So, you’re interested in watching through Gundam’s Universal Century (UC) timeline? From the quintessential Mobile Suit Gundam which started the ball rolling over 40 years ago, to the upcoming Hathaway’s Flash? Well here’s how.
Watch it in order in which the series was produced and released.
...alright, let me elaborate.
For the uninitiated, the Universal Century timeline has been the core component of the Gundam franchise starting with Mobile Suit Gundam first released in 1979. Since then there have been various works that have built upon that initial story. Some of them have been longer series, others short OVAs, and even movies, games, manga and novels. Those hopping into Universal Century for the first time should stick to the main shows, movies. After which drive into some of the great manga. To make things confusing Sunrise has a habit of cutting up a show, inserting new animation, and releasing it as a movie - often adding, leaving out, or changing critical events. More on some of that later.
It’s important to note that over the past 40 years various authors and artists have left their stamp on UC at different points in the timeline, and not necessarily chronologically. For example Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, first released in 2015 as manga and first animated in 2017 as a series of films, takes place before the events of Mobile Suit Gundam which aired in 1979. This might sound confusing at first, but it’s part of what makes the Gundam franchise so great, and why you shouldn’t watch UC by timeline chronology.
So why am I recommending you watch it by production/release date, and not by timeline date? There are a couple reasons why...
First is you lose nothing by watching things by release. You get to see the story and characters develop naturally. Works that came later and fill in some of the gaps, like 0083, aren’t necessary to understand what’s going on. You also reduce the risk of spoiling things. For example The Origin, which is basically a prequel for Mobile Suit Gundam, spoils a lot of things in the original.
Shitty analogy time: Think of it like eating a multi-course dinner. Mobile Suit Gundam is a fantastic opening dish, followed by Zeta which really kicks things off. You’re a little bit full and not really sure about what’s on the table with ZZ. Then someone brings out the entire desert tray and you get to enjoy the entire cornucopia of 0080, 0083, and 08th Team. But the night’s not over yet because it’s time to get down and dirty with Unicorn.
The second reason to watch in production order is that there’s a lot to be said for watching the franchise, and anime in general, develop over the years. As the franchise spans 40 years you get to see animation improve, styles change, and stories change. You get to see highs, lows, and Tomino’s original vision change as he does and other influences/writers enter and leave the scene.
It's also important to note that there are two halves of Universal Century, proper UC and what's commonly called "Late UC". Proper UC deals with the entities and events of the original series and follow their ripples out over the next 30 or so years of universe time. After that you hit Late UC, where the stories and settings quickly become so distant that they have negligible relation to UC proper. Because of this, this guide only includes series from the proper UC. Late UC works can be enjoyed on their own, without any UC knowledge, and without impacting any thing UC proper related.
Here’s my recommended watch order…
- Mobile Suit Gundam (43 episode series, 1979-80)
- You can also watch the compilation movies if you’re short on time, which came out a year later, but you miss out on some things by not going through the series. They're also a good way to tip your toes in.
- Reddit user iAMtheBinker makes a good point that the movies are a more refined version of Tomino's vision as excited in the TV show. However common community opinion throughout the years tips more toward watching the series first. As another, Dalt, put it: The two complement each other.
- The one exception to the production order rule is to possibly read Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin manga. Tons of great detail added to the events leading up to the events of 0079 and a fleshing out of the original story. Save the movie adaptations for later.
- Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (50 episode series, 1985-86)
- Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (47 episode series, 1986-87)
- The first 20 or so episodes are, um, different, but stick with it and don’t skip ‘em. Watching ZZ helps with Unicorn later on.
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack (movie, 1988)
- Another shitty analogy time: You’ve just watched the entire Skywalker Saga. Now it’s time for the likes of Rogue One and the Star Wars Christmas Special.
- Also, at this point, you could really skip around and watch whatever catches your eye. While I still think you should watch them in production order, you don’t really miss anything drastic from a story perspective by doing so. I say this in part because a lot of folks want to skip right to Unicorn, and because some of these may be difficult to find.
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket (6 episode OVA, 1989)
- Mobile Suit F91 (movie, 1991)
- The first, only installment of "Late UC" on this list. This is where we see Tomino, and the franchise, take its first tentative steps at branching out. While it still has some hooks into UC proper, you can skip this until later without impacting your UC watch through.
