." Each episode features a special dessert, but the focus of the drama is in the relations of the four men, as each men carries unresolved pains and struggles in their own hearts. The displayed pages comically describes Kanda Eiji, who is forced to retire from his professional boxing career due to an injury. He eats the cake in "Antique" for the first time and receives electric shock because of its extraordinary taste.

Shitsuren shokoratie, 2009-2015

The story focuses on Koyurugi Souta, a talented young chocolatier who is also very timid. He is secretly in love with Saeko and decides to become a chocolatier to make chocolates, Saeko'e best favorite sweets. After training in France, Souta returns back to Japan to open his own shop and finds himself creating the chocolate wedding cake for Saeko's party. Without knowing his feelings, Saeko visits his shop to taste his chocolates, and Souta keeps creating new chocolate recipes to sublimate his one-way love towards Saeko. Though this comic deals with the chocolates and chocolate desserts, the genre of this work better fits into romance rather than gourmet, describing complicated love relations among the characters.

Andōnatsu: Edo wagashi shokunin monogatari, 2006-2013

This is a story about a young woman, Andō Natsu, who works for a small Japanese sweet shop, Mangetsudō, located in Asakusa Town, which continues to be a "good old" Japanese neighborhood. While introducing the beauty and sensitivity of traditional Japanese sweets, the story describes the heart warming relationship between Natsu and the sweets artisans in Mangetsudō and people in Asakusa Town. Due to Nishi's untimely death, the story remains unfinished.

Sensō meshi, 2015-

A collection of wartime short stories. Based on interviews and letters, the author Uonome recreates the experiences and memories related to food during WWII. The scanned pages are the part of the episode titled "Oden in the midsummer." This is based on the story what an owner of a bar witnessed in a soba restaurant. One hot August day, an old man came to a soba restaurant and ordered oden, a type of traditional Japanese hotchpotch, usually eaten in cold winter time. Looking at the oden served, the old man started to cry and could not eat. Asked by the restaurant owner, he started to share his story when he was a soldier during WWII. In 1944, he was fighting on a front line in South Asia, against a British troop. He became a friend with another soldier who treated him like his dead young brother. The soldier got injured by an air raid, and in clouded consciousness, spoke to his "young brother" about the fact that he wanted to eat oden. The young protagonist made oden using what was available. It looked distasteful, but the wounded soldier ate, and soon died, whispering it was delicious. The protagonist was captured by the British Army and survived the war. He had not eaten oden since that day. He finally decided to try it, but while looking at the oden, he remembered his best friend and regretted it, breaking out in tears for not being able to cook his friend delicious oden.

Oishinbo, 1984-

Oisihnbo is one of the most popular gourmet comics in Japan. The protagonist, Yamaoka Shirō, is a lazy newspaper journalist but with deep knowledge on food. While he is assigned to create "the ultimate menu," where he confronts against his own father, a well known food critique, Kaibara Yūzan. In many food comics, protagonists are chefs and the stories often depict their competitions against rivalry chefs. This series also features food competitions, but protagonist Yamaoka's role is to provide information and knowledge on the dishes featured in the episode. This series often discusses highly controversial issues concerning Japanese diet and related industries, such as agriculture and fishery. The featured volumes 110 and 111 particularly focus on Fukushima after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and the consequent nuclear plant accident. If and how did the nuclear accident affect the agriculture in Fukushima Prefecture? Is food produced in Fukushima safe? Yamaoka and Kaibara visit Fukushima to learn what is really happening. However, this story created public controversy. The author Kariya wrote a script based on his own interview and research, but this story was critiqued for creating groundless rumors. The series has been withheld with the 111 volume.

Yakitate!! Japan, 2002-2007

Many comics for boys illustrate powerful and exciting battle scenes. As such battle comics become more popular, the battle scenes are forced to become more dynamic and exciting. As a result, the protagonist could be powerful enough to destroy the whole universe. This story originally focused on a young boy, Azuma Kazuma, and his quest to create "Ja-pan," a national bread for Japan. However, while depicting the variety of unique bread competitions and quests to explore the new types of bread, the story gradually transformed to an unrealistic battle action comic.

Shoku no gunshi, 2011

This unusual gourmet manga describes Hongō Ban, who wanders about in a variety of bars and restaurants. Hongō is extremely picky in terms of the the combination of food he eats. In order to pursue eating with style, he follows the war tactician in mind, modeled after General Zhuge Liang, the war strategist of ancient Chinese Shu Dynasty. (In Japanese, "Shu" or 蜀 is pronounced as "shoku," which sounds the same as 食, which means "eating." Thus, the title of this work, "Shoku no gunshi" is a pun (lit. translated into "Strategist of Eating" is a pun of "Shoku no Gunshi (Strategist of Shu = Zhuge Liang). He oftentimes runs into a man in a hoodie named Rikiishi. Hongō is impressed with his stylish eating and declares war against him . . . in his mind. And he usually ends up being defeated by Rikiishi's perfect food strategy and secretly agonizes over his loss. The featured pages include the character eating soba, tempura, and pouring sake.

