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Manga / Chūka Ichiban!

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"We Chefs cook to bring happiness to the people!"

Chūka Ichiban! (meaning "China's Number One") is a manga and anime (the latter known as Cooking Master Boy in anglophone countries) about a Chinese boy named Liu Mao Xing, who aspires to be a great chef like his mother. The story is set in a fictional Imperial China where cooking is being taken seriously. It is entirely possible to be banned from cooking just by losing a competition, even if your dish was of adequate quality. Chefs of varying degrees of proficiency are recognized and awarded by the Empire, and the most coveted title of all, the Supreme Master Chef title, is Mao's penultimate goal.

After passing the grueling and highly competitive Supreme Master Chef examinations, Mao gets qualified for the title and decides to travel across China in order to improve his cooking skills more. However, things take a dark turn as the Underground Cooking Society, an evil organization trying to take control of China through culinary proficiency, begins a search for seven magical cooking items. Now Mao has to get the items first before society lays a hand on them and eventually use them to control China.


The original manga by Etsushi Ogawa was serialized from 1995 to 1999 in Weekly Shonen Magazine. The first anime adaptation ran from April 1997 to September 1998, concluding at 52 episodes. A continuation, Shin Chūka Ichiban! debuted in October 2019, and looks to cover content that wasn't adapted in the first anime while being a more faithful adaptation to the manga. There is also a sequel of the original manga with the name Chūka Ichiban! Kiwami (which started its serialization in 2017), where the sequel now sends off Mao once again on a journey to find the truth behind the disappearance of his father since his childhood while dealing with new threats to the Chinese society.


Chūka Ichiban! provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Actually, I Am Him: To avoid unwanted publicity, Mao covered his Supreme Master Chef's seal with a white cloth and only reveals it when somebody asks him who he really is. The people just realized that they just met the youngest Supreme Master Chef in China.
  • A Fate Worse Than Death: An Underground Cooking Society chef who loses is never allowed to cook again since cooking is Serious Business for some of them.
  • Anime Chinese Girl: Mei Li. Naturally, since the story is set in China.
  • Artistic License – Medicine: In this world, food seems to work better than even the best medicine. Just mouthfuls of Mao's fried rice was able to cure the villagers of Jiuhua Shan of malnutrition. Also, in the anime, Mao's porridge was able to instantly detox a family who's being poisoned by a malicious cook using addictive mushrooms.
  • Art Shift: Particularly prominent in the manga. Mao and Shirou are usually given simple, comedic face designs that correspond to their age but become much prettier during moments of drama or romance.
  • Arrogant Kungfu Guy: Shell during his introduction and duel with Mao.
  • Battle Aura: Repeatedly, including even the first episode.
  • BFS: Master Ruoh possesses a "knife" that can split a cow in half with a single swing, which he demonstrates to the main characters. He actually needs to focus on his internal strength before using it.
  • Blade Enthusiast: Leon wields the Seven Star knives, a set of seven kitchen knives made by the blacksmith Lu Xie.
  • Book Ends: Mao and Shou An's rivalry started with the former defeating the latter in a cooking match with tofu as the main ingredient. They settled the score once and for all using tofu again as the main ingredient.
  • Boring, but Practical: Mao's cooking prior to the Super Chef tournament (and even occasionally after this) is mostly this way, it doesn't have much going for it in appearance, but has tremendous taste. The best example of this is his plain (but incredibly firm) noodles.
  • Brainwashed: Fei by the Underground Cooking Society.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Token Japanese kid Shirou.
  • Brick Joke: Look carefully at the very first episode, where Mao is introduced picking mushrooms. The dish that Mao cooks for Mei Li when they are trapped in a cave? Mushroom rice.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Mao has the tendency to spend a good portion of the cooking duel admiring the cooking of his rivals and tasting their food, rather than cooking. Good thing that he can actually back up his admiration with some skill.
  • The Bus Came Back
    • Sanche. He left Guangzhou to return to Shanghai in order to make amends with his estranged father. He fought alongside Mao and company against the Underground Cooking Society when Mao and the gang visited Shanghai.
    • Also in Shanghai, Shou An resurfaced again to exact revenge on Mao for stripping him of his senior chef status.
    • Fei also counts, disappearing after the Supreme Master Chief competition with Mao but showing up at the end of the anime as the Final Boss.
  • Chaste Hero: Mao, until he realizes that he loves Mei Li too.
  • Cheaters Never Prosper: On some occasions, few of Mao's opponents resorted in heinous ways.
