It's painful to write "El Goonish Shive." It's sophomoric (at best), belies a fundamental unease on the author's part, a lack of a clear concept, and it hardly rolls off the tongue. So when this comic launched a decade ago, the title was a perfect fit. Of course, awkward comics like this were (and are) a dime-a-dozen; the difference is that, for the most part, those other have all fallen by the wayside when their authors either gave up or moved on to better projects (and usually a bit more respect.)
EGS stands out because it's still here. Even though the comic was more hole than boat in over the first half of its existence, Dan Shive kept paddling on diligently. The amazing thing is that somehow it not only survived, but thrived
It's certainly not perfect (especially if you're taking the aforementioned baggage into account), but it's evolved into one of the most solid webcomics out there.
In the most bizarre turn of all, Mr. Shive's initially scattershot work has built its recent excellence on things that were almost entirely absent in its early stages, namely: pacing, insightful characterization, and sound, effective, and expressive character design. (Yes! Really!!)
Of course, no matter how strong the most recent strips are, that doesn't rescue you from the trauma of having to read the first several years of updates to appreciate them... except, amazingly, you don't have to! Dan Shive has been meticulous (Even pedantic! In a good way!) about linking to every single reference or call-back since 2008-2009ish, meaning that you only need to endure small exposures to appreciate the absurd amount of well-executed brick jokes
Now the caveat: as always, shape-shifting and all the associated tropes are still extremely prolific, so if that's a deal-breaker, you'd better stick to Gunnerkrigg Court
(well, read that regardless.) The good news is that it's handled with much more tact, and you'll be too busy caring about the characters to mind too much.
There's plenty of quality work to be enjoyed if you're smart about it, so my parting advice for those who find themselves on the fence is to start with the Hidden Genesis arc, where both the plot and the art style enter the 'bearable'
stage of development.