This spoiler-free guide is written for people interested in the Fate series but have little to no knowledge about it and how to get into it.
VN = Fate/Stay Night Visual Novel
LN = Light Novel
F/Z = Fate/Zero
UBW = Unlimited Blade Work
HF = Heaven's Feel
Fate/Stay Night is originally a visual novel with 3 routes: Fate, Unlimited Blade Works, and Heaven's Feel. The story basically separates at a point early on into each of the three routes. Each route has the same setting and characters, but completely different stories and themes. They must be played in that order as they build off of the previous route.
Fate/Zero was written afterwards as a light novel by Urobuchi Gen. It was a prequel that expanded on past events talked about in the F/SN VN, and was written with the intent that readers finished all 3 routes of the visual novel.
As for the anime adaptations, Fate/Stay Night (2006) by Studio DEEN was an adaptation of the first route of the VN (Fate), but also tried to incorporate parts from the other routes (therefore spoiling them) and did not portray the main character (Shirou) correctly, leading to an overall mediocre adaption. They also made a movie adaption of UBW, which compressed a 20 hour story into 2-hours by taking out most of the context that leads to each event. It's highly recommended that newcomers do not watch either adaptations by DEEN.
Ufotable's first adaption of the Fate series was Fate/Zero, which has two seasons (25 episodes total). They've made an adaption of the UBW route, which has a Prologue Episode and two seasons (26 episodes total). They're also currently working on a HF adaption which is set to be a trilogy of movies.
There are currently no plans to do a better adaptation of the Fate route, so the only way to experience that is reading the VN unless you want to watch the mediocre adaptation of Deen.
If you want to become deeply invested with the Fate franchise and want to enjoy its story to its maximum potential, the best way to go about that is to read the Visual Novel. Once you've read all 3 routes, you can watch or read Fate/Zero while being able to understand and catch everything. From here, you'll have a lot of freedom of what part of the Fate franchise you'll want to delve into next.
If you don't want to invest your 60 hours in reading the entire VN, then you can try just the Fate portion of the VN (average completion being 20hrs). While most think it's a great read (albeit slow at first), it's considered the weakest route of the VN only because UBW and HF are that good. The Fate route sets the foundation of the story and builds up the world and characters. It's also the only way you'll get to experience Saber's full story and character development, as the route mainly revolves around her and Shirou. Once you've finished the Fate route you can then move onto the UBW anime, wait for the HF movies to be released and watch those, then watch Fate/Zero.
If you don't like visual novels in general or the time consumed in reading those and you want the first experience with the series to be in anime form, then things get complicated and you'll find mixed opinions on this matter. Leaving out the DEEN adaptations, we have two choices: Fate/Zero, the adaption of the prequel LN written after F/SN was released and Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works, the adaption of the 2nd route of the VN.
- While UBW is miles better than DEEN's UBW movie, it's still not a perfect adaptation. In that it does not capture certain scenes and character thoughts as well as the VN does due to the VN being written in first-person. And since you start with UBW, skipping the worldbuilding and character development you get from the Fate route, it makes it even harder to understand some of the scenes, characters and the overall story. Unless you have crazy good analysis skills or want to challenge yourself, you'll either not enjoy it as much as you should or you'll be finding yourself constantly wanting to know more. If it's the latter, then it would be a good opportunity to read the Fate route and HF route, possibly the UBW route in-between if you want that extra characterization you didn't get in the anime. If you're still not wanting to read the VN but patient enough to wait for the HF movies, you can watch those as they release and then move on to Fate/Zero.
