Are there any of that group you'd particularly recommend? I didn't get into anime until 2005 and even then it took me until 07 to really get into that scene.
I remember experiencing a bit of a "nexus" where it all came together for me too - a point where Kanon 2006 had just finished, Sola had just started , and I became aware of the whole moe debate, both online and in the local anime club scene. (Lucky Star also played a huge role in those debates but I was much more interested in Sola.) I suppose that having fall 2007 come along with EF, Myself;Yourself (I seem to be one of the few who likes it) and Clannad all at once helped solidify my choice too, but I keep coming back to the conclusion that Kanon 2006 was the influential once since it got me looking out for all the shows that followed.
(I also get the impression I'm into more overt fantasy-moe hybrids like Moon Phase, Yamibou, and Utawarerumono - I've been rewatching the last two with friends recently - but I haven't run into nearly as many of them as I have shows that use more conventional settings.)
I'd say the more influential shows for me in terms of what turned me into a "serious anime fan" were probably: Fruits Basket, Da Capo, Kanon (2002), Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, and Please Twins. I watched all of these at around the same time, and it was around that time that I joined this Forum. They all sort of define what ended up becoming my favourite genre. Of those, I suppose Da Capo is probably the most influential, as far as it having stuck with me the longest (and the continuing sequels probably helped with that).
There were a few other shows that I had seen before that on regular TV in my area, like Sailor Moon, Card Captor Sakura, Escaflowne, and Gundam Wing. And there were a few other early-day fansubs like Love Hina, Chobits, and Steel Angel Kurumi that were more on the "romantic comedy" side. So there are probably actually a lot of things I saw that contributed to my fandom (and certainly there have been more "influential" shows over the years that followed). But yeah, I guess if you asked me to make a short list, the above would be the ones I'd probably list.
I think I remember you mentioning once that Da Capo was a very influential show for you, are there any others you'd credit?
Personally, I'd say the most important shows in terms of how my tastes developed were Moon Phase and KyoAni's version of Kanon. While I do recall having a bit of exposure to anime from a classmate who was a huge Rayearth fan in high school, seeing Moon Phase at a university club event (my university kind of had one umbrella club for all things geek and I was a PC gaming/D&D guy) is what got my interest in anime going. Which is odd because you wouldn't have pegged me as the kind of guy who would be into cutesy, trippy stuff like that at the time.
Kanon, which I saw about a year later when it first aired, is the show that made me realize I was a moe fan in a way that other shows with moe elements that I watched previously (Moon Phase, School Rumble, Love Hina, Shuffle, Utawareumono and Haruhi being the notables) just didn't. Ironically, I went in not expecting much since the general consensus around the club at the time seemed to be "why is this getting a huge remake after only four years?". I basically just watched it just because it was KyoAni and it aired before most of the other major titles that season did (IIRC), but something about the atmosphere just hooked me from the start.
(Interestingly, this has happened to me twice with KyoAni shows - with Hyouka, I was expecting a relatively weak mystery anime (I find most mystery anime a bit weak) coasting on a visual similarity to K-On! - and just like with Kanon, the atmosphere of the piece grabbed me from the start.)
I'd also cite EF as being extraordinarily important to me, but for different reasons. It didn't influence my taste much, but it's the series my girlfriend was cosplaying the first two times we met.