Gōruden kamui (Golden Kamuy), 2015-

Sugimoto Saichi is a war veteran who survived the Russo-Japanese war. He comes to Hokkaido to get rich quick to help the widow of his fallen friend. He learns about the secret treasure of gold hidden by the Ainu, the indigenous people of the Hokkaido region. With a young Ainu girl Asirpa, Sugumoto starts his quests to discover the treasure. But soon they confront other rivals who also seek the treasure for their own reasons. Mixing the fictious characters and real historical characters, this adventure story depicts the drama of the survival of the fittest. The story is enriched with the careful description of the language, culture, religious belief, and life style of the Ainu people in different regions. The heroine Asirpa is an excellent hunter, and this story often shows her hunting animals to eat. While showing her vigorous appetite, the story also describes how the Ainu tribes respectfully treat the animals through Asirpa. The featured pages show the characters preparing fish.

Danjon meshi (Delicious in Dungeon), 2015-

Borrowing the idea of a dungeon crawl in role-playing games, this comedy story takes place in a fantasy world and describes the quest of the group of six adventures who attempt to reach to the bottom of the dungeon to slay the red dragon. Just like RPG, the characters acquire necessities while continuing their quest. In their case, FOOD. While describing their monster quest adventure, each story provides the unique value of the monster they harvested as a food ingredient and provides how to cook them and review the taste. Recipes are provided for each cooking, so you can try by yourselves, if you can harvest these monsters. It is a one of a kind gourmet comic with PRG flavor.

Genmai sensei no bentōbako, 2008

Yūki Genmai, the new agricultural professor at Kunikida University, is famous for his strange behavior. He cultivates vacant land around campus to grow vegetables and creates new cafeteria menus including onigiri, using the brown skin of onions, etc. Students and faculty, including the university president, gets involved in his activities. Through his unique extracurricular class, they learn the delight and appreciation for food and reconsider the importance of eating.

Amai tamashii, 2016

Shibata Ui fell in love with sweets when she was a child, and a bakery in a local shopping mall was her favorite. Now, as many shop owners get older and close their businesses, the shopping mall is depopulated. Ui, together with Kawashima Gaku who also loves sweets, determines to open a bakery in this aging shopping mall to rejuvenate. They try to recruit a legendary patissier Endō Shūsaku. Though their bakery attracts people, Shūsaku never compromises with the ingredients for his sweets, and the shop becomes in the red.. . .

Gin no saji (Silver Spoon), 2011-2020

One of the new agriculture comics by Arakawa, the author of the famous series, Fullmetal Alchemist. The protagonist Hachiken Yūgo lost in the entrance exam of an elite high school in Tokyo. Escaping from his oppressive father, he enters Ezonō Gakuen High School, a boarding agriculture school in Hokkaido. His school mates---all are unique and strange---are not elite, but they pursue their own dreams and visions. Through extraordinary school life, he gradually builds up confidence and develops his own dream. The featured pages include the characters conversing about selling meat with a cute pig graphic on this outside.

Sachi no otera gohan, 2005-

The protagonist Usui Sachi does not cook at all and heavily relies on instant foods. She also suffers from a strong inferiority complex. One day, she meets a monk at Ensenji Temple along with his friends, and she joins in their cherry-blossom viewing at the temple. There she served with the vegetarian food, prepared by the monk. She starts to visit Ensenji to learn how to cook, and her experiences changes in her life style, becoming more confident with herself. Inspired by the vegetarian recipe book by Buddhist monk, Aoe Kakuhō, this comic introduces healthy vegetarian dishes.

Sobamon: nippon soba angya, 2009-

There are countless gourmet comics, dealing with a variety of foods. But this work focuses only on soba, buckwheat noodle. The protagonist, Yashio Ryō, was disciplined under a soba master. Rather than owning a restaurant, he carries around tool to make soba from his car and travels around Japan to teach the true taste of soba. The displayed volume 15 depicts unique style of soba in Fukushima, then through the workers of a soba restaurant, reveals the story of those people in Fukushima who suffered after the 3.11 Earthquake and nuke plant accident.

Ajiichimonme, 1999-

This work was one of the popular gourmet comics from the mid 80s to the late 90s. The series chronicles the lives of the staff and customers of a restaurant called Fujimura, owned by veteran chef, Kumano. The story shows the hard discipline required to become a Japanese chef. The sudden death of the writer, Abe Zenta, abruptly ends the story. Later, a scriptwriter took charge and continued the story.

Hyakushō kizoku, 2009-

A hilarious comic essay and another agriculture manga by Arakawa. Arakawa's family runs a daily farm, and she graduated from an agricultural school. In this essay comic, she freely describes the daily lives of a dairy farmer family.

Ōedo tabekorojī, 2011

A young man named Shinbē, born into a samurai family, decides to leave his home and live with commoners. But having been served by servants, he has no knowledge necessary to live by himself, how to cook, clean, etc. Supported by his neighbors, he gains experiences and wisdom of living. Through his eyes, this comic introduces the variety of trivia stories about the lifestyle of commoners in Edo.