    • Che Lin, the "Ryuuri Witch", snuck a nerve-numbing needle behind Mao's ears to paralyze his tasting buds during the Supreme Chef second trial. She also puts on a heft amount of poppy flower additives, which is forbidden, into her mock noodle dish that the ones who consume it may become addicted to it, but wasn't enough to trick both Mao and Fei in the end. The reaction after her cheating is discovered is as expected.
    • The Masked Chef, Lien. He snuck a scorpion among the lobster Chou Yu supposed to use in the rematch, as it's only appropriate for him to do so because he believes that Chou Yu cheat his way into winning the competition sixteen years prior in the same fashion, by sneaking a poisoned needle instead.
    • The Dumpling Brothers, to an extent. They put Chou Yu into submission a few days prior to the Guangzhou Dumpling Contest, sabotaged a competing restaurant into throttling them to gain a lead and pressuring their competitor by 'failing' the customer's faith and secretly sabotaging the soup for Mao's dumpling. IT was revealed that Al, the little brother of the bunch secretly sabotaging the competition and was going to do so for the upcoming rematch, but was exposed by Chou Yu who managed to corner him before he escapes.
  • Chef of Iron
    • Shell. Because this is a show about cooking, it's surprising that only Shell can actually kick butt in the physical sense.
    • Leon can also hold his mettle over attackers pretty well (given that he is on the run from the Underground Cooking Society), but his disdain for violence prevents him from actually being one.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A heavy, black, apparently worthless stone that comes from Mao's kitchen tools turns out to be a special stone that when put on boiling water, alkalizes the water in order to create firmer noodles.
  • The Chosen One: Shan An and Leon battled for the right to possess the Seven-Star Knives, as there can be only one existing set in the world. Shan An cheated and demoralized Leon so badly that he almost gave up, but Luo Xie's spirit appeared and chose Leon to be the wielder of the set.
  • Clean Cut: And how! Leon cuts a giant water buffalo into perfect cuts of meat without shedding blood or bruising the meat (he later does this to a squid too, also cutting the water apart)
    • Shan An cuts what appears to be a swordfish open, extracting the eggs, then seals it up. And then it flops back into the water as if nothing happened!
  • Cooking Duel: The show revolves around this. And in this world of cooking, reputations are put on the line.
  • Daddy Issues: Sanche had a hard time training with his father as a cook, as his methods are very strict and borderline abusive. During practice, he cut his own hand which made his father upset.
  • Dark Chick / Dragon Lady: Shan An. Turns out to be also Ms. Fanservice after removing her cloak.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Applies to an ingredient. In one episode, Mao and company visited a town where the main industry is raising poultry, and one particular restaurant is shunned and hated by the townsfolk for raising "cursed" black chickens for food. Mao recognizes the birds for what they are, uses them for cooking, and reveals to the town that the "cursed" birds are actually the rare breed of Chinese Silkie.
    • Leon. He's wearing a dark, mostly pale rugged outfit, fits himself with seven sinister-looking knives, and is associated with the Underground Cooking Society and thus learned most of their techniques, but he's ultimately a good guy.
  • Distaff Counterpart: Shan An for Leon. She shares his seven-star knives, and both of them specialize in seafood and use Clean Cut techniques.
  • Dragons Up the Yin Yang: The Chinese Dragon is a recurring theme in the series.
    • The Supreme Master Chef's seal is a dragon coiling around the Chinese character for "super".
    • The Dragon represents Mao himself, while a dark steed represents the Underground Cooking Society, as evidenced by their seals.
    • Yeah, Dragon Dumplings. Mao made one with the ability to fly unaided, using two different types of dough for the wrapping.
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: Leon's hand was tattooed with the Underground Cooking Society symbol when he joined. After his redemption, he crossed out the tattoo to show his disassociation from the Dark Cooking Society.
  • Equivalent Exchange: The rules of Yang Spring Restaurant are (originally) that whenever a new high-level chef enters past the original four, another must leave.
  • Evil Chancellor: The vizier of the Emperor of China.
  • Evil Plan: Underground Cooking Society's plot to take over China with cooking skills and macguffins.
  • Excited Show Title!
  • Food Porn: Chūka Ichiban! doesn't just take liberties around overly extravagant garnishing, They even give them extremely impossible characteristics. The majority of those cases, however, are explained by science. Examples include:
  • Generation Xerox: Mao is the only son of Pai Chan, a Supreme Master Chef herself and nicknamed "The Fairy of Szechuan Cuisine".
  • Heel–Face Turn: Mao apparently has the innate ability to turn every adversary to an ally. Shell and Leon zeroes in as the best examples. Also doubles as Defeat Means Friendship.
  • If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You: Subverted. Mao creates great-tasting dishes with the consumer's health in mind.
