1. 10. School Days (AKA Nice Boat)
It’s the anime that launched a thousand memes. School Days as a piece or work isn’t all that great as it is relentlessly dark, mean spirited and each of the characters is a nasty piece of work. However, when the final episode was about to show (in which the “protagonist” is killed by one of his spurned lovers,) in real life Japan a young girl murdered her father with an axe. Instead of showing the ending, the last four minutes were a picture of a cruise ship with orchestral music dubbed over. Hence the meme: NICE BOAT.
3. 9. Death Note
Death Note has faded into the past a bit, but it still remains one of the most influential animes to grain traction in the US. You have a misguided if understandable protagonist (Light) who uses a magic notebook to kill those he deems evil, demons and tireless detectives working to solve the case of the mystery killer. The ending is a tad MacBeth, but incredibly effective.
7. 7. Gurren Lagaan
Over the top adventure. Exciting action scenes. Unexpected people getting killed off. Gurren Lagaan might be seen as over the top by some, but remains one of the finest examples of the “hero arc” portrayed in an anime. Watch mankind take back the surface or the world and stay for the amazing battle cries.
9. 6. Honey & Clover
Anime tends to stay away from college and focus solely on high school, perhaps because the emotions in college become more complex and nuanced. Honey & Clover faced these complexities head on and demonstrated that you don’t always get what you want from life and love, but normally become a better person from experiencing either.
17. 2. Welcome to the NHK
Sometimes we all get stuck in a rut in life. In Welcome to the NHK, that rut becomes so severe that the protagonist becomes a hikkimori (shut in) and the anime studies his attempts to escape his depressing life with the help of another outcast. Welcome to the NHK is notable in that it tackles a real problem in contemporary society, but does so with a sympathetic air. The ending will leave you hopeful, but not convinced that the characters have pushed past their issues. Sometimes the ambiguous endings are the best endings.