It's published in a shounen manga magazine. It takes place in a fantasy world. Its view of alchemy is decidedly (fictionally) scientific. The story is as much a bildungsroman and a tale of redemption as it is an action adventure. Its characters buckle swashes, get spooked by monsters, and track down massive political intrigue.
Which makes it very, very difficult to really classify a series like Fullmetal Alchemist. I came upon a post earlier that referred to it as “steampunk,” which-- for that rare person who knows what steampunk is but isn't familiar with FMA –is both mildly accurate and also misleading, since (at least for me) “steampunk” calls to mind anime like Steamboy and films like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Wild Wild West-- much more retro than much of FMA.
I've also balked from referring to the series as “fantasy,” since for most people it calls to mind a more Tolkien-esque world of bow-and-arrow-wielding elves and lush forests than of gun-slinging army men who are also alchemists. Similarly, it's no traditional sci-fi of pointy-eared aliens and space ships, nor is it even a classic shounen with tournaments and massive blasts of ki.
I'm not happy with any other potential descriptions I've come up with so far-- “fantasy western” makes me think of cowboys with magic wands, and “action/adventure shounen” is too generic.
So! If you had to describe Fullmetal Alchemist in a short phrase, think no more than 3-5 words, how would you do it?
Also, don't forget to tune in to Anime Vice tomorrow at 10am for our Fullmetal Alchemist watching party thread at 10am CST! (Ah, shoot, I'm on the west coast now...that's 8am!)