Why are cartoons about food, cooking and eating so popular?

From Yuto Tsukuda Food wars! : Shokugeki no Soma (2012-2019) to Gido Amagakure Sweetness and Lightning (2013-2018), gourmet anime series have always aroused the interest of the public. Virtually all viewers, though they won’t admit it, are foodies at heart.

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

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What is the gastronomic or culinary genre of the anime?

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

Moreover, the kitchen genre has features that make it unique from other genres. These cooking series provide audiences with technical instruction on the cooking process of making food through the narration of supporting characters. Accordingly, the recipes are presented at the end of the manga or anime episode, allowing the audience to create these delicious dishes at home.

These series focus on Japanese cuisine, but also expose and teach the public about delicacies from other countries. The culinary genre also offers its audience hyper-realistic images of the food and desserts created, igniting the taste buds of viewers.

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The History of Food Anime and Manga

The food anime and manga circulated in popularity in Japan for over a few decades and quickly gained a cult following around the world. The gastronomic genre began around the 1970s with series such as Ajihei the cook by Jiro Gyu and Jo Big. Ajihei the cook is an important food manga because it pioneered how characters’ reactions should be drawn and expressed when eating delicious food.

The fine dining genre became mainstream in the 1980s due to Japan’s bubble economy, as many Japanese people gained access to luxury goods and fine dining. Moreover, the culinary arts have become a hobby among the wealthy. Thus, manga cuisine has become an interest for the general public.

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One of the most iconic food manga series to reach readers of this era was Oishinbowritten by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki. Oishinbo is the longest running cooking manga, beginning in 1983 and continuing until its indefinite hiatus in 2014. Oishinbo chronicles the culinary adventures of food critic Shiro Yamaoka and his partner, Yuko Kurita. They are responsible for informing their readers about the most delicious recipes.

From the 2000s to the present day, the cooking manga genre began to focus more on everyday comfort food and real-life restaurant specialties instead of luxurious, fancy dishes. There were also series like that of Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro Toriko (2008-2016), which features the Gourmet Hunter, Toriko, who goes on an adventure in search of the rarest and most exotic ingredients for his complete meals.

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The popularity and delight of food anime and manga

Food anime and manga also incorporate other genres (romance, slice of life, action, etc.) into their storylines. Competitive cooking and baking tournaments are a particularly popular narrative route. In Food wars!, for example, the protagonist Soma Yukihira competes in cooking contests alongside other cooking prodigies. The narrative involves epic cooking battles as if it were a shonen showdown between two opposing forces.

However, there are comfort food series like Sweetness & Lightning, where cooking is a way to strengthen family relationships. When his wife died, Kōhei Inuzuka learned how to cook healthy meals for his daughter, Tsumugi. Similarly, in the live Netflix series midnight dinner (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 is usually tied to the customer’s story or personal issue, and the audience is left with a philosophical message at the end of each episode.

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Comforting culinary series like Sweetness & Lightning and midnight dinner show how meals bring a sense of community to people. Audiences feel comfortable watching these characters cook and enjoy food, as if they are also part of the experience.

Yet what appeals to audiences to watch cooking series is the amazing culinary art, which is drawn to make it visually pleasing and delicious. From comfort food to exotic cuisines, it looks dramatic. At Hayao Miyazaki’s Taken away as if by magic (2001) and that of Junpei Inuzuka Restaurant from another world (2015), the sauces of the omelet rice and pork cutlets are brilliant; the hot steam from ramen and rice reveals that the food is heated to perfection; the sashimi is finely cut and crispy. These recipes are visually appealing, and the characters’ facial reactions to eating the food – and their sensory descriptions of its taste and smell – also make the audience want to taste the meal.

Food anime and manga are a genre that will never disappear from mainstream media. The delicious, mouthwatering culinary art and exciting, heartwarming cooking stories will continue to leave audiences hungry.

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