Title: Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma 食戟のソーマ
Mangaka: Yūto Tsukuda 附田 祐斗
US Publisher: Viz Media
Level: High School
How Essential Is It?: Purchase if You Need to Burn Money
Curricular Connections?: N/A
Reader’s Advisory Tags: partial nudity, sexual content
Content Warnings: This series contains explicit scenes of people reacting with sexual orgasm to consuming food.
Oh, Food Wars!, you sure do know how to take a very tame premise and make a lot of people uncomfortable.
Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma is a shōnen manga that is honestly a bit controversial. The central premise is that Yukihira Soma, a teenage boy who runs a traditional Japanese restaurant with his father, goes to an elite cooking school wherein students compete to be considered the top in their field. They have to participate in matches, which determine their ranking. Naturally, Soma wants to be considered the best.
But what, you may ask, is so controversial about that?
Well, it’s not the premise or the food battles that are problematic. Honestly, that part of the story is really interesting, and the illustrations of food in this manga are amazing. The recipes actually work, and my brother (a chef) confirms that it’s very accurate to how restaurants work and how various cooking techniques are deployed. This manga should be an insta-buy! But, it isn’t. Because what Food Wars! is best known for in the manga and anime community is its constant, unrelenting fan service. When people eat Soma’s food, they orgasm. Their ecstasy is shown in detail just vague enough for the Japanese tastes. It’s moe run amok.
Make no mistake, the OTT explicitness is all part of the joke. But it’s also constantly there, particularly objectifying female characters, even when they are supposed to be seen as culinary geniuses wielding great skill. Every female character is subjected to this treatment, some over and over again. And honestly, the joke gets old.
I have one volume of Food Wars! on my shelf. It was donated, and I’m okay with monitoring the circulation of one volume at the moment. One of my schools has a culinary program, and I feel like older high school students can get the joke and make the connections to the better parts of the story. I will not, however be buying any more volumes of this manga. For one, I know for a fact that the first volume is relatively tame, and the joke gets pushed further and further. Also, there are alternative titles which cover food and cooking as a topic. Off the top of my head, I can think of Kitchen Princess, a shōjo manga that features a young girl who loves to cook. The storyline is vastly different, but it also includes recipes and amazing illustrations of food.
I won’t go so far as to say you shouldn’t buy Food Wars!, but in a school setting, it’s probably best to select something else (and I’d say it probably isn’t appropriate for middle school). If you want school competition, get My Hero Academia. If you’re looking for food-related manga, go for Kitchen Princess or Sweetness and Lightning. There are so many titles, and I leave it to the public library to purchase titles like Food Wars!, which is also available online through Shonen Jump. If someone really wants to read it, it’s $1.99 a month to access Shonen Jump.