Transformers has been around for 35 years. Beginning with the Transformers: Generation 1 television show in 1984 and evolved into a plethora of media including movies, comics, and books, Transformers has expanded into a complex universe that can be quite intimidating to approach. With about 20 continuities to contend with, it can certainly be hard to figure out where to start for new fans. Even worse, many of these continuities overlap and/or contradict each other but are all still considered canon despite this.
So, where does one start in this long and complex franchise?
You may be entirely new to the Transformers world or have some experience with it through the more popular big-screen media such as the Transformers movies from Michael Bay. Wherever you’re starting, if you’re interested in traveling further down the rabbit hole that is the Transformers universe, you’re in luck because with so much content, there’s something out there for everyone.
The television shows and movies are a bit easier to get into because they often don’t require you to know much of what has happened in the rest of the Transformers universe. Usually, the tv shows constitute their own continuity, so episode one starts you off fresh and new and doesn’t expect you to have much knowledge of previous events.
The comics aren’t as simple as this and can be rather confusing if you jump into them at a random point. However, if you’re interested in more complexity, and find the tv shows too childish, the comics are much more satisfying. As such, this article is split into two main sections: television shows/movies and then comics. There are other forms of media, such as books and video games, but my personal knowledge doesn’t extend to these areas so I can’t really recommend them.
Transformers TV Shows
Transformers: Generation 1
First and foremost is Transformers: Generation 1 (G1). This is where it all started in 1984 after the line of Hasbro toys. This series focuses on the civil war between the Autobot and Decepticon factions on Earth. But, it isn’t for everyone. If you’re into 80s cartoons, this should be easy going for you. You may also find this cartoon entertaining for its simplicity but also its highlight in meme culture. With its continuity errors and logic gymnastics, it’s hard to take this show seriously sometimes but that’s where the fun is at.
If you’re interested in starting from the beginning and want to see where Transformers came from, this is where you should start. Not to worry though, if you don’t want to watch a cartoon, there’s also the Transformers: Generation 1 comic series which will be listed later in this article.
Transformers: Victory, created in 1989, is the third Japanese-exclusive Transformers series and is the final cartoon that completes the G1 series. If you’re into 90s action cartoons or anime, you’ll enjoy this show. This cartoon also reminds me of the original Gundam series so if you enjoyed that anime you’ll probably enjoy this cartoon.
You also don’t need to watch the other cartoons in the G1 series to understand this one. You’ll also want to watch this subbed if you don’t understand Japanese. There are some dubbed episodes out there but the official English dub is hilariously bad and there is a much better fan dub but it doesn’t cover all the episodes.
Like Transformers: Victory, if you’re a 90s kid you’ll probably appreciate this one. Although it came out in 2002, it is visually reminiscent of some 90s cartoon and anime styles. It’s full of action and redemption arcs, but the voice acting can be a bit cheesy and the sound effects are lacking.
Personally, I believe it has a good story and has a great bunch of characters, but it’s definitely made for kids like many of the Transformers cartoons are. I may also be a little biased because this was the first Transformers show I ever saw. This is also the first series in the Transformers Unicron Trilogy. So, if you enjoy it, there are two more series that stem off of this one you should watch.
If you’re into 2000s superhero cartoons, this show is for you. Full of puns and whimsical episodes, this cartoon isn’t particularly dark or serious. The art style may be a little hard to get used to, but the voice acting made it worth the watch for me. It has good, fleshed-out characters that you’ll fall in love with and who show personal growth over the course of its 3 seasons.
Many of these cartoons were made for a younger audience. So, if you’re looking for something made more an older audience, give Transformers: Prime a try. It’s much darker in subject matter with backstabbing villains galore. And it has plenty of fight scenes to keep things entertaining. If you’re not a big fan of 3D animation, you may not enjoy this series. The sequel to this show is Transformers: Robots in Disguise but be careful, there’s another tv show by the same name created in 2001.
I’m not going to list any movies by name but instead, advise on how to watch them. Most movies are linked to a cartoon series so watching the series first and then moving onto the movies is usually the best course of action. Of course, there are the five Michael Bay movies which don’t follow this trend and constitute their own continuity.
They aren’t horrible, but they also don’t encompass why Transformers has become dear to so many people. Plus, the Bayverse movies are probably the largest Transformers continuity that the average person is familiar with. These movies don’t really get into the lore or history of the transformers so if you’re interested in these points of the Transformers universe, ignore these movies or at least take them for what they are: gratuitous explosions with fighting robots.
If you find the shows too juvenile, you should try the comics on for size. They cater more to an adult audience. So, if you like moral ambiguity, political intrigue, backstabbing, and intricate plotlines, pick up a few of the comics and get ready to be pulled into the Transformers universe.
Overall, there have been three main publishers of the Transformers comic books to date. Marvel Comics produced comics from 1984 to 1993, Dreamwave Productions took over from 2002 to 2005, and finally, IDW Publishing took over in 2005 and are still currently producing comics.
