Arakawa Hiromu's smash hit manga "Fullmetal Alchemist" inspired an anime series, a remake of the anime series, a few movies, and a sequel. So it should come as no surprise that this is perhaps one of the most popular anime/manga franchises of all time.
Story: The story of "Fullmetal Alchemist" covers nearly every topic out there. The Elric brothers, Edward and Alphonse, are state alchemists working for the government. (Okay, that was kind of redundant.) Having lost an arm and a leg (Ed) or a whole body (Alphonse) in an attempt to resurrect their dead mother, the brothers set forth to find the Philosopher's Stone (no reference to the Harry Potter thing) in order to change their bodies back to normal. Perhaps one of the most incredible things about "Fullmetal Alchemist" is how well the story is executed. Ed and Alphonse have one of the most tragic backstories ever, yet they do not succumb to it. Instead, they try to fix their mistakes through sheer will and determination.
Along with this, the story is a thinly veiled allegory of Adolf Hitler's reign. Fuhrer Bradley (guess who he represents) rules over all the alchemists as he attempts to rid the world of all Ishbalans (a discriminated race). The Ishbalans were mostly wiped out in a raging war which occurred only a little while before the start of the series. However, some still survive, including one particular Ishbalan hungry for revenge. Most provocative stories, manga or otherwise, would not even touch on this difficult subject matter. The fact that "Fullmetal Alchemist" manages to use it so seamlessly deserves a round of applause.
Art: Arakawa-san can draw anything, as I have discovered. The art can be generic (see next point), but works very well. It's occasionally nothing special, though. The character designs are great and, even if some are unoriginal, they certainly fit the characters. For example, Lust, one of the deadly sins, is a curvy seductress with silky black hair. Of course, this is the epitome of a "beautiful woman," and therefore is not very unique, but that is the point. The woman is lust personified, so of course she has to be gorgeous. The comedy in this series ranges from overused schticks to "Azumanga Daioh"-type comic gold. The gag-style art during these scenes heightens the experience.
But the most famous aspects of "Fullmetal Alchemist" are the fighting and the tragedies. It is difficult to rate a fight scene in manga, but the fights are varied and use well-drawn alchemy. As far as the deaths go, they are enough to make any seasoned anime veteran reduce into a puddle of tears, and the shock of most of them only makes them more sob-worthy. And, since such a mature topic as Hitler cannot be overlooked, even the deaths of simple commoners is noted. A man could be killed. He has never once said a word throughout the whole manga, in fact, we just met him. He could be in the distance, an unnamed soldier. We will still cry for him, because of the beautiful way Arakawa-san handles death. She seems to think that every man deserves to be known by all, and her artwork shows this.
Characters: The characters of "Fullmetal Alchemist" make this a wonderful read. The story may be great, the art may be really good, but the characters are fantastic. Every backstory is shown in a way which makes the characters more than just three dimensional; it makes them seem like walking, talking people whom you've known your whole life. Every action is explained, and every character is fully fleshed out. The Elric Brother's love for themselves and for their friends is shown in full detail. Roy Mustang is more than just the perverted slacker he seems to be; he is a man with admiration for his country and love for his subordinates. Scar is not just the murderous madman he is on the surface; inside, he hates the white men because of their horrible treatment of the Ishbalans. His backstory is another moment which will have you blowing tissues like it's pollen season. "Fullmetal Alchemist" also boasts some of the best villians of any manga, period. If I delve into this, I will probably start to spoil, so I will stop and tell you to read it to find out more.
Overall: "Fullmetal Alchemist" is a manga everyone should read. There is not much else to say, because I don't want to say much more in fear of spoiling. So I will end my review with this: Read this manga.