This list works as an abridged path to the meat of the Gintama anime, reducing the first 265 episodes to 70.
Now this isn’t abridged in the way Dragonball gets abridged. Because the majority of what was cut from this list is still meaningful and worth watching, and I still recommend you see the whole thing.
But for me, it’s more important that people experience this story at all, even if incompletely. This list will expand once the most recent and upcoming series are factored in, but for now—here’s your fast pass to getting started.
A. The following are the “recurring characters” needed as prerequisites for early arcs. The episodes below are not necessarily the first appearance for each character, but their most substantive introductions, or most demonstrative of their personalities. (The first two episodes are not manga canon; they feature almost all the early characters without actually introducing them, so these episodes are unhelpful AND considered by most fans to totally suck. That’s why they’re missing.)
- 3—Gintoki and Shinpachi
- 7—Hasegawa (and Prince
- 8—Otae and Kondō
- 12—Otose and Catherine
- 17—Takasugi and Gengai
- 83—Shōgun Tokugawa Shigeshige (this is tricky, so listen carefully . . . this guy is important but there is a prerequisite to this episode, so come back later, okay? I’ll cue you in.)
B. The rest are less important but useful to know. You may either spend some time here, or move on to the next segment. Starred entries are still among the best of the best. I know they’re “optional” but watch them anyway.
Characters introduced in the course of the Major Arcs are not listed here.
- 13—Harusame space pirates
- 14—Shinsengumi and Soyo Hime
- 16—MADAO (yes, this is different than Hasegawa)
- *24—Mlle Saigō
- 49—Kujaku Hime Kada
- 54-55—Takamagahara (the male hosts) and Katsuo
- 84-85—Kozenigata (hang in there . . . trust me, it pays off in the long run)
2.) THE MAJOR ARCS: required “reading”. The primary serious arcs. Of course this list is totally subjective based on my own experience of what I think the series is, but most fans would agree on these as best embodying the spirit of Gintama.
Square brackets indicate prerequisite arcs or episodes.
Episodes in italics address the primary dramatic throughline in a significant way. The rest introduce characters or touch on story threads necessary for the endgame.
- 31-32—Memory Loss [recurring characters]
- 51-52—Infant Strife [recurring characters]
- 58-61—Benizakura [recurring characters, 51-52]
- 76-81—Yagyū [recurring characters, episode 8 (and now you can watch 83)]
- 86-87—Okita Mitsuba [recurring characters, episode 14]
- 101-105—Shinsengumi Crisis [Benizakura 58-61, Mitsuba 86-87]
- 139-146—Yoshiwara is Burning [recurring characters]
- 177-180—Red Spider [Yoshiwara 139-146]
- 182-184—Popularity Poll [recurring characters, Yagyū 76-81, Yoshiwara 139-146]
- 210-214—Kabukichō Four Devas [episodes 5, 17, Benizakura 58-61; of the previously optional Character episodes, 24, 49, 53, 54-55, and 84-85 are strongly recommended]
- 215—”Odds or Evens” [Benizakura 58-61, Yoshiwara 139-146, Kabukichō 210-214]
- 244-247—Baragaki [Shinsengumi Crisis 101-105]
- 253-256—Kintama [most effective the more of the series you’ve seen]
- 257-261—Courtesan of a Nation [Yoshiwara 139-146, Baragaki 244-247]
3.) FOR A RAINY DAY: other iconic episodes you should see or legends you should know. You can pretty much watch these at any time, unless otherwise indicated.
Again, brackets are prerequisites, stars are the bomb. Have fun!
- 11—strawberry milk solves everything
- *18—the panty thief
- *27—underground fighting ring
- 29—(A) the story of Gintoki’s bokken, (B) mutant cockroaches invade Edo
- 34-35A—Shinpachi becomes a man
- *35B—Matsudaira has a special idea of what “fatherhood” means
- 38—Neo Armstrong Cyclone Jet Armstrong Cannon
- 43—the new heroine [Umibōzu 40-42]
- 43B.5-44—Elizabeth is missing! Yorozuya Ninja unite! 
- *48A—Gintoki’s “friendship” saves Hijikata’s life
- 50—revamping Gintama for season 2
- 62—Yamazaki just tries so hard, doesn’t he [Benizakura 58-61]
- 64—Katsura is followed by a film crew for a day (he is a bonafide idiot)
- 72B—Katsura needs a driver’s license (he is a bonafide insane person)
- 75—recap shenanigans (you can skip the songs but do not miss the dubbing)
- *88—group date (Katsura is a bonafide insane idiot) [Yagyū 76-81]
- 89—Gintoki’s bankai [29A]
- *98-99—Owee game console release
- 100—Gin knows a thing or two about shounen manga, and most manga artists are gorillas (Dondake!?)
- *107-108—Mashiroi gang (or, yakuza are still honorable)
- 109—Yamazaki infiltrates the joui
- 110—The Rock (Katsura’s still got it in him, huh)
- *111B—Kagura’s umbrella
- 112—Tama’s day off [69-71]
- 113—what (WHAT) (NSFL)
- 114—Hijikata is a ladykiller and it will probably get him killed [35B]
- 119—Hijikata needs a smoke, and the best episode title ever
- 125—recap and cherry blossom viewing
- 126-128—Shinpachi’s pen pal
- *131-134—Stand arc (or, peak “Gin is afraid of ghosts”)
- *150—the ultimate showdown/series finale [Benizakura 58-61]
- 151-152—people who should not be in the same room are getting haircuts 
- *153—Kagura can’t sleep
- *166—Gintoki and Hijikata probably shouldn’t be handcuffed together
- 167-170—Tama Quest arc [69-71]
- 173—(A) Elizabeth is not Elizabeth, (B) Gintoki is Sadaharu
- *174—MAJIKARU BANANA (the crew gets stuck in an elevator)
- 175—Gintoki and Hijikata go to the dentist
- *181—drunk Tsukuyo is not a pleasant Tsukuyo
- *186-187—Okita’s death flag
- 189A—who are the Joui 4?
- *189B—morning calisthenics with Kagura
- *195-199—Seimei and Douman
- 205A—Yamazaki receives his new defining characteristic (hint: anpan)
- 209—I definitely, definitely want this movie
- 217—Matsudairrrrrraaa. Beingg bossss. (the crew tearing it up at the pool)
- *231—Gin and Hijikata are still afraid of ghosts 
- 232-236—a race of Elizabeths (will we finally get some answers about that creature!?)
- 239-240—um. a sex scandal. not even joking about this one.
- *252—”We’re Sorry” (a series finale)
- 261-264—Beam Saber arc (get ready to cry your eyes out)
- *265—Sadaharu gets a puppy (get ready to cry your fucking eyes out)