Spreading phenomena essentially underlie the dynamics of various natural and technological networked systems, yet how spatiotemporal propagation patterns emerge from such networks remains largely unknown. Here we propose a novel approach that reveals universal features determining the spreading dynamics in diffusively coupled networks and disentangles them from factors that are system specific. In particular, we first analytically identify a purely topological factor encoding the interaction structure and strength, and second, numerically estimate a master function characterizing the universal scaling of the perturbation arrival times across topologically different networks. The proposed approach thereby provides intuitive insights into complex propagation patterns as well as accurate predictions for the perturbation arrival times. The approach readily generalizes to a wide range of networked systems with diffusive couplings and may contribute to assess the risks of transient influences of ubiquitous perturbations in real-world systems.