Despite their reputation for being amongst the toughest working environments going, a restaurant kitchen seems an odd place to set a comic book. This Japanese manga does just that though, as it follows the story of Jan Akiyama who, after completing his training under the brutal regime of his grandfather (who also happens to be Japan’s finest Chinese cook), goes to work in the country’s best regarded restaurant. Jan’s name ensures he’s taken on immediately, but the other chefs, not least of all the proprietor’s young but highly skilled granddaughter Kiriko Gobancho, find Jan’s obnoxious ego to be a little hard to swallow.
Iron Wok Jan is, to all extents and purposes, a martial arts book without the fighting. Although the flying daggers have been replaced by chopping knives and the heat of battle with a hot wok, practically every other martial arts staple is intact. Jan and Kiriko are two very different characters, trained under different masters, competing for culinary supremacy. The cooking action is swift and dynamically illustrated; and the dialogue and determination of the characters makes them sound like they’re cooking for their lives.
This first volume does a lot of background work, introducing us to the key players and setting up the character conflicts. And it’s strangely compelling – although it draws heavily on its influences, by remixing it into a kitchen setting, the result has an underlying freshness to it.
Iron Wok Jan is a phenomenally successful series running to a heck of a lot of volumes – from this first taste, it’s easy to see how it’s stayed on the manga menu for so long.