Reaching into the Top 10, here is #10 to #6...
10. Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann
Format: TV (27 episodes)
Debut: April 1, 2007
End: September 30, 2007
GAINAX produced its biggest hit since (#14) FLCL in Tengen Toppa Gurren-Lagann, a runaway sleeper in 2007. A slickly animated mixture of giant robot action, shounen elements, comedy, and epic drama, it has grown a large base of fans and critical praise, a good portion of which is extended to its masterful, eclectic score and impressive production values. An expanding number have gone as far as to consider it a “redefinition” of the its genre—much in the same vein as the studio’s earlier Neon Genesis Evangelion (the best of the previous decade).
Personal Note: Prior to G-L’s success, GAINAX had been a relative rut in terms of good original stories. After (# 14) FLCL, the studio had not created an anime that had resonated as well as that series-- Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (worked on by much of G-L’s staff, which also served as a bit of a breeding ground for that show’s concept) and Mahoromatic had good praise and fanfare, though not at the level of the aforementioned OVA or some of their past popular shows; He is My Master and a few other works didn’t get too much of a response; and This Ugly and Beautiful World, their 20th anniversary project, had its fans but was generally derided. Re: Cutie Honey, a co-feature tie-in with Toei Animation to the live-action movie from Evangelion and Aim for the Top! Gunbuster creator/director Hideki Anno (who also helmed the anime), was a notable title, but not a big time hit nor an original adaptation. Their most prolific work, Aim for the Top 2! Diebuster (by (#14) FLCL’s director, and Anno’s protégé, Tsurumaki) was more well-received and won a few awards, though it too was based off of a pre-existing. G-L broke that drought and saw GAINAX return to form, showing that the studio still had it left in them. While I won’t go as far to call it a “genre changer” (more close to being a “reimagining” of sorts), I do think that is a masterpiece across any genre. Much like (#11) Gungrave, it could have been horribly mediocre given the material, yet instead, it was carefully constructed and handled, resulting in a solid and well-done work. Like with seemingly all of GAINAX’s hits, production wasn’t always smooth. A poorly-made Episode Four and staff sniping at a more popular, competing show created much controversy, resulting in a PR disaster and the resignation of one of the show’s producers and studio’s founder, who made disparaging remarks at the more vocal, critical fans on the Internet. In spite of this, the end results of their labor created a show that has managed to even rival GaoGaiGar: King of Braves as the best super robot show ever made.
9. Psalm of Planets Eureka Seven
Format: TV (50 episodes)
Debut: April 17, 2005
End: April 2, 2006
Website: Japanese, English
Psalm of Planets Eureka Seven has been one of the most well-reviewed series thus far and has been considered among the best from relative newcomer BONES. A delicately-paced drama complimented by high production values (for a fifty episode series) and intense sky-surfing mecha (!) action, it is also one accentuated by its large cast of characters, award-winning designs, and varied concepts and messages.
Personal Note: E7 is one of a number of high-caliber shows from BONES, a Sunrise off-shoot formed from the success of Cowboy Bebop, which has only been in existence since late 1998. While not one of the studio’s biggest hits (its pacing, eccentricities, and cast having been sources of complaints from some), it does have a decent following and many glowing reviews. These have come notably as the series progressed, as its story weaves together many of the elements shown earlier and builds upon them. E7 is a prime example of solid storytelling at its best and remains one of the most underrated shows (when compared to others and their popularity) in anime.
8. Millennium Actress
Debut: January 23, 2001
One of the most widely-celebrated anime films of this or any decade, Millennium Actress is also considered to be the best from master director Satoshi Kon. Much of its accolades have been extended to its production and wonderful, human story.
Personal Note: While I’m not exactly a big fan of Satoshi Kon’s work, MA has been a film of his that I have long wished to see. Prior to Spirited Away, which came out later in the year, it gained a great deal of positive reception and was regarded as the best of the young decade. Though its spotlight has been taken by the more popular Hayao Miyazaki feature, whenever Millennium Actress is mentioned, nothing but high praises continue to greet it.
7. Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Format: TV (24 episodes)
Debut: October 5, 2004
End: March 29, 2005
Website: Japanese, English
GONZO’s most critically-acclaimed work, Gankutsuou, a futuristic adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic, The Count of Monte Cristo, was one of the most radically-visual animated series in recent memory and one of the best shows, as well, with its compelling drama, score, characters.
Personal Note: Gankutsuou was a major achievement for GONZO, as it showed that the studio was capable of producing more than one or two great, roundly well-received show ((#12) Last Exile, SaiKano). Its artistic style, which was the signature aspect of the series, would later be emulated in 2006’s Red Garden and its success would later fuel the studio’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ubiquitous Romeo & Juliet (under the title of “Romeo x Juliet”).
6. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
Format: TV (as two-26 episode seasons)
Debut: October 1, 2002 (Beginning of first season, ended on Mar. 25, 2003)
End: January 8, 2005 (End of second season, known as “2nd Gig”; debuted on Jan. 1, 2004)
Studio: Production I.G
Website: Japanese, English
For years, many had clamored for another round of anime in the Ghost in the Shell franchise, in which their hopes were answered in a TV adaptation of the popular manga series. Production I.G returned to the title that brought them fame and recognition eight years prior with Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Itself a complex, sophisticated, intriguing series, with a high-quality production and a Yoko Kanno-composed (Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne) score, the series quickly became a worldwide hit and a new standard in science fiction anime drama.
Personal Note: GITS: SAC was easily one of the biggest hits, both critically and commercially, of the decade. It came at a good time for Production I.G, who was in the same position as GAINAX was after their collaboration on (#14) FLCL in 2000, if not more so. Even prior to that, the studio had not produced anything of similar significance since the original GITS adaptation in 2005, creating or co-producing a few notable anime in Love Hina and the two Neon Genesis Evangelion movies, but nothing terribly successful on their own. The acclaim and success from the two seasons of GITS: SAC helped place the studio back into prominence, leading to a direct sequel to the 1995 movie and a number of hits later, such as xxxHOLiC, Blood+, and (#16) Le Chevalier D’Eon.