Since I did not participate n the YIR this year, I figure I'll chime in here.
Best of the Best: 2011
Puella Magi Madoka Magica - It's not just Shinbo fanboy love that drives this one. His usual charms are present, but there is a legitimate intensity driven by not only the plot but the way the visuals are presented. It's almost as if Shinbo not only deconstructed the magical girl genre, but his own tricks of the trade as well. The typical head-tilts, the shadows, lines, and shapes are joined by a much rougher and sinister edge. It's kind of ironic, actually. The same skills he was doing to create a sort of "dark" comedy effect to certain characters in Zetsubo Sensei were used here in the same way to a completely different effect. I rate anime in several ways, but fan participation is one of the most overlooked but most important parts of determining how involving your story is. Week in and week out there were Magica threads, theories, wank fests, whine fests, praises, hatreds, and all sorts of other giddy and frenetic fan activity. Believe it or not, there are very few anime that can drive that kind of attention.
You'll note in my other picks that fan involvement is just as rampant, if not higher.
Usagi Drop - Heartwarming, down to earth, and easily identifiable, Usagi Drop doesn't do anything fantastic because that's not what life is. Sure, the situation at the beginning was weird for us westerners, and it wasn't exactly greatly accepted by the family members in the show either, but beyond that? Some people have never experienced what it is like to raise a child, including myself. So, instead, I identified more with the plight of a man thrust into a situation that he just wasn't ready for. He took it upon himself, so there's no one else to blame, and never once did he complain about it. There is a certain amount of admiration you have to have for Daikichi as not only a responsible man of society, but later as a father figure who has become indispensable to a young girl. Thankfully, and I use that term with some reservation because some folks disagree, the anime ended before the manga's timeskip which resulted in a rather... unexpected and not at all appropriate ending. I say "not appropriate" because it just doesn't fit the narrative. It feels forced, but that's just my opinion. Anyway, the anime itself is superb in all facets. I can't find a weakness to Usagi Drop anywhere.
Steins: Gate - I did not watch this one, but I have to mention it because it is a consensus pick for nomination as best of the year. I remember the hand-wringing at the beginning of the season over Steins; Gate because of the problems with Chaos; Head. I do not say this because I think that exceeding low expectation is what drives the fanbase to love this show, because that only would apply after the first few episodes or so. No, I mention it because from that point on, the fan participation never let up. Unlike Guilty Crown where nobody just wants to admit the damned thing is an entertaining train wreck, Steins; Gate got everybody hooked and glued to each episode. I don't remember hearing anybody threatening to drop this at any time. And, hell, if that's not enough, Dr. Pepper probably got a huge boost in sales. Never underestimate the research of advertising agencies! It's almost as if companies that are trying for product placement in anime KNOW the anime is going to be good before it comes out. Code Geass had Pizza Hut, Steins; Gate has Dr. Pepper. It's got a track record, folks! Keep your eyes open for more.
Mawaru Penguindrum - There is very little that I can say here that hasn't already been said, but to expound on my theme of fan involvement, this one might be the king of 2011. Maybe it was the visual symbolism or the abstract dialogue, but we sure were searching for meaning in this one every step of the way. The best part of Penguindrum, and people in the Penguindrum thread wanted me to state why I think this anime is awesome (here you go faggots), is everytime we thought we had something figured out, Ikuhara added another dimension. The evolving narrative, starting with a simple story of two brothers and one sister, completely was turned on its ear by the end. But it wasn't done in a clumsy or unbelievable way. Indeed, the way the show is given to you, every new layer or wrinkle added to the already complicated calculation that was Kanba, Shouma, and Himari was enlightening. I don't know how many times a new secret was revealed where my eyes widened in surprise and my mouth uttered a single, but drawn out "oh". By the end I realized that what we'd been given was the television show equivalent of a matryoshka doll. It was brilliant.
And that's also why it's my anime of 2011. The rest of the good anime, Ano Hana, Tiger & Bunny, Level E, Wandering Son, and
the worst excuse for pandering to lolicons this side of Kodomo no Jiikan my personal favorite Astarotte no Omocha, all have their own merits, but none of them quite pushed the envelope as high as the above shows did, both in their own merits and in fan fervor. For example, Ano Hana did drive a lot of attention, but there's just too much else wrong with it. Level E was highly entertaining, but largely (and sadly) ignored. And I just through Wandering Son was boring.
Inversely, there was a great anime left off the list due to
SOME PEOPLE HAVING NO ****ING TASTE IN ANIME AT ALL the staff agreeing that it just wasn't quite there either, and that's Moshidora. I'll agree that Moshidora wasn't the best anime of 2011, but I loved it and still think it deserves a mention here and a watch by anybody who wants to see a good drama, sports or otherwise, done right. However, I said this was an inverse to my theory of fan involvement, and I say that because Moshidora sadly started really late due to the tragic earthquake and tsunami that hit the Sendai area in Japan early in the year, so there just was never a fanbase that materialized for it. I don't know if it would have gotten more attention if it started on time, but there is something to be said for it. A lot of anime fans have a "watch list", and their list was full by the time Moshidroa aired. So maybe my theory is bullshit, or maybe Moshidora, due to extenuating circumstances, is the exception to the rule.
I'm looking to 2012 with excitement. 2010 was a suckfest dog of a year and 2011 was just as equally awesome. I hope that they can keep it up, but just not having another shitty year will work for me.