The manga is no slouch either. While the first three volumes are rather average, the last seven volumes are almost impeccable. Say what you want about Hirano being a lazy artist, you can't deny that he takes pride in his art.
The Wandering Son anime looks like a high-quality anime movie, full of Scenery Porn and beautiful character designs. The manga isn't anything to laugh at either, especially when it comes to the character designs.
Berserk. There is so much gorgeous, beautiful detail put into every scene, from epic battles, to love scenes, characters,and facial expressions.
Hell, CLAMP itself qualifies, especially its shoujo series.
Amatsuki: Not only are the inked drawings detailed, fluid, and just lovely to look at◊, but every coloured piece of art is a veritable feast for the eyes.
Trinity Blood: The character designs, clothes, buildings, natural and artificial scenery, jewellery and machinery.
Uragiri wa Boku no Namae wo Shitteiru: Both the manga and the anime have gorgeous artwork; characters, backgrounds, clothes, accessories, buildings, demons, summoned weapons — everything is stylized and elaborate, and really goes above and beyond the Generic Cuteness seen in most shoujo manga/anime.
While Death Note maintains high quality artwork throughout, Episode25 takes this to a whole other level, and is a genuine work of art. Some of the highlights are the opening, Misa's song and her scene in her bedroom, L and Light's conversation on the rooftop, and, of course, L's death.
One of the only things fans of Air Gear can agree on is that the artwork is fantastic. The character designs started off weak and somewhat inconsistent, but they were cleared up by the tenth volume, and the backgrounds and technology in the series are always drawn superbly.
K is full of this. The animation is so beautiful and fluid, it's hard to believe it's a TV series. Special mention goes to the skateboarding scene in the first episode.
Akihisa Ikeda's artwork. Every character has a distinct look and the monster designs range from awesome to creepy to nightmare inducing. His men are true bishounen, his children adorable, and he can draw some beautiful women that usually do not need to be busty to be gorgeous. While his early work was rough, over time it has gotten so beautiful it's shocking that this guy doesn't have a manga equivalent of an Eisner.
Takahashi Tsutomu (author of Skyhigh, Jiraishin, and Sidooh) is an extremely skilled draftsman with a very distinct, sketchy style of inking that's gorgeous to look at◊. While he does have a bit of an Only Six Faces problem at times with the more attractive characters, he averts it pretty much everyone else, firmly placing them in Castof Snowflakes territory. He has a knack for drawing vivid and powerful facial expressions, a lot of which will scare you◊.
The Genocyber OVA's use some incredibly slick animation and the sheer amount of detail maintained in it's Gorn and Ludicrous Gibs is truly staggering. They basically turn bloodbath's into an artform.
Naruto, has really stepped up the art for the latter chapters. The end of Chapter 669 showing off how detailed Kishi can make the art. Chapter 671 is made of this, with the color pages being downright artistic, and then Kishi keeps the train going with a two page spread looking like an old style Japanese ink painting.
The artworks of M.C. Escher, specifically "Relativity", is so awesome it has been recreated in numerous works of fiction. Just look at the details and enjoy the Mind Screw of it.
One of Escher's inspirations was the decoration of the Islamic palaces in Spain, which are quite awesome on their own.
Edward Hopper has made some delightfully calm pieces that evoke loneliness, Nighthawks◊ and Automat◊ come to mind.
In no particular order: Vincent van Gogh, Hokusai, Albrecht Durer, Hieronymus Bosch, Michaelangelo, Mary Cassatt, Ansel Adams, Renoir, Monet, Manet, Degas, Pablo Picasso, Edvard Munch, Alfonse Mucha, Ralph Steadman, Francisco Goya, Salvador Dali, Piet Mondrian, Grant Wood, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo, Jacques-Louis David, Bob Ross, The Bass-Reliefs of Ankor Wat, The Bayeux Tapestry, The Book of Kells, Cave Art at Chauvet, any kid with a crayon.
Do a Google image search for a Mr. Drew Struzan. Be awed.
Amedeo Modigliani. His women and their long necks, their sad eyes, their eerie beauty.
HR Giger. This is the man who created the conceptual art for the "Alien" movie, which means we have him to thank for the Xenomorph. Nuff said.
Zdenek Burian's art is all-round great, but he's most well known for his paleontology pieces. Sure, his dinosaurs and some other creatures are laughably outdated by scientific standards, but his art itself, his iconic compositions and grand sceneries have burned into the retinas of an entire generation of dino-nuts, and he's often said to have been one of the most influential paleo-artists of the mid-20th century. Hereare some decent-sized sets of his works.
