Cartoon illustration of two adventurers running from a red dragon and other monsters in a medieval high fantasy dungeon.

The delightful deception of ‘Delicious in Dungeon’

Beyond the mouth-watering monster meals, the true flavor of this Netflix manga adaptation lies in its darker themes

Courtesy of Netflix

Words by Winter Qiu

This review contains light spoilers for the anime.

A call to adventure. A helpful mentor. An unfamiliar supernatural world. The hero’s journey is a formula we’ve all seen before. Japanese manga artist Ryoko Kui’s fantastical dramedy Delicious in Dungeon, whose anime adaptation is currently airing on Netflix, takes the formulaic and adds a twist: This tale involves putting a dragon on your dinner plate. As a fantasy-loving foodie, I was immediately drawn to the premise of an anime that is equal parts twisted cooking show and adventure story.

The early episodes waste no time on hand-holding the viewer through exposition. The first minute of the show establishes the premise quickly: Laois Touden and his friends delve into the dungeon in hopes of resurrecting his sister who has been devoured by a red dragon. Dungeon-delving is a costly profession that has quickly drained the group’s funds, so the intrepid adventurers resort to making a meal out of any monsters that are unlucky enough to cross their path.

Poster of anime "Delicious in Dungeon." The illustration depicts four adventurers running from a red dragon.

Key art of "Delicious in Dungeon."

Courtesy of Netflix

Beyond the surface intrigue of goofing around and eating monsters with friends, Delicious in Dungeon is a story about survival in a cruel setting, while subverting every fantasy trope you’ve seen before. 

The 24-episode anime adaptation of Delicious in Dungeon is produced by Studio Trigger, which was responsible for animating hit shows such as Kill la Kill (2013), Little Witch Academia (2017), and Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022). Trigger’s highly stylized, energy-packed animation is perfect for the fantasy adventure genre. The medieval fantasy charm is completed with the soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda, who has also composed for RPG classics such as Xenogears and Chrono Trigger.

One of the most unique points of Delicious in Dungeon is its culinary twist on high fantasy exploration. Through the meals made from monsters, readers learn the intricate ecosystems that make up the immersive fantastical world. The cooking process of fantastical beings such as man-eating fruits and basilisks is often paired with pseudo-educational facts about the dungeon ecosystem, which gives the early episodes the feeling of a cooking show with a splash of fantasy adventure at the side.

From first glance, the characters present themselves as archetypes of a high fantasy setting: the prim and proper elf Marcille, the survivalist dwarf Senshi, the nimble half-foot Chilchuck, and the human warrior Laios.

Cartoon illustration of three weary medieval fantasy adventurers sitting on a stone floor. A blonde man in armor is standing and panicking.

Left to Right: Laios, Senshi, Marcille, Chilchuck.

Courtesy of Netflix

The eccentricities of the characters become more apparent as the viewer follows the cast’s journey deeper into the dungeon. Laois’s eccentricity lies in his over-the-top fascination with monsters. Marcille tends to adhere to social norms, and much of the comedy comes from her exaggerated horror at the unfamiliar dishes before she begrudgingly takes a bite and admits the food is heavenly. After each tense fight that the motley crew toughs through, Senshi’s announcement of each meal with his signature call, “It’s ready!” becomes a ritual of relaxation.

Despite its lighthearted humor and vibrant tones, Delicious in Dungeon doesn’t hide the fact that the dungeon is an undeniably cruel place. Adventurers easily meet their doom, resurrection is not guaranteed, and people frequently exploit others in a dog-eat-dog system.

Even between the main cast, racial tension bubbles underneath the surface. When Marcille makes a near-fatal mistake, several characters attribute her lapse of judgment to arrogance for being an elf. You could cut the air with a knife when Chilchuck makes an acrid remark about the elves’ kidnappings of other races. Clear thought is put into the racial conflict to show that there is depth in the setting beyond the dungeon.

A cartoon illustration of pie.

What's better than your regular tart? A man-eating plants fruit tart.

Courtesy of Netflix

But even the most hectic potlucks cease their bickering when refilling their bowls with a steamy bowl of rice. After all, food is the fundamental love language that brings everyone together. At its core, Senshi’s cooking is Japanese comfort food with a fantasy spin, from karaage to hotpot to omelet rice. The meal may be made of monsters, but just like an Asian mother’s homemade dinners, Senshi’s secret ingredient is love.

The second part begins with a pronounced shift towards the show’s darker themes. Several deaths and resurrections have been shown throughout the show. Laois and his party periodically express their concern that they won’t make it to their comrade in time to resurrect her. 

Episode 11 is the first instance where Laois’s party do not eat for the entire episode. This seems like an exception made to factor in their climactic rematch with the red dragon until the bone-chilling realization sinks in. The act of devouring was present in the episode after all—the red dragon had made a meal out of one of them.

Cartoon illustration of a man's frightened face from the perspective of inside a human skull.

Eat or be eaten.

Courtesy of Netflix

Delicious in Dungeon is a show about food and all that food may mean: culture, community, hunting, and survival.

The first half of the season prepares you for the shellshock of the more grim moments to come. Nevertheless, the shift in tone doesn’t take away from the initial charm of the show, but rather enhances its appeal. Like a lethal dungeon or a nice pie, there is much more underneath the surface that you won’t know unless you dig in.

Netflix is currently streaming season 1 of Delicious in Dungeon, scheduled to conclude with its final episode in June.

Published on April 25, 2024

Words by Winter Qiu

Winter Qiu is a first-generation Chinese American born in New York. When they're not playing board games or watching cartoons, they can be spotted in the wild with a cup of milk tea. They probably could've become a doctor like their parents wanted if they didn't like the creative arts so much, but then again, most likely not.