Let us guide you through the complex Gundam universe!
Getting started with Gundam can be tough because of the multiple timelines and the varying amount of time a viewer must invest to watch the show(s) depending on which timeline they choose to go with. Things are not as simple as picking which one is best; some fans will argue that a certain series is the greatest Gundam show, while other fans will argue for that same show being the worst of the franchise. Knowing how the shows interact with each other is the first step to figuring out what you want to watch, and this article will help to guide you through that process.
The original Mobile Suit Gundam began the Universal Century (UC) timeline, which is without question the most complicated and convoluted of all the Gundam universes. This universe is so big that it can be broken up into the main events and smaller supporting actions spreading across multiple storylines.
Any watching order for this series will begin with the original show, Mobile Suit Gundam. This series covers the events of the One Year War, a conflict taking place between the military forces of Earth and a space colony that calls themselves the Principality of Zeon. While you can watch this show episode by episode, the series was polished off into a set of three movies that cuts out the filler and focuses on the main plot of the show.
Taking place eight years after the original show, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam follows new conflicts resulting directly from the aftermath of the One Year War. This show is more about the characters than the fighting, compared to its predecessor, and many argue that it is the best Gundam show as well as one of the top sci-fi anime of all time. There are movie adaptations of this show as well, but the film versions change several plot lines. Watching the actual show is better if you want the full Zeta Gundam experience.
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ features mostly new characters and takes a much more lighthearted tone than Zeta Gundam. More of a comedy than the shows that came before it, this series has mixed reviews among fans and was never even dubbed in English due to its differences from the previous two television shows.
Char’s Counterattack was the first Gundam movie and wraps up the storyline concerning the Federation and Zeon as well as the rivalry between Amuro and Char. As the original finale to a Gundam story, this movie wraps everything up and can be considered the conclusion of the original Gundam story.
Taking place a few years after Char’s Counterattack, Gundam Unicorn revolves around a normal young boy who is thrown into a conflict surrounding the mysterious Laplace’s Box as he becomes the pilot of the titular Gundam Unicorn. The OVA has been well received as one of the best Gundam shows so far and a sequel television series, Gundam Unicorn RE:0096, started airing earlier this month.
Alongside these main events, several supporting OVAs have been produced that take place during the One Year War.
0080: War in the Pocket focuses on a ten-year-old boy who learns the hard way that war is not the epic adventure he has always imagined.
The 08th MS Team follows a unit of frontline soldiers during the war and even features a nifty love story.
MS IGLOO depicts the fighting on Earth from Zeon’s 603rd Technical Evaluation Unit’s point of view in the first two parts and from the Earth Federation’s perspective in part three.
There is also the OVA series Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, which takes place between Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam. This series serves as a transition point between the two shows and demonstrates the changes brought on by the One Year War that lead to future conflicts.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, which covers events prior to the original Gundam anime, is currently in production with two of the four OVAs having aired.
At this point, new additions to the UC timeline are more standalone. Former characters no longer impact the shows and most of the subsequent UC shows take place decades apart, having little to no interaction with other Gundam installments.
Gundam F91 takes place 30 years after Char’s Counterattack and was intended to launch a new Gundam series. Unfortunately, the film was not quite popular enough for a new project to ever get off the ground. This movie is worth the quick watch if you like Gundam, but it is a self-contained story.
Victory Gundam is the last television series to find itself in the UC timeline and starts 30 years after F91. The 13-year-old protagonist Uso Ewin is one of the youngest main characters in the franchise. Victory Gundam is most famous for displaying what it is like for such a young boy to be faced with the horrors of war.
G-Saviour was a live action Canadian movie set at the furthest known point in the UC timeline. The film was… not great (to say it nicely). Criticized for a weak story and poor acting, this is one piece of the Gundam franchise you can feel free to skip.
Now that we have passed the masterful mess that is the UC, the timelines of Gundam become much simpler. The Future Century consists of only one show, Mobile Fighter G Gundam, which is one of the few Gundam shows not about a war. In this timeline, the strongest world power changes every four years. This is done not through war, but through a giant mecha fighting tournament! Since this theme differs from other Gundam shows, fans will probably either love or hate this show.
The After Colony universe consists of Gundam Wing and its follow-up movie, Endless Waltz. In this era the space colonies have been oppressed by the government of Earth for far too long. Tired of being pushed around, five mad scientists decide to build some giant super robots and send them to Earth for a bit of payback.
After War Gundam X puts a new spin on the franchise: post-apocalyptic Gundam. The war of this timeline has come and gone and the Earth is now little more than a wasteland, but with a bunch of military grade weapons laying around for the surviving civilians to use. Think Gundam meets Fallout and you more or less have a picture of this timeline.
Another standalone show is Turn A Gundam, which was made as a special project for the 20th anniversary of the series. The show highlights a conflict between humans of Earth and humans living on the moon, with the moon people outgunning the Earthlings until an unlikely hero finds a Gundam and serves as one of Earth’s best lines of defense.
Finally, we are back to a timeline that spans across more than one show. Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny are both reminiscent of the original Mobile Suit Gundam. SEED is sort of like an updated version of the original show, making it ideal for audiences who just cannot get into the 80’s animation style of the first series. Many plotline and character elements from Mobile Suit Gundam carry over into SEED, making this series a fantastic starting point for new Gundam fans.
Anno Domini (AD) may sound familiar because it is also the name of our calendar. This timeline takes place in our future! Gundam 00 starts off in the year 2307, exactly three centuries after the show originally aired. If Gundam SEED is an updated Mobile Suit Gundam, then Gundam 00 is an updated Gundam Wing. More or less the same thing happened with the production of 00 – similar plotlines, characters, etc. If you enjoyed Gundam Wing, go for 00. If you loathed Gundam Wing, maybe avoid 00.
Back to one show per timeline, Gundam AGE is spread across multiple story arcs. This series follows an interplanetary war that takes place over the course of almost a full century with each arc following a different pilot from the same family as the conflict affects their lives over the course of generations. The unique spin these arcs put on the series gives it various ups and downs with mixed fan opinions, so this may not be the best series for new watchers to start with.
G no Reconguista was created for Gundam’s 35th anniversary and shares some elements with Turn A Gundam, the previous anniversary series. Reconguista is… well, blatantly it is not the best. Attempts to tie the series in with previous shows will leave new viewers confused. The storytelling is not the best either, as the series tries to do a lot with too little, making it difficult to even understand what is going on until towards the end of the series. Long-time fans can enjoy this series, but beginners beware.
Lastly, we come to the most recent (and currently ongoing) Gundam series, Iron-Blooded Orphans. Humans have colonized Mars, whose citizens were quickly oppressed by Earth. This series has received both praise and criticism for its dark themes, such as child soldiers and slavery. This show deals not only with war, but also with the real-life terrors that lead to and come from these horrific conflicts. For getting into Gundam, Iron-Blooded Orphans may not be the best place to start, but it is certainly a series worth watching after you have become more acquainted with the franchise.
Gundam Build Fighters takes place in a slightly futuristic universe. In this series, the ever popular Gundam models are more than toys and collectibles. These custom model kits can be used to replicate known Gundams (expect cameos from old favorites) or to make totally new models that are then used to battle each other in a video game. This series brings a breath of fresh air to the Gundam franchise.