It is a universal truth that robots are cool, and for most of the world when they think of giant robots, they think of Gundams. Since 1979, Gundam series most often revolve around the often reluctant pilots who pilot these mobile suits into wars on Earth and in Space. These are the official rankings of the necessary Mobile Suit Gundam: Universal Century (Main Timeline) series and movies. I say necessary because some are deemed as unimportant to the main storyline issues of Newtypes (evolved humans) and the conflict between Earth and Space. As with all my rankings, all other rankings are to be thrown into the river with concrete shoes.
1. 08th MS Team – The most grounded of any Gundam Series, it’s a small series focusing on a single team in the middle of the One Year War. The main character Shiro Amada isn’t some force of nature in a mobile suit, he’s just slightly better than his squadmates. The only Ace Pilot is an enemy named Norris Packard whose fight with Amada is the best fight in any Gundam series (or any mecha in my opinion). Storywise, it ranges between the struggles of each squad member trying to survive the war and the Romeo and Juliet esque plot between Amada and an enemy pilot named Aina Sahalin, who is forced to pilot a prototype weapon by her older brother. This series probably has the most evenly matched mobile suits and that makes the series have some excellent fight choreography because the character’s lives are in danger at any moment.
2. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam – The sequel to the original series, Zeta Gundam is *much* darker as it continues the storyline of Newtypes and their role in human society. It stars Kamille Bidan, a newtype civilian who almost comically hates the fact that he has a girl’s name. Kamille is one of my favorite Gundam protagonists as I think he actually grows the most by the end of the series, even though he is faced with betrayal, the death of those close to him, and by far the worst leadership of any military unit on this list. So many fights and deaths could’ve been avoided in this series if the leaders had any idea how to discipline somebody other than by decking them or how to just say no to some kid wanting to STEAL A MOBILE SUIT. Of course, this show also stars Char Aznable in the worst disguise ever (He legit just wears shades and keeps the same hair and color scheme for his mobile suits) and he’s by far the most compelling character in the whole timeline.
3. Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket – Taking place in a single colony, this side story takes place during the One Year War as a Zeon strike team tries to steal or destroy a new Earth Federation mobile suit (spoilers, it’s a Gundam). It stars Alfred Izuhara, 10 year old boy and future serial killer (seriously, this boy displays some *troubling* traits), who discovers a crashed Zeon mobile suit in the middle of a forest in his colony. The pilot, Bernie (yes, jokes were made about how he could still win), takes a shine to the little boy and reluctantly lets the boy help track down the Gundam and they bond during the mission. The themes of how the youth views warfare vs reality is the most present one as the naive boy is exposed to some of the pain of watching fighting break out in his home colony.
4. Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn – Set 3 years after Char’s Counterattack, Gundam Unicorn is the culmination of the Newtype storyline that’s been a part of the series since the beginning and a look ahead at the next period in this timeline. I’ll go ahead and say I’m not the biggest fan of the main character, but the rest of the cast makes up for any lack with Full Frontal (yes, that’s actually his name) and Captain Zimmerman being my favorites. The music by Hiroyuki Sawano is incredible (not a shock considering his other work) and the mobile suit designs are outstanding with my favorites being the Kshatriya, Sinanju, and the Unicorn Gundam itself.
5. Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt – (Note: Only 2 of 3 movies are out as of 2020) During the One Year War, the Earth Federation and Zeon fought in an area of space called the “Thunderbolt Sector” that was named for the electrical discharges from colony wreckage nearby. The Moore Brotherhood (Earth) and Ensign Io Fleming face off against the Living Dead Division, a group of Zeon pilots made up of amputees fronted by Ace Sniper Daryl Lorenz. The rivalry between them takes center stage in the first movie, and the scope widens in the second movie to focus on their war on Earth. Music plays a KEY role in this movie, with Ensign Fleming blaring jazz music from his cockpit and his signature line is “When you hear my jazz, that’s when you die!” while Daryl listens to soothing blue or pop music while sniping. The chaotic nature of the jazz really fits with the action and art style and I didn’t think I’d ever write that about a Gundam series. These movies also have two of the all time mobile suit designs in the Psycho Zaku and the Full Armor Gundam.
6. Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory – This series is set in between the original series and Zeta Gundam, and revolves around the theft of a prototype mobile suit that can fire a nuclear warhead from a bazooka (METAL GEAR?!?!?!) and the forces attempting to get it back. Kou Uraki climbs into the other prototype Gundam and chases after Anavel Gato, a legendary Zeon pilot, while having to fend off attempts to take the Gundam back from Anaheim Electronics (the suits developers) and his own fellow soldiers who aren’t convinced he’s worthy of piloting it. The Gundam designs are incredible in this series with the Physalis being a real standout from anything that had been in the series previously.
7. Gundam Narrative – The sequel to Gundam Unicorn, it focuses on Operation Phoenix Hunt, a group of soldiers trying to capture the third Unicorn Gundam, the Phenex. The believed pilot of the Phoenix, Rita Bernal, is a powerful Newtype who predicted a catastrophe during the One Year War and is being tracked by two of her friends, Jona and Michele. Being a sequel to Unicorn, it of course has incredible music by Sawano and Gundam Designs with the Phenex being EXTREMELY MY SHIT (that blue and gold combo).
8. Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin – A prequel to the original series, it tells the entire history of the Principality of Zeon and the rise of Char Aznable. It’s light on action but very plot heavy and it’s very entertaining to see the first mobile suits being tested and how gradual Char’s ascent through the ranks is.
9. Char’s Counterattack – The rivalry of Amuro Ray vs Char Aznable and Earth Federation vs Zeon ends in the first theatrical Gundam release. Char has decided that enough is enough, he is going to force the selfish people of Earth to evacuate the planet by dropping a colony onto it and causing a nuclear winter. If the entire movie had focused on Char and Amuro it would be much higher but Hathaway Noa isn’t a very likeable protagonist, which I hope changes because he’s apparently the protagonist in the next bunch of movies. I’m a huge fan of all the mobile suit designs in this movie and the standouts are the Nu Gundam and the Sazabi.
10. Mobile Suit Gundam – The beginning of the “Real Robot” Genre of anime, which means that the mecha don’t have special or supernatural powers and are grounded with real world concepts (ammunition, damage, mass produced weapons), it only ranks the lowest on this list because it feels very dated because it’s FORTY YEARS OLD. Luckily, they released three recap movies of the series and they say that those movies are the official canon. It tells the story of the One Year War and the rivalry of Amuro Ray and Char Aznable as they fight in both space and on Earth. The themes of the brutality of war and the evolution of humanity were very well done and the reason why it’s still considered a foundational anime to this day. The designs were revolutionary for the time and the RX-78 (Gundam), Zaku, and Gouf are all time classics.
Japan has had two life-size statues of Gundams built and are working on a third one that can actually walk, and each one is based off a mobile suit from the Universal Century Timeline. Maybe you were like me and got into them from watching Gundam Wing or G Gundam on Toonami as a kid, maybe you saw the models at your local comic book store and were always interested in the shows that they came from, no matter what, we ended up wanting to know more about these mobile suits. Anyway, give it a shot, it’s giant robots fighting each other!