Fullmetal Alchemist by Hiromu Arakawa
Obligatory Summary: In a world where alchemy actually works, Edward and Alphonse Elric are on a mission to find the legendary Philosopher’s Stone in the hopes of reversing the damage the brothers did to their bodies in a horrible alchemical accident. I know many of you reading this already know the premise of Fullmetal Alchemist, but we have to be fair to the uninformed and Japan-impaired.
Opinionated Ramblings: This is, by far, one of my absolute favorite manga. It has a nice balance of comedy, action, drama, and philosophy. And even better, it has more than one strong, realistic female character*. I know that sounds like a tired old gripe to American ears, but seriously, good female characters are pretty sparse in action-oriented manga. And as far as plot goes, the series manages to explore such subjects as racial hatred, the nature of the universe, political corruption, ethics in human experimentation**, and the atrocities of war. In fact, my favorite volume is #15, when there’s a giant flashback to several characters’ experiences in war, and the reader is shown how they come to terms with the lives they’ve taken and the corruption of their ideals***. Basically, I would recommend this series to anyone trying to get into manga for the first time. Of course, most of the manga they ever read afterwards will be unable to compare to its awesomeness. Life is so cruel sometimes.
*It probably helps that the series was written by a woman. It would also explain the series’ minimal amount of gravity-defying boobs, a major epidemic in series written by those who don’t actually HAVE any boobs.
**Alchemy is meant to be science, after all. You know, just way cooler.
***Yes, I love a good tragedy every now and then.