I'm a big fan of anime, since watching Dragon Ball Z as a kid and stumbling upon Howl's Moving Castle as a teenager. I've read almost a thousand chapters of One Piece, and visited the Ghibli Museum three times while I lived in Japan. There are so many types of anime, which is why when I decided to take the time to list out my favorite, I decided to narrow it down to not only anime series, but specifically series with one or two main seasons.
Back in high school, several of my friends got together every Friday to watch anime in Anime Club. Usually, we watched a movie and then raffled it off, but in one case, we watched a new series: Mushishi. We only watched the first few episodes, but it was enough to fascinate me. Mushishi is more sublime than my other favorite anime, focusing on supernatural micro-organisms that have unique effects on the everyday lives of the people of Edo/Meiji Japan.
We follow the main character, Ginko, as he travels the country curing mushi-related phenomena. The story is slower paced, focusing on atmosphere and character development. It's beautiful to watch and makes for a good show to watch in between some of other, more action-packed anime.
After watching Serenity and Cowboy Bebop, I was in the mood to find more space westerns, and I learned about Trigun. It was after watching this series that I decided I loved older anime, even if they're not as sleekly animated. Trigun is definitely choppy at times, but it's a lot of fun, and has some really good action.
The main characters are very much stereotypes, with Vash, the hero, being the slightly goofy but highly skillful protagonist with a complex and tortured backstory. He frequently encounters Meryl, a short-tempered "insurance" agent, who's super dedicated to her job. And then there's the slick Wolfwood, a bad-ass priest wielding a huge cross-shaped gun named the Punisher. He's super cool.
The story of Trigun is a lot of fun, most episodes standing alone until the latter half when the main plot starts to kick in. It doesn't take itself too seriously, which helps each piece come together in this excellent show.
FLCL, pronounced Fooly Cooly, is the most absurd allow I've ever seen, and yet there's some semblance of a coherent plot. The short 6-episode series is a coming-of-age story following Naota, a young kid living with his dad and grandfather. Then, Haruko shows up in town and smashes Naota in the face with her guitar, opening a portal through which robots come out. As I said, it's absurd.
The series is short, but it's very dense, filled with a lot of stylish action and frenetic humor. It's great to re-watch and easy to recommend to anyone looking for something energetic and fun.
2. Cowboy Bebop
I had heard good things about Cowboy Bebop, including that it was extremely popular in the West, more so than the East. That was a lot of hype to live up to, but this show really nailed it. There's a great balance of standalone stories and moments tied to the main plot, which is a beautiful story.
We're treated to the company of space bounty hunters Spike Spiegel, Jet Black, Faye Valentine, and eventually Ed and Ein. They're not the best at their job, yet they're pretty smart and capable, making each episode fun to watch. The quality of the animation, combined with the music and atmosphere, which is an amalgamation of space, western, and noir, make for a classic anime that transcends other television.
1. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann
Now this is one of the most glorious anime I've ever seen, full of action, adventure, humor, giant robots, stylish animation, and one epic story. Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann jumps right into the action, focusing on Simon and Kamina, two "brothers" who live underground and are forbidden to break onto the surface, which they inevitably do after finding the key to a giant robo-head vehicle. Once on the surface, their adventure continues with a zany crew, including the kick-ass sniper Yoko.
I can't too much into the best parts of the story without spoiling anything, but I can say that Gurren Lagann does a great job building up it's characters, especially Kamina above all others. And it was at the very end of the series that I realized how well the show had done at slowly increasing the stakes, starting with simple action (as simple as it can get on this show), all leading an ending that spirals out of control. And if you don't see the pun there, you should take the time to sit down and watch this amazing anime.