Mobile Suit Gundam is one of the most iconic mecha franchises of all time, but it’s also been going on for so long, and in so many different forms, that getting into it can seem incredibly intimidating. But if you’re looking for shows to binge-watch that are full of rad robot action (and little horror of war, as a treat), here are a few interesting—and occasionally wacky—entry points to try.
The one where it all started is, really, still one of the greatest examples of what Gundam is all about, that tight balance between the inherent absurdity (and fun) of mecha action with the grim reality of an interstellar conflict that you are repeatedly reminded has killed millions of people. The movie trilogy distills the entire 50-episode show into a condensed format but...you have the time. You can watch the full thing.
And if you like the original Gundam, this excellent six-part OVA series adapting the beloved retelling of the original show in Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s The Origin manga series, expounding upon the original story with modern animation and providing interesting context and background to the show’s most iconic characters (read: Char Aznable, incredible space asshole). There’s even a more recent 13-episode anime take on the series that is essentially the same, but...in more parts!
Instead of resting on the franchise’s past laurels, OO begins with a pretty interesting premise about climate crises, energy wars, and some very relevant-feeling geopolitical commentary. It also has some equally interesting—and often unlikeable—lead characters in the Gundam Meisters, who are essentially ecoterrorists brought to earth to force humanity into uniting as a singular civilization. Kinda goes to shit in the second season, but it’s still worth checking out.
Plus—and I cannot stress this enough—there’s a character named Lockon Stratos.
Don’t want to dive right in with a series? This side story is only 12 episodes long and one of the most “realistic” stories in the Gundam franchise. It doesn’t root itself around mecha pilots, but the infantry soldiers on the ground that fight around them. It will constantly remind you that a) war sucks, b), giant robots are actually petrifying when you’re not in one, and c), war suuuuucks.
Where to Watch: Hulu
The one you probably know already because it was on Toonami when you were young and yo, IT’S A GUNDAAAAAAAAAAM. Its got some great action, and overall a very interesting plot, but both of those give way to a lot of character drama and conflict among the main protagonists, child soldiers sent to Earth from interstellar colonies to fight back against the Earth Alliance that oppresses them. Great villain too, even if he’s kind of a clone of the original Gundam’s Char.
This, like 08th MS Team, is a more tightly focused examination of the civilians living in, and harsh realities of, a world where interstellar conflict is perpetually fought by weirdoes in giant robots. In fact, there’s barely any mecha action in it, so it’s not your most typical Gundam experience, but a fascinating and vital reminder of the core themes of the franchise beyond the robots.
Where to Watch: Another one you’ll have to dig out physical media for!
Very unique not just from a story standpoint but a design standpoint—the titular mecha was designed by Syd Mead, the icon behind Blade Runner, Tron, and Aliens, and also, it has a mustache. It occasionally gets kind of freaky from a lore perspective, but it’s got really compelling character arcs, and everyone must, once in their life, experience a man with a Birmingham accent (that’s UK Birmingham, not Alabama Birmingham) yell “TURN A GUNDAM” at them.
Where to Watch: Once again, sadly, you’ll have seek this out on Blu-ray.
Set in its own separate universe, this is one of the most recent shows in the franchise, making it a great stepping on point if you’re unsure about how you’ll react to older animation or are worried about not knowing the lore of Gundam’s myriad timelines. The first season is excellent, there’s some great action, and the lead Gundam, Barbatos, is one of the coolest Gundam designs in the franchise. Like OO, it kind of goes to shit in the second season, but it’s still got enough interesting things going on that it’s worth potentially dipping into.
If you’ve heard of Gundam, you have probably heard of Gunpla, the hobby of building intricate model kits of the mecha from the franchise that actually, in some ways, saved it from potential doom when the original show failed to spark much interest. This show is...actually about that hobby instead of being a “proper” Gundam show? Except the model kits can fight each other in virtual combat? But it’s pretty good, and a loving homage to both the franchise and the art of Gunpla itself.
If you like your shows a little more on the Dragon Ball side, this series is quite unlike most of its Gundam brethren, focusing on what is basically an international martial arts tournament but every participating country is a space station and everyone’s in a giant goddamn robot. Gundam purists may look down upon it for not taking the franchise’s thematic legacy seriously enough, but c’mon. Tequila Gundam.
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.