Space. Evil Empire. Laser swords. Humans with special mental abilities.
Sounds like Star Wars? Guess again...these are just some of the fantastic elements in the Gundam franchise! It's mixed with space opera, political intrigue, epic battles and a lot of memorable robots in a military setting!
Gundam is one of the best things to be ever produced from the "Land of the Rising Sun". The franchise has been around since 1979 and still going strong to this date. Within a span of 38 years, it has garnered multiple animes, videos, films, manga, collectibles and many more. Gundam has truly left a print in the Japanese culture!
Now, we'll focus on the essential Gundam animes to watch. It can be jarring for those who are unfamiliar on which series to watch first due to the multiple timelines and alternate histories. Here's a simple guide of our recommendations and hopefully you enjoy them as much as I have!
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995-1996)
Timeline: After Colony 195
The series focuses on 5 teenagers, each specially trained by different scientists to pilot the extremely advanced mobile suits called Gundam. The 5 teenagers must band together to battle the Organization of Zodiac (OZ) from their oppressive rule over Earth and space. The series concludes with the OVA - Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz.
In this list, this series may have the weakest storyline due to its slow pacing and mediocre plot. It's pretty much just about a full head-on war between the Gundam team and OZ. What's pretty captivating about this series though are the iconic mobile suit designs, colorful characters and memorable battle scenes.
The OVA is a great finale for the series, the mobile suits get an upgrade in the design department and has been iconic favorites for fans alike. Who would've thought that angel wings on a Gundam would look so bad ass?!?!
Mobile Fighter G Gundam (1994-1995)
Timeline: Future Century 59
In this alternate timeline, mankind has abandoned the ruined Earth to live in space colonies. The countries on Earth have corresponding colonies orbiting the Earth's atmosphere. Every 4 years, a tournament is held on Earth called "Gundam Fight". Each country will send their champion piloting the mobile fighter Gundam. The Gundams duke it out until only one remains. The nation represented by the sole winner earns the right to rule all of space and Earth until the next Gundam Fight takes place.
Some Gundam fans either hate or love this series. People hate it because it breaks away from the usual military setting Gundam series are fond of. People love it because of its innovation in heading in a different timeline and plot. Obviously, I'm a fan of the latter.
It's a hybrid between Kung-Fu, Dragon Ball Z and Gundam! It's fast-paced story telling, full of machismo, memorable lines delivered and it really gets your adrenaline pumping once the Gundam Fight begins!
Once your done with the series, I wouldn't be surprised you start chanting Domon Kasshu's line: "This hand of mine is BURNING RED! Its loud roar tells me to grasp victory! ERUPTING BURNING FINGER!"
Mobile Suit Gundam Seed (2002-2003)
Timeline: Cosmic Era 70
A war is currently raging between the Naturals of Earth Alliance and the Coordinators of Zodiac Alliance of Freedom Treaty (ZAFT). Mankind is greatly divided because of human genetic engineering. The normal Earth-born Naturals have cultivated a deep hatred for the genetically engineered abilities of the Coordinators, forcing the latter group to leave for space and establish their own space colonies in order to survive. It seems ZAFT has the upper hand in the war because of their mobile suits, until they discover the 5 advanced prototype Gundams built by the Earth Alliance may change the tide of the war. ZAFT attacks the base housing the Gundams and successfully steal 4 out of the 5 Gundams. A young student named Kira Yamato "accidentally" gets into the last Gundam named Strike Gundam and fends off the intruding ZAFT forces. Kira must now take on the great task of sending the Strike Gundam to the main Earth Alliance base while being pursued by ZAFT forces.
Definitely one of the most popular and iconic series of the Gundam franchise. It's widely loved by both hardcore Gundam fans and casual anime viewers. It's set in a different timeline but the story is heavily inspired by the original Mobile Suit Gundam.
It has an engaging storyline, well written character-driven scenes and excellent battle sequences. To this day, I'm still blown away by what went down in the epic final battle! That alone is a great reason for watching this series!
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (2010-2014)
Timeline: Universal Century 0096
3 years have passed since the events of Char's Counterattack. Banagher Links is a simple student who resides peacefully in one of the space colonies in Side 4. His life changes when his resident colony is invaded by remnants of the Neo-Zeon faction, the Sleeves. They attack the colony with the intent of searching for the Laplace's Box, a powerful tool capable tool of restoring the future or destroying the world. During the invasion, Banagher discovers he is also the heir to piloting the Unicorn Gundam, a mobile suit also essential for using the power of the Laplace's Box.
A fair warning though, I would highly recommend you to watch the other Universal Century-related series first before diving into this one, namely: Mobile Suit Gundam, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Char's Counterattack. There are some characters, back-stories and themes that get mentioned here which crucially tie in with the plot.
In this 7-episode OVA, it's pretty impressive how well-written, tight and complex the story is. Character development here is amazing, we witness the reason behind their personal drive in the beginning and mature into a different ideology by the end of the series.
This is probably the best animation ever delivered in the Gundam franchise, it's simply breathtaking and gorgeous! One of the best installments in the Universal Century storylines and one you shouldn't miss.
Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (1989)
Timeline: Universal Century 0080
The Zeon faction has intel that a new prototype Gundam is under development by the Federation. Bernard "Bernie" Wiseman, a Zeon commando must now take on the task to engage in a covert mission in sabotaging the Gundam before it is deployed in the battlefield. Bernie befriends 2 locals who reside in the colony where the Gundam is being developed, Al and Christina. Little did he know his encounter with the 2 would greatly change their fates forever.
With only having 6 OVA episodes, the story here is short and straight-to-the=point. Without giving too much away, the series explores the other aspects of war such as the casualties of war and innocence lost. It's the kind of story that sticks with you for a long time after watching it. Get them tissues ready for the final scene!
Mobile Suit Gundam: Char's Counterattack (1988)
Timeline: Universal Century 0093
This film is the final stand-off between rivals, Amuro Ray and Char Aznable. It is the culmination of the original saga which ignited in Mobile Suit Gundam and continued through Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam and Mobile Suit Gundam Double Zeta. Char is back to finish off the Earth Federation once and for all by planning to drop a space colony on Earth. Amuro is Earth's only hope and heads off in the Nu Gundam to face Char's Sazabi and his Neo-Zeon forces.
This can only be appreciated if you've viewed Mobile Suit Gundam and Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam. It's simply the grand finale of the iconic rivalry between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable! A must-watch for fans of Team Amuro or Team Char!
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (1996-1999)
Timeline: Universal Century 0079
The great One Year War is in full swing. The Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon are waging war within the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation is recently promoted as the commander of the 08th MS Team. He and his team are given the task of taking down the Zeon experimental mobile armor. Things get complicated when Shiro discovers that the pilot of the Zeon mobile armor is Aina Sahalin, a love interest he met from way back.
What's appealing about this side-story is how grounded the series was. The mass-produced Gundams are portrayed as grunts rather than the usual overpowered mobile suits that they are.
It's amazing to watch the 08th MS Team deploy their military tactics in achieving their victories against the Zeon forces. With a lovable cast, this series has provided one of the more memorable characters in the franchise. There's a certain charm to the characters, even the bad guys! The 08th MS Team versus the Gouf Custom is still considered by many as the best Gundam fight scene ever!
Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (1991)
Timeline: Universal Century 0083
Kou Uraki is an Earth Federation pilot staioned at the Torrington base in Australia. The Federation space carrier, Albion, arrives in the base with 2 prototype Gundams, the Zephyrantes Gundam and the Physalis Gundam. Anavel Gato, an ace pilot of Zeon, covertly infiltrates the base and steals the Physalis Gundam which is armed with a nuclear warhead. Kou pilots the Zephyrantes Gundam and a race against time ensues before Anavel could use the nuclear warhead with the Physalis Gundam.
Admittedly, this is my personal favorite in the Gundam franchise. It's the most action-packed installment in the Universal Century timeline! There are no Newtypes (Force-sensitive pilots similar to the Jedi) involved hence we only see ace pilots duke it out with their highly advanced mobile suits.
The climatic space battles here are non-stop and one of the best ever portrayed on the screen! It probably has the most kick-ass soundtrack (Men of Destiny comes to mind) and top-notch animation from the 90's!
Even if you are not familiar with the Universal Century timeline, this is still accessible for the uninitiated. The story may have a plot hole or two but it doesn't entirely affect the outcome of the series. Again as mentioned, this is my personal favorite and I would highly recommend this series to anyone.
Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985-1986)
Timeline: Universal Century 0087
7 years have passed since the end of the One Year War and 4 years after the events of Operation Stardust, the Earth Federation have formed an elite team called the Titans whose sole mission is to hunt down remnants of Zeon. The Titans unfortunately resort to brutal methods in hunting down the remaining Zeon forces and quickly devolve into heartless tyrants hungry for power over Earth. Because of the Titans' oppressive rule, the Anti-Earth Union Group (AEUG) is formed consisting of renegade Earth Forces, heroes from both side of the One Year War, former soldiers of Zeon and militia of other space colonies. The once sworn enemies of the One Year War must now band together to dethrone the Titans.
This series is the direct sequel to Mobile Suit Gundam. The good guys are now the bad guys and the bad guys are now the good guys! What?!?! How cool is that?! Arguably considered by many hardcore Gundam fans as the best series in the franchise because of the complex plot and well-written characters.
This series just shows how unexpected and awesome a Gundam tale can be. We are also treated to an awesome moment where rivals Amuro Ray and Char Aznable team up just to take down the Titans! Just imagine Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker teaming up!
Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980)
Timeline: Universal Century 0079
It is the year Universal Century 0079, under the banner of the Principality of Zeon, the space colonies have declared war on Earth Federation for independence. The Zeon forces have the upper hand in the war with their highly advanced mobile suits. Zeon forces attack one of the colonies storing Earth Federation's prototype mobile suit, the Gundam. Amuro Ray "accidentally" pilots the prototype suit and fends off the invading Zeon forces. With limited resources and inexperience, Amuro and his new found friends from the Federation must take on the great task of taking the Gundam back to Earth HQ before they get captured by Zeon's pursuit force which is led by the enigmatic ace pilot, Char Aznable.
This series is the one that started it all! The granddaddy of all Gundam shows! Not only is it the basis of the Universal Century timeline, it also introduces us the important elements that would resonate throughout the years: mobile suits, Newtypes, Minovsky particles, space colonies, beam weapons and of course the infamous "Bright Noa slap". We also get introduced to the most important and most iconic character of the Gundam franchise - the Zeon ace pilot, Char Aznable (sorry Amuro Ray)!
It's 43 episodes long with 70's animation, watching it can actually be a bit of a drag for the modern viewer. I'd recommend you to watch the 3-part compilation movies for faster viewing.
The animation may be dated but the story, characters and even the mobile suits here are timeless. Simply put, this series is what propelled the entire Gundam franchise into the juggernaut property that it is today. This series is definitely a classic and must-watch for everyone!