Kitchen Princess (Volumes 1-10)
Natsumi Ando & Miyuki Kobayashi
This series is really addicting, which is why I kind of kept going passed the first volume until I had read the entire 10-volume series (the final volume of which was just recently released). The story begins as Najika Kazami leaves her home for orphans, Lavender House in Hokkaido, to join Seika Academy's special class, where she quickly proves her abilities in the kitchen. Not only is she the product of two top chefs from Japan, but she's inherited their gifts as well. With one taste, a smell even, she's able to replicate any recipe and discern its ingredients and exactly how to prepare them. She's also a very kind girl, who wishes to make people smile with her food, and caters each dish to the consumer. But the reason behind her kindness grew out of a scene from her childhood, following her parents' accident that left her alone. She nearly drowned, but was saved by a boy, who gave her his flan to eat so she wouldn't be sad, citing that "eating food makes you smile." Najika has captured that moment and holds it close as she maneuvers through life. One of the reasons that she decided to go to Seika Academy in the first place was to find this "flan prince" (the spoon that the mystery boy left behind in the flan came from that school). And so we have this young girl joining a class of other gifted students, some who are jealous, and some who are amazed by her kindness and gift. Throughout the series, the characters around Najika grow, getting past personal prejudices, falling in and out of love, and ultimately, supporting Najika in her dreams. I found myself quite at home in this world that Ando and Kobayashi paint, where food brings people together and helps individuals see through their own shortcomings with the help of the good-natured acts of a strangely happy girl, who has little to be happy about. I found myself rooting for Najika (and some secondary characters) throughout this book, and was constantly amazed by Najika's abilities and the plot developments, utterly enchanted by the storytelling prowess of the creators. The story does take some startling twists as it moves along, but masterfully, everything comes together in the end, even some seemingly unrelated incidents that you wouldn't expect to. Overall, I was just really charmed by this nice romantic tale, and highly recommend it.