Do you distinguish between your favorite examples of a genre or form and the best examples? I was musing the other day about the fact that my five favorite anime and the five anime I consider the best of what I've seen are the same five anime, but if I were to create actual top five lists, they'd be different.
In fact, here are those lists, plus an explanation of why the anime is where it is.
- Princess Tutu: The most badass anime about a ballet-dancing duck ever. Also, super-secret ultra-hidden direct Neverending Story reference.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: It makes me laugh, it makes me punch the air and cheer, and certain episodes make me cry no matter how many times I watch them. Also it just looks great.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Total brainsink. I can just watch and think about it for hours. Also, it's absolutely visually stunning.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena: Compelling, emotional, intriguing, great fight scenes, and an utterly kick-ass soundtrack.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: Explosions, giant plot twists from nowhere, and an emotional continuity that more than makes up for the plot spending most of the middle part of the series meandering aimlessly, and then, just as it's finding its feet again, collapses into total incoherence.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena: The most semiotically dense thing I have ever watched, easily surpassing any other TV show or film.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Packs more thematic complexity, character growth, and intriguing ideas into 12 episodes than most series manage in 50.
- Princess Tutu: Masterfully constructed as a pastiche of dozens of classical ballets and folktales, and yet despite the fact that in each episode the characters are playing out the roles of characters in a given source story, there is also a strong character arc for each of them across the series as a whole.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion: The last two episodes are a staggering work of absolute genius and the best-executed narrative collapse in all of anime.
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: A masterclass in creating a sprawling, complex plot with a massive cast (by the Promised Day arc, there are fifteen separate groups of characters being independently followed by the narrative) and still making sure that everything is driven by the choices of the characters, and every character's choices are consistent with their distinct and idiosyncratic personality.