Food Wars falls on the edge of the modern sports anime spectrum. The sport in this case being cooking.
The main character Soma is The Shonen HeroTM but the cast is well fleshed out, endearing and entertaining.
Why it’s on the list
What really separates Food Wars are the visual metaphors used to represent the flavor of food. These are A) ridiculous and B) often surprisingly sexual.
The closest comparison for me is to the early parts of Phi Brain, another Shonen show that thrived on being the most ridiculous thing ever (It’s sport was puzzles, despite the writers apparently having no idea what a puzzle is.). However,Food Wars stands out for its immunity to the melodrama that often drags Shonen shows down. That’s partially a function of it being only one season (At least so far). It’s main similarity to modern sports anime is the way it makes the content of its “fights” compelling and relatively brief compared to the previous generation of popular Shonen action shows. It’s still mostly just people standing around explaining shit, but in this case it’s more entertaining because often those people are having orgasms.
The season ends with a tournament of one character after another presenting their dish to a panel of judges. If the show were just this for episode after episode I would watch it forever. It’s very silly and very dumb; energetic and delightful. I love it.
Why it’s not higher
At the end of the day though, this is just another Shonen anime. It’s got the Shonen anime playbook and its running it step by step. It’s just not an ambitious show. It basically relies on the one joke of over the top visual metaphors for reactions to flavor, paired with detailed descriptions of that food. It’s very well executed, and I love it, but its ability to climb this list is limited just by its nature.
The characters are fun and play off each other well, but none of them are ground breaking or really particularly memorable. They’re a means to the end of the visual metaphors.
The glorious stupidity and silliness of this show might appeal to me more than some other shows at this level, but I can’t put it higher than this. This isn’t genre defining or breaking work, it’s just very well executed and funny. It also lacks any kind of resolution, ending at the end of round one of a tournament. A second season might happen, but as of now it just sits as an ad for the manga. Because of the nature of the show, I don’t really care about the overarching plot, where it ends is satisfying for me. That being said it becomes a much bigger factor if I think of ranking this any higher than I am.