Here's my favourite animes, in order of my esteem:
1- St. Luminous Mission High School (tv series)
I'll quote wikipedia's description of it:
When his grandfather dies, Kaihei inherits the post of chairman at an eccentric private girl's school which emphasises the personal freedom of its students. But he arrives to find that one of the students has gone missing. As he investigates Melina's disappearance more students vanish, strange events occur and his position is placed under increasing pressure from teachers and parents.
Despite seeming to have many of the elements of a typical school harem anime, St Luminous instead focuses on plot.
It also really focuses on the characters. The subject of teens going missing can be interpreted as something else, a subject that they do bring up if briefly: suicide. It does have some immature discourse, but nevertheless, in the course of 13 episodes, the series does an excellent job of describing the effects of caring for someone/love, how not having it can take people to "a place that is not known", which could be interpreted as possibly madness, and having or getting it can get them to come back. It speaks of both the fragility and power of love in a time of great emotional turmoil for most people (their teen years), not by intellectual discussion but by the actions of the characters themselves as well as the story line.
2- Grave of the fireflies. It's based on a true story... the ending, which goes back to the beginning is.. depressing as all hell. But life isn't always roses and I think it's good to see how a community can engage in small cruelties that can ultimately kill someone.
3- Rah Xephon
4- Wolf Brigade; Another tragic anime film.
5- Ghost in the Shell; I loved it all; the 2 season, the films and the OVA. I think it's speaks of issues that are present today, thinly disguised as issues sometime in the near future :-p.
6- Spirited away; written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who's done several great animes. This was actually recommended to me by a female homeless activist back in my activist days (aka, when I was living in a shelter, laugh :-p). It involves a girl who finds herself in a fantastical land and her many adventures where she triumphs over many adversities by being kind to the people around her, who in turn return the favour.
7- Princess Mononoke (film) From wikipedia's entry, with a bit of editing:
Princess Mononoke is a 1997 epic Japanese animated historical fantasy feature film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. "Mononoke" is not a name, but a general term in the Japanese language for a spirit or monster. The film was first released in Japan on July 12, 1997, and in the United States on October 29, 1999. A human girl adopted by wolves is given the name of "Princess Mononoke" by the villagers of Iron town, where a lot of the story takes place. Metaphorically speaking, this movie can be seen as what happens when humanity disregards mother nature; we may be able to kill off a lot of the wildlife, but if we mess things up too badly, our own lives will be lost as well.
8- Howl's moving castle, also written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Really nice story. Again from wiki, with some editing:
The heroine, Sophie, starts out as an 18-year-old hat maker, but then a witch's curse transforms her into a 90-year-old gray haired woman. Sophie is horrified by the change at first. Nevertheless she learns to embrace it as a liberation from anxiety, fear and self-consciousness. The change leads her to seek out a wizard with mysterious powers, feeling that he's the only person who could help her. In the end, she finds that he needed her just as much as she needed him.
9- Evangelion: Neon Genesis (series) Somewhat like Rah Xephon and Runic Wolf likes it too, so 'nuff said :-)
10- Hellsing- the original (series) Basically, a vampire slayer series.. and the head vampire slayer is a vampire himself, much like Blade in a way.
11- Bleach- An ongoing series involving certain high school students who can see ghosts and (soon enough) do battle with the bad ones. It's not always the best, but has some great music and it can certainly keep you busy for a while; currently there are 358 english subbed episodes :-).
12- Berserk (series) - Been a long time since I've seen this.. my brother was a real fan. I liked it but it's been so long I had to go to wikipedia to remind me what it was about, laugh :-). Here's the link to the wiki entry for anyone interested: