The Best Gundam Series to Watch for New Fans: Top Picks for Beginners

The Gundam franchise has captivated audiences for decades with its rich storytelling and spectacular mecha battles. For newcomers, choosing the right series to start with can be overwhelming due to the sheer number of titles available. Mobile Suit Gundam (1979) is often recommended as a must-watch because it marks the beginning of the entire Gundam universe. This series introduces the fundamental themes and characters that recur throughout the franchise, setting a strong foundation for new viewers.

For those looking to dive into a more modern series, Gundam SEED offers an accessible entry point with its standalone storyline set in an alternate continuity. This makes it easier for new fans to follow without prior knowledge of earlier series. Gundam SEED also features high-quality animation and compelling characters that resonate with today’s audiences.

Another great option is Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (2007), praised for its fast-paced action and engaging plot. It’s designed to appeal to both longtime fans and newcomers, blending classic Gundam elements with modern storytelling techniques. Each of these series offers a unique experience, making them ideal starting points for anyone new to the world of Gundam.

Photo:  Gundam Wing logo Trademarked by Sunrise Studios, Drawn by Cheposo/Registrado por los Estudios Sunrise. Dibujado por Cheposo, Gundam Wing logo full, CC BY-SA 4.0

Origins and Evolution of Gundam

The Gundam series, a monumental achievement in anime, has grown exponentially since its debut in 1979. Its influence spans multiple timelines and creative visions, making it a cornerstone of mecha anime.

Universal Century and Its Legacy

Yoshiyuki Tomino
文部科学省ホームページ, Yoshiyuki Tomino 20181205, CC BY 4.0

The Universal Century (UC) is the core timeline of the Gundam series. Created by Yoshiyuki Tomino and produced by Sunrise, the first Gundam series, Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), introduced viewers to a future where humans live in space colonies. This series set the tone with its realistic portrayal of war and its sophisticated storytelling.

The success of UC led to several sequels and spin-offs. Notable entries include:

  • Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985)
  • Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (1986)
  • Char’s Counterattack (1988)
  • Gundam Unicorn (2010)

Each series builds on the events of the original, expanding the universe with new characters and mobile suits. UC continues to be a popular timeline for its depth and continuity.

Notable Creators and Studios

Yoshiyuki Tomino is the visionary behind Gundam. His approach to storytelling broke away from the traditional “good vs. evil” narrative, introducing complex characters with human flaws. This approach set a new standard in anime.

Sunrise, the studio that brought Gundam to life, played a crucial role in its success. Sunrise’s commitment to high-quality animation and innovative mecha designs made Gundam stand out. Over the years, Sunrise has worked with various directors and writers, expanding the Gundam universe with fresh perspectives while maintaining its core themes.

Other notable creators include Hajime Yatate, a collective pseudonym used by the studio staff, who contributed to the world-building and development of many Gundam series.

Expansion of Gundam Into a Cultural Phenomenon

Gundam’s impact extends beyond anime. The RX-78-2 Gundam, the franchise’s iconic mobile suit, has become a symbol recognized worldwide. The series has inspired an extensive line of model kits known as Gunpla, short for “Gundam plastic models.” These kits are popular among fans who enjoy building and customizing their mobile suits.

Additionally, Gundam has spawned:

  • Manga and novels, expanding on the stories and characters.
  • Video games, providing interactive experiences in the Gundam universe.
  • Merchandise and collectibles, catering to a diverse fanbase.

Museums and exhibits dedicated to Gundam, like the life-sized Gundam statues in Japan, attest to its cultural significance. Gundam is not just an anime series; it is a significant part of pop culture.

Starting Points for Newcomers

gundam Factory Yokohama at Night
Gundam Factory Yokohama at Night

New fans of Gundam have several perfect entry points within the franchise. Two notable recommendations include the timeless Mobile Suit Gundam from the Universal Century and Gundam Wing along with Gundam SEED from the parallel universes.

The Classic: Mobile Suit Gundam

Mobile Suit Gundam is the most iconic entry point. It introduces core concepts and characters in the Universal Century timeline. Here, viewers meet Amuro Ray and the legendary RX-78-2 Gundam.

The series lays the groundwork for the entire franchise, focusing on the conflict between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon. The story explores themes of war, politics, and humanity’s survival in space.

