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According to MAL, the former is the parent story of the latter, that appears described as a side story. However, I find no reference to these questions:

Do both stories take place in the same universe?
Are they somewhat dependent on each other?
If so, in which order should the series be watched?

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There's definitely some major inconsistencies in the Anime. The scene where Touma first meets Misaka is completely different between the two. –  Mysticial Feb 26 '13 at 22:47
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While there are slight differences (as expected with different adaptations), there's nothing drastic that affects the continuity. E.g., in the novel Touma "slaps" away Mikoto's railgun, but in the manga he "catches" it. In the novel, the first hit that Touma lands on the Accelerator is a slap to his hand, but the Railgun manga he hits him square in the face. –  Krazer Feb 27 '13 at 14:54
    
Thanks to everyone who posted a comment. I started watching both of them at once, but then I couldn't keep up with majutsu no index. This helped me not freak out about not watching kagaku no railgun without anybody telling heavy spoilers. Thanks again! –  user1995 Jul 8 '13 at 0:53
    
I like both series. They each have their goods and bads. Index has a bit more of a convoluted and involved storyline, due to the encounters with magic and science, but is very funny in the ways that Touma interacts with Index. Railgun is more straight forward and clear cut. It is very action packed but is also funny. So, watch both. –  user4647 Apr 24 at 20:15

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Chronologically, Railgun comes first. Then near the middle of Railgun (the Level Upper Arc), the events and timeline start to converge with Index.

For an example, in episode 17 of the Railgun anime, Komoe-sensei mentions how she likes all her students, even the ones that blow up her roof, which is probably a reference to when Index used Dragon's Breath (episode 6 of Index).

The manga gives a better frame of reference, since it gives a exact date (July 16th). So the events in Railgun begin 4 days before the Index novel (July 20th), where Touma first meets Index. Touma meets Mikoto on the eve of July 19th.

According to the TV Tropes:

The anime, however, violates this by adapting events from Volume 8 of the novels into the anime's first episode. As it stands, Chapters 18 to 39 occur around the time of Volume 3 in the novels, Chapter 40 is around volume 5, Chapters 41-42 and around volume 8 and Chapters 43-current take place around volume 9.

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Railgun is a non-canon spinoff using the characters and setting of Index.

by that definition:

  1. I guess they take place in alternate universes.

  2. They are indepedent besides setting and characters.

  3. Watching both seasons of Index before Railgun is in my opinion for the better.

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4  
Just want to expand on their independence - You can watch only Index and it will make sense. You can also watch only Railgun and it will also make sense. I don't think any parts of their stories rely on the other's stories. Personally, I don't really enjoy Index, but I think Railgun is great. I know people who think the opposite. If you don't like one, you don't need to watch the other for fear of not understanding something in the one you like. –  atlantiza Feb 26 '13 at 23:32
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Thing about Index is that the parts of the novels that people really praise (God´s Right Seat, English Civil War and World War 3 arcs aswell as New Testament) havent been animated yet. –  Christian Aurig Frøkjær Feb 27 '13 at 0:51
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Everything from the characters to plot in the Railgun series is canon to the main Index series, as the story was made by the author of the novels. This includes the Saten cameos appearance in the novels and "Capacity Down" used on Accelerator in Volume 19 of the novels. This also works the other way with Railgun series. Everything that happens in the Railgun happen in the Railgun, hence why Eri and Harumi-sensei's students being cured are canon. –  Krazer Feb 27 '13 at 14:48
    
Being written by the same person doesn´t make it canon. Fate/Apocrypha is partially being written by Kinoku Nasu but it´s still not canon and instead an alternate universe. Even if they use props like the Capacity Down that were featured in Railgun, that doesn´t make Railgun canon. –  Christian Aurig Frøkjær Feb 27 '13 at 16:40
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@ChristianAurigFrøkjær In Fate/complete material IV, Nasu mentions that Fate/Apocrypha is extra-canon. Kara no Kyoukai and Tsukihime are explicitly mentioned by the Nasu to be parallel worlds. In Fate/complete material III, it's confirmed that Tsukihime shares the same universe as Fate, stating that the end of Tsukihime happens at the beginning of Fate/stay night. While they are separate, all series in the Nasu-verse are considered canon to one another, one could presumptively travel to each, if they could use Second Magic... –  Krazer Mar 27 '13 at 1:52

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