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (13 episode OVA, 1991-92)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (12 episode OVA, 1996-99)
- Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO: The Hidden One Year War (3 episode OVA, 2004)
- IGLOO is a bunch of short CGI works with some really cool sequences and designs. I’m not sure they’ve ever been officially released in the west but I’m sure you can track them down wink wink.
- Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO: Apocalypse 0079 (3 episode OVA, 2006)
- Mobile Suit Gundam MS IGLOO: Gravity Front (3 episode OVA, 2009)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (7 episode OVA, 2010-14)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (8 episode OVA 2015-17)
- Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin (6 episode OVA, 2015-18)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Twilight AXIS (6 episode online series, 2017)
- [Everyone disliked that]
- You can also watch the compeltation movie, Mobile Suit Gundam: Twilight AXIS Red Trace (2017)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative (Movie, 2018)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Hathaway’s Flash (Movies, 2020-??)
- So this isn’t out yet, but it saves me from updating this article for at least a year.
And that's it for UC proper, at least for now. The writers at Sunrise are always thinking of new stories that fit within the core of the franchise. If you want to do some UC reading, there quite a few of the above works adapted from source material. The Origin and Thunderbolt manga are excellent. Gundam Unicorn is based on a light novel with quite a few differences. There’s also a novel retelling of the original series by Tomino that also features a number of changes. In addition there's Gundam Sentinel, and Advance of Zeta, novels loved for their mechanical designs and details.
“Now that I know what to watch, where can I watch them?”
It’s 2020, I’m sure we all know how to *cough* find things these days. Many things did get DVD releases over the years, and recently Sunrise has been bringing Blu-ray releases to North America via Rightstuf/Nozomi. They're available to purchse on Amazon, Rightstuf, Otaku Mode, eBay, Suncoast Video, etc. You can also find quite a bit, though it seems to rotate on and off for some reason (probably to just mix up interest), on the official Gundam YouTube channel.
“But Falldog, the original animation is so bad I can’t stand to watch it”
*Bright slap* The original animation is a charming time capsule with some hilarious animation flaws. People who complain about it can just piss right off. Next they’ll tell me that they’ll never watch Metropolis because End Game has way better special effects and it’s in colour!
“But what about Mobile Suit Victory Gundam?”
Victory is way further in the Late UC bubble that the relation between general UC and it is largely inconsequential. You should totally watch it, but if you’re just watching through UC for the first time it’s better to get to some of the newer stuff first. Treat Victory as just another installment of the franchise.
“But what about Gundam Savior?”
Savior is UC in name alone, it’s as related to the rest of the timeline as hot dogs are to toast. It’s also really, really bad.
Sigh. I guess I have to elaborate for some folks. See where I mentioned that Victory is outside the bubble of UC? Savior is the same way, to the extent that it doesn't even make any sense if you were to try and draw a line from UC proper, through Victory, to Savior. Think of Savior like an art project, it's quasi canon (depends on whether or not you add live action as canon) but what ties it has to UC are basically just grabbed from the franchise for the sake of simplicity.
“What about the Zeta Gundam compilation movies?”
Mostly the same as the series, but with a much different ending that doesn’t work with ZZ. There are some new animation sequences in there though that are worth seeking out, but save it for after you've watched the series.
“How about where they recut Unicorn and The Origin and turned into TV episodes?”
Nothing new added but screwed up pacing.
"But what about..."
I will fucking Bright slap you again. This guide covers the core UC series. Not late UC. Not commercials or production videos. Not games. Not manga that hasn't been animated. All those are technically non-canon. Want to know what canon is? Read this and this. If you want to get technical The Origin manga isn't canon, but the movie adaptations are. But all that's besides the point, because canon is a loose object in the vast scheme of the franchise. Ideas and settings from UC main are picked up and used throughout the franchise because it's fun and it makes writing easier, even if it doesn't make any sense. Do your self a favor and ignore all the people who get their testicles in a twist over what is and isn't canon.
Questions, complaints? Hit me up.
Special thanks to Pokeranger1215 and JaguarDaSaul for giving their feedback!
Well, that about wraps things up. I can’t really think of anything too insightful or snarky to say at this point, so I hope you found this useful. If you’d like to read more about my Gundam ramblings check out Where to Start - Getting into Gundam and Falldog’s Guide to Gundam Canon and Timelines.