As I'm sure many of you are well aware, I am a huge fan of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise. I began watching 08th MS Team and G Gundam during Toonami's heyday, and jumped back in with 0083: Stardust Memory when I resumed watching anime on a regular basis a few years ago. Generally speaking, I am partial to the Universal Century series. I've found that - while not all are created equal - they do tend to trump the alternate universe series in terms of consistent plot development and likeable characters. However, I have viewed all of the alternate universe anime, save for Gundam AGE, and found a few series that really stood out to me as being impeccably well done and especially entertaining.
#5 - Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz: I should preface this by stating that I do not care much for the Gundam Wing series. The characters were so bland and one-dimensional and the plot ran in circles for nearly the entire run. Endless Waltz managed to turn all of that around to create a follow-up story that was not just stomachable, it was downright awesome. I find it curious that one hour and a half film did more to make me feel for and care about a small cast of characters than an entire forty-nine episode series did, and I wonder how much different Gundam Wing would have been had they cut out all the monologuing, emo Heero moments, and declarations of "it's a Gundam!" to focus instead on balancing the action and fun factor as well as Endless Waltz managed to.
#4 - Gundam 00: The second-most recent alternate universe series, Gundam 00 break from the military strategies so prominent in the Universal Century, but does not force ridiculous mobile suit designs on viewers. Instead, Gundam 00 presents a perfect balance between the stylized and realistic sensibilities, and is host to some of the most creative yet practical mobile suit designs to date. Giant robots aside, the concept of a unified world that is so frequently visited between the two seasons is very probable, considering the chronology of the series. While each season has its up and downs, the element of mystery surrounding the Gundam Meisters, Veda, and the Innovators keeps the experience interesting, and the fact that the plot allows characters to develop through both successes and failures adds a human level to the story.
#3 - After War Gundam X: To be completely honest, the execution of Gundam 00's story is probably done with fewer flaws. But Gundam X is such a bold and different Gundam series that I can't help but place it near the top of the stack. The ravaged Earth that resulted from a series of colony drops presents an incredibly cool setting that shapes the characters, forcing them to adapt to a wasteland of a planet. Garrod Ran is not only one of the youngest lead pilots to date, he's also one of the funniest. His relationship with Tifa Adil makes for one of the cutest and endearing romantic subplots in all of Gundam. Gundam X presents a perfect balance of fun action scenes and serious plot, with a younger cast trying to learn from the mistakes of the previous generation.
#2 - Gundam SEED Stargazer: A spinoff that deserves recognition as its own sequel series in the Gundam SEED storyline, this three episode OVA accomplishes so much in so little time. It chronicles the events that follow the Break the World Incident from SEED Destiny. Earth is subjected to both social and environmental chaos, and the DSSD races against time to complete their deep-space exploration Gundam, the Stargazer, before the forces of Phantom Pain find and destroy it. It's a unique series in the SEED universe, not only because of its notably darker tone, but because neither side is explicitly stated to be 'good' or 'bad'. The events that unfold are left entirely up to viewer discretion.
#1 - Turn A Gundam: The most daring Gundam series of them all, Turn A takes place in a retro-future where technology has reverted to roughly the same level as it was during World War I. Biplanes fly alongside mobile suits as the Moonrace humans return to Earth in hopes of claiming a territory for their own settlement. Unfortunately, not all of the Moonrace believe in the same strategy, and it quickly becomes apparent that a number of individuals share a stake in how this landmark meeting of Moonrace and Earth dwellers will ultimately play out. The rich culture cultivated in the anime, combined with the multiple layers that drive the primary conflict makes for a genuinely excellent story. But what really tops it all off is the brilliant cast of incredibly diverse characters - lead pilot Loran Cehack among the best of the best. Loran wishes that the Moonrace and Earth dwellers could all live in peace, but he also realizes that sometimes difficult decisions must be made in order to come to a peaceful resolution. He is perhaps the most believably human lead character in any Gundam series to date, and - gorgeous animation and breathtaking soundtrack aside - makes the entire experience of viewing Turn A Gundam so wondrous and memorable.