With a new Spider-Man movie coming out, it seems like a good time to revisit his comic book roots. In the Essentials collection, there are plenty of volumes to choose from; for me, volume 10 was the latest one I hadn't read.
This collection features issues 211 to 230 of The Amazing Spider-Man as well as Annual #15. Among Spider-Man annuals, this is one of the best, a standalone story featuring the art of Frank Miller and the villains of Dr. Octopus and the Punisher. Of course, Doc Ock is a true villain, out to bring New York to its knees with a fiendish terrorism-for-cash plot; the Punisher, on the other hand, is more interested in killing bad guys, an approach Spidey opposes. A running joke involves Daily Bugle headlines, adding some humor to this nice story.
Outside of Miller, there are no really big name writers or artists, just the standard Marvel names who produced good work without being big stars: folks like Roger Stern, Denny O'Neil (who wrote the Annual story), Bill Mantlo and John Romita. The result is a string of solid stories that may not be particularly memorable but do feature some big villains, including the Vulture, Juggernaut, Frightful Four and (as mentioned before) Doc Ock.
One thing that hurts this particular collection is less of an emphasis on Peter Parker's personal life: there is little in the way of romantic interest (Deb Whitman is the main one and nothing really happens with her; the Black Cat has a brief appearance as an alternative love interest, but disappears pretty quickly) and other supporting characters - J. Jonah Jameson and the other Daily Buglers as well as Aunt May - don't do as much as in other stories. These are good tales, worth four stars, but these basically reflect a period in Spider-Man's career when things creatively were in a holding pattern.