- Being ufotable's first anime of the Fate series, Fate/Zero is considered very well adapted, highly praised, and was a lot of peoples first start into the series. As it's written by Gen Urobuchi, it's got a different tone and focus to it than Fate and UBW, and most people find it easier to get into Fate/Zero over UBW due to F/Z's single narrative and third-person structure being easier to adapt. But because it was originally a prequel meant to be read after all three routes of F/SN, it ends up spoiling many twists of the VN. The routes suffering most from the spoilers are Fate and HF, UBW is barely affected. And to enjoy Fate/Zero like the author originally intended and understand all the references, hints, and even the ending, you'll need knowledge from F/SN, particularly from HF. As a refresher for F/SN fans, Fate/Zero skims through the concepts of the setting and gives a little bit of worldbuilding from the Fate route (although not a substitute for Fate route). Because of this, it may be better to watch Fate/Zero before watching UBW instead of vice-versa. Note: Do not think of UBW as a sequel to Fate/Zero. As I said, they're both written by different writers and have a different focus and tone to them.
F/SN VN (Fate->UBW->HF)->Fate/Zero is the proper and intended order.
If you can't get through the Fate route of the VN (~20hrs) which you should, try the UBW anime or Fate/Zero anime (Read the problems of starting either first above) and watch HF films.
After this, you can watch Lord El-Melloi II Case Files. The series takes place 10 years after the events of Fate/Zero and 2 months before the events of Fate/Stay Night, and revolves around the Clock Tower in the United Kingdom. (Order - Lord El-Melloi II Sei no Jikenbo: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note - Hakamori to Neko to Majutsushi -> Lord El-Melloi II Sei no Jikenbo: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note)
- UBW is not a complete story. If you feel like something is missing, it's most likely explained in another route. If a character didn't get enough screen time, they will in another route.
- Do not read HF without having first read or watched the entirety of Fate and UBW.
- F/SN does talk about F/Z's ending because F/Z was written to expand on that event. F/Z, being written as a prequel, is more about the journey than the outcome.
- If you've finished the VN but have watched Fate/Zero before it, I highly recommend giving Fate/Zero a rewatch to see what you missed.
- You can either read or watch Fate/Zero, the only difference being that the LN has extra scenes and characterization while the anime has visuals/music/voice acting/etc.
- You can read the sequel VN to Fate/Stay Night, Fate/Hollow Ataraxia, anytime after you read F/SN.
Once you have finished these things, there's a bunch of other spin-offs you can view here. Albeit not a terrible idea, it's generally not recommended to dive into the spin-offs if you don't have F/SN and F/Z under your belt. Even better if you've finished Fate/Hollow Ataraxia VN too.
Fate Spin-Offs (in no particular order):
Without going into much detail, there are a few interesting Fate spin-offs you can watch. Some are complete shows in alternate timelines with completely different plots, while others are full of "memes" and in-jokes. All of them are best watched after UBW.
- Carnival Phantasm: (in-jokes) Carnival Phantasm takes a number of characters from Type-Moon's original works, and puts them in a variety of light-hearted scenarios which parody their respective series - (Best experienced after seeing as much as possible, it's advised that you read the Tsukihime Visual Novel or Manga and to have at least watched Fate/Stay Night as a whole to fully understand Carnival Phantasm.
- Fate/Grand Order: Fate/Grand Order is a gacha RPG mobile game. It is not related to Fate/Stay Night. It's set in an alternate universe and timeline to Fate/Stay Night. It has its own OVAs and specials, but there's no real anime for it. You're better off playing the game so you can experience the story in full rather than watching it's anime adaptations. If you want a taste of the plot, there's an OVA called First Order. Moonlight/Lostroom and other upcoming titles spoil the later parts of the game and should not be watched without having played the Japanese version of F/GO.
- Fate/Prototype: Based on the original concept for the fate VNs, this is a short OVA with no real plot. Can be watched at any time.
- Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan: It's a cooking show with the main cast of characters from Fate/Stay Night. it's basically a slice of life show. Should be watched after finishing all of Fate/Stay Night.
