Back in December 2016 I started looking into buying my first Gunpla kit. When I started browsing Amazon, I was quickly overwhelmed with all the different grades. What do HG / MG / RG / PG / FG / SG / SD and so on stand for? While all those acronyms can easily confuse a beginner builder, in reality they’re nothing to be afraid of.
In this follow-up to my Gunpla Introduction article, I’ll be going in-depth over all the major Gunpla grades, as well as some less known ones. If you’d rather skip all the background info and just read a quick overview of each grade, feel free to switch to TL;DR version of this article.
Major Gunpla Grades
This category includes the lion’s share of all Gunpla released to date.
High Grade is the most popular Gunpla line, featuring mostly 1/144 scale kits.
It offers the widest selection out of all the Gunpla grades, as most designs are released as HG as soon as they debut in the show. New builders are often pointed to models from this line, as they’re simple to build and inexpensive, while still providing a good representation of mobile suits. HG sets a good baseline for details, articulation and gimmicks. Its main downside is that it doesn’t excel at any of those. Color separation is also lacking at times, with Bandai opting for colored stickers instead of separate parts in different colors. Nonetheless, with a little effort, those kits have the potential to look great.
Thanks to low price and simple construction, they are great for practicing painting and customization techniques.
Originally introduced in 1990 to celebrate the 10th anniversary, High Grade marked the beginning of modern Gunpla. Initially featuring four protagonist mobile suits (RX-78, Zeta, Mk-II, ZZ) and using latest molding technology at the time, HG pushed details, articulation and colors of 1/144 kits to new heights. In addition it featured some gimmicks only found on bigger kits, like functional Core Block System (including transformable Core Fighter) on RX-78 or transformation into Waverider mode on Zeta.
In 1993 High Grade switched from 1/144 to 1/100. This shift lasted until 1998, when the line reverted to producing smaller kits. In that time 5 Gundam series received 1/100 HG kits – Gundam Wing & Wing EW, Gundam X, Victory and G Gundam.
HGUC and other sub-lines
In 1999 Bandai introduced the HGUC, or High Grade Universal Century, to house all designs from various Gundam series set in that timeline. Surprisingly, recent kits from OVA series Gundam Thunderbolt and Gundam The Origin received their own sub-lines, despite being set in Universal Century.
Since 2010 there are HG sub lines for all non-UC Gundam series. Bandai seems to enjoy confusing the shit out of people though, as sometimes they use name of the series and sometimes name of the timeline it takes place in. For example: HGIBO for Iron‑Blooded Orphans, but HGAC for Gundam Wing.
Real Grade, or RG, is one of the newer lines, featuring extremely detailed kits in 1/144 scale.
Originally introduced in 2010, as a part of 30th anniversary, RG combines elements of all the other lines. Just like HG kits are made in 1/144 scale and sold at affordable price. Like the Master Grades, they have a good articulation and full inner frame. Frame itself, the “Advanced MS Joint” is especially interesting. It comes on a single runner, with all the joints already molded in, sometimes in multiple colors.
As for PG… just look at those details! Most Real Grade models feature two shades of plastic for each major color. They also include tons of marking stickers. Overall, RGs are some of the best looking Gunpla kits out of the box.
Major downside of this line are the complicated builds, involving a lot of tiny parts. As great as they look, RG kits will often feel less sturdy than their HG and MG counterparts. This is especially true for the early kits from this line. Worst offender, RG Zeta Gundam, is often affectionately referred to as plastic grenade. The complexity might also prove troublesome for beginner builders.
Master Grade is where things get really interesting. At 1/100 scale, MG steps it up in more than just size.
First introduced in 1995, for the 15th Gunpla anniversary, this line is designed to meet very high standards. MG kits feature higher quality plastic, more details (although not as much as RGs) and great color separation. Most of the kits include complete, articulated inner frame with abundant surface detail. MGs have tons of gimmicks – opening hatches, sliding armor panels, working hydraulics, transformations, fully articulated hands or even LEDs. They also include a lot of extras like pilot figures, lots of marking stickers, dry transfer decals, sometimes even stands or full action bases.
MG lineup is much more limited than that of High Grade kits. Due to extensive time and resource cost of designing those kits, Bandai tends to be very picky when choosing mecha to receive MG version. For example, out of ~15 main Gundams in 00 series and movie, only the ones piloted by main protagonist received MG versions (Exia, 00, 00 Quan[T]). On the other hand, some of the more popular suits were redesigned and released multiple times, always upgraded to newest molding technology at the time. Good old RX-78-2 Gundam has no less than SEVEN different Master Grade versions, not counting color variants and limited editions.
Master Grade ver.Ka
A special subset of MG line is Ver.Ka, or Version Katoki – a label for Mobile Suits revamped by veteran mecha designer Hajime Katoki. They are universally considered to be some of the best Gunpla kits ever made. Katoki’s designs tend to be a little more realistic, with big attention to details.
Biggest downside of Master Grades is their price, as most of them fall somewhere between $30 and $70, with some closing in on $100. They also take much longer, even for an out-of-the-box build, due to sheer amount of parts. 300 to 500 is the standard, though some kits have over 700. Difficulty wise, they’re not actually any harder than High Grades.
As expected of the word “Perfect”, it doesn’t get any better than PG.
Perfect Grade kits, designed in 1/60 scale, stand over 30 centimeters tall. They feature mind-blowing amount of detail, color separation and gimmicks. Just like MGs and RGs, they include a full, incredibly detailed inner frame. LEDs are also included. Their articulation tends to be exceptional, although posing can prove difficult due to sheer size and weight of those models.
Interestingly, PG was not a Gundam line initially. The very first Perfect Grade kit Bandai made was Evangelion EVA-01, released in 1997. It wasn’t until November 1998 that a PG Gundam kit (obviously RX-78-2) was released. Afterwards the line stayed Gundam-exclusive for nearly 20 years, until the announcement of PG 1/72 Millenium Falcon in 2017.
As for the downsides of this line – they’re basically MG downsides squared. Very long build and extremely expensive kits. Most of the kits are $150 to $250. PG Phenex and Millenium Falcon take the cake though, costing nearly $400 each.
This kind of money gets you hands down best looking out-of-the-box kits, a crowning jewel for any Gunpla collection.
NG As the name might (or might not) suggest, this isn’t actually a grade.
The community forged the term NG to describe all the kits released without assigned grade or product line. No Grade is quite a mixed bag and includes kits in all major scales. The bulk of this “line”, however, is made out of 1/144 and 1/100 that do not meet HG/MG quality standards. The builds are usually rather simple, but don’t get me wrong – these are not universally bad kits. Just like the models within the grades, NGs evolved significantly over the years. In fact, recent 1/100 IBO lineup was received very well.