Probably the funniest manga I’ve ever read, Yakitate!! Japan is essentially a shounen gag manga about baking with a focus on puns. Yeeeeaaaah. Even the title is a pun, with the “pan” in “Japan” meaning bread in Japanese. The protagonist, Kazuma Azuma, strives to create the perfect “Ja-pan”, Japanese bread, that the world will recognize. Why? In prototypical shounen fashion, he meets a man when he’s younger that turns him towards the surprisingly cut throat and deadly world of world class bread making.
Despite a somewhat ludicrous plot, this is one badass series. It’s not everyday that you get a really exciting shounen series that also serves as one of the best comedies, too. I never knew making a croissant could be so riveting and laugh out loud funny. I’m not kidding. I audibly laugh nearly every chapter at the absurdity of the proceedings. Besides the breakneck bread baking (see what I did there?), the series infuses some of the most ludicrous and outrageous humour I’ve ever witnessed. Though starting off rather innocuously the humour, and one suspects mangaka Takashi Hashiguchi’s sanity, dives deeper and deeper into ridiculousness.
And it works. It worked so great that what was originally scheduled as a five week miniseries was expanded into 26 volumes.
This is mainly due to two characters – Kyosuke Kawachi and Ryou Kuroyanagi. In my opinion, these two side characters are by far the best elements of this series. In Kawachi you have the hapless coworker and sidekick doomed to be adequate in the face of Azuma’s god-like breadmaking abilities and in Kuroyanagi you have the greatest bread judge ever conceived. I should know, I’m a member of BJOB – Bread Judges Official Branch. You can say I like BJOBs.
Err, anyways, the reason Kawachi and Kuroyanagi works so well is the way the manga incorporates reactionary puns in literal terms. It’s hard to explain, but just imagine people transforming in accordance to how they feel about the taste of a bread. Take this picture for instance. This is Kuroyanagi transforming into a parrot after tasting Azuma’s amazing pizza. Because parrots fly, he was inevitably hit by a hunters rifle but luckily, as a parrot, he’ll heal in no time. And the guy with a face on his knee is Kawachi, whose face moved down there during a previous rounds tasting.
Don’t worry if not everything makes sense. The series is steeped in Japanese puns and for the most part I just go with the flow. I have neither the time nor inclination to go so deep into the nation’s culture to fully understand throwaway one panel puns. It’s just absurd and it’s just funny, so that’s what counts. When a fellow bread baker suddenly shows up as a turtle for some convoluted reason relating to a Japanese pun, I don’t much care about the grammatical syntax of it all. The dude’s a fucking turtle, that’s funny.
Of course, humour is the most subjective form of entertainment so I can’t guarantee you’ll find the same appeal in the manic nature of everything, but I do recommend at least getting to the second volume where things really start going crazy to see if it’s your cup of tea or not. There’s also an overarching storyline about Azuma and Tsukino (his same aged boss) trying to defeat her evil sisters as well as that man from Azuma’s past. It’s decent, but you’re not coming for a riveting story. You come for Kuroyanagi’s insane transformations and Kawachi making a fool out of himself.
There’s also an animated series that spanned 69 episodes (heh…sorry, I’m an immature dick…heh…dick) that I really can’t recommend. I remember it being fairly popular, but it’s got problems. The animation was sub par at best and the voice acting just didn’t fit how I imagined the characters sounding. But worse of all was that the show simply doesn’t get the timing of the humour right. When you’re reading the manga, it comes at you naturally while in animated form it all just feels forced. So, save yourself a lot of wasted hours and focus on the manga.
You can get the series from Viz, though I’m sure the majority of you reading this will just download the series so I might as well help out. You can get the series here, though there is a sign up required. And no, I have no affiliation with them. I just find the site a fast and easy way to get manga I have no intention of ever buying.