When people say "cooking anime/manga", the first thing people think of is Shokugeki no Souma. And for most, that's the best cooking series that they've watched/read. I also thought that way until I read this series, Bambino!. Don't get me wrong! I like Shokugeki. But... This isn't just a cooking battle shounen series like Shokugeki.
It's about life, motivations, dreams and how to overcome hurdles.
I would compare this series to Tetsuwan Girl (a sports seinen about freedom, virtue and liberation; one character in Bambino reminds me of the MC in Tetsuwan) and Honey & Clover (a slice of life josei about finding your raison d'etre). I, myself, am struggling to find where I should go in life and reading this series was something I really needed. Now, for the actual review...
I think that one of the strongest things about this series are the distinct, real characters. Usually, side/recurring characters in fiction are just one-dimensional stereotypes that are used to make the main character look better but in this manga, they're real people with struggles, hopes and dreams just like our main character. They all get a time to shine some time in the series and the thing I really like is that the arcs feel very natural! In a lot of Anime/Manga, when they try and squeeze in a lot of side characters' arcs, sometimes, it can be a hit and miss. Like, one person's arc may be super boring while another's is very interesting. In this manga, all the arcs were interesting and captivating. I wanted to cheer all of them on.
I finished this manga in two days because of how good it is. It makes me want to keep reading because I want to know what will happen next. Everything feels like real life. Another Anime/Manga that do this well are Space Brothers and Major. They're all about adults doing real things. It's not idealistic or wish fulfillment at all.
Another thing I really like is that that main character, Ban, is talented and hardworking but he doesn't get all the spotlight and still has to work hard to get where he is at the end. In Shokugeki, the main character is basically the best cook in the entire series right from the start and keeps on "pwning" everyone in every single battle. Ban in Bambino! has lots of flaws and struggles a lot which is why I enjoy reading his story. He feels real. When a character starts out weak, it makes it easier to cheer them on because it's like putting yourself into their shoes.
Other aspects: The art is very rich, exaggerated, detailed and realistic which is fitting for this series. The pacing is done exceptionally well as I finished this in two days. Chapters are typical 20-page length which is perfect if you want to take a breather in between although, it's such an intense manga that you won't want to put it down. Despite being a prequel, the ending wasn't too rushed and still felt like a solid ending, even though it was an open ending.
If you want something life changing, exciting, fresh or just want to learn more about food/cooking (Italian dishes!), I really recommend this series. It's very fun, refreshing, and powerful to read especially if you're bored of the typical high school LN magic harem bullshit.