This is one of the few categories I didn’t have to think too long or too hard about. Ghost in the Shell is an amazing anime that features a great, sophisticated storyline, an atmospheric and immersive visual style and good voice acting. It deals with existential and mature subjects and isn’t afflicted too much by the obsession that a lot of Japanese anime artists seem to have for juxtaposing the cute with the hyper-violent. Both Kusanagi and Batou, arguably the story’s main characters are rich, three dimensional and well thought out, and the antagonist is not your run of the mill opponent either, both the Laughing Man and The Puppet Master. GitS was the second anime I really loved, after Akira, which was the only other anime that could come close to getting the title Favourite Animated Feature. It also spawned several spin-offs, all of which had a high level of quality, though none had the impact on me that GitS had, probably because it changed something inside of me forever.
Since GitS and Akira there have been a few others of note, but none as good as either of these, nor as fundamental and impactful to animated films.
I remember when I first watched Akira with my cousin. It must have been 1990 or so and we had rented it from the local video store back when renting was still the thing to do. I ended up not being able to watch it for whatever reason, but my cousin did and informed me that I really had to make some time for it. I picked it up and watched it three times that very weekend before returning it to my cousin so he could return it to the video store. It was so amazing, so special and so not like the Disney crap I had expected to watch simply because it was an animated film. Sure, I’d watched Robotech and whatnot, but all feature animations were always that honey-sweet Disney shit. So I was pretty much hooked and I started watching all kinds of anime, mostly Manga. Most of it was pretty bad, but I liked the edge and grit it seemed to have over western cartoons. And then when I just thought I was done with anime, just when I thought that Akira was lightning in a bottle, Ghost in the Shell hit and sent me into the stratosphere. I’m still waiting for another to come along and do that again. :)