- Fate/Extra: Fate/Extra is a series of games set in an alternate timeline. The universe of Extra shares the events of the Fate/stay night universe until a "certain major incident" happens and diverges completely. While the games themselves offer a brand new story that is several dozens of hours long, the current anime adaptation is in a very weird spot plot-wise. The orders are as follows:
- Fate/Apocrypha: Yet another alternate timeline anime, this one is fully adapted and stands on its own pretty well. It is still recommended to watch it after finishing the main routes, for the basic knowledge on what a Holy Grail War is and what servants do.
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya: Fate... but with magical girls! Kaleid follows Illya von Einzbern, a key character from the main show, as a magical girl. It's a vastly different experience from all other Fate anime and it's the biggest Fate spin-off anime with over 40 episodes and several lewd OVAs, as well as a movie. The movie, despite being a prequel, is actually a bunch of flashbacks told in the last season so it's better to watch it at the end. It definitely should be watched after the original show, as there are some very interesting references later on that may count as spoilers for the main routes.
- The Garden of Sinners Movies (8 in total) (not entirely related to Fate): The series is regarded as being set in an alternate parallel universe to Fate/Stay Night, they both share a lot of similarities in some of the plot elements. I won't delve into the details to avoid spoiling, but definitely check out these movies if you're interested in delving more into the Type-Moon universe.
- Tsukihime Visual Novel - The events in Tsukihime take place in Misaki Town, chronologically, the end of the story of Tsukihime takes place around the beginning of Fate/Stay Night. It shares many similarities with Kara no Kyoukai, and the two were also subtly connected. I would recommend Tsukihime as It's a great visual novel. A remake of the visual novel is also currently in development. If you would rather wait for that to release, then I suggest you at least read the really good Manga adaptation, for now. However, it only covers the first route of the VN.
Carnival Phantasm order:
- Carnival Phantasm
- Carnival Phantasm Special - Illya's Castle
- Carnival Phantasm EX Season
- Carnival Phantasm HibiChika Special
F/GO Anime-only order:
- Fate/Grand Order: First Order - is the 74-minutes movie adaptation of the first chapter of Fate/Grand Order. You should read the anime synopsis in the MAL link to learn more about the story.
- Fate/Grand Order: Shinsei Entaku Ryouiki Camelot 1 - Wandering; Agateram - The first movie will be released in 2020, but in terms of story order, it happens before Babylonia. This movie will cover the 6th singularity.
- Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front - Babylonia [Including episode 0] - In all honesty, you should play FGO to get the full story of the previous singularities because the anime doesn't cover them, and their intention is not to cover most of them because these adaptations are for FGO players who played the game, and are not intended for anime watchers only. This anime covers the 7th singularity.
- Fate/Grand Order: Moonlight/Lostroom - is an anime short OVA original story. It serves as a transition between parts 1.5 and 2 of the game's story.
Games: Fate/Extra --> Fate/Extra CCC --> Fate/Extella: The Umbral Star
Anime: Fate/Extra Last Encore --> Fate/Extra Last Encore - Irusterias Tendousetsu(ep11-13)
Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya order:
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya - OVA - Dance at the Sports Festival
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya Specials
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei!
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei! - OVA - Mahou Shoujo in Onsen Ryoku
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei! Specials
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei Herz!
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 2wei Herz! Specials
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 3rei!!
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya 3rei!! Specials
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya - Movie - Vow in the Snow
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya - Movie Special - Vow in the Snow - Kuro Sakura no Heya
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya: Prisma☆Phantasm
- Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya Movie - Licht - Namae no Nai Shoujo
The Garden of Sinners Movies order:
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 1 - Overlooking View
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 2 - Murder Speculation Part A
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 3 - Remaining Sense of Pain
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 4 - The Hollow Shrine
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 5 - Paradox Paradigm
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 6 - Oblivion Recording
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 7 - Murder Speculation Part B
- The Garden of Sinners - Chapter 8 - The Final Chapter
- The Garden of Sinners - Recalled Out Summer - Extra Chorus
- The Garden of Sinners - Recalled Out Summer
- The Garden of Sinners - Remix - Gate of Seventh Heaven
Source : Reddit