1. Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei
Hilarious, relevant, tons and tons of style. Not every episode is a hit, but overall, SZS is the smartest anime on television.
2. School Days
I don’t think many people have ever really watched this cold and I’m not one of them, but even forewarned, it is a hell of a ride. If you have never heard of this show, download and watch it without seeking any more information; you will thank me.
3. Haibane Renmei
A lot of incredible themes, but I ranked it this high because as vigilant for moe and emotional pandering as I usually am, I had actually become invested in the characters by the end of the show. It’s sweet without being saccharine and it never made me feel like a voyeur.
4. Spirited Away
Miyazaki’s grasp of the fantastic is unquestionable. I liked this better than Howl’s Moving Castle or Princess Mononoke because it was somewhat better-animated and had more universal themes.
I have to admit, I thought the ideas about dream and reality were a bit hackneyed and unoriginal, but the art in every scene of this movie is breathtaking and the way the story unfolds is really exciting.
This has attracted a following as a blood and guts, sexy action show or whatever, but parts of it are so disgusting that I just can’t see it as glorifying the stuff it’s portraying. By the end, every character is a monster; it’s a subtle kind of horror to me. Also the directing is very Kurosawa-esque and the music is great.
Oh Bakemonogatari, even though you broke down halfway the promise of those first episodes is still incredible. I sometimes wonder if this is actually a piece of tragic performance art, where SHAFT and Shinbo try to build the perfect anime but fly too close to the sun and are forced to give up in shame. Also has my favorite art of all the anime on this list.
8. Pani Poni Dash
Sort of a proto-Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (same studio, same director), maybe it’s kind of ridiculous to include them both because in a lot of ways Pani Poni Dash can’t compete with its older sibling, but they’re both worth watching.
A commenter claimed recently that Sasameki Koto was a subversion of yuri conventions; this was the show that they were looking for. Not as funny as the other SHAFT/Shinbo comedies on the list, but a hilarious deconstruction of a genre badly in need of ridicule.
10. Mind Game
Looks like an acid trip, but there is an interesting movie somewhere in the craziness and the mixed up narrative. And if you can’t keep up, just lay back and enjoy the great animation.