Food manga

The Japanese take their food very seriously.

So, of course, there’s a manga genre about food. Many, like Iron Wok Jan are based around Iron Chef–like cooking battles (and spoiler alert: very buxom women).

But Oishinbo or “The Gourmet”— Japan’s longest-running food manga series (with more than 100 million copies sold)—has a gentler narrative drive. It’s about food and our relationship to it.

The series tracks the adventures of anti-hero Shirō Yamaoka a culinary journalist searching for The Ultimate Meal.

Here’s Rob Vollmar at The Trouble with Comics on how it plays out:

In order to prepare this menu, Shirō Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita [his colleague who he eventually marries] are to travel around to different parts of Japan, sampling the local cuisine and comparing the relative merits and aesthetic differences between the various offerings. A rival newspaper has hired Yamaoka’s father, Yuzan Kaibara, one of the most venerated food and pottery critics in all of Japan, to prepare a menu of his own. Yamaoka is estranged from his father due to their inability to tolerate one another and, predictably enough, these food duels between father and son often take center stage as they contrast different ideas about cooking and eating across a broad range of different kinds of food.

It’s hard to imagine a graphic novel coming out of Canada or the US that treats food like this (please correct me if I’m wrong!), where food itself is the connective tissue—the thing that binds the story and the characters together.
It probably speaks to the fact that in contemporary Western culture, food is so often an afterthought—grabbed on the go, eaten alone—rather than the key cultural, social, emotional experience that it is in so many other cultures.
Still, the story clearly resonates—since Viz Media in the US started publishing Oishinbo in English language versions, North Americans have been eating it up.

1 Comment

Filed under Kids and food, School lunch

One response to “Food manga

  1. Karen

    Sounds interesting! I’ve been reading another food manga, Kitchen Princess. It’s much, much lighter than Oishinbo. But sometimes a silly story about a girl trying to find her “Flan Prince” (recipes included) hits the spot. Har har.