Why Are Anime About Food, Cooking and Eating So Popular?

From Yuto Tsukuda’s Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma (2012-2019) to Gido Amagakure’s Sweetness and Lightning (2013-2018), gourmet anime series have always perked audiences’ interest. Practically all viewers, even if they won’t admit it, are foodie people at heart.

That said, what exactly captures audiences’ interest in watching gourmet anime and reading cooking manga? What makes these titles appealing aside from the mouth-watering and delectable food art? Here’s a look at the history of the gourmet genre and the possible reasons why it’s so popular among anime fans.

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What is the Gourmet or Cooking Genre of Anime?

The gourmet or cooking genre is mainly stories about protagonists with a strong interest in cooking. They are on a journey to become the best chef by overcoming many cooking obstacles. The protagonist undergoes serious mental growth and develops their skills through each cooking experience and encounter with other chef enthusiasts.

Furthermore, the cooking genre has characteristics that make it unique from other genres. These food series provide audiences with technical instructions about the cooking process of how the food is made through the supporting characters’ narration. As a result, the recipes are showcased at the end of the manga or anime episode, resulting in audiences having the opportunity to creates these delicious dishes at home.

These series focus on Japanese cuisine but also expose and teach audiences about other countries’ delicacies. The cooking genre also provides its audiences with some hyper-realistic images of the food and desserts created, igniting the viewers’ taste buds.

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The History of Gourmet Anime and Manga

Gourmet anime and manga have circulated in popularity in Japan for over a few decades and soon gained a cult following worldwide. The gourmet genre started around the 1970s with series such as Ajihei the Cook by Jiro Gyu and Jo Big. Ajihei the Cook is an important cooking manga because it pioneered how characters’ reactions should be drawn and expressed when consuming delicious food.

The gourmet genre became mainstream during the 1980s due to the Japanese bubble economy, as many Japanese individuals gained access to luxurious goods and fine dining. In addition, the culinary arts became a hobby among the wealthy. Thus, cooking manga became an interest among mainstream audiences.

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One of the most iconic food manga series to reach readers of that time was Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki. Oishinbo is the longest-running cooking manga, starting in 1983 and continuing until its indefinite hiatus in 2014. Oishinbo is about the culinary adventures of food critic Shiro Yamaoka and his partner, Yuko Kurita. They are in charge of informing their readers about the most delicious recipes.

From the 2000s to now, the cooking manga genre began focusing more on everyday comfort food and real-life restaurant specialties instead of luxurious, fine-dining dishes. There were also series like Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro’s Toriko (2008-2016), which stars the Gourmet Hunter, Toriko, who goes on adventures in search of the rarest and most exotic ingredients for his full-course meals.

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The Popularity and Deliciousness of Gourmet Anime & Manga

Gourmet anime and manga also incorporate other genres (romance, slice-of-life, action, etc.) into their storylines. One especially popular narrative route is the competitive cooking and baking tournaments. In Food Wars!, for example, protagonist Soma Yukihira competes in cooking competitions alongside other cooking prodigies. The narrative involves some epic cooking battles as if it is a shonen showdown between two opposing forces.

However, there are some heartwarming cooking series like Sweetness & Lightning, where cooking is a way to strengthen family relationships. When his wife passed away, Kōhei Inuzuka learns how to cook healthy meals for his daughter, Tsumugi. Similarly, in the live-action Netflix series Midnight Diner (2006) by Yaro Abe, the chef — known as “The Master” — cooks any dish for his customers as long as the ingredients are at hand. The cooked meal usually relates to the customer’s personal story or issue, and audiences are left with a philosophical message at the end of each episode.

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Heartwarming cooking series like Sweetness & Lightning and Midnight Diner showcase how meals bring a sense of community to people. Audiences feel a level of comfort when watching these characters cook and enjoy food, as if they are part of the experience too.

Yet what keeps audiences interested in watching cooking series is the incredible food art, which is drawn to make it look visually pleasing and delicious. From comfort food to exotic cuisines, it looks dramatic. In Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (2001) and Junpei Inuzuka’s Restaurant to Another World (2015), the sauces on the omelet rice and pork cutlets are shiny; the hot steam coming from the ramen and rice reveals the food is heated to perfection; the sashimi is finely cut and crisp. These recipes are visually appetizing, and the characters’ facial reactions while eating the food — and their sensory descriptions of how it tastes and smells — make audiences want to taste the meal too.

Gourmet anime and manga is a genre that will never fade out of mainstream media. The delectable, mouth-watering food art and the exciting, heartwarming cooking stories will continue to leave audiences feeling hungry.

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