In 1979, artist and creator Yoshiyuki Tomino introduced Mobile Suit Gundam to the world. Through Mobile Suit Gundam, Odawara revolutionized the giant robot genre with a more rounded and realistic portrayal of what the Japanese call “mecha.” The story centered around the war between the Earth Federation and the principality of Zeon as Federation pilot Amuro Ray uses the very first RX-78 Gundam to aid in the war effort for independence from Lieutenant Commander Char Aznable and the mobile suit forces of the Zeon government.
This conflict became known as the One Year War. Set in a fictional universe known as the Universal Century or UC, Mobile Suit Gundam spawned generations of spinoffs. Many versions revisited the UC timeline with different stories that introduced new characters affected by the One Year War, while other versions focused on alternate timelines and universes that introduced more unique concepts of the Gundam brand.
So far, the popularity of the Gundam series has spawned 50 different TV series and numerous films to date. Next to the Super Sentai genre, it’s one of the longest-running mecha anime in history. And now, thanks to the anime resurgence in mainstream American culture over the past few years, Gundam is now catching the interest of a younger generation of fans whose parents were only kids themselves when the original came out in 1979.
Times have changed a lot since the ’70s, and not every new anime fan will be interested in watching a lot of classic anime, as those vintage shows can seem monotonous, cheesy, and dated. If you’re in the 12 to 20-year-old demographic, even some ’80s anime can be seen as “ancient” and dull to your modern sensibilities.
However, if you’re really interested in the legacy of Gundam and want to travel down the hole of nostalgia without going too far back in time, then the ’90s to mid-2000s Gundam era is a perfect place on the timeline to get you started. If by then, you’re still interested in seeing how Gundam got started, then you can take a step back further in the time machine when you’re ready.
Unfortunately, with over 50 titles, it’s hard to include every hot Gundam installment that’s been released over the past two decades. For now, here are some strong recommendations guaranteed to pique your interest and play to your modern sensibilities.
Gundam Wing (1995)
Mobile Suit Gundam has been around for a long time, but it was Gundam Wing that finally introduced the franchise to American audiences. It did better in the US than it did in Japan, which is the core reason why it’s seen as the first Gundam installment to popularize the franchise in the west.
It’s not hard to see why it succeeded. Five young men piloting five uniquely colorful badass robots that didn’t come together like they did in Power Rangers and a gritty storyline about a rebellion against the government was enough to make anyone interested.
If you’re trying to get a good pulse on how the modern age of the Gundam era started in America, then you’re going to want to watch this one.
Gundam G Gundam (1994)
Although this technically came out first, it wouldn’t reach the U.S. until after Gundam Wing had already made its mark with American fans. Whereas most previous Gundam installments focused on the cut and dry formula of typical space battles between giant mecha, Gundam G Gundam was the first to try a different spin on the Gundam brand. In the alternate future of Gundam G Gundam, the nations of the universe agreed not to go to war and instead created a Gundam tournament to settle their differences.
With its unique approach to the Gundam piloting system and the various Gundams from different nations, the anime introduced a memorable roster of Gundam pilots and crazy over-the-top mobile suit battles. If you like mecha and tournament-style fight anime like Street Fighter or Dragon Ball Z, then Gundam G Gundam is another to add to the list.
Gundam 00 (2007)
Think of it as a much more streamlined version of Gundam Wing. Instead of five boys, four have a unique Gundam and come together for a unified objective: to stop all war with the power of their mobile suits. Their range of colorful personalities are more than enough to draw anyone into the uniquely dark fight sequences that their Gundams are capable of. And Gundam 00⏤the titular Gundam of the show⏤moves amazingly for a mecha of its size with its Seven Sword style of fighting and makes for awe-inspiring action sequences.
Though Gundam 00 did polish the Gundam Wing formula, it also turned it into a new product by introducing the Seven Sword Gundam and slightly grittier action sequences to accommodate its style. A definite must-watch if you’re a new Gundam fan looking to stay engaged in your journey of modern nostalgia.
Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans (2015)
One of the most talked-about in recent years, Gundam Iron-Blooded Orphans is also one of the darkest installments in the popular mecha franchise. Aside from the impressive mecha battles and unique Gundam designs, the plot is actually a pretty tragic story that focuses on mature themes such as poverty, extreme gun violence, and child slavery.
