Kazuma Azuma (his name sounds like it comes from a Japanese roadshow of Guys And Dolls), the hero of Takashi Hashiguchi's Yakitate!! Japan (Viz), is a lad with a mission. A sixteen-year-old wannabe baker blessed with "hands of the sun" (which is to say: palms warm enough to get yeast fermenting as you knead the bread dough), Kazuma dreams of one day creating a bread that will represent his native country – much like French or Italian breads recall their countries of origin.
It's no easy task, though, since bread is not considered a primary food source in his country. To some old-timers, in fact, like Kazuma's grandpa, the eating of bread has unhappy connotations. It connects to the hard rolls and crackers handed out as food by American soldiers in occupied Japan: it is, in other words, the taste of defeat. "Little fool!" he shouts, "we're rice farmers! You want us to eat bread? Westernized idiot!!" Clearly, our hero has some major cultural hurdles to get over.
Country boy Kazuma heads to the city after ten years of trial-and-error attempts at creating Ja-Pan ("pan" being the Japanese word for bread, while "yakitate" apparently translates as "freshly baked"), a bread so good that it will make Japanese diners forget rice. With no formal training and even less school-learning, he applies for a job at Pantasia, the best-known bakery chain in the country, only to learn once he arrives that he has to compete in a contest for the one position available in the company's main Tokyo store.
Like Shinji Saiyjo's Iron Wok Jan!, the prime action in volume one is in a cooking contest, though hero Kazuma is nowhere near as arrogantly obnoxious as the hyper-competitive Jan. He's more a naive lad with a single obsessive mission and a tendency to speak without filtering.
Through the course of the competition, we meet Kawachi, another country boy with dreams of making it to Pantasia's main store, though with much less scruples than Kazume (he is not, for example, above tripping our hero with a rolling pin to make him drop his kneaded bread dough), and Sadanao Asuzagawi, the granddaughter of Pantasia's owner. Both Sadanao and her grandfather recognize the potential within the largely untutored Kazuma; in one particularly telling moment the young girl briefly holds our hero's hand and afterwards licks her own palm yearningly. Can't say I've ever seen that particular moment in a manga romance before.