During the 80’s and the 90’s, the X-Men was THE comic to read. And they well earned it’s place in the comics pantheon, with some of the best and most emblematic stories ever produced. So we’ll take care on this article of the best X-Men comics stories that you must read to really be aware of why the X-Men came to be that popular at the time
The X-Men had it all: great characters, lots of action, science fiction, and high doses of soap opera melodrama. Chris Claremont, the writer of the comic during many, many years, had found the perfect recipe, and you never wanted to miss an issue month after month.
Also, you never knew what to expect. During those years, Claremont killed some of the main characters, changed teams many times, and produced a quantity of spin off teams that expanded the mutant’s universe and gave raving fans food for reading and discussion.
The story of the X-Men was the story of the mutants. Misunderstood characters, feared and rejected by the rest of the society, the story appealed and generated identification on minorities and teenage audiences. Also, the story had elements resembling jewish history of persecution, making it an even more attractive blend.
The decadence of the X-Men
But… something happened along the way. The X-Men started to decline and never regained their spot. Some say that Marvel purposely dropped quality on the books, due to the fact that Fox holded the rights to the X-Men movies. If that’s the reason, it might be the dumbest move in comics history.
My personal take is that the X-Men lost the edge due to the fact that the stories played the segregation issue a bit too far. While the stories from the 80’s had the background of the “feared mutants”, they were relatable characters that tried to fit in, and you rooted for them. In recent stories, the mutant segregated themselves from humanity. From you the reader and from me. So, who cares about them? That’s the core of the issue. The X-Men segregated themselves from the reader.
To add insult to injury, in recent stories, the X-Men cannot die. If something happened to one of them, it can be cloned, their memories “uploaded” and presto… instant character reborn just as he was before being killed. So the characters don’t care about the reader, and nothing can really happen to them. Why do you have to care about them?
It will be difficult that Marvel regains the excellence of the title in those golden years of the 80’s and 90’s but… who knows? They may turn it around.
In the meantime, you’ll find out that most of the stories in this list are from the years we really liked of the X-Men. You’re ready? Let´s go check the list of the best X-Men comic books. And just to make it easier for you, I decided to make it in chronological order.
The Best X-Men Comics that you MUST Read!!
1. Giant Size X-Men 1
This is a fun fact from the X-Men: even when they were created in 1963 inspired by DC’s Doom Patrol, by 1970 they weren’t much of a success, and their title was cancelled. Or what cancelled mean by those times, they stopped producing new stories and issues 67 to 93 were entirely made of reprints.
Just by 1975, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum were appointed with the task to revive the team, and they generated a completely new team, with the exception of Cyclops, who was the only one from the original roster that remained on the team. The idea was to make the team more “international”, so the new team members were each from a different country and different cultural beliefs.
The rest is history: Wein brought in Wolverine, a Canadian member he had made appear in the pages of The Incredible Hulk some time ago, mixed it with Storm, an African god-like young woman, Nightcrawler, a demon like character who happened to be german and catholic, Colossus, a Russian metal bodied atheist, Banshee, an Irish screamer, Thunderbird, a native American with an attitude, and Sunfire, a Japanese guy with solar powers, and produced an instant hit.
The story is quite simple by our standards, but if you want to know how the X-Men really came to be, you must go and read this book. You might find these original stories beautifully collected here, as well as the origin of Jean Grey as Phoenix and the first issues of the Claremont /Byrne team in this book, X-Men Epic Collection: Second Genesis.
2. The Proteus Saga, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
The beginning of the run by Chris Claremont and John Byrne is a rollercoaster full of colorful villains, while the X-Men travel around the world. At the beginning of the Proteus saga, we find the X-Men separated after a run down with Magneto. Jean Grey and the Beast were separated from the rest of the team, and both sides believed the other to be dead.
Their reunion comes to happen in Muir Island, where the reality bending and body possessing Proteus, son of Moira McTaggert, is on the loose and killing people. The story takes some of the X-Men to their limit and sets the ground for what’s to come in the next recommendation.
It’s a great starting point to get to know the X-Men and to get acquainted with the characters at their best, and Byrne’s portrayal of the X-Men is, by far, the best. This is a personal favorite for me too, because the first X-Men book I read was the first part of this story. I didn’t know the characters nor where they came from, but I was almost instantly hooked by the story and the great art.
There’s a great reprint on Epic Collection format, which starts with the X-Men battling Magneto and tells the tale of how they come to be separated. Also, it includes the first appearance of the Alpha Flight, the Canadian superhero team, and gives the first hints on Wolverine’s origin. It’s quite good material and, at that price, a can’t miss.
3. The Dark Phoenix Saga, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
This is, by far, one of the most well known stories of the X-Men, but also one of the most famous stories in comics history.
