Gundam is a massive franchise in Japan. There have been twelve TV series, scores of video games, numerous movies and direct-to-video releases—and let's not even get started on all the different manga. So despite its cultural footprint—or perhaps because of it—Gundam is an intimidating beast, to say the least. There are so many series to choose from that it can be more than a little difficult for a newcomer to know where to start.
Don't worry though; we at Kotaku East are here to help. The first thing to choose when picking a Gundam series is the universe it's set in. While they each have similarities (i.e., space colonies, wars, and, of course, Gundams), the stories can vary from coming of age tales to terrorist revolutions. To see a breakdown of six of the most popular of these universes and recommendations on where to start watching within each, click through the gallery above.
And if you wonder why Gundam AGE (the currently airing series) isn't included in this article, that's simply because I haven't watched it yet.
What's It About? This is the original Gundam universe. It details several wars between earth and its space colonies.
Should You Watch It? Yes. Pretty much everything in all other Gundam series has its roots in the U.C. universe. It definitely has its ups and downs, though—and being as old as it is, some series haven't exactly held up very well over time. Still, even thirty years after its inception, this timeline has the most rabid Japanese fanbase of the franchise and continues to get new content even now.
Where Should You Start? Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is the perfect taste of what the U.C. timeline has to offer. Made in the mid 90's, the animation is beautiful and the story is quite moving. Happening at the same time as the original Gundam, 08th MS Team follows a group of normal soldiers on the frontline—and even has a star-crossed lovers story to boot.
Mobile Suit Gundam
The 08th MS Team
0080: War in the Pocket
0083: Stardust Memory
Turn A Gundam
What's It About? This is the story of a war between Coordinators—genetically engineered humans mostly living in space—and Naturals—the normal humans living on earth.
Should You Watch It? Yes. The Gundam SEED universe takes all the best from the U.C. Gundams and updates them for a modern audience. It is the perfect Gundam gateway drug and what you like or dislike in the C.E. timeline can be used to gauge which other Gundam series you will enjoy.
Where Should You Start? Gundam SEED, as the first Cosmic Era story, is literally designed to introduce the viewer to this timeline. It follows a young coordinator from a neutral space colony. But when the colony is attacked, he and his friends find themselves rescued by a Natural warship. As the only coordinator on the ship, only he can pilot the prototype Gundam stored on board. So it falls to him alone to protect the warship while the Coordinator military (including his best friend) hunt him across the stars.
It's a story with no dull moments and is perfectly paced from beginning to end. The characters are interesting, realistic, and will have earned a place in your heart long before the final credits roll.
C.E. 73 Stargazer
What's It About? Oppressed by the Earth government, the space colonies each build a Gundam and send them to earth to weaken the Earth's military enough for the colonies to achieve independence.
Should You Watch It? No. While it was quite popular in the West (since it was the first Gundam most 90's anime fans ever saw thanks to Cartoon Network), it is actually not very interesting. None of the characters are particularly deep, nor is the story anything more than mundane. The plot tends to meander aimlessly with the characters falling into one situation after another—but never really getting anything done.
What's It About? Near the end of a war between the space colonies and Earth, the Earth created the Gundam X, a mobile suit that could destroy a colony in one shot. The colonies responded by dropping empty colonies across the surface of the earth. The war ended in a stalemate with the earth ravaged and space colonies mostly destroyed. Gundam X is the story of a group of people living in the post-apocalyptic earth wasteland.
Should You Watch It? Yes (with a but). Gundam X is a series very unlike any other in the Gundam franchise. While it starts as little more than a post-apocalyptic survival story, by the end it becomes a treatise on the evolution of humanity. If you're a fan of games like Fallout, I recommend this one. But if you're looking for an epic war between earth and space, there are other Gundam series that will better suit your tastes.
What's It About? Instead of resorting to war, the space colonies decide which colony will rule for the next four years based on who wins a Gundam fighting tournament on Earth.
Should You Watch It? No. As far as Gundam X was from traditional Gundam stories, G Gundam goes even further. It is simply a sub-par fighting anime with giant robots. The only reason to watch it is to belittle the cultural stereotypes that permeate the series; the Egyptian Gundam looks like a pharaoh and the British Gundam looks like a member of the Queen's Guard. Greece's Gundam even has a beard and a chariot—complete with robotic horses.
What's It About? The world is split into three factions—each constantly on the edge of open warfare with the others. To prevent a cataclysmic global war, a group called the Celestial Beings have developed a weapon (the Gundam) years beyond what the three factions have. Their plan? To decimate both sides wherever the nations clash, making it clear that war is a useless tool that won't win them anything.
Should You Watch It? No. Gundam 00 fails as a story because it really has no where to go. There are no surprises in the plot and everything goes exactly as you would predict. However, if you liked Gundam Wing, you may enjoy this one as well. They are very much cut from the same cloth.
Gundam 00 the Movie: Awakening of the Trailblazer