Here at Gunpla 101, we believe that there’s no wrong way to build Gunpla. That said, there are tried and true techniques that can make Gunpla more enjoyable to build or more impressive when they’re finished. Here, Megaplamo shares some of the hobby guides that have helped him master the basics in order to develop his unique model-making style. Check out these recommendations to level up your Gunpla building!
When I first started building Gunpla, I really only had the instruction book that came with the kit. I had to figure out a lot of things by trial and error—mostly by error. Over time, Gunpla tutorials began to appear on Youtube which really changed the game for me, but I still felt like I was missing something. Usually, these video tutorials were very advanced and offered little explanation. Even though I was learning, I felt like I was being thrown into the deep end.
Today there are a ton of tutorials out there. In fact, there are so many that sometimes it feels like you may be spinning your wheels and wasting time you could be spending on Gunpla. Social media content isn’t organized. It’s often difficult to find detailed information on YouTube. To make it even more confusing, most of the time content creators are recommended based on popularity rather than skill. Not to mention, the algorithm is designed to pull your attention away from real-life hobbies and into the endless void of content that will literally never end.
So what’s the solution? Well-organized books written by professional modelers. The following books on model-making present each topic in an orderly fashion so that you aren’t just thrown into the deep end. Think of your favorite video game: you only got good at it because you started at the tutorial-level Green Hill Zone and worked your way up—rather than an algorithm throwing you straight into the complexity of the Scrap Brain Zone.
So without further video game references, here are my top 5 books on Gunpla and the model-making hobby!
Best for beginners
Don’t let the long title scare you. I was really excited when I found this one because I believe it’s one of the first Hobby Japan “mooks” (magazine books) to be officially translated to English. I remember standing in a local hobby store as a kid and looking at a copy of Hobby Japan magazine. I was amazed by the photography and really wished that I could read it.
This mook covers all the different levels of building, starting with basic snap building and going all the way up to a fully-painted and customized build. This will give you a great understanding of what kind of finish you want and how to achieve it, and how far you want to take your build. It’s great for beginners, but there is something here for everyone. The chapter on modifying parts and sharpening the shapes of the kit was very helpful for me personally. The only downside is that it comes in ebook format only and just like Makishima from Psycho-Pass, I’d much rather hold a real book. That being said, I think the information here is too valuable to pass up.
Best for learning how to airbrush
Unfortunately, you won’t find any Gunpla in this book. However, this is one of the best books on airbrushing that I’ve ever read and I keep it next to my workbench at all times. It covers everything from the equipment you’ll need to painting techniques, and includes some really good troubleshooting guides (trust me, you are gonna need ‘em). This book uses tanks and planes and some cars to demonstrate how to use the airbrush. Each technique can be easily used with Gunpla: you just have to use your imagination. A tank could be a Zaku, a plane could be the GPO1, or a car could be the Sinanju. Before this book, I felt like airbrushing was a whole other hobby that I hardly had time for. Now I feel like it’s a valuable tool in my Gunpla-building arsenal.
Best book on the “classic box art” look
Have you ever looked at the pictures on the side of the box and then looked at your painted kit and thought, “Am I missing something here”? This book will fill in those gaps and help you get that classic “side of the box” look. I’ve been chasing this my whole model-making career and this book has it. The section that really stood out to me was “gradation painting.” This really helped me to understand the difference between adding shadows and adding highlights. Now I just need to get more practice. I also really liked some of the examples of how to modify the construction of a kit to make it easier to paint. This book is available as an ebook in English and as a physical magazine book (or “mook”) in Japanese.
Best book on the history of Gundam styles
When I say “History of Gundam styles,” am I referring to the movement of painting techniques through the history of Gunpla? Am I making a really lame joke about a viral video from 2012? The answer is: yes, and yes. This book will give you a feel for model kit “composition.”
Some builders talk about composition as telling a story with a kit and some think of it as making a kit proportionate or aesthetically pleasing. I personally think of it as striking a balance in custom painting: not overdoing it nor leaving it too bare. One thing I struggle with is knowing many different techniques, but not knowing when it’s appropriate to use them. We all have seen (and painted) that “overly-weathered kit” or a super-clean kit on a filthy battlefield and thought “OK, something isn’t right.” Even though the emphasis in this book is on “techniques,” you get to see which techniques are used together, and when, by different famous professionals throughout the history of the medium. You’ll also enjoy seeing customization trends throughout the years, and learn about some professional model makers who contributed to the medium.
That being said, once you learn about these classic styles, don’t forget to start thinking about making them your own. Always remember: learn the rules before you break them. This one is another book that’s digital only, but maybe if we keep buying them, Hobby Japan will start printing physical English editions.
My personal favorite
This book is by far my personal favorite! It’s HUGE and covers every topic and style that I can think of. There is a really detailed table of contents: everything is broken up into big topics and then subdivided by smaller topics so you can treat it like a reference book (and cut back on spending your screen time Googling every question). The photography in this book is beautiful and is a fantastic resource for professional quality inspiration. Think of it as an encyclopedia for all your Gunpla and sci-fi questions.
The real value of this book is that it’s written by Lincoln Wright, one of my favorite sci-fi model makers and writers. Some things that really stand out to me are the nitty gritty explanations you don’t really get from other publications such as: paint ingredients, how to use different mediums together like metal and resin, and how to produce specific weathering effects rather than general effects. His paint-thinning and mixing process has also saved me a ton of time.
I really enjoyed the interesting information on the history of the Sci-Fi hobby and how they made real-life Sci-Fi props like the X wings from A New Hope. This book is the most expensive on the list but I think it’s worth every penny. Also, it’s the biggest one on the list. As I hold it in my hands, I really would compare it to a phone book.
Here is another book in which you won’t find any Gunpla (although Adam does seem to be interested in them lately) but you will find some really helpful tips on how to be a productive artist and model-maker. I still use a lot of the techniques that I learned from this book in my workflow, such as creating lists, keeping the workbench well organized, and being mindful of how much time I’m spending on a certain project. For some people those things may seem like a no-brainer, but for someone like me who is naturally disorganized, learning how a little bit of discipline could make my hobby easier and more fun was revolutionary. I often think about the chapter about how it’s better to borrow a tool you aren’t sure you will need, (or get a cheap one) so you don’t end up overspending on something you only use once. If I had known that I would have saved a lot of money on random Gundam markers that I don’t use anymore. It’s also a very cool look into the world of professional model and prop makers, with behind-the-scenes of some of my favorite movies. Think of it as self-help but for that “maker” side of yourself.
I hope this list is helpful to Gunpla 101 readers, and that you can gain some valuable information to help you grow in this hobby. These are some of my favorite books and I come back to them often. Each time, I learn something new!
Megaplamo lives on the Gulf Coast of Alabama where he paints everything from Gunpla to vinyl garage kits. Megaplamo has been building model kits since the early 2000s and loves to share any and all information he has learned on his journey You can find Megaplamo on all social media as @megaplamo although he is the most active on Instagram.