    • In one episode, When Mao and company stayed at a house of a rich jade merchant where the chef was slowly poisoning them with addictive Red Mushrooms, Mao made them a "Rainbow Rice Porridge" to wean them from the addiction.
    • This is central to Mao's battle against Fei in the Forbidden City. He, Shell, and Leon agreed that they create their dishes in such a way that they can introduce the Emperor of China to healthy eating habits.
  • Improbable Age
    • Mao, at thirteen years old, is the youngest Supreme Master Chef in China in about a century.
    • Shell also was improbably young when he became a Dim Sum Master.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Shell wields a multipurpose kitchen utensil/weapon/fishing rod/walking stick/flint Iron Staff, earning him the name "Steel Staff Shell."
  • Infraction Distraction: A female Underground Cooking Society chef does this to a group of Shanghai judges by trying to seduce them in order to hide she is spiking her food so when they next taste her competitor's food, it would taste horrible.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Some of Mao's dishes appear to involve copious amounts of this. For instance, for a noodle-making test, he starts smashing rocks, boils them in water, then cooks grain in the pan, only to not add any water to the dough. Instead, he uses lye water extracted from the "rock" to make incredibly stretchy and strong noodles.
  • Large Ham: Shell. He introduced his "Golden Cut Pork Dumplings" with the Golden Ratio flashing before him.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: During the Guangzhou Dumpling Contest, Karao turns away an old man when he tries to have a second helping of his dumpling, even though the result of the contest is decided by who has the most empty plates. The old man turns out to be Master Lowen, a legendary figure among Chinese cooks, and he encourages people to try Mao's dumplings, allowing him to quickly catch up. To make things even better, when the contest ended, the Dumpling Brothers ended up tying with Mao, meaning that they most likely would have won if Karao just gave Lowen a second plate.
  • Late to the Tragedy: The setup of the first episode. Mao is out picking mushrooms and wants to show the rare herbs he's found. He opens the door to find the place ransacked by thugs, and everyone beat up.
  • Love Allegory: Several examples (see the page for more information).
  • Master Chef's Beautiful Daughter: Mei Li is the only daughter of Master Chou Yu, the deputy head chef of Yang Spring Restaurant and Mao's teacher. Lampshaded when Mei Li noted that his father has an unbeatable focus and interest when it comes to cooking, where said interest is then shared by Mao as well.
  • Magic Antidote: The Masked chef promises Mao that he would give the antidote to the earlier poisonous frog poison should Mao win. Oddly enough said antidote works for Chou you as well, even though Chou yu was stung by a scorpion rather than eating the poisonous frog. Not only that, the victims don't seem to suffer any ill-effects from their earlier poisoning either and recover almost instantly once given the antidote.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: While in the end, it's a show about Chinese cooking, it is handled as a typical Shonen action manga/anime.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: After wallowing through many chapters because of killing La Che in the past, Leon manages to be redeemed by La Che himself as his soul emerges during Leon and Shan's duel. This occasion drives Leon to always uphold people's happiness through cooking as his second chance.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: During Shou An's battle, Shan An sabotages Mao's tofu in order for Shou An to win. It later gives him an inspiration for panda Ma Po Tofu. Adding insult to injury, Shell & Shirou thank her for the idea.
  • No Ending: The anime finished airing when the manga still running in September 1998, thus the anime ends just after the Peking showdown. Averted for the 2019 anime adaptation, as it is going to adapt the original manga from start to finish.
  • Noble Demon: Alkan of the Five Tiger Stars Chefs of the Dark Cooking Society is definitely this, with the most prominent example is letting Mao go away to nurture his skills when their first duel must be halted prematurely due to rain (which douses off his infernal abilities). Nonetheless, he's merciless when the setting is right and he is also harsh even to his underlings who insist on using trickeries and deceptions to defeat their opponents.
  • One Dose Fits All: The masked chef's poison works like this. It somehow affecting all his targets equally despite the differences in the body builds and amount of poison consumed. It takes effect almost simultaneously as well.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: The legendary utensils will only be used by worthy successors. And its successors aren't just one person, as Leon is also capable of summoning the utensils' powers other than Mao. During their short trip together in the manga, Fei is also capable of evoking the utensils' power, although he is too scared of his own capabilities at the time and decided that the utensils are best left in Mao's hands instead of his.
  • Opposites Attract Revenge: Chou Yu and Li Hua, who had their ultimate falling out when they competed for the hand of Mei Ga, Mei Li's mother. Only shown in a flashback, but their hatred moved on to sixteen years.