By that time, Jean Grey’s powers were growing day to day. But great power corrupts, and in Jean Grey’s case, the Phoenix entity that possessed her brings with it a new level of corruption. How to deal with a corrupt god? That’s the story behind this book, and it’s written superbly.
This story has what I was talkink about a while back: characters you care about. And an emotional ending where you really care about what happens to them, that fills your gut with grief.
4. Days of Future Past, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne
This is the story that opens the door for time travel in the X-Men books, that would be used (maybe too much?) in future storylines. But this original saga is one of the most pivotal stories of the X-Men, so it deserves to be included in this list.
Just one side comment for current writers here: do you see that in just two issues you can create a story that will have repercussions for years? Currently, we have storylines running for 6 or 12 issues where the only thing that happens is that a character breaks a fingernail. Let’s learn from this one!
Back to the review: in this story, an older version of Kitty Pryde, that lives in a dystopian future where mutants are hunted and incarcerated, sends her mind through time to inhabit the body of her younger self to prevent an event that would be the starting point of such a tragic future: the assassination of senator Robert Kelly along with Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert.
This story was supposed to be self-conclussive, but in the years after it was published it was revisited a number of times, with characters such as Rachel Summers coming from this alternative future.
5. God Loves, Man Kills, by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson
This title was originally presented as a graphic novel, and introduced a concept that will lately be used in the main title: Magneto working together with the X-Men.
Magneto, the master of magnetism, was usually the X-Men´s worst enemy. But in this story, he joins forces with the X-Men to face an antagonist who threatens mutantkind in the name of God.
6. From The Ashes, by Chris Claremont and various artists
This book is important because of two things: on one side, it brings Rogue into the X-Men character roster, but being a former villain herself, her acceptance from the rest of the team was limited. Specially from Wolverine, who was the most popular character at the time. In this book, both characters start to bond and accept themselves.
On second place, it marks the first appearance of Madelyne Pryor, almost a twin of Jean Grey. The question pops in: has the Phoenix come back to life? This appearance will bring many repercussions in the X-Men’s future, since she will become Cyclops… ooops, it’s not a spoiler since the book is over 30 year’s old, but you may not know the full story, I´ll let you enjoy it.
7. Mutant Massacre
In this saga, that originally runs through titles such as X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants and even Thor and Daredevil, the Morlocks, a mutant community of misfits that lives in the sewers of Manhattan, is targeted to be wiped out by the Marauders, a group of mutant assassins.
The story has many impacting moments, as many of the Morloks get murdered, and many X-Men are taken down by the Marauders. As a matter of fact, this is the storyline where Angel’s wings get destroyed, that will be the starting point for the coming of the Archangel.
8. Inferno, by Chris Claremont and various
By this time the X-men books where huge successes, and Marvel decided to produce yearly crossovers with all the mutant books. Mutant Massacre and Fall of The Mutants where the first two ones, and Inferno is the third event.
In this event, the Limbo’s demon lord N’astirh wants to invade the physical plane, and uses Ilyana Rasputin (Colossus sister, Magik from the New Mutants) and Madelyne Pryor as their tools to generate the invasion. And if that wasn’t enough to have the X.Men hands full, Mr. Sinister appears and there are new revelations about Madelyne and her resemblance to Jean Grey. It’s a great X-Men comic to read.
This saga run through 4 different X-Books (Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, New Mutants and X-Terminators,a miniseries), but it was such a big event that also impacted other Marvel’s books at the time. I remember that by that time I wasn’t reading the X-Men and was following Daredevil, and was surprised by the demons running around New York city in the Daredevil’s book (check issues 262, 263 and 265).
Art on the book has it’s highs and lows: Matt Silvestri was red hot on the X-Men main title, while I´m not that fond on Bret Blevins looks on the New Mutants title.
You may find it in different formats, but this one is a little bit better because it includes X-Factor Annual #4, plus the fact that if you have a Kindle Unlimited subscription you may read it for free!
9. Dissolution and Rebirth, by Chris Claremont and various
As I mentioned before, you can’t accuse Chris Claremont of not taking any chances on the X-Men title. He kept changing the teams, and some characters died or disappeared for many, many months. Maybe this stage of the X-Men is the most vivid example of such chances.
Starting with issue 248 (first issue drawn by who would one of the 90´s superstar, Jim Lee), Claremont starts killing off or disappearing the X-Men characters. First, Storm is apparently killed, then the Reavers savagely attack the X-Men hideaway and most characters go through a kind of portal called the Siege Perilous, which scatters them around the globe and magically gives them a fresh start.
What happens next is for many, many issues we won’t see the team together again. Some characters will leave the team, and some will have completely new reboots (here is when Psylocke get’s her ninja looks, for example). In some issues, Banshee and Forge put together a completely new team to search for their missing comrades.
The result: a really fun book to read, where you really don’t know what will come next for those favorite characters. Really one of the best X.Men comic books to read.
