There is no denying that the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise can be intimidating for newcomers. Perhaps responsible for the creation of more of those beloved Japanese robots than every other mecha anime put together, the four-decade strong (and counting) legacy Sci-Fi spectacle has an enduring fanbase for a reason, which doesn’t make it any easier to just sit down and start.
With the dozens of animation entries across several continuities between the ‘Universal Century’ and ‘Alternate Universe’ shows, it’s not as simple as starting from the beginning. We also understand that not everyone’s going to want to hop into the 1979 animation (admittedly requiring more of your attention than many shows today) without knowing it’ll be worth the time investment. If you have been Gundam curious though and just need a loving nudge forward, whether you’re trying to become a real head or just want a taste, here’s your brief guide to the Gundam universe!
Before we give the skinny on each entry, you should know a little about the history and context of Mobile Suit Gundam, the mecha anime that changed everything.
After working under manga and anime god Osamu Tezuka, the ambitious young animator Yoshiyuki Tomino directed a series of Super Robot shows (think Mazinger or Gigantor), all basically made to sell toys. Being driven to do more than just be a plastic huckster, Tomino envisioned using cool robots to tell realistic war and sci-fi stories that struck deeper chords with audiences. While not a huge hit at first, it was the necessary evil of said plastic-huckering in the form of Gunpla, that made the franchise a phenomenon that never stopped phenomenonning even 40 years later.
Before we go into the series, check out this cool infographic we made for you. It has all series and movies (that matter), chronologically for Universal Century (UC), and a list for Alternate Universe (AU). If you don’t know what UC and AC are, keep reading. It will all make sense; I promise.
As you can see, there’s a whole lot of Gundam and only some of it is officially connected. Spanning many TV series, OVAs, feature-length films, and even some web originals, a lot of Mobile Suit action has come about in the last 40 years.
Now it’s time to clear that UC and AC distinction:
When the franchise was under the strict control of Yoshiyuki Tomino in its first fourteen years, each entry was part of a single continuity called the Universal Century, often abbreviated to UC for short. Eventually Sunrise handed off the reigns to other creators wanting to shake up the mech anime formula, and these shows are collectively referred to as ‘Alternate Universe‘ Gundams. Each of those shows is in its own timeline, and not one big alternate timeline, just to clarify.
Eventually, at the behest of longtime fans, new Universal Century entries would be created along the Alternate Universe shows. Our guide will tell you when each show was released, whether it’s a UC or AU Gundam, and what the release format was. A final note, we’ll mostly be covering mainline entries, ignoring direct AU sequels and farther-fetched spin-offs like the SD Gundam and Gundam Build entries.
Mobile Suit Gundam (UC TV Series, 1979)
No, the original show isn’t just homework; Even if the old-timey animation is intimidating at first, even modern audiences will be quick to fall in love with the notorious Char Aznable who puts all modern anime pretty-boys to shame.
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (UC TV Series, 1985)
Arguably Gundam at its most Gundam, the more polished sequel to the original series upped the mecha action, upped the new type psychic shenanigans, and introduced the world to the beloved
dominatrix Zeon Commander Haman Karn.
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (UC TV Series, 1986)
Zeta Gundam, but with Jokes. For real, ZZ starts every episode yelling ‘This Isn’t An Anime’ at you.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack (UC Film, 1988)
Basically, the Avengers Endgame of the Universal Century, you probably won’t get much out of this conclusive film unless you hold a deep appreciation for Amuro and Char, so you better get watching!
Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War In The Pocket (UC OVA, 1989)
The first Gundam not directed by Yoshiyuki Tomino, and yet one of the absolute best; The slice-of-life-ish premise of ‘enemy soldier befriends a kid in a city he’s planning to attack’ is genius and touching.
Mobile Suit Gundam F91 (UC Film, 1991)
This was originally going to be a TV series, but this stand-alone film with no old characters does feature some real splendid animation and an iconic opening segment where some kids get murked in real-time!
Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (UC OVA, 1991)
Made to fill in some blanks between the original and Zeta, though also a complete stand-alone story, this TV-length OVA has one hell of a soundtrack and you should watch it for that alone.
Mobile Suit Victory Gundam (UC TV Series, 1993)
Sunrise allowed series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino to dole one last TV series, and he’s gone on record as absolutely hating it. For UC completionists only.
Mobile Fighter G Gundam (AU TV Series, 1994)
The first Alternate Universe Gundam show, G Gundam succeeded by throwing away most Gundam tropes to become one of the best Shonen anime ever made.
New Mobile Report Gundam Wing (AU TV Series, 1995)
Five of the coolest Japanese robots of all time, and five of the best boys, Wing is best enjoyed as a spectacle where you put its weird pseudo-politics aside.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (UC Ova, 1996)
Less of a capital G Gundam show and more a band of brothers tale set in the Universal Century, you wouldn’t be wrong to call this the objectively best Gundam show, despite it not being representative of the franchise.
After War Gundam X (AU TV Series, 1996)
Starts out as a space western, which is cool in theory at least, and like the original Mobile Suit Gundam, it was canceled before it could finish its planned episode run! Completionists only.
Turn A Gundam (AU? TV Series, 1999)
Yoshiyuki Tomino said enough was enough and returned to the franchise to deliver the most esoteric take on Gundam conceivable; Not ‘fun’ to watch, but if you finish it you’ll feel as if you’ve communed with God. Requires some general familiarity with Gundam.
Mobile Suit Gundam SEED (AU TV Series, 2002)
The most beloved AU Gundam in Japan and the most hated stateside. Watch it if only to form a take that’s contrarian somewhere. Note: Nobody likes its direct sequel, Gundam SEED Destiny.
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (AU TV Series, 2007)
Sunrise grabbed the director of the original Fullmetal Alchemist, and while 00 isn’t half as good as that, they tried to include real-world parallels to the war in the Middle East and the advent of terrorism. A nice try, with nicer pretty boys.
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (UC OVA, 2010)
The big return to the universal century, this multi-year OVA project spent years teasing fans with Char’s returns and fans went crazy for it. It’s fine.
Mobile Suit Gundam AGE (AU TV Series, 2011)
Everyone wrote off AGE for looking too ‘kiddy’, due in part to being partially co-created by Level 5, but it was actually rather ambitious with its three timelines in retrospect.
Gundam Reconguista in G (UC kinda TV Series, 2014)
Disappointing for being Yoshiyuki Tomino’s first entry in 15 years, but at least this unintelligible mess is really pretty. Completionists only.
Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin (UC OVA, 2015)
People wanted this forever, and the Char Aznable-centric UC prequel series is perfectly okay!
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans (AU TV Series, 2015)
Far and away the best AU Gundam series the classic 90s entries, the Mari Okada penned Iron-Blooded Orphans returns to franchise roots by taking a hard look at war, but this time through the lens of Child Soldiers. Ouch!
Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (UC Film, 2016)
If you ever watch one single Gundam thing, let it be this balls-to-the-wall stylistic audio-visual experience complete with a flaming Free Jazz soundtrack.
Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative (UC Film, 2018)
Pretty much a sequel to Unicorn. Eh.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash (UC Film, 2021)
Based on novels penned by Yoshiyuki Tomino, this one’s not actually out yet. We’ll get back to you.