How to Love Manga: Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma (NSFW)

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Alright, let’s talk about Food Wars. Ahem! Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooobs!

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma art by Shun Saeki.

Sorry guys, but this manga deserves an introduction like that, at least when it comes to the premise. I mean, just look at that picture. It may seem like I’m ragging on it, but Food Wars is one of my favorite manga of all time, and is gearing up to be the best series of the year (it premiered two years ago but has only just gotten an English release from Viz. I’ll let you guess why).

To get right into it, Food Wars tells the story of Soma Yukihira, a boy working at his father’s tiny family restaurant. He’s a brilliant cook, but has a habit of combing strange ingredients into some truly disgusting dishes. The one I will always remember is seared octopus legs combined with peanut butter. Soma is happy at his little hole in the wall restaurant, but his life gets turned upside down when his dad leaves and he’s enrolled in the greatest culinary school in the world, the Totsuki Institute. This school is a cutthroat world, where any mistake gets you kicked out immediately. Soma is aiming to be the best chef of this prestigious school, challenging anyone to beat his cooking.

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma art by Shun Saeki.

Now this premise only scratches the surface of why Food Wars is brilliant. Essentially, this manga is about cooking. The students of the Totsuki Institute compete against each other in Shokugekis, cooking competitions between two or more chefs. The dish being prepared must follow a specific theme or use a certain ingredient. These dishes are then graded by a panel of judges and the best dish is declared the winner. The winner of the Shokugeki then takes something from the loser, such as special cooking equipment or maybe a good kitchen. Disputes at the Totsuki Institute are settled with these food wars. If you’ve seen any cooking competition show ever, this will sound familiar.

In Food Wars, these competitions create the brunt of the tension in the plot. Soma has to fight in Shokugekis to prove himself as a chef, though he mostly has to pass exams and challenges. Every student in the Totsuki Institute has been studying for years and Soma only got in on a technicality during his first year of high school. To make matters worse for our hero, he openly challenged anyone brave enough to compete against him during the opening day ceremony. Soma is pretty full of himself, and that arrogance translates into him going up against some of the toughest opponents in the school. Using his brains and creativity, Soma has to figure out ways to defeat the best chefs in the country while at a clear disadvantage. However, he’s going against chefs who’ve been training for years, and he fails more often than he wins. How he deals with those losses helps build up Soma as an engaging protagonist you want to see win.

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma art by Shun Saeki.

A cooking comic should not be this interesting but the creative team behind Food Wars put an immense amount of effort and love into the story. Yuto Tsukuda is the writer, and at the end of each issue of Weekly Shonen Jump, he will write a short comment about a new dish he has tried or a new restaurant he frequents. You get a real sense that Yuto has a real loves and knowledge of food, especially in the way every dish is explained in Food Wars. There are some long and detailed descriptions in Food Wars of how a dish tastes, how it was made, and what makes it stand out. In a lesser series, these parts of the story would be boring as you reading line after line of descriptions about something you cannot even taste. However, Yuto spices up the drama and tension during these scenes so the reader is actively paying attention. You want to know if Soma’s cooking is good and if it stands up to his opponent. It’s a brilliant way to ensure the reader is engaged all the way through, even though they probably know nothing about cooking.

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma art by Shun Saeki.

However, Food Wars would be nowhere without its artist, Tosh. Oh wait, that’s not the name on the book. The artist’s name is Shun Saeki, and I swear this is true, he is famous in Japan for drawing porn. Puts my early statement into context now doesn’t it? Shun, though he was known in the Dojinshi world as Tosh (a Dojinshi is essentially an indie comic though they are usually associated with porn), is a masterful artists and the perfect partner for Yuto. Together, the two create some of the most amazing scenes I have ever read in a weekly series. The food in Food Wars looks good enough to eat right off the page, so make sure not to read this manga on an empty stomach. Also, every scene has a level of polish not seen in a weekly manga. Yusuke Murata, the artist for One-Punch Man, is one of my favorite artists, but Tosh can put out art that is almost as good on a weekly schedule compared to Murata’s monthly one. You have to deeply respect the man for all the hard work he puts into Food Wars.

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma art by Shun Saeki.

Since we’re talking about the art, I guess it’s finally time to address the elephant in the room. Yes, Food Wars is filled with sexy girls having their clothes ripped off when they eat delicious food. At least, that’s what it looks like on the surface. See, Food Wars is amazing in that everyone’s clothes fly off when they eat something good, men and women. Honestly, these scenes are hilarious. I don’t know the last time I have laughed at this sort of humor as I have with Food Wars. See, here’s the thing. Too many manga writers and artists think that just having sexy women losing their clothes or end up in embarrassing situations is funny. Food Wars scoffs at those artists by showing people how to truly make a sexy comedy. These scenes are purely visual gags, and the sheer bizarreness of the situation and subsequent description of why it’s happening, creates some of the best parts of the series. One of my favorite “foodgasms” is when one of the character eats a dish and imagines herself in a hot springs bath, but then she looks up and sees a gorilla staring at her. The best part is that Yuto uses these scenes very sparingly. You’ll see one per volume at best, so whenever they do spring up it’s fresh and fun again.

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma art by Shun Saeki.

Before I finish up on this topic completely, I should talk about the supporting cast. They’re amazing and I love every character in this series. Seriously, I can’t think of a bad character in this manga that is bland or unappealing aside from the very minor character. They all have either an interesting gimmick to their cooking or have some unique personality that makes them a compelling person. The women in the manga are all awesome, which is surprising given the art. Though they are definitely drawn with a male demographic in mind, these women are all strong and competent characters in their own right with complex motivations and cooking styles. If each woman’s character was just their sexy design, I would not be recommending this manga so strongly. Tosh loves to draw sexy women, but if you can look past the boobs, you can find a character worth investing in. Unfortunately for Tosh, the writer seems to be more obsessed with the “food porn” aspect of the series rather than the sexy ladies. You can just see the two in their office, with Yuto drooling over Tosh’s drawings of food in immaculate detail. I can’t blame the guy. This art just makes my mouth water, and I swear that’s mostly because of the food.

My particular favorite character is Megumi Tadokoro. Oh god how I love Megumi. Throughout the first few volumes of the manga, Megumi acts as Soma’s sort of assistant. She’s a sheepish girl from the country with no confidence in herself at all, which results in her messing up even the simplest recipes because she gets flustered easily. Then, without spoiling anything, she is forced to face her challenges head on without Soma and grows as a character, realizing her own unique cooking talents in the process. From then on she becomes one the best cooks in the series and can even compete on Soma’s level. I love her to death.

Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma art by Shun Saeki.

If I haven’t made it clear enough, Food Wars is great! All the characters are engaging with unique designs and cooking styles that set them apart from each other instantly. The story keeps you on the edge of your seat, as you never know if Soma will come out on top or not. More often than not, he does end up failing, though he tries to get right back up to try again. This manga hit the market like a truck and hasn’t stopped yet. Viz was obviously hesitant to release it due to the art, but I guess they saw how popular it would become and caved. Right now it’s getting a huge push, with the volumes releasing really quickly and have almost caught up to Japan. There is no better time to become a fan of Food Wars than right now. Buy this manga at your local comic book stores, on Comixology, or on the Viz Manga app.

You can read other How to Love Manga columns here.

I’m James Ristig. I’ve been reading comics for ten years and I’m a freelance writer and editor. Follow me on twitter @RisTigger

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