Maybe you’ve recently decided to watch one of the various Gundam series for the first time. But there are so many different universes out there that it can be hard to figure out where to start and even more difficult to follow along, even with your Crunchyroll subscription. That’s why we came all the way from the colony worlds to tell you that you need to start with the Universal Century timeline, and we’ve got all the info you need to understand this fan-favorite setting.
Perhaps the main reason why so many fans see Universal Century as the most important Gundam setting is that it is the one that let this crazy anime franchise loose on the world. The original show Mobile Suit Gundam kicked things off, and between shows and films, there are 14 other titles that help explore the UC. For veteran fans, that means they got to see an epic story unfold across decades of storytelling, but for newer fans, the sheer denseness of this lore can be a bit intimidating.
Fighting is fast, brutal, and often one-sided, with Zeon using powerful battle mechs to win decisive conflicts until these rebels control the majority of Earth itself.
One thing that makes Gundam’s Universal Century slightly easier to understand is that the series timeline begins in the year 0079, which is a winking reference to the fact that Mobile Suit Gundam premiered in 1979. In-universe, the calendar basically restarted with the year 0001 when Earth got too crowded and the Earth Federation began expanding to space colonies.
What’s so important about the year 0079, then? In Mobile Suit Gundam, we see that this is the beginning of the One Year War, a major conflict between the Earth Federation and the Principality of Zeon.
While various factors were at play, the main cause of this conflict is that Zeon had declared their complete independence from the Federation and, like the United States before it, no longer wanted to be simply a colony subservient to powerful forces back home.
Fighting is fast, brutal, and often one-sided, with Zeon using powerful battle mechs to win decisive conflicts until these rebels control the majority of Earth itself. Mobile Suit Gundam (and therefore, the most important part of the Universal Century timeline) kicks off when a secret Earth Federation warship, White Base, is discovered by Zeon forces who proceed to kill most of the crew.
In typical anime format, a young boy named Amuro Ray finds a prototype Federation Gundam and uses it to fight back the enemy forces.
While the series has this epic backdrop of intergalactic conflict, it is mostly humanized by the conflict between Amuro Ray and theatrical Zeon Lieutenant Commander Char Aznable.
This would come to be a staple of Universal Century and Gundam in particular: rather than focusing on the “big picture” of the fight between the Earth Federation and Zeon, we will mostly focus on the extraordinary characters on both sides who are inevitably driven into conflict.
That original show only had 43 episodes, and it was a ratings disappointment when it was first released. However, Mobile Suit Gundam developed popularity in short, resulting in a trilogy of movies released in 1981 (only two years after the series premiered) that condensed the story, editing together old footage and adding new animation where needed.
It doesn’t feel like a modern Marvel movie or show where if you haven’t watched the last ten spinoffs, you’re hopelessly lost. Instead, each show and film is its own kickass adventure, and if you just happen to love the (mostly) interconnected background lore, that’s just frosting on the cake.
This Gundam universe now looked better than it ever had before, and it wouldn’t take long before we would get more shows and films set in its popular Universal Century timeline.
For better or for worse, entries in the UC timeline followed different characters and events, but the focus on the conflict between the Earth Federation and Zeon remained. Between shows and films, we’d occasionally get prequels showing the lead-up to the One Year War (like Gundam: The Origin, though it also confusingly retells the original show) and returns to more familiar characters (like Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, which shows a new conflict between the titular Zeon villain and reluctant Federation hero Amuro Ray).
If you haven’t scheduled your own binge session yet, you might be asking a more essential question: just why has Gundam’s Universal Century remained so popular with fans, especially when some of the best shows such as Gundam Wing are set in different timelines altogether? For one thing, the UC feels truly epic in scope. When watching from beginning to end, it’s hard not to think of the Lord of the Rings-like ambition that went into creating this scrawling universe.
Another thing we love about this timeline is that while lore nerds will have a field day putting all the different pieces together, each series is accessible and watchable on its own. It doesn’t feel like a modern Marvel movie or show where if you haven’t watched the last ten spinoffs, you’re hopelessly lost. Instead, each show and film is its own kickass adventure, and if you just happen to love the (mostly) interconnected background lore, that’s just frosting on the cake.
Finally, for fans of anime or just giant robot battles in general, watching this chronology unfold is like looking back into entertainment history. We simply don’t have modern hit films like Pacific Rim if Gundam didn’t help popularize how cool it is to watch giant fighting robots unleash their wrath.
It’s nothing less than a pop culture Rosetta Stone to help you translate the last few decades of Hollywood blockbusters and anime titles, and you might be surprised by everything you learn from bingeing the Universal Century.
All The Universal Century Projects
Want to watch all of the Gundam Universal Century shows and films in chronological order? Block out some time because this is going to eat up a lot more than your weekend:
- Mobile Suit Gundam The Origin (UC 0068)
- Mobile Suit Gundam (UC 0079)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team (UC 0079)
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0080 (UC 0079)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt (UC 0079)
- Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory (UC 0083)
- Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (UC 0087)
- Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ (UC 0088)
- Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack (UC 0093)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn (UC 0096)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative (UC 0097)
- Mobile Suit Gundam Hathaway (UC 0105)
- Mobile Suit Gundam F91 (UC 0123)
- Mobile Suit Victory Gundam (UC 0153)