Blacksad has some gorgeous art by an ex-Disney animator.
Hellboy. Beautifully stylized characters exploring unbelievably atmospheric settings, with as much attention payed to a flower sprouting out of crumbling stonework as to a nine-foot-tall armored demon with horns for eyes.
ElfQuest, especially in its earliest 20-part incarnation as drawn by Wendy Pini. It helped that the schedule in those days was one 32-page black and white issue every FOUR months. (The quality does slip a bit in the middle, but picks right back up again by issue #12.)
The "remastered" DC Comics compilations of the above, now on the website, constitute awesome digital coloring.
The Archie Sonic the Hedgehog series has some pretty epic art in the earlier stories, and even now has a decent amount.
The Franco-Belgian comic Les Cités obscures drawn by François Schuiten (who did constantly amazing work and not enough of it). Some◊ examples◊.
Jack Kirby. Probably the most influential comic artist of all time. And for good reason. He could draw exciting action scenes, design incredibly unique characters and machinery, express emotions through body language alone. There's a reason Stan Lee called him "The King".
Yuko Shimizu's covert art for The Unwritten is consistently the most beautiful thing on the stands. The most amazing part is that she manages adapt to a large variety of different styles to reflect the type of story the book is telling.
Disney's counterpart to Alex Ross might well be Carl Barks, although in his case the "photorealistic painting" style only applies to his... well, actual paintings (the regular panels he did for comics are usually pretty standard).
James Jean's cover art for Fables was striking, emotive and haunting, that series artist Mark Buckingham would incorporate some images into the interiors. He also won 6 consecutive Eisner Awards for Best Cover Artist, the most of any artist so far.
Red Hood and the Outlaws: Say what you will about the story, you'll keep coming back for the pretty pictures. And while Rocafort eventually left the book for Superman, new artist Timothy Green II is no slouch himself.
Bambi and its sequel (yes there is one) deserve a mention.
The Little Mermaid is another great example, especially during the song sequences and the ending with the Giant Ursula and Ariel's wedding sequence.
If you've seen any of the "making of" documentaries about the production of this and other films from the Disney Renaissance period, you know how much love and dedication was put into these films. The scenes of Howard Ashman and Jodi Benson working together from Waking Sleeping Beauty reveal enough artistic dedication to make a man weep.
Beauty and the Beast to the point that it contributed to it being nominated for Best Picture Of The Year when it first came out.
The The Lion King. Especially the opening sequence and the wildebeest stampede.
Tarzan features Disney's most complex character (at the time, anyway). Complex not just because of surface detail but because Tarzan was rendered with as much anatomical accuracy was possible. Tarzan moves like a gorilla and pulls off spectacular acrobatics and his muscles still flex and move believably. Not to mention the groundbreaking use of CGI for backgrounds that beautifully blended 3D movement with a classic hand painted look.
Tangled although no hand drawn, proves how much CGI has evolved and grown since the early Pixar era. Just look◊ at◊ it◊. The character, hair and fabric animation is also quite awesome too and the lantern sequence is breathtaking.
Frozen has a very similar art style to Tangled, but takes place in a region with a snow and ice theme, and is just as gorgeous as Tangled, if not more so.
The Secret of Kells is breathtakingly beautiful. Watching this movie is like watching a living tapestry. When you finally get to see a page of the book of Kells itself, the gorgeousness will make you cry.
In its heyday in the 60s and 70s, British strip The Perishers had such beautifully-detailed artwork by Dennis Collins that you wondered how he ever kept up the standard on more than 300 strips per year. 60s Perishers strips are currently re-running in the Daily Mirror, though the continuity is a bit wobbly at present.
Kiss Wood - A webcomic off Naver. Despite the name, it's actually about an old man who gets trapped in a lush forest dreamworld after his house is burned down. The art is, in a word, mindblowing.
The Metal Gear franchise has some awesome concept... art, speed-paint unique thing. It just has something, something that you just can't quite deduce on how it's done or what it is to it.
Yoji Shinkawa's art is instantly recognizable because his ukiyo-e-esque style. His work is very stylized and abstract, yet his work is still technically accurate. When you see his work, you know it's Metal Gear, usually. Some of the most gorgeous cover art you'll see out there.
Rayman Origins was praised for it's beautifully detailed backgrounds and smooth character animations. Even people who haven't bought the game admit that it looks amazing. Michel Ancel and co. went for a unique and striking look so as to stand out from other games on the market, and man did they succeed.
