I will be getting to all of these in due time, mostly because I want to watch them again because they are, as you would expect, really good. Until then, we will have to let some one paragraph descriptions get your attention. These are not in any particular order, because they are all fairly different from each other and each excel in their own ways.
- Cowboy Bebop: A jazz inspired space western. The obvious comparison is to Firefly, or Outlaw Star for old school anime fans, but Bebop absolutely oozes class and makes Nathan Fillion (my undying man-crush) look like a chump with a stutter. The English dub loses none of the jazzy smoothness, and the soundtrack, which runs from jazz to metal, is uniformly excellent and serves the unusual dual purposes of both accentuating the emotion elements of the story and influencing the narrative structure. With it's American-friendly themes and obvious production values, Bebop great show to get people skeptical of "those Japanese cartoons" hooked.
- Baccano!: Another show with great music, a great English dub, and an American-friendly setting. Baccano! is the tale of an assortment of people who meet on a train in Prohibition-era America, as well as the mob violence a year before and after the fateful trainride. Unfortunately for those turned off by narrative complexity, it mixes in scenes from all three years, plus occasional flashbacks to the more distant past, without regard for petty trivialities like chronological order. However, it is this chronological shuffle deftly weaving the fantastical with the mundane into the lives of the consistently witty characters that makes Baccano! shine.
- Ghost in the Shell: A cyberpunk police thriller. The story immerses itself in the world of our heroes, a cyborg spec-ops unit of the Japanese police as they hunt down a notorious hacker, and solve other murders in a well realized and compelling vision of future Tokyo. While a mystery overhangs the entire show, GitS is never afraid to show off all its cool toys with heart pounding action sequences, including a marvelous car chase down the freeway between invisible battle tanks. You won't find any Mechs here, though, what keeps this show grounded as much as the eminently relatable and empathetic characters is how plausible (and attractive) future Tokyo looks.
- Steins;Gate: The very best time travel drama every produced. The story follows the Mad Scientist Okabe as he invents time travel, screws up history, and scrambles to fix it. While that may sound standard enough S;G is a roller coaster ride of plot twists that never lets up while never once twisting towards cheesy. This is the sort of story that has time travel shenanigans starting in episode 1, but doesn't actually invent a time machine until episode 3. The cast of lab members are all memorable, and each would steal the show in a lesser anime. This is one where the subbed version is pretty much required. The scientific backings are plausible and compelling, and their exploration by the lab will thrill any fan of hard-sf, while the character focused stories will deliver the feels for those turned off by technobabble.
- Death Note: A battle of wits between a brilliant detective and a self-righteous serial killer, told from the villain's perspective. Death Note plays up the goth and supernatural elements and weaves them deftly into the present day setting, but at its core it is a Sherlock vs Moriarty tale par excellance. The two intellectual combatants really are intelligent (not the big-words fake intelligent of writers writing characters smarter than themselves) and the exposition of the show's big moral theme is unsubtle, but comprehensively and engagingly explored. The genius of the show really is the endlessly fascinating chess game between L and Light. The show tapers off at the end, but the masterful 90% still keeps it head and shoulders above the typical run of anime.
- Code Geass: Action, Mechs, Supernatural Powers, and Conspiracies, and they still get their homework done. Code Geass should absolutely be high camp, and yet it takes itself so seriously, and indeed is so worth taking seriously, that it elevates itself and becomes an actual display of what these over-the-top heroic adventures aspire to be. The action is riveting, the scale is immense, the improbably tight knit collection of heroes and villains really do get you engaged in their relationships and character arcs. There really isn't much to be said about Geass, because if you have watched much anime at all you have seen this show, you have just never seen it executed this well.
Loyal fans (of which I have, as of today, none) will notice that, with the addition of Steins;Gate, I now have six shows on my top five list. A lesser man would surrender to mathematics and call it a top six list, but I am not a lesser man. THEREFORE, the next two reviews will be the two shows on the top 5 list that are a notch below the others, Death Note and Code Geass. Two shows enter, but one will end up on the honorable mentions list by the time this contest is over. By a coin toss, Code Geass will be up first, so look tonight for the beginning thread and possibly this weekend (and maybe early next week, depending) for the full review, followed by a week of Death Note.
Numerology aside, loyal readers (and, I guess, disloyal ones) are welcome to criticize my choices in the comments and offer their own replacements. This is, first and foremost, intended to be a recommendations guide, so more great shows will give you fellow bored otaku more chances to never get laid. Good shows that I have forgotten will go straight to the honorable mentions list, and really great shows, (or really great cases for shows I hadn't considered) may find their way into the next iteration of the top 5 list.