Title: Kitchen Princess キッチンのお姫さま
Mangaka: Kobayashi Miyuki 小林深雪 and Andō Natsumi 安藤 なつみ
US Publisher: Kodansha USA
Level: Secondary. May also work for some upper elementary students.
How Essential Is It?: Nice to Have
Curricular Connections?: My school has a culinary program, and students have used the recipes in this manga for projects!
Reader’s Advisory Tags: Romance, cooking, love triangles, grief.
Content Warnings: Some mentions of eating disorders, character death.
Kitchen Princess is what I would consider typical shōjo fare from the early 2000s. I remember reading it while waiting for a Harry Potter release (I believe it was Half-Blood Prince). I remembered it as being a gentle read, something I could easily blast through. It also taught me a little about cooking.
Kitchen Princess is the story of Kazami Najika, a scrappy orphan who loves to cook because her parents were tremendously talented pastry chefs. She is searching for her “Flan Prince”- a boy who saved her from drowning and showed her how eating something delicious can give a person hope. He leaves her a spoon with the crest for Seika Academy, and Najika’s goal is to go to that school, find him, and make him the “best dessert in the world”. Using her cooking skills and her “perfect sense of taste”, she sets out to do just that.
The story is what I would call a typical early 2000s shōjo. There’s a pure, earnest protagonist who is poorer than everyone else in the school. She’s rejected by everyone because of her class until her skill (and the hot guys who recognize it from the start) makes the others around her recognize her worth. There’s a bully who turns into her best friend, an adult who spends way too much of his time trying to ruin a child’s life for plot reasons, and a love triangle featuring the prince of the school and his gruffer but still loveable brother.
There are a few things that set Kitchen Princess a little apart, though. First off, they kill off one of the love interests about halfway through in an accident. It’s a pretty mercenary way to avoid having Najika choose between the brothers. Honestly, she effectively chooses both without ever cheating on or betraying anyone.
The main thing, the thing that made Kitchen Princess stick in my memory among the many shōjo manga I read in the early 2000s, is the food. There are recipes at the end of every chapter, and they are honestly quite simple and easy to replicate. Food is a symbol of hope and togetherness in the story, a way of transmitting your feelings from one person to another. Every single dish Najika makes is with another person in mind.
So, Kitchen Princess is a series that I have on my school library’s shelves, and I think you should also consider it. It’s light, it’s dramatic, and every student I’ve recommended it to has loved it. Fans of K-Drama especially gravitate to it, because the story has all of the same beats as any popular Asian drama.
A note: One thing to know is that there’s a two-chapter storyline about a character with an eating disorder. It onsets quickly and is resolved quickly, which is… unrealistic, but actually pretty common for how Japanese media from that time treats mental health. I’ve personally never read a manga that handled eating disorders as more than a temporary state of mind that can be cured by a friend’s understanding. It’s not dissimilar to how American media treats ED, though, so I have a hard time calling out any foreign piece of media that’s effectively following American trends. Just know that the issue is in there.