So I was having a discussion with Colin from ColinC9 on Twitter about the Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans and how much I am enjoying the show thus far. During this little conversation, I found out that he had yet to start watching any of the Gundam anime, and realised just how much there is and how overwhelming that could be to someone looking to get into the fandom. I mean, the first series (Mobile Suit Gundam) came out in 1979, 38 years ago!
That’s almost 40 years of content that has been building up… And since so many of the different Gundam anime take place in different universes and timelines, it can be really confusing to know which ones are sequels, prequels or alternate timelines. That’s why I thought, as someone who has been watching Gundam since I was a child, I would put together a guide on how to get into the franchise in a way that will make sense to you.
Now, every Gundam fan out there will have different opinions on which series you should be watching and in what order, so let’s just put the caviat that this is my personal opinion on how to get started with Gundam. Right then, here we go!
At The Beginning
The most obvious place to start anything is at the beginning, right? And Gundam really is no different. As long as you are happy to watch something with (honestly) a very outdated art style, then you should definitely pick up Mobile Suit Gundam first. It will give you a nice and relatively easy transition from the idea of Super Robots like the Megazords or Voltron, into the Real Robot genre that Gundam created.
However, because there is so much Gundam to get through, I would recommended skipping the 47 episode anime series and get your hands on the three part movie compilation instead. Unlike certain other movie compilations of Gundam (I’m looking at you, Gundam SEED compilation) this one manages to do a good job of cutting out the parts that are largely unnecessary whilst retaining the character development, action, and emotional drive of the series. Rather than having roughly 23 hours to get through, you’ll have about 9 hours instead. This makes it far easier to digest, especially since Mobile Suit Gundam is just the beginning of the timeline known as Universal Century.
Expanding The Universal Century
Moving on from Mobile Suit Gundam, I would generally recommended sticking with the Universal Century timeline for now, as you’ve likely already become invested in the overall storyline. Therefore, shaking things up and jumping to a different timeline or universe will just be like starting all over again.
However, whilst most people would say to jump straight into the sequel anime (which we’ll get into later), I generally think it is better to expand upon the history of the One Year War, as depicted in Mobile Suit Gundam. This is because you’ve already experienced the overarching storyline of the war, and know some of the major events. However, the various OVAs (original video animations) that were released later on. Of all of them, I would recommend starting with 08th MS Team, as it shows what the war was like for regular soldiers on the ground, giving you a far more realistic look at the One Year War and how it effected everyone.
Don’t expect any superpowers, out of this world battles or over the top pilots here. 08th MS Team is one of the most down to Earth (both literally and figuratively) Gundam shows to date, and really adds a lot to the One Year War’s lore.
Once you’re finished with that, I would also suggest checking out Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket. It is another short series showing how the events of the One Year War directly effected the lives of a small group of people. Oh, and maybe check out Gundam: The Origin, which tells the history of major character Char Aznable from before the One Year War and events of Mobile Suit Gundam as well.
Having expanded one the history of the Universal Century timeline, and of the One Year War, it is now time to move into the next major event of the Universal Century; the Gryps war. This particular war begins in episode 1 of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. Taking place a full 7 years after Mobile Suit Gundam, the Earth Federation (the protagonist faction in the first series) has grown corrupt and now a rebel faction known as the Anti Earth Union Group has emerged.
Zeta Gundam also marked a seriously darker turn for the series, even compared to the likes of War in the Pocket. Yoshiyuki Tomino, the creator of Gundam, was going through depression at the time, and this comes through in the very harsh events of the Zeta Gundam series. With a record number of character deaths, Zeta Gundam is like the Game of Thrones of the Gundam franchise, where no character is safe.
However, don’t let the dark tone turn you away from Zeta Gundam. In my personally opnion, it is one of the best series so far, and really does show the overall message of Gundam very well; “war is Hell”.
But, the story of Zeta Gundam doesn’t end when the series itself does, as Mobile Suit ZZ Gundam picks up immediately after the close of Zeta Gundam.
ZZ Gundam was written and created after Tomino had a huge change of heart, deciding that anime should be more fun and uplifting. As such, there is a huge shift in tone once again when you watch ZZ Gundam. This may be a big jolt at first, and generally ZZ Gundam isn’t as popular with fans as other shows… But in the context of fully understanding the Universal Century and getting a grasp of the Gundam franchise, it is worth watching.
This is because the jolt in tone is something that you’ll see a lot when exploring other Gundam series. From the mid-tone Gundam SEED, to the darker Gundam SEED Destiny (featuring a mentally scared protagonist) to the outright weirdness of Turn A Gundam, by watching ZZ Gundam you’ll be more prepared for the difference in style of each subsequent Gundam series.
Ending The Universal Century (For Now)
Now we come to the final part of the Universal Century timeline that I will be listing in this “getting started” guide; Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack. Taking place after all of the aforementioned series, this movie brings the story of Amuro Ray (original series protagonist) and Char Aznable (his rival) to a close in one epic tale.
Whilst it isn’t essential viewing in terms of getting to know the Gundam franchise, after you’ve been through 3 series that largely revolve around these two characters or events that happen because of their actions in the past, it really is worth seeing how their story comes to an end.
Enter The Multiverse
By now you’ll have a good idea of how the Gundam franchise evolved over the years, and over the messages that the show portrays. Therefore, it is now the perfect time to jump out of the Universal Century (oh yes, there’s still more series in that timeline) and into some of the other timelines and universes out there.
The first alternate timeline series I would recommend is the one that got so many Western fans into Gundam to begin with; Gundam WING. This was the first Gundam anime to be localised and shown on British TV, airing on Toonami (part of Cartoon Network) in the 90s. It focused on 5 Gundam pilots sent down from the colonies to wage guerrilla warfare on the forces of Earth in order to gain independence for the colonies.
The overall tone of the show is somewhere between Mobile Suit Gundam and Zeta Gundam, with events and tragedies all having major effects on the psyche of the child soldiers who are piloting the Gundams. On top of this, it deals with the philosophies of war, politics, honour and much more.
Gundam WING (and its sequel OVA Endless Waltz) is a very deep story that will keep you engaged for the entire duration, and is a very different take on the Gundam idea.
The final series that I would recommend, before you go off and just start watching any Gundam anime in any order, would be Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron Blooded Orphans.
I, myself, am only part way through the series so far (due to lack of time to sit down and watch it as much as I’d like) but it really does show the ideal of “war is Hell” in a very strong way. The characters are all damaged in some way, and the violence of war seems not to phase them after being raised to fight. It looks, in very strong detail, at the idea of mercenary forces, political warfare, treachery and the use of child soldiers.
It is very dark (although not quite at the level of Zeta Gundam) and very violent, which makes it stand out against the other Gundam anime in terms of having more adult-focused themes like murder. Even the Gundam itself is more brutal, using a mace rather than a beam sword or rifle.
And That’s All Folks
Those would be my picks for which Gundam anime to watch in order to get into the franchise. The reasons I picked them in particular is because I feel they show the different styles of the Gundam franchise very well, so you’ll be more prepared when it comes to watching all of the other shows. By experiencing this vastly different styles and themes, the other series won’t come as such a big shock (except maybe Gunpla Build Fighters, which is a whole different story).
Have you watched any Gundam before? If so, what is your favourite series? If not, did this guide help you know where to get started, or maybe pique your interest in the show? Let me know in the comments below!