Fans will appreciate the detailed lore that underpins future Gundam series. Watching this first provides a strong foundation for understanding deeper narratives and character arcs that appear in later Universal Century series.

Alternate Universes: Gundam Wing and Gundam SEED

For those interested in a different take, Gundam Wing and Gundam SEED are excellent choices.

Gundam Wing is set in the After Colony timeline, featuring five young pilots and their advanced Gundam suits. This series is known for its political intrigue and intense battles. It introduces memorable characters like Heero Yuy and Zechs Merquise.

Gundam SEED, part of the Cosmic Era, follows Kira Yamato’s journey. The show is praised for its character development and engaging plot. It blends personal drama with large-scale warfare, appealing to both old and new fans.

Both series stand alone, making them accessible without requiring prior knowledge of the Universal Century lore.

Understanding Gundam Timelines

Gundam series are organized into various timelines, each offering a unique perspective on the same universe. The two main types are the Universal Century timeline, which serves as the foundation, and Alternate Timelines that explore different scenarios and settings.

Universal Century Timeline

The Universal Century (UC) timeline is the original and most developed storyline in the Gundam franchise. It begins with Mobile Suit Gundam, which debuted in 1979. The UC timeline is known for its complex political narratives and deep character development. Key series and events include:

  • Mobile Suit Gundam: The war between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon.
  • Zeta Gundam: Set seven years after the original, introducing the Titans and their oppressive regime.
  • Gundam ZZ: Direct sequel to Zeta Gundam.
  • Char’s Counterattack: The climax of the original conflict between Amuro Ray and Char Aznable.
  • Unicorn Gundam: Set three years after Char’s Counterattack, further exploring the legacy of the One Year War.

Other notable entries in the UC timeline include Gundam F91, set 30 years after Char’s Counterattack, and Victory Gundam, which takes place even further in the future, showcasing the struggles of a younger protagonist.

Alternate Timelines: An Overview

In addition to the UC timeline, the Gundam franchise features several Alternate Timelines. These offer fresh takes on Gundam lore:

  • Future Century: Mobile Fighter G Gundam is set in a world where nations settle conflicts through martial arts tournaments using Gundam.
  • After War: Gundam X depicts a post-apocalyptic Earth recovering from a massive space war.
  • Correct Century: Turn A Gundam blends elements from various timelines, set in a future where past Gundam technologies re-emerge.
  • Cosmic Era: Mobile Suit Gundam SEED and its sequel Gundam SEED Destiny focus on genetic enhancements and socio-political conflict.

Each timeline offers a unique narrative and aesthetic, making them accessible and engaging for both new and veteran fans.

Themes and Narrative Elements

Gundam series explore deep themes and intricate storylines that make it a compelling watch. The narratives often delve into the impact of war, political struggles, and the relationship between humans and technology.

War and Peace

The Gundam universe often centers around conflicts like the One Year War. These wars highlight the harsh realities of battle and the desire for peace. The Earth Federation and Zeon are usually at odds, representing different ideals and goals.

Series like Gundam Unicorn and The 08th MS Team show how war affects soldiers and civilians. The focus isn’t just on the battles, but also on the emotional and social impacts. This adds depth to the storytelling, making the viewer think about the true costs of war.

Political Intrigue and Factional Conflict

Political intrigue is a central theme in many Gundam series. The struggle for power and control between factions, like the Earth Federation and Zeon, drives much of the plot.

In Gundam SEED, the conflict between Coordinators and Naturals exemplifies these struggles. The series showcases espionage, betrayals, and complex alliances that keep viewers on edge. Competing interests and hidden agendas are common, giving the narrative a rich layer of complexity.

Technology and Human Evolution

The evolution of technology and its impact on humanity is a recurring theme. Mobile suits are more than just machines; they symbolize progress and the potential dangers of advanced technology.

Series like Gundam 00 explore how technology influences human evolution. With the introduction of Newtypes and Coordinators, Gundam delves into the next steps of human development. The ethical implications of genetic enhancement and artificial intelligence are often questioned, prompting viewers to think critically about the future.

