Where do I even begin describing the awesomeness of this manga?
The story was written over the course of thirty years in light novel form. There was a previous partial manga adaptation in the 90s, though I probably won't read it since it finished before the light novel was complete and I doubt the art is as beautiful as the art for this adaptation. The artist is the same one who wrote Fullmetal Alchemist. The way they draw their characters feels very unique, but it's a great style and I love it. The backgrounds are also drawn well, immersing us in this Persian-inspired culture. The story is set in Pars and we start in the capital city of Ecbatana. As the manga progresses, we see other cities, villages, and fortresses across Pars and even take a trek into the neighboring country of Sindhura. We hear about other surrounding countries like Maryam, Lusitania, Misr, Turk, and Turan. Lusitania is probably the most relevant one, considering the Lusitanian army invaded Pars and defeated them in battle, forcing Arslan to try to "reclaim his fallen kingdom" as the synopsis puts it. The Lusitanians and the man in the silver mask who works with them are the primary antagonists in the story, those Arslan is ultimately trying to defeat.
Arslan is the prince of Pars, son of Andragoras and Tahamenay, and friend of Azrael. He is our protagonist. And I love him. I love many of the characters actually. Daryoon is a strong warrior with epic, inhuman fight scenes. Narsus is a genius tactician and painting enthusiast, whose paintings are used as torture devices. Bodin is a zealot of the Western church of Yaldabaoth and is a slimeball (but we need some of those in every story). Etoile is straightforward and lovable. Andragoras is unfathomably cool. Kubard--Bahman--Guiscard--Gah!
But back to Arslan. Arslan travels across Pars, gathering a motley crew of allies (well, technically, subordinates) with the eventual goal of raising an army and fighting back against the invading Lusitanians. One of the main themes of the manga is the proper way for nobility to treat their subordinates and subjects. Should they be authoritative or respectful? Should they be coldly pragmatic or empathetic? Arslan is always portrayed as an ideal leader, perhaps a bit overly merciful and "soft," but a kind and thoughtful leader nonetheless. Narsus commends him for not being jealous of his subordinates' skills and for using them like a rider would use a speedy horse. Several other leaders are portrayed alongside Arslan, contrasting his method of leadership to theirs. The manga does a good job portraying power dynamics and politics and tactical strategy. Honestly, the tactics Narsus cooks up are quite possibly the greatest part of the manga. But even that's not true, 'cause it's all great. It's an all-around great manga.
[Reviewed at chapter 75]