Kitchen Princess by Natsumi Ando and Miyuki Kobayashi is a ten-volume shojo series that ran in Japan from 2004 to 2008. It was originally published in the US by Del Ray Comics and then rereleased in 2010 to 2013 in omnibus format by Kodansha Comics USA. There is also a light novel set after the manga ends, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet.
At first glance, Kitchen Princess is a fairly typical, run of the mill set up. Najika is a cute girl who follows her dream to attend the school of her dreams, where she can pursue her cooking passion, while searching for her long lost “prince”, but when she arrives she finds the atmosphere less than welcoming and must deal with bullying due to her lower status and the competing attentions of two hot guys while maintaining a can-do attitude.
I could easily list four or five other series I’ve read recently with a similar set up, just a different passion and setting. Yet, despite that, Kitchen Princess drew me in from the first page and kept hold of me through the end. Najika is adorable and unlike some series no one tries to claim otherwise, even her bullies. More so, Najika is depicted as an earnest girl, open and honest almost too a fault, and with a very sweet temperament. She is an all-around good person, but she isn’t afraid to give people a needed chastising if they waste food or are mean to others.
Her two love interests, Sora and Daichi, are both well-rounded and well-balanced, while playing to the stereotypical models of one being the kind, gentle, obedient student who excels academically and the other being a rough athlete who isn’t good with expressing his feelings, but are still likable. Her first/major enemy is also well-rounded and her actions come across as fitting her nature as does her not just instantly flipping to being friends with Najika after some single talk.
To me, part of Kitchen Princess‘s magic is it takes a lot of standard shojo manga cookie-cutter character types and puts its own unique spin on them. And I have to admit, Najika’s special talent of having an absolute sense of taste is like the most awesome special ability ever. I would so love to be a will to do that! And the inclusion of recipes to replicate all of Najika’s recipes at the end of each volume is kinda cool.
While Ando’s artwork isn’t top of the line, it is nice and fits the overall feel of the series. She drew Najika well, and even managed to have two characters be both look-a-likes enough that character reactions were believable while being easy for readers to quickly tell them apart. The food-themed focus means getting to enjoy Ando’s amazing talent for drawing the most delicious looking food ever, and that’s with it being two-dimensional and colorless! I always walk away from a reread of the series hungry.
Despite the familiar feel to the series because of the standard set up, it managed to blind side me more than once with some of the plot twists. Those twists help give it a fresh feel and set it apart from others in its line. Normally with a series like this you know from the first volume who she’s going to end up with, but this one had me wondering up until the very last volume or so, which is also a nice change.
I can’t say the series is perfect, but it is one that I can read over and over, and still cry every single time. This, for me, makes it a great series and worth recommending to others.
Kitchen Princess is available in print and eBook formats as a four-volume omnibus edition