Iconic Gundam Series Highlights

In exploring iconic Gundam series, it’s crucial to highlight some of the most memorable and impactful shows that have shaped the franchise. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, G Gundam, and Gundam Thunderbolt are prime examples with unique elements that attract new viewers.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (1985) is a direct sequel to the original Mobile Suit Gundam series. This series continues the story with new characters and a darker tone. Kamille Bidan, the protagonist, joins the rebellion against the oppressive Titans. The show is noted for its complex storylines and character development. The mobile suits, particularly the Zeta Gundam, are innovative designs that captivated audiences. Kamille’s tumultuous journey and the intricate plot make this series a must-watch for anyone interested in the depth and history of the Gundam universe.

G Gundam: The Martial Arts Extravaganza

Mobile Fighter G Gundam (1994) stands out for its unique take on the Gundam genre. Set in the Future Century timeline, it shifts away from space wars to focus on a worldwide martial arts tournament. Domon Kasshu is the main character, piloting the powerful Shining Gundam. The tournament pits different nations’ fighters against each other in dramatic battles. Fans love this series for its action-packed fights and over-the-top characters. It offers a refreshing change from traditional Gundam themes, making it accessible and entertaining for new viewers.

The Darker Side: Gundam Thunderbolt

Gundam Thunderbolt (2015) delves into the more grim aspects of war. Set during the same One Year War as the original series, it follows two rival pilots: Io Fleming and Daryl Lorenz. This series is renowned for its intense combat scenes and the haunting, jazz-infused soundtrack. The portrayal of war’s brutality and the psychological toll on soldiers sets Gundam Thunderbolt apart. The highly detailed animation and mecha designs, such as the Full Armor Gundam, provide stunning visuals. This series appeals to viewers looking for a more mature, gritty take on the Gundam saga.

The Role of Mecha and Mobile Suits

Anime Expo 2013 - Strike Gundam model
Anime Expo 2013 – Strike Gundam model. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anime_Expo_2013_-_Strike_Gundam_model_(9225644001).jpg

Mecha and mobile suits play a central role in the Gundam series, shaping both its story and visual appeal. These towering robots serve not only as powerful tools in battle but also carry unique design philosophies and even act as characters themselves.

Design Philosophy and Impact

Gundam mecha are designed with a blend of realism and futuristic aesthetics. The original “Mobile Suit Gundam” set the stage with its detailed, almost industrial look. This design approach contrasts with other mecha anime that often feature more fantastical robots.

The design has influenced other mecha series, making Gundam a benchmark for realistic robot design. These designs are not just for show; they reflect the practicalities of warfare, with elements like weapon placements and armor details based on functional considerations.

Mecha as Characters

In Gundam, mecha suits like the iconic RX-78-2 Gundam are more than machines; they are extensions of their pilots. These robots often have unique abilities and backstories that contribute to the narrative.

Some mobile suits become symbols within the story, representing ideals or factions. The personalization of these machines with custom colors and modifications adds depth, making the mecha as memorable as the human characters who pilot them.

Gundam in Modern Media

In recent years, Gundam has expanded its influence beyond anime into various forms of media, including streaming services, video games, and hobbies like Gunpla modeling.

Series Availability and Streaming

Many Gundam series can be easily accessed through streaming services like Crunchyroll. These platforms offer a wide range of Gundam titles, sometimes featuring both subbed and dubbed versions.

Gundam SEED, Gundam 00, and the original Mobile Suit Gundam are just a few examples. This availability allows new fans to jump into the Gundam universe whenever they want, no matter where they are.

Newer series are also quickly added to these streaming services, helping fans stay up-to-date.

Gundam and the World of Gaming

Gundam has a strong presence in the gaming world. Various Gundam video games let players experience epic battles in space and on Earth.

Games like Gundam Breaker and Mobile Suit Gundam: Extreme Vs. offer action-packed gameplay, while titles such as SD Gundam G Generation provide strategic combat experiences. These games are available on multiple platforms, including consoles and mobile devices.

Gaming enhances the Gundam experience by allowing fans to take control of their favorite mobile suits and characters.

Gunpla: The Hobby of Gundam Modeling

Building Gunpla models is a popular hobby among Gundam fans. Gunpla, short for Gundam plastic models, range from simple kits for beginners to highly detailed ones for advanced builders.