  • Orphan's Plot Trinket
    • Mao's cleaver was originally used by his mother. Mao modifies the knife over the course of the series, such as having tiny holes put on the knife to make it more flexible.
    • The old, torn cookbook can also qualify.
  • Parental Abandonment: By the time the story starts, Mao's mom has already deceased due to sickness and overwork while his dad is nowhere to be seen. However, the sequel of the manga (Chuka Ichiban! Kiwami) revolves around Mao setting off on a journey once again to find the truth behind the supposed death and disappearance of his father.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Mei Li to Mao when he decided to travel across China to home his cooking skills. When Mao read Mei Li's farewell letter, he is, of course, anguished, but it turns out that Mei Li snuck in the boat to accompany Mao on his quest.
  • Poor Communication Kills: It turns out that Chou Yu's stoic personality hit its ugly rear when he realized that Mei Ga was the person who put a poisoned needle in Rien's lobster basket to make sure that Rien won't succeed in their duel. Chou Yu decided not to say anything so that he won't break Rien's heart because of Rien's idealized image of Mei Ga, but as they finally meet again, Chou Yu ponders that it might have been better if he just told him the truth.
  • Power Glows: Every time Mao unveils his food, it is obscured by a golden light, which fades to reveal the dish in question.
  • Reaction Shot: The other big draw of the series. The Anime watered them down significantly which says something about the comic given the final result.
  • Redemption Equals Death:
    • Shou An after his final battle with Mao. At least not before he hands Mao the missing half of his Mother's cookbook.
    • The Masked Chef, A.K.A. Lien from the underground society admits his defeat in the hands of Mao and thus gave the antidote as promised. He's also poisoned himself with the vial he prepared as Mao's penalty for defeat, as he's learned the truth of his competition with Chou Yu sixteen years ago and realizes he cannot bear to live with the atrocities he committed in the society.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: As the story progresses, Shell and Leon both evolve into this kind of relationship dynamic, where Shell's brashness often leads to situations that Leon needs to fix due to his stoic nature.
  • Secret Test of Character: The second round of the Supreme Master Chef Examinations involved a "peer assessment," in which the competitors will judge the dishes of their opponents instead of being graded by an impartial judge. Apparently, a good chef must be able to look past prejudices and recognize quality food regardless of whether it was cooked by an opponent (and thus may lessen the chances of the said competitor to win the competition).
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: In the Dumpling Brothers arc, one of the two brothers shoos away an old man wanting a second plate, saying "you'll push away the customers!" The man turns out to be a reputable food critic and General Lee's predecessor and does, in fact, do just that, by giving Mao's dish high praise.
  • Serious Business: In Ancient China, superior culinary skills means extreme political power.
  • Shown Their Work: Despite the nonchalantly extravagant methods of cooking in the series, most of the Chinese dishes that are shown in the series are accurate to their real-life counterparts down to their origins and the required ingredients to make them.
  • Sink or Swim Mentor: Master Chou Yu. He lets Mao learn from his own mistakes.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: Early in the series Mao starts out by facing independent enemies of varying levels. Once he becomes a Supreme Chef he starts fighting against dark chefs who are more skilled and brutal. Then he fights against the underground's top chefs, the Five Tiger Stars. Oddly enough Averted early on, as Mao's first opponent Shou and was already an accomplished Supreme Chef while Mao was still a newbie.
  • The Stoic: Chou Yu and Leon.
  • Supreme Chef: Mao and Fei.
  • The Syndicate: The Underground Cooking Society, due to their efforts to control multiple aspects of the society from the shadows.
  • Thanks for the Mammary: On their initial meeting, a hungry Shirou hallucinates about eating Steamed Buns, mistakenly groping Mei Li's breasts. It later becomes a Running Gag in the series.
  • Tragic Villain: The Masked Chef, Lien.
  • Tsundere: Mei Li somewhat became one when they met the beautiful Chef Anzi and helped her discover her Grandfather's long-lost technique in making Guoba.
  • Walking the Earth: And Mao does, all through China, to try to learn new dishes and retrieve legendary cooking utensils around the nation.
  • The Watcher: General Lee. Being an officer in the Chinese Imperial Army, he cannot play favorites with Mao. He offers help when needed, however.
  • Wicked Cultured: Whereas lower-ranking members of the Underground Cooking Society looks more like ruffians with some additional abilities in cooking, the society's higher-ranking members are somewhat more personable and cultured than their underlings. This is emphasized during Mao's battle with Alkan, where the latter mentions the sayings of Mencius to explain why he isn't going to defeat Mao then and there despite his dishes are clearly victorious over Mao's.
  • "X" Marks the Hero: Subverted with Shirou.