Art is quite good during this period, with many issues by Lee and Silvestri.
10. X-Tinction Agenda, by Chris Claremont and Various
You want to know when the X-Men get together again? Here. This is another big event that puts together the Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and the New Mutants, facing off against the mutant enslaving nation of Genosha and Cameron Hodge.
The story is really fun to read, and it brings the death of one X-Family character, plus raises Cameron Hodge (a character that was formerly an X-Factor ally) to a menace level villain.
Also nice art here, with Jim Lee, Mark Silvestri, Rick Leonardi and Rob Liefield in his New Mutants´ years.
11. X-Men Bishop’s Crossing
At the beginning of the 90’s, the X-Men were such a big hit that they decided to open a new title, the X-Men one. And while that title was one on the biggest sales hits in sales in comics history, the best stories appeared in the main title, Uncanny X.Men.
By that time, the number of mutants was growing exponentially, they brought the original characters from X-Factor into the main titles, so they decided to open two different teams, and put John Byrne behind the wheel in Uncanny X-Men. And Byrne started to pull magic on the title.
In just a couple issues, the X-Men battle a renewed Hellfire Club, we meet the future mutant police Bishop for the first time, plus we are introduced to the missing brother of Colossus. Wow! What a ride!
This was a time where some of the pencillers were more thinking in the new imprint they would be forming (Image) that in finishing their work, so you’ll find art by various artists here: Whilce Portaccio, John Romita Jr., Andy Kubert… all in all, quite good.
12. Phalanx Covenant, by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, John Romita Jr., Joe Madureira & others
Remember Cameron Hodge, from the X.Tinction Agenda storyline? Well, he’s back together with Stephen Lang and other anti-mutant bigots who took control of a techno organic alien, the Phalanx, that absorbs anything it touches.
This saga has a couple interesting facts in it: for one, is one of the rare times when Victor Creed, aka. Sabretooth, fights alongside the X-Men. On the other hand, this saga introduces Generation Next, who would be an interesting team of young mutants that would soon have their own title, Generation X.
This may not be the best of the best X-Men comic around there, but I found it quite fun to read, so it’s one of my recommendations. Also you can buy it quite cheap digitally or read it for free if you have a Kindle Unlimited suscription!.
12. Age of Apocalypse, by Scott Lobdell, Fabian Nicieza, Mark Waid, and more
This was a big one when it came out, because it implied one of the most bold comics moves ever seen up to that day. After Uncanny X-Men #321 and X-Men #41, all X-Men titles came to an end.
After Legion mistakenly kills Charles Xavier in his attempt to murder Magneto before he commits crimes to humanity, there are major changes in the timestream. Without Xavier’s dream to oppose him, Apocalypse takes control of the Earth and only a few mutant factions oppose him.
As I told before, all X-Titles came to an end, and new titles started, set on a different earth, with different titles, different casts, etc. The whole story kicked off in X-Men: Alpha, then those new titles ran for 4 months, and then came the closing title with X-Men: Omega. By that time, it was quite shocking, since nobody knew exactly if or when the status quo would return.
13. New X-Men by Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, Ethan Van Sciver
This is another great shake up on the X-Men universe. Grant Morrison reimagined many of the concepts behind the X-Men, added new members to the team like Emma Frost and Xorn, killed Jean Grey (again!), and generated a completely different look and feel to the series.
By that time, the X-Men movie had been launched. So the characters dropped the colorful uniforms in the comics, and picked up the “cooler look” , leather like uniforms from the movie. Morrison’s stories were, as usual, more adult focused and complex, villains a little more sinister, and characters got human flaws.
The art in most of the series is superb: you have Frank Quitely, Phil Jimenez, Leinil Francis Yu, Chis Bachalo… an amazing team for an amazing title.
My only critique for this title is that maybe took the X-Men so far from where they were, that it was very difficult to pull them back when he left off.
Here is where I DO RECOMMEND spending your bucks in the Omnibus. This is really some of the best X-Men comics material you may get. Stop spending 10 bucks in the latest Batman gimmick and save for this beauty, you won’t regret it!
Aaaaand if you have a kindle unlimited subscription, you may give it a try for free here, since the first collection book is included!
14. Astonishing X-Men, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
Another really great run for the X-Men! This time written by Joss Whedon, who had the difficult task of taking the X-Men from Morrison left them and put them on track again. And, boy, he did a good job!
Whedon brought the X-Men a little closer to the traditional side, with the more “superheroic” customes and all, but remained his stories had a lot of feeling in them. He brought back a long dead character, and gave us one of the rare moments of sacrifice in comics that rip a tear from our eyes.
Cassaday’s art on this book is extraordinary, and makes this book a gem in the X-Men crown.
