Every few years I promise myself I’m going to do a better job keeping up with the latest fantasy manga, but I never really do. But last year I did manage to discover the delightful Delicious in Dungeon, written and illustrated by Ryōko Kui, and I consider that a major win.
Delicious in Dungeon is a Japanese fantasy comedy about a 6-member adventurer party very nearly wiped out in a Total Party Kill deep in a dungeon. In the last moments before she’s swallowed by a dragon, the magic-user Falin uses the last of her strength to teleport her brother Laios and the rest of the party to the surface. Defeated and demoralized, and faced with the loss of most of their coin and equipment, two members quit immediately, but Laios convinces the last two to join him in a desperate sprint back into the dungeon before his sister is digested and beyond the reach even of the most powerful healing magic. Famished and too penniless to provision, Laios concocts a foolhardy plan to eat the monsters they encounter on their way down.
That’s the basic set-up for a extremely imaginative and frequently hilarious dungeon romp featuring three hapless foodies in a gloriously elaborate monster haven. The setting in fact is a huge part of the charm of this series, and it will be warmly familiar to anyone who’s played D&D or a similar early RPG, with its crowded underground markets and well stocked trading outposts scarcely 50 yards from trap-infested monster gardens. The slimes, mushroom men, man-eating plants and other oddball creatures they come up against will also bring back fond memories of the classic dungeon delves of your youth. They’re delightfully wacky, just like the plans our heroes come up with to eat them.
Late last year Kelly Chiu at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog wrote a fine piece on the series, just before the English translation of the sixth volume arrived in stores. Kelly has a sharp sense for what makes the series so appealing to old school gamers and general comic fans alike, and in 6 Reasons to Devour Delicious in Dungeon she hit on many of the things I most enjoy about it. Here’s a few of her most on-target comments.
[Click the images for dungeon-sized versions.]
First, Kelly touches on one of the main selling point of the series for me — just how well it hits all my gaming buttons.
All the Fun of an RPG for Half the Price!
Ever wish you could enjoy your D&D campaign as a black and white comic? Well now you can! Delicious in Dungeon has all the classic RPG features: your knight, your mage, your healer, your slimes, your orcs, and your elves. Explore dungeons, win treasure, slay beasts! The series takes the JPRG-style setting that’s deluged the market in recent years — think Sword Art Online, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, or Konosuba — and retains the gamified mechanics, fantasy setting, and adventure, but adds a ridiculous foodie twist.
Strangely, magically, Delicious in Dungeon doesn’t feel like a parody. It pays tribute to the conventions of old school role playing, yes, but mostly affectionately. Instead the humor arises from the characters and their predicaments.
Laios and his teammates are doomed to certain starvation — at least until they run into Senshi, a dwarf who’s been living in the dungeon for over a decade, and has learned the secret of how to dine well on what it provides. What would be a one-note joke in less creative hands becomes instead a wonderfully faux-authentic experience, with a narrative that veers off into elaborate recipes for mouth-watering monster-based cuisine. Seriously — this is a comic about eating monsters that will make you hungry.
Senshi shows his new companions the right way to prepare dungeon scorpion
A book about eating monsters wouldn’t be very interesting if the monsters weren’t both interesting and varied. How on earth are our heroes going to turn that iron golem into a meal? It’s one more twist in a constantly-surprising narrative. Here’s Kelly again.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
In a manga about cooking monsters, there have got to be monsters (duh). Kui populates her dungeon with all your favorite fantasy fauna — we’re talking slimes, living armor, basilisks, man-eating mermaids, and yes, fire-breathing dragons. Kui’s creature design is one of the artistic highlights of this series, which is saying something, as the art is already a highlight in and of itself. As a manga that focuses on farm-to-table (er… dungeon floor-to-adamantine cauldron?) meals, Kui has thought through the dungeon ecosystem in rather ingenious detail, introducing capsule-farm golems (their mud is perfect for growing veggies) and scavenging treasure insects that fuel the dungeon circle of life.
As entertaining as the mix of comedy and gaming nostalgia is, a book this well executed would be missing something without a nuanced story. Fortunately, creator Ryōko Kui is too clever and ambitious for that. Here’s Kelly.
Secrets to Be Revealed
Delicious in Dungeon is for the most part an episodic manga composed of short adventures ending in a shared meal of dried slime or a lesson in the household economies of kelpie-derived soap. But just as Kui has put a considerable amount of thought into the ecology of her dungeon wildlife, she’s clearly done some tinkering with the dungeon mechanics as well. As the manga progresses, our characters are increasingly wading into seemingly shallow streams that turn out to have much deeper currents — the magic of the dungeon, the politics of explorer bands, and secrets in our heroes’ pasts. Don’t get me wrong, this series is 90 percent a hilarious romp through basilisk omelets and boiled mimics, but hints of more serious questions add a welcome depth of flavor to a delicious meal of a manga.
Read Kelly’s complete comments at the Barnes & Noble Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog here.
Delicious in Dungeon is written and illustrated by Ryōko Kui, and translated and published in the US by Yen Press. Issues appear quarterly; six have been published so far, the most recent in November 2018. The US editions contain seven comics each, plus a short “Miscellaneous Monster Tales;” they are presented in traditional manga format (meant to be read right to left). Each volume is 192-200 pages, priced at $15 in trade paperback and $6.99 in digital formats. The covers are by Ryōko Kui.
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