Rayman Legends is looking to take this further by giving it a more painterly feel, and lighting the 2D characters with 3D lighting.
Going back even further than that: Wario Land 4. The sprites are amazingly well put together to the point where Wario looks like he's actually moving. You wouldn't believe that it's sprite-based at all. And what platform did it come out for? Game Boy Advance. Yup.
BlazBlue. Yeah, it's a 2D sprite game in an age of photo-realistic 3D, but don't be fooled: these aren't ordinary sprites. Each character's sprite set include 1000 frames, all meticulously made for high-definition. And don't get me started on the stage backgrounds... Here's a gameplay sample.
Anything on the Gambryo engine used most notably by Bethesda from Morrowind on through the remaining TES and into Fall Out 3. Though the textures and models displayed can always be improved on (and usually are, quite significantly, by modders,) the engine itself has fantastic potential to provide breathtaking panoramas.
Though, intention-wise, not seeking to be visually bombastic as other Nintendo games, The Legend of Zelda has shown several beautiful landscapes and exotic character designs over the years. Two well-known examples are The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, with the former using cel-shading visuals with realistic effects (like heat haze and motion blur) that are usually too difficult to program in a normal cel-shading game, and the latter showing an impressive realistic style with some cel-shading effects (such as the animations of the bomb explosions or the disappearance of the deceased enemies). It helps that both games were actually made with the same engine.
Dark Souls shows amazing craftsmanship, with the artists at From Software being great at creating memorable and just downright awesome designs for monsters, armor, locales, etc. The concept art is breathtaking in how beautiful the paintings are, which just makes the amazing designs stand out even more.
Daddy-Long-Legs, which is fascinating because it's done entirely in MS Paint and with a limited palette.
Dragon Ball Multiverse: Chapter 29 Special has been praised for having a better art than the rest of the special chapters. It was drawn by a new artist on the team, and has made this special probably the best received so far. Here it is
Hero Oh Hero's made completely of pixel art which was drawn from scratch in MS paint (aside from a few photoshop effects).
Many cartoons of the 1930's, especially the cartoons made by Walt Disney and their competitors such as Fleischer Studios and Harman Ising, produced some of the most ambitious short cartoon films ever made, and set a technical standard seldom surpassed since. The characters move fluidly and gracefully, with their designs often featuring illustration level details (especially in the Happy Harmonies and MGM Oneshot Cartoons) there are countless crowd shots and impressive effects animation work, and the background art and colors have masterful craftsmanship and composition theory. Meanwhile, Fleischer Studios, prompted to emulate Disney, still held their own by incorporating brilliant color theory with their own stylized character designs and animation in shorts like the Color Classics and the three Popeyecolorspecials, and they even used three-dimensional tabletop sets that they optically combined the animation with—and this predated Disney's own use of the multiplane camera in "The Old Mill"! Their short "Play Safe" even combines their tabletop sets with a stop motion train!
The films of The National Film Board Of Canada excel at this, but especially in regards to the work of Norman Mclaren, who may be one of the most innovative animators who ever lived.
Animator Mark Kausler's independent short films "It's the Cat" and "There Must Be Some Other Cat". Besides being amazing one-man animation shows with hilarious 30's style cartoon animation, "Other Cat", along with the short films "The Last Belle" and "Imitation of Life", shares the distinction of being one of the last animated films ever made to use the menial, painstaking craft of traditonal hand-inked and hand painted cels and 35mm physical film—a true rarity in contemporary animation.
The George Pal Puppetoons are some of the most ambitious, skillfully crafted stop motion cartoons ever made, much less for their time, and they can easily hold their own against more famous stop mo efforts like The Nightmare Before Christmas. The series used thousands of painstakingly crafted, custom made wood carved puppets (mixed with articulated rubber limbs) all to apply exaggerated animation principles to very stylized designs. Making even one of them was a Herculean effort; planning them required the patience and precision of an engineer combined with the mind of an artist, as each individual movement or expression of a puppet, be it a walk, pose or expression change, required either a new part or an entirely new puppet to be made altogether for the film. Each cartoon varies from 5 minutes and up in length, there are often numerous crowd scenes and customized character actions, and everything is animated on ones, it takes quite a bit of time to set up everything before even shooting one frame out of thousands, at a grueling, slow work pace. Oh, and the puppets were animated straight ahead, so if the artists goofed up a scene, it would risk having to reshoot an entire scene from scratch! And with all this, the films also pulled off extremely difficult camera moves (watch "Philips Cavalcade" and the jaw dropping, seamless pan shots of the restaurant and dancers), careful lighting, and tricky effects work (i.e. the water ripple effects and the girl jumping in mid-air in "Hoola Boola", the Witch flying through the castle in "Sleeping Beauty", Jasper doing stop-mo motion blurs, occasionally inserting hand-drawn animation with the puppets, such as Bugs Bunny's cameo in "Jasper Goes Hunting"). And not to mention the set pieces were exquisitely crafted (the eponymous rickety shack in "Jasper and the Haunted House" and the forest in "Mr. Strauss Takes A Walk" really show this off). This level of work forced the cartoons to be made on a very protracted production schedule and keep their releases sporadic, but as a benefit to this expensive, time consuming process, the Puppetoons achieved a cartoon like motion that allowed the characters to move very expressively and with vigor and vitality, and in very creative, funny ways, with the puppets constantly "breaking model" for humors sake.
