Have you ever wondered what a dragon tasted like? Would it taste like chicken, maybe beef? Or maybe you’ve been wondering what a cockatrice would taste like served in a good stew. After all, a snake/chicken hybrid would seem to make an interesting dinner combo. Or maybe, you’ve been wondering about the morality of eating fishmen. Unlike mermen, they have fish heads, and though they seem semi-sentient, it wouldn’t hurt to try one… Would it?
These are the questions Delicious in Dungeon set out to answer, as Ryoko Kui serves up a masterful manga, seemingly to answer the age-old question of “What would happen if Gordon Ramsay got trapped in Middle Earth?”
The story begins, as a cave opening is discovered, leading to an underground kingdom covered in gold. A distraught king emerges from its entrance, promising all of his treasure to whoever defeats the insane magician who sunk his kingdom underground in the first place, before crumbling to dust. Word of the king’s promise spreads like a wildfire, as numerous guilds gather to try to navigate the labyrinth-esque kingdom, now infested with monsters of all shapes and sizes. Laios is the leader of one such guild, before his party is decimated and his sister is eaten by a dragon. Laios and his crew rush back into the kingdom of gold in an attempt to save his sister, but soon run out of supplies. They are saved by a dwarf named Senshii who teaches Laios and crew how to properly cook and eat monsters, as the adventure to save Laios’s sister begins.
Now let me get this straight: DELICIOUS IN DUNGEON IS LIKE A FRIED CHICKEN DRUMSTICK. You come for the crispy skin, but stay for all the meat at the core of it. The premise of Delicious in Dungeon is genius, it’s like taking Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and turning it into a McDonalds menu. But as you delve deeper into the dungeon with Laios and crew, the heart of Delicious in Dungeon really shows, as lore, dungeon politics, and an emotional core rear their beautiful heads, all wrapped up in a well thought out, well built up package. It’s like going into a Wendy’s with a five-dollar bill and a cheeseburger in mind, and going out with free therapy and tears in your eyes; you weren’t expecting it, but dang it, you have to appreciate it nonetheless.
And speaking of appreciating things, I very much appreciate the main cast of Delicious in Dungeon (how’s that for a transition?)! The main cast consists of Laois, the leader of the group, Marcille, the scaredy-cat elf, Chilchuk, the pessimistic halfling, and Senshii, the good natured but mysterious dwarf. The dynamic between the four feels really good, each member naturally playing off of each other. For example, Laios and Senshii’s insistence on going out of the way to sample new monsters is a perfect foil to Marcille’s reluctance and even rejection to eating monsters, a taboo practice in this world. And as the story progresses, we slowly learn each character’s backstories and motivations, made even more fascinating as each member seems to come from a completely different place and social standing in the country. Every character is well fleshed out on their own, but they really don’t come together until they’re put together as a group, the group dynamic pulling out the best qualities and characteristics of each member.
But it would be wrong if I didn’t talk about the food, MY GOODNESS, THE FOOD! Each and every dish is shown in detail how to make, even listing ingredients, methods, and nutritional value, and the art helps convey a feeling of familiarity with each dish, despite how literally impossible it would be to make these dishes! Just staring at a dish is like coming home after a long overseas trip and tasting a one of Mom’s new recipes that she perfected while you were overseas- new and exciting, yet familiar and comforting. The cherry on top of it all is seeing the party react to what they just cooked, watching as they describe the flavour with sparkles in their eyes and smiles on their faces, as they dig in for seconds, while you’re just pitifully watching from the outside, wishing you also knew what tree-sheep tasted like. But in my opinion, the genius thing about Delicious in Dungeon‘s premise is that it eases you in with the earlier chapters having the focus solely on Laios and crew cooking up delicious monsters as they search for Laios’s sister, but slowly but surely, the plot ramps up in importance as a sort of political drama with tons of actions in between. Despite this, though, the author never waits too long for creature-cooking to take the spotlight again, smartly balancing the plot against the initial hook.
Overall, Delicious in Dungeon isn’t just a single KFC drumstick- it’s the whole bucket. There was more meat on the bones than I could wolf down in one sitting, each volume making me want to read it again from the beginning once I finished it. There wasn’t a single piece of chicken in the bucket that I didn’t love. The art is amazing, the story is impactful, and the characters are a joy to watch (though, I’m still waiting for a chapter where the crew runs out of food and resorts to eating Chilchuk). YOU SHOULD READ DELICIOUS IN DUNGEON, because, despite the cover being lined with red, this book isn’t raw in the slightest.
In fact, I’d say it’s pretty well done.