Even more than a decade after his adventures ended, Fullmetal Alchemist’s Edward Elric remains one of shonen manga’s best protagonists. Though the world of shonen is well known for wide and varried supporting casts, these side characters almost always tend to outshine their more conventionally heroic protagonists. In contrast, Edward is one of Fullmetal Alchemist’s most interesting characters.
In shonen manga, heroes such as Goku, Naruto, Ichigo, and Luffy are all fun characters to watch but blend together in many ways. All characters are energetic fighters who leverage their raw power in combat over their intelligence. Additionally, many of these characters share similar goals. Naruto, Luffy, and My Hero Academia’s Deku all dream of being the best at their chosen profession. Unfortunately, that’s more than can be said for characters like Goku and Ichigo, whose only motivation is either getting stronger or just protecting those they love. While all of these characters are fun to watch and suit their stories well, their similarities and more predictable character development make them easy to enjoy but difficult to love. In contrast to these samey protagonists is Edward.
Debuting in 2001, Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist focuses on the alchemical prodigies, Edward and Alphonse Elric. After their father leaves them and their mother dies, the brothers commit the ultimate sin of alchemy, attempting to bring back the dead. Unfortunately, there’s a reason this is forbidden, as it inevitably costs Alphonse his body, and Ed an arm and a leg. Putting his brother’s soul in a suit of armor, Edward makes it his mission to find the mythical philosopher’s stone so he can restore his brother’s body.
Unlike many other shonen protagonists, Edward is rarely the most powerful fighter. It’s a common trope in shonen manga that, when the protagonist is pushed into a corner, they’ll develop a new power or transformation to get them out of it. This never happens to Edward. Almost every fight Edward wins in Fullmetal Alchemist is only barely won because Edward is able to outthink his opponents. More than that though, Ed’s motivation makes him consistently compelling. All Ed wants to do is fix a mistake he made, and the entire plot spirals out from the choices he makes in pursuing that goal.
All of these traits add up to make Edward a consistently compelling character. The only manga character in recent memory who has come close to matching Ed is Demon Slayer’s Tanjiro. Much like Ed, he similarly wants to save his sibling and also doesn’t get mid-fight powerups or transformations that win him battles. Given the breakout success of Demon Slayer, manga fans can only hope that more protagonists take notes from Fullmetal Alchemist’s Edward Elric in the future.