Honestly, I am mostly going to talk about the IDW comics. There are plenty of comics made before IDW got ahold of the rights to create Transformers comics, but my knowledge mostly revolves around the IDW continuity and I personally think the best comics have come from IDW.
The Transformers (Generation 1)
The Transformers comic by Marvel was the first Transformers comic series and is probably the one most people are familiar with. Although by the same name, the comic series did not attempt to follow the television show. So, even if you may have watched the original G1 series, this comic series may still be entertaining.
It’s also important to note the sister title created in the UK. This series was 332 issues that spliced original stories into the US comic continuity. It’s a series I would suggest because it manages to flesh out and further develop characters and ideas present in the US comic along with being a little more serious about the science fiction side of things.
I’m now going to move on to the IDW continuity. The main thing to understand about IDW’s Transformers comics is that there are two phases. Phase 1 consists of the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons and is mostly based on Earth. In other words, IDW’s Phase 1 was set in the G1 continuity.
Phase 2 focuses on what happens after the civil war has ended and is mainly based on Cybertron. You don’t have to read Phase 1 comics before Phase 2. Personally, I started in Phase 2 and worked my way backward simply because most of the tv shows deal with the civil war on Earth and I was tired of consuming the same content repeatedly.
If you want to read all the comics in chronological order, there are some lists out there you can follow. But given that the IDW continuity is so vast, I’m simply going to recommend a few series I have both personally read and would recommend starting out with.
The Transformers series printed between 2009 and 2011 was considered IDW’s third act of their G1 continuity. Although considered a Phase 1 series, this series is set after the Decepticons were defeated on Earth so if you’re tired of civil war plotline, this comic won’t be too redundant. There is a multitude of well-known Transformers characters in this comic and it explores an interesting schism in the Autobot faction. The comic also describes the Autobot return to Cybertron. Overall, it’s a great story with intrigue and gray morality.
Robots in Disguise:
With the civil war finally ended, the surviving Transformers—Autobots, Decepticons, and non-affiliated Transformers alike—return to Cybertron to attempt to rebuild a broken and devastated society. Although the war is over, there is still great conflict. This comic is full of scheming, political backstabbing, and making hard decisions.
What happens with the Decepticons after the Autobots win? With the non-affiliated Cybertronians blaming the Deceptions and the Autobots for the destruction of their homeworld, how are the Autobots going to rebuild? Who will be in power in peacetime?
More Than Meets The Eye/ Lost Light
This comic occurs at the same time as Robots in Disguise. However, it primarily follows the crew of the Lost Light who is on a quest to find the mystical, God-like Transformers known as the Knights of Cybertron. The first portion of the series is known as More Than Meets the Eye while Lost Light officially ends the series. This comic is what really got me into Transformers comics. If you read any comic at all in the Transformers universe, this is the one I would absolutely recommend.
This series has a wonderful, broad cast of characters all of which are unique. There is a large focus on character interaction and development in this series. The dialogue is hilarious, making for comedy gold, and the writing is absolutely genius. Beyond comedy, the series has a healthy amount of action, adventure, and romance.
The found family trope is huge in this comic and it’s so endearing to follow these characters as they grow and become bigger better robots. I never knew I could personally relate to a transforming robotic alien until I read this series. Through the hard decisions and heartbreak, you’ll be rooting for these loveable idiots. So if you like redemption tales, time-traveling, and a bunch of ‘bots constantly thrown into situations over their heads, this is the comic for you.
As an aside, if you read both Robots in Disguise and More Than Meets the Eye, you’ll want to check out Dark Cybertron. It’s the first crossover between these two main comics in IDW’s phase 2 and follows Shockwave, one of the main Decepticon officers, as he enacts a plan millions of years in the making in order to remake Cybertron and destroy both Autobots and Decepticons alike.
Another option is to just restart. If 13 years of comics in the same universe is just too intimidating, you’re in luck. IDW has rebooted its Transformers comic series and has started over from the very beginning. Before there were Decepticons, before the civil war, IDW brings everything back to Cybertron following the Golden Age and right before the creation of the Decepticons.
This comic explains where it all began and the politics that led to the major schism between Autobots and Decepticons. It’s currently an ongoing series so you can follow the comic as a new Transformers universe organically unfolds.
When it comes down to figuring out where to begin, just try things out. Don’t feel like you need to read or watch everything. I’m sure there are some super fans out there who have. I consider myself a huge fan of Transformers and have only really delved into some of the cartoons and the comic series, and even then, mostly those published by IDW Publishing.
The Transformers franchise is a large one and can definitely be intimidating for new fans. It’s honestly easiest to begin with the cartoons given that they encompass their own continuities. But, if you’re looking for more intricate plot lines, diverse and relatable characters, and great character development, you’ll want to check out the comics.
This is obviously not a comprehensive list of Transformers media available, but simply a good starting place for anyone with limited knowledge of the Transformers universe.
Are you a fan with a jumping in point that you would recommend? Let us know in the comments!