Getting into Gundam can be intimidating. The franchise has lasted over 20 years, and the main Universal Century timeline alone includes over 20 series, movies and OVAs. However, not every Gundam anime requires an encyclopedic background to enjoy. Many are stand-alone stories with their own self-contained continuities, and even the Universal Century has some unique and accessible stand-outs. The following five Gundam anime are perfect for introducing new fans to the world of Mobile Suits.
Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket
This six-episode OVA, released for the saga's 10th anniversary in 1989, is the sole Universal Century entry on this list. Mobile Suit Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket is a perfect little side-story for fans who want the core Gundam experience without watching four different shows. Taking place during the One Year War, Gundam 0080: War in the Pocket focuses on a prototype Gundam sent to Side 6, a space colony neutral to the Zeon-Earth Federation conflict. Unless a Zeon operative group can destroy the Gundam, the whole colony will be eradicated in a nuclear assault.
The series focuses on Alfred Izuruha, a young citizen of Side 6 who is confronted with the reality and horrors of war for the first time. He's forced to take a side between Zeon and Earth -- the consequences of which could result in a nuclear apocalypse for his small colony. This OVA, the first Gundam property not directed by series creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, is a powerful story about the cruelties of war that requires no background knowledge of Amuro Ray and Char Aznable's long-running conflicts.
Mobile Fighter G Gundam
Depending on who you ask, Mobile Fighter G Gundam is either one of the best or worst Gundam anime. Released for Gundam's 15th anniversary in 1994, G Gundam takes place in a self-contained alternate universe -- the Future Century -- where control over Earth is decided through Gundam fights. Domon Kasshu represents Neo-Japan, but he has an ulterior motive to partaking in the Gundam Fight: he's looking for his brother Kyoji and the Devil Gundam he stole from their father.
Despite how over-the-top and ridiculous it is, G Gundam still captures the franchise's main political themes, just in a more cartoonish way. The Gundam designs are absurd, playing off stereotypes of their respective countries: Gundam Versailles is a cartoonish representation of French Nobility, Tequilla Gundam walks around with a sombrero, Nether Gundam is a walking windmill. For those primarily interested in action, G Gundam contains some of the hot-blooded Gundam fights ever.
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
Gundam Wing was the first Gundam anime to air on Cartoon Network's Toonami block, making it the major gateway series for a generation of American fans. Set in the After Colony timeline, it centers on a group of five Gundam pilots warring against Oz, the military branch of the Romefeller Foundation that's fighting the Earth Sphere Alliance. These pilots are all child soldiers, bred for war.
Gundam Wing isn't the best Gundam series -- its depiction of war isn't nearly as nuanced as the Universal Century shows, so it's not as beloved by hardcore Gundam fans to recommend. However, it serves as an effective distillation and introduction of the franchise's main themes for those new to Gundam. If you liked Gundam Wing (and its movie follow-up Endless Waltz) and want to go deeper, you can then dig into the Universal Century.
Turn A Gundam
Turn A Gundam focuses on a separate society of people who live on the Moon. After dispatching a set of teens to Earth to determine if the technologically superior Moonrace -- people who live on the moon -- can survive in Earth's environment, the Moonrace launches a surprise attack on Earth. The only hope Earth has is one of the Moonrace travelers -- Loran -- who has uncovered a hidden Moon Gundam on Earth. Being one of the few who can use it, he places himself in the middle of a war of colonization.
The franchise's 20th-anniversary entry, Turn A Gundam was intended as an amalgamation of every Gundam series so far. It hints that all prior alternate-continuity Gundam series actually share one complicated timeline. While older fans will appreciate this fan service, new viewers don't need to worry about it because Turn A Gundam's main plot both stands on its own and is a high point in the Gundam franchise.
Mobile Suit Gundam 00
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is the first Gundam series set in the future of our own Anno Domini timeline. The story centers on an Earth divided into multiple political factions, all in conflict with one another. A new organization, known as Celestial Being, has emerged with the goal to stop all wars, regardless of why everyone is fighting. To this end, they have dispatched a set of Gundams across the planet to push the planet toward a path they find desirable -- regardless of what the people on Earth want.
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is, in many ways, the most realistic Gundam series. Though it takes place 300 years from our future, it feels rooted in a reality we understand. As such, less time is needed to develop the world from the ground up. It features a massive cast of characters, all of whom are caught up in a complicated war between multiple factions, as well as tons of stunningly-animated mecha fights. Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is not just one of the best Gundam series, but one of the best mecha anime, period.