15. X-Men Messiah Complex
At the end of the House of M event, the Scarlet Witch pronounced three words that would have repercussions for many years to come (in my opinion, negative ones…): “No More Mutants”. That left the world with only 200 mutants, and no new mutants emerged for quite some time.
That was the beginning of a decadence period (at least, in my opinion) for the X-Men, because that meant a start of an isolation of the reduced mutant population and stories that generated less interest.
However, the Messiah Complex storyline is kind of a light at the end of the tunnel. At the beginning of the story, the first mutant in many years is born in Alaska. But the X-Men are not the only ones set to find this newborn: many menaces get to the baby first, and a the X-Men are set on a wild hunt to recover the baby.
The story is action packed, and it involves the reader who wants to know what will happen next at every step of the way. It develops in many X books, so going for the trades is the best way to go.
The story is planned as a trilogy, that includes three storylines: Messiah Complex, Messiah War, and Second Coming, where a fan favorite character dies. Well, for as long as comics characters can die these days… The first and the third parts are the best.
16. Avengers vs X-Men, by Brian Bendis and art by John Romita Jr., Olivier Coipel and Adam Kubert
This story comes, of course, as a follow up of the success achieved by the Avengers movies. Why not put the two most popular Marvel teams together to fight each other? The menace must be big enough to gather them, and in this case, it comes as the Phoenix entity that returns to destroy the Earth.
The result is not bad at all. The story grows as different characters absorb part of the Phoenix powers, until the final battle that has some direct repercussions for the X books for years to come.
It could have been just a cheap gimmick, but I really enjoyed the story.
Strange fact: at the time I write these lines, the printed trade paperback is cheaper than the digital version. That’s not right folks at Marvel, you must revise your policies… there’s no printing nor distribution costs there, it SHOULD be cheaper. Go for the printed one now, before they rise the price!
17. All New X-Men, by Brian Bendis and Stuart Immonen
This is a personal favorite. In this title, the original X-Men (Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Iceman and the Angel) are brought from the past into the present, where they meet their current versions and how far they are from what they thought they would be.
As the story develops, new members are added to the team: Kitty Pryde, X-23 (which at some point of the story takes the Wolverine’s mantle) and even Kid Apocalypse become part of the team.
It’s a typical Bendis comic, where the fun comes from the dialogues and the interactions between the characters, and if you want to take the fresher side of the X-Men while they were in a quite dark period, this is your book.
Watch out: This book has two series, the first one is the one written by Bendis. Plus, if you want to how the saga ends, you have to go to a book called Extermination, that gives a decent closing to the story.
18. House of X / Power of X, by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
In 2019, Jonathan Hickman was given the task to reboot (again) the X-Men. I must be completely straightforward on this: I’m completely fed up with the continuous relaunches of comics. I don’t care if your stupid number 1 issue sells more copies. In the long run, you end up losing the loyal readers, that don’t know when or what happened any longer and abandon ship.
That being said, Marvel relaunched the X-Men again. Hickman planted an interesting and complex story that worked in many different temporal planes, but after this special launching issues that part of the story was put aside for more traditional stories.
This crossover sets up the universe for the current X-Men stories, where all the mutants achieved some kind of peace living together in an independent state, the island of Krakoa. They have some fragile peace with the human race, providing medicines generated by Krakoa in exchange for their approval as independent country, and have a “mutant factory” where any dead mutant may be regrown and it’s mind rebooted.
As I mentioned, all these things are a bit of a turn down to me, because the stakes are lower and the identification is almost null. But some of the stories that pick up from here are quite good and it deserves a place in this list of the best X-Men comics to read, if you want to understand what comes next and you want to keep reading current issues of the X-Men.
19. X-Men Grand Design, by Ed Piskorne
Ok, I took you almost from the start to the latest issues of the X-Men. Want to fill in the gaps? This is your book. You could say that this is not a comic book. It´s an act of love.
To explain you what this book is about, I must tell you that all X-Men history, from even before issue 1 until X-Tinction Agenda, is stitched together into these 3 miniseries: X-Men: Grand Design, X-Men Grand Design: Second Genesis, and X-Men Grand Design: X-Tinction.
Piskor takes the job to put together all the different storylines, and even in some points clarify them with data that came to the light many years after original publication and in many different books, making the whole story easier to understand.
Does it mean that you shouldn’t then read all the rest of the material? NO!! You should read it, and then come to these beautiful books to understand them even better.
Which book to chose to read this is up to you. If you want a beautiful book for your bookshelf, go for the Omnibus that includes all three miniseries. If you’re on a budget, go for the paperbacks. And if you have a Kindle Unlimited Suscription, you might even read the first and the last miniseries for free in your Kindle or Tablet!
Wow… I’m done. I just finished reviewing 45 years of the X-Men comics history in this article. I might have left some books out, of course. If you believe some of your favorite stories is not included here, please let me know in the comments!
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And as we always say… keep reading good comics!!