John Kricfalusi's The Ren & Stimpy Show. Finally after a long mainstream absence since the 1950's (Besides the stuff TMS was animating) does a piece of animation made for TV reclaim the same artistic wild Bob Clampett-style or Tex Avery-inspired flair grace the screen, not to mention the return of storyboard-driven art, and subtle-yet-exaggerated acting and John K's strict policy of hyphenated, complex character expressions, color theory and general rule of never drawing the same expression twice. Or at least in the better produced episodes like "Big House Blues", "Stimpy's Invention", "Space Madness and "Sven Hoek". Adult Party Cartoon raised the bar even higher by having some of the most ambitious, slick made-for-tv cartoon animation ever (episodes like "Ren Seeks Help" and "Fire Dogs II" not only have amazing hand-painted backgrounds, fluid walk cycles and amazing character acting, but even fully animated, three-dimensional backgrounds in some scenes) At times hit-and-miss, but especially in that highly valued second season. Never anything quite like it since the old Warner shorts (and the stuff TMS animated), and certainly nothing quite like it ever again (unless TMS starts opening up animation services for more Western Animated productions besides Green Lantern: First Flight).
ReBoot considering that it was one of the first (and arguably the best) shows completely rendered in 3D. The amazing thing about this show is while it may look pretty tame by today's standards, it was created in the early 90's when they only had Windows 3.1 the first version of Windows to work with, and still maintained a high level of quality which only increased substantially in later seasons.
And then we have arguably the most popular work Mainframe ever made, Beast Wars. It was made with the same tech, and actually won an Emmy and revived Transformers.
Its spinoff, The Legend of Korra, increases the quality even further, partly due to a switch to HD.
And much more realistic anatomy, and a different studio.
The Boondocks. Taken up to obscene levels in season three, where they hired an actual Japanese studio to animate it. There was a reason why it was nominated as the one of the best American cartoons after one season.
Both the strip and the cartoon, the cartoon of which is based on Samurai Champloo.
Sym-Bionic Titan which managed to combine a flat Flash animation style with 3D elements and make it look absolutely beautiful.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic uses an older version of Flash animation to create a wonderful and detailed world with great backgrounds and colorful character designs in what can only be describes as a massive Sugar Bowl of awesomeness.
The whole DCAU, fondly remembered for bringing many young viewers into DC Comics, is also fondly remembered for its awesome art and animation. In particular, Batman: The Animated Series had a revolutionary background art style produced by drawing light colors on black paper, making the backgrounds as dark as possible. Justice League (Unlimited) also had beautiful detailed backgrounds, in particular the cityscapes.
Motorcity combines intricate urban background art with amazingly unique character designs and breathtakingly fluid animationnote Which becomes more impressive when you discover that it was done in Flash. And whenever Mike takes out his dual-sided zippo lighter chainsaw staff, you can be sure that you're about to watch an incredibly animated fight scene.
The Fleischer Superman Theatrical Cartoons (which had an influence on the aforementioned DCAU) had lavishly painted backgrounds as well as amazing use of Rotoscoping that didn't look creepy. It holds up well even with Disney's creations.
Sonic Sat AM. Even though it was very much an In Name Only adaptation of Sonic, it was good in its own right, and one of the reasons why was that the backgrounds were lush and detailed, and the animation was very fluid.
While Beast Wars (mentioned above), revived the franchise and gave it their first Emmy. Transformers Prime, released almost 20 years later, looks stunning for televised CG. While it's telling when the quality just keeps improving in every season (let alone every episode). The fact that it won four Emmys (all of them around the animation) should also say something. And before Prime, there was Beast Machines. Now say what you will about most of the other aspects. There is no denying the animation looks just as good (if not better) as season three of its predecessor.