Toriko, a Japanese manga adapted by Toei Animation into an anime of the same name, is a series that features a world of fantastical foods, unique gourmet chefs, and gourmet hunters. Despite its hyper-masculine appearance, this outlandish world becomes the perfect backdrop to heartwarming stories. Toriko is about finding familial bonds and fiercely supporting and protecting those you love — all while enjoying good cuisine with those you care about.
Toriko lures you in with foods you’ll wish existed. The story follows the namesake of the show, gourmet hunter Toriko, on his quest for rare and exotic foods. If we had to best sum it up, we'd describe it as "Pokémon meets Monster Hunter meets Chopped." There are two worlds within Toriko: the human world and the gourmet world. The gourmet world makes up 70% of the planet, which is full of an assortment of wild beasts and extreme climate conditions. In an era dubbed the Gourmet Age, a company known as the International Gourmet Organization (IGO) keeps civilians safe and maintains order over dangerous animals and gourmet criminals. Individual gourmet hunters, such as Toriko, are hired by restaurants to bring rich clientele the rarest foods that both the human and gourmet world have to offer.
The animals and plant life in both worlds of Toriko are all something out of a Chopped contestant's dreams — or nightmares. For example, there's an animal called a cookie alpaca, which is exactly what it sounds like: an alpaca with cookies covering its body instead of fur. Another is a beast called a Salamander Sphinx, which releases a drink called "mellow cola" once the beast is defeated. There are also existing foods that are mashups of two different foods or more — for instance, strawberrice, or strawberries the size of rice grains cooked just like normal rice, as well as huge cactus-like plants with popcorn for flowers, and sweet potatoes that grow like papayas in trees. A lot of these foods will leave you wishing they actually existed because they just seem so practical and appetizing. Imagine getting a premade soda from an animal that resembles a cow — well, they exist in the world of Toriko. Such extraordinary wildlife, of course, comes with an equally extraordinary quest to obtain them, and this is where the series really shines.
As a gourmet hunter, Toriko is on a quest to find foods to place on his Full Course Menu of Life. He has muscles for days, but his strongest attribute is probably his spirit of generosity — especially when it comes to his partner and friend Komatsu, a pint-size gourmet chef who makes up for his stature with his heart and steadfast dedication to creating exquisite cuisine. The two make an unlikely pair but are brought together by their love and respect of the bounties their world has to offer. They initially team up when the hotel Komatsu works for hires Toriko to capture a beast called a Gararagator, which Toriko successfully kills and greedily eats (to Komatsu's surprise). Afterward, Komatsu asks Toriko if he can join him on his adventure. From that point on we get to see the relationship between these two deepen as their skills grow in tandem.
In Toriko, the best gourmet hunters are made better by their chefs, and Toriko and Komatsu serve as a prime example. What Toriko hunts and kills, Komatsu is there to cook up and maximize its nutritional value, which subsequently helps Toriko get stronger. They have a very symbiotic relationship; as one gets better, so does the other. They also deeply care for one another. In one story arc, Toriko decides to go to the Gourmet World to test his abilities, quickly learning that he isn't ready. Komatsu, fearing for his friend’s life, asks another gourmet hunter to go in search of Toriko. The two later have a conversation in which Toriko finally fully understands the importance of his relationship with Komatsu, and how much he values their partnership. Toriko returns to the human world, heading straight to Komatsu’s job. There he professes his love for his partner in a way your favorite romcom would be envious of. Such hyper-masculine coded characters showing their emotional vulnerability instead of being limited to showing their physical shortcomings in fights make up some of the best moments of the series.
Toriko is full of these heartwarming moments, which make all of the muscles and fighting an afterthought. There is also a strong theme of family throughout the series — and found family more often than not. One of the show's earliest episodes features Toriko becoming a kind of surrogate parent to a beast called a Battle Wolf, who he affectionately names Terry Cloth, and bonding with the animal after its parent is killed by a revival food corporation. We also learn that Toriko is part of a group of gourmet hunters called the Four Heavenly Kings, who were brought together as of them orphans and without families of their own and later trained by older gourmet hunters within IGO. While they later split up due to petty differences, something that commonly happens between friends and family, the group is brought back together by Komatsu, and all of them set aside their differences to keep him safe and assist in his growth as a gourmet chef. The Four Heavenly Kings are not the only people to reconcile during the course of the series; there are multiple other characters who find healing through the love of meals shared with those they hold dear.
Toriko might lure you in with the episodic fights, bizarre wild beasts, extravagant villains, and supporting characters, but it will keep you far longer with stories that tug at your heartstrings — and there are over 140 episodes to indulge in until you’ve had your fill.