Fullmetal Alchemist is a classic manga. Written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa, the series has sold over 70 million volumes worldwide, making it one of the best-selling manga of all time. Because of its global success, it also became many people's introduction to the world of manga, taking up a special place in the hearts of many fans of the medium. However, one of Hiromu Arakawa's other works, Silver Spoon, doesn't get nearly as much attention as Fullmetal Alchemist despite being a fantastic series in its own right.
Silver Spoon was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Sunday from 2011 to 2019 and was eventually compiled into 15 volumes, the last of which was released in February 2020. It even got an anime adaptation in 2013, but don't expect the action, thrills and magic of Fullmetal Alchemist. As, rather than a tale of fantasy and magic, Silver Spoon is much more grounded in reality.
When Yugo Hachiken fails the entrance exam of a prestigious high school, he instead decides to enroll in the Ooezo Agricultural High School, a rural vocational school. Yugo thinks that it will be easier to succeed at a vocational school aimed at rural students, also believing that going to school far from home will get him away from his family. Yugo's relationship with his family is a strained one, mostly because he is constantly compared to his more successful older brother. However, Yugo quickly learns that life at Ooezo Agricultural High School isn't as easy as he thought it would be. Unlike the school's other students, Yugo was raised in the city of Sapporo and, because of this, he doesn't know anything about farming or animal husbandry. On top of this, Yugo doesn't really fit in with the other students. Many of them already have goals and dreams for their future, something Yugo lacks.
Silver Spoon was a very personal project for Hiromu Arakawa. As Fullmetal Alchemist came to a close, Hiromu and her publisher agreed that the mangaka would work on the much more grounded Silver Spoon. Hiromu saw it as a way to challenge herself as an artist and as a way to bring in new readers who likely wouldn't be interested in a title like Fullmetal Alchemist.
Hiromu Arakawa herself was raised on a dairy farm in Tokachi, and because of this, a lot of Silver Spoon is based on her own experiences growing up and coming of age in a rural community. Several characters are based on people or groups that Arakawa knew or encountered during this period of her life. This knowledge and personal connection shines through, making the series feel authentic, setting it apart from other similar series, especially when it touches on the more visceral and less idyllic parts of the farming industry like animal slaughter and meat production.
However, despite their vastly different settings and premises, Silver Spoon and Fullmetal Alchemist do share one common element. Both stories are about finding your place in the world, understanding who you are, and growing into yourself. In the same way that Edward Elric has to overcome the loss of his mother and adapt and grow into his role as State Alchemist, Yugo Hachiken has to learn how to grow and thrive in both his new rural environment and his new vocation. Silver Spoon is a must-read manga if you're a fan of Hiromu Arakawa's work. It is a wonderfully charming and human story, and Arakawa's enthusiasm and knowledge about the subject matter jump off the page and help the setting feel very lived-in.
Arakawa's talent for writing fascinating and likable characters is on full display here. Yugo Hachiken is a character with understandable problems, and his struggles with identity will resonate with many readers. Ooezo Agricultural High School's other students are memorable and lovable. You'll find yourself getting invested in their dramas and cheering them on as they chase their dreams. And once you start reading, you won't be able to put it down until you've finished the whole thing.