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I don't think it's much of a stretch to say that Hakuouki is the most popular visual novel game at the moment. It has two seasons of an anime adaptation under its belt as well as a manga series. The popularity might also attribute to the fact that Japanese fans already know the "characters" through historical figures; being familiar with the names and situations will make it easier to dive into the story.
I've seen a few anime adaptions from Visual Novels. Including: Fate/, Clannad, Chaos;Head and recently Steins;Gate. As for playing any visual novels, I've started playing through Clannad and Steins;Gate.
I know No R-18 but School Days should be fine, right. It's a famous one, afterall, I'm surprise no one ever mentioned it.
I haven't been playing visual novels for so long. Last time I played Katawa Shoujo, and I haven't tried new ones at all. Too time consuming, unfortunately.
I didn't know this thread exist
Before I went to college, I used to play a lot of VNs, Little Busters, Fate/SN, Clannad and others. I think what makes me interested in VN was because it is such a unique concept, I really like how the story may have several alternatives ending and there are a lot of surprises ahead if you don't make your plan meticulously. Unfortunately the last time I played a VN was 3 years ago due to RL business (and it's just time consuming, like phio said), I might play Steins;Gate and Robotics;Note just to find out the alternative outcomes.