Stores and online shops regularly stock a wide array of kits. Gunpla battles, a concept from the anime, have even become real events where fans compete with their custom-built models.

The hobby allows fans to engage with Gundam creatively, making it a vital part of the franchise’s modern media presence.

Character Archetypes and Notable Figures

Gundam series flourish thanks to their memorable characters. Fans are drawn by the deep arcs of protagonists and the complex roles of antagonists.

Famous Protagonists: Amuro Ray and Others

Amuro Ray from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series stands as a classic protagonist archetype. He is a young pilot who gradually grows into a seasoned warrior. Amuro’s journey reflects themes of growth and resilience, as he navigates personal challenges while leading battles in his iconic RX-78-2 Gundam.

In Mobile Suit Gundam 00, Setsuna F. Seiei exemplifies another hero archetype. An ex-child soldier, Setsuna’s struggle for peace and redemption showcases a different layer of emotional depth compared to Amuro. His story hits on themes of inner conflict and transformation.

Antagonists and Anti-Heroes: Char Aznable’s Influence

Char Aznable, known as “The Red Comet”, is a defining antagonist in the Gundam universe. His motivations are complex, as he oscillates between being a rival to Amuro Ray and a tragic anti-hero. Char’s masked persona and his vendetta against the Zabi family add a layer of intrigue, making him a compelling character.

Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans features McGillis Fareed, a character reminiscent of Char. With his elaborate schemes and morally grey actions, McGillis mirrors Char’s intricate nature. These antagonists deepen the narrative, illustrating that the lines between good and evil are often blurred.

Community and Fandom

The Gundam series has a vibrant community and active fanbase that engages in numerous discussions, events, and creative projects. This section explores the different aspects of the fandom, from conventions to fan theories.

Fan Communities and Events

Fan communities around Gundam are vast and active both online and offline. Online forums like Reddit and dedicated websites allow fans to discuss episodes, characters, and series. These platforms are a great place for new fans to seek recommendations and advice.

Community events such as conventions and expos often feature Gundam panels, merchandise, and cosplay. Events like Anime Expo and Comic-Con frequently have dedicated sessions for Gundam where fans can meet creators, watch screenings, and build Gunpla (Gundam plastic models).

Meetup groups in various cities organize events where fans can come together, share their collections, and discuss their favorite series. These gatherings often help new fans dive deeper into the Gundam universe.

Exploring Fan-Made Content and Theories

The creativity of the Gundam fandom is evident in the wealth of fan-made content available. Fans create art, write fanfiction, and even produce animated shorts based on their favorite Gundam series. Websites like DeviantArt and Archive of Our Own showcase a multitude of fan works.

Fan theories are another popular aspect of Gundam fandom. These theories often delve into character motivations, plot possibilities, and connections between different series. Forums and YouTube channels are common places where fans discuss and critique these theories.

Model-building tutorials are frequently shared within the community, helping new builders improve their skills. Fans often customize their Gunpla to create unique designs, adding to the rich tapestry of fan contributions.

Closing Thoughts: The Legacy of Gundam

The legacy of Gundam is immense in the world of anime and pop culture. Since its debut in 1979 with Mobile Suit Gundam, the series introduced a new era of mecha anime. It has set the standard for storytelling, character development, and intricate mechanical designs.

Gundam has influenced countless other series. Its themes of war, peace, and human struggle resonate strongly with audiences. The legendary mobile suits, like the RX-78-2 Gundam, have become iconic symbols.

Turn A Gundam and G Gundam showcase diverse storytelling within the franchise. Turn A Gundam is more thoughtful and slow-paced. In contrast, G Gundam is action-packed and entertaining. These differences highlight Gundam’s versatility.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 offers a thrilling experience filled with intense action scenes and powerful mechas. It’s often regarded as one of the best entries in the series, captivating viewers with its exciting plot and dynamic animation.

The closure of the Gundam Factory Yokohama and its moving Gundam statue marks an important cultural moment. It reflects how Gundam continues to inspire and connect fans worldwide. The event can be experienced on the Gundam YouTube channel.

With numerous series and movies under its belt, Gundam remains a cornerstone of anime. It attracts both new fans and long-time enthusiasts, ensuring its legacy continues to grow. Each installment adds to the rich tapestry that is the Gundam universe.