Throughout the pandemic I have almost exclusively been reading sci-fi and fantasy, and have now begun reading extremely large (maybe too large) quantities of manga.
Some of my favourites have been Inuyasha, Nana (not sci-fi or fantasy but SO GOOD), Jujutsu Kaisen, Blue Exorcist, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Death Note, One Punch Man, and Ouran High Host Club (Also, not sci-fi or fantasy but truly wild and hilarious). All of these series are funny, exciting, dramatic, and heart wrenching, but the one that is all of these things and more is the beloved and extremely critically acclaimed Fullmetal Alchemist series by Hiromu Arakawa.
I didn’t really read or watch much manga or anime as a teenager, but I was so surprised at how affected I was by this dark and beautiful series as an adult, and cannot stop talking or thinking about it! Before you ask, yes, I have read all the volumes and watched both TV show adaptations, and I would do it all over again and you should too!
I would also like to give a heads up for a content warning for war, genocide, body horror, murder, disturbing scientific experimentation, and violence/gore. It feels strange to be recommending a series with all of these horrific themes, but I do really think this series has so much to offer us in reflecting on power, violence, and ethics and how we can choose to live in ways that feel right for us.
If you aren’t familiar with the series, Fullmetal Alchemist follows brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric, two talented alchemists who lose their mother at a very young age and attempt to bring her back to life. This attempt goes horribly wrong – Edward literally loses an arm and a leg and Alphonse loses his entire body, but has his soul bonded to a gigantic suit of hollow armour. Edward receives “automail” limbs (high-tech metal prosthetics) from Winry, his next-door neighbour, childhood best friend, and automail engineer extraordinaire. He also decides to study and train to become a State Alchemist, also known as the “dog of the military”, to have access to military resources. With this access he and Alphonse and may be able to find a way to get their original bodies back and hunt for the elusive Philosopher’s Stone, which allows alchemists to bypass the universal rule of equivalent exchange.
Each volume follows Ed and Al’s adventures across the fictional land of Amestris as they uncover more about alchemy and the dark underbelly of the military government. It’s truly unputdownable! Some of the military stuff seems a bit long, but the characters and overall plot are so good that I devoured it just the same.
This series has fantasy, action, cool world building, beautiful and disturbed relationships, and somehow a very sweet sense of humour. Arakawa is incredibly insightful in handling heavy subjects such as military/government corruption, racism, war, genocide, grief, and a rigorous examination of the ethics of science and religion and/or spirituality. If you’ve never read manga before, I highly recommend starting with Fullmetal Alchemist!