We've been doing booklists at work for a while now, which have recently expanded into lists of CDs and DVDs. I immediately signed up to do a list of anime. My list is not due until next year, but I thought I would start the thought process here with two titles that are in my personal collection and write briefly about each one.
Although my first exposure to the magical girl genre was Sailor Moon, it is Cardcaptor Sakura that is the purest example I have seen of the subgenre. The same basic tropes are at play in both shows -- a young woman/girl who has a mystical destiny and magical powers, a magical animal guide, and a quest with weekly objects to collect -- Cardcaptor Sakura just pulls them off more succintly (part of this is that while Sailor Moon ran to 200 episodes --plus three movies -- Cardcaptor Sakura only had 70 episodes -- plus two movies). Cardcaptor Sakura also has an element of mystery that is largely missing in Sailor Moon (perhaps with the exceptions of Sailor Saturn and Chibi-Moon). While the foreshadowing is not subtle, it is present and a number of secondary characters that you wouldn't expect at first to be significant, become very significant by the end of the series.
This 13-episode series has a quiet tone and one of the most gender ambiguous characters I've ever encountered in fiction. When I watched the series for the first time, I often would swap the masculine and feminine third-person pronouns when talking about the main character, Kino. Is she a boy? Is he a girl? I had no idea, but the character facinated me. The premise of the series is that Kino journeys with a talking motorcycle through different lands learning about each, then moving on. Although this premise nominally creates a similar episodic structure to The Littlest Hobo or The Fugitive, Kino doesn't share Richard Kimble's (unrealizable) desire to stay, nor the nameless dog's desire to help. However, like both live-action characters, Kino does get drawn into events and often helps (or tries to help).