To be honest, it’s the children’s stories that really drive the series and how these “orphans” navigate through the storyline is reminiscent of the ’90s mafia movies or “urban” coming-of-age movies, even their Gundam battles give off the same vibe.
Iron-Blooded Orphans is an excellent Gundam title that represents the franchise’s transition into modern times. If you’re a new fan in your early ’20s and are looking for a Gundam throwback that’s interesting enough to pique your mecha interests, then Iron-Blooded Orphans is another good title to get you started.
Gundam Unicorn (2010)
This is another good modern but nostalgic Gundam title to get into if we’re thinking about the last two decades. The anime introduced many great Gundam designs, including the titular Unicorn itself, a mecha that concealed its Gundam from underneath a Unicorn mode that resembled a standard mobile suit.
The series incorporates Mobile Suit Gundam‘s original Universal Century (UC) timeline to introduce a new twist on the events after the One Year War, which is an excellent watch for newbies wanting both a modern taste and a look back at the very first Gundam series from the ’80s.
Gundam Build Fighters (2013)
This is the Gundam series where things start to change for the famous mecha brand. Thanks to the popularity of children’s shows like Beyblade and Yu-Gi-Oh, the franchise created a more kid-friendly version of Gundam. Thus, Gundam Build Fighters was born. Set in a world like our own, Gundam Build Fighters took place in the near future at a time where Gunpla (model toy Gundams) can be featured in a tournament-style setting where builders and pilots alike can test their engineering and battle skills on a digital playing field.
This was a perfect anime for Gundam enthusiasts of Gunpla culture who loved building and customizing their model Gundams for display. And yes, if you’re wondering, Gunpla is a very real culture. The next time you’re on Instagram, look up “Model Gundams” and prepare to have your mind blown at all the fantastic Gundam designs and customizations. That being said, since it was a kid’s show, Gundam Build Fighters was also a great marketing strategy to get kids interested in Gunpla and increase merchandise sales. It got so popular that it spawned two more spinoffs, Gundam Build Fighters TRY and Gundam Build Fighters TRY: Island Wars.
If you’re looking to take a break from the weight of a typical Gundam saga and just want to watch an exciting, friendly competition between two Gundams, then Gundam Build Fighters is a good title to have.
Gundam Build Divers (2018)
Branching off from the idea behind the Gundam Build Fighters series, this installment focuses on the near future, where the popularity of Gunpla has crossed over with VRMMO (Virtual Reality Massive Multiplayer Online) gaming and has become a worldwide phenomenon. Just like Sword Art Online, gamers can upload themselves (and their Gunpla) into the game as avatars that can pilot the Gundam designs they’ve built. The series itself actually has another spinoff, Gundam Build Divers Re:Rise, that follows a new set of characters in a story with the same premise. The spinoff even features cameo appearances and crossover battles with the main cast of the original.
Build Divers is a refreshing, heartwarming, and futuristic gaming perspective on the Gundam franchise. It can get a little serious at times but remains mainly lighthearted from beginning to end. If you just want a break from the darker side of the Gundam universe, or you’re simply an open-world gamer who fantasizes about the next stage in gaming, then you’re going to enjoy Gundam Build Divers.
Gundam Hathaway (2021)
This most recent Gundam installment was released exclusively to Netflix in 2021, so it’s an excellent title to beam you back to the present. It also returns Gundam fans once again to the original UC timeline. This time, the series focuses on events after the Second Neo Zeon War and introduces a new conflict between the Earth Federation and its citizens. The story centers around a mysterious young man named Noa Hathaway who finds himself in the midst of a terrorist organization called Mafty as they conduct operations against the Earth Federation government using a military-grade Xi Gundam.
Part of The UC Next 100 Project, Gundam Hathaway is only the second installment in a modern anthology of stories that revisit the UC timeline. It does a great job of blending modern themes with the old elements of the UC timeline and provides a great continuation of the original story for younger audiences familiar with the premise of the first Gundam series. Watch most of the other titles on this first, then leave this for last since it’s the most recent Gundam title.