X-Men: Where Do I Start?

The X-Men … you might have heard of them. Although Superman, Batman and Spider-Man might be the more classically popular heroes, and the Avengers might be more popular currently due to the heavily hyped movie next year, the X-Men have proven themselves as a hit that other comics have been racing to keep up with since the late 70s. They’ve evolved from a tradition team of students-turned-superheroes into a family (and a race) of heroes and villains all their own.

In their 45-plus year history, the X-Men have popularized a host of characters from Wolverine and Cyclops to Magneto, Wolverine, Jean Grey / The Phoenix, Emma Frost and more. It was home to the blossoming of legendary comic creators from Chris Claremont to Grant Morrison, John Byrne to Jim Lee and beyond. But with over 500 issues of the core Uncanny X-Men series and comics’ most expansive series of spin-off titles ever, it can be an daunting task if you don’t know where to begin.

But we do, and soon you will too.

(Note: If you want a list of where to start with books more related to the chaacters in X-Men: First Class, click here.)

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted: Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s epic story centers on the idea of a “mutant cure” and what that revelation would do to mutantkind. Quantifying the idea that there is a “cure” for being a mutant in essence makes being a mutant a disease, an ideal reviled by some like Cyclops and Wolverine and surprisingly embraced by Beast and others. The story arc also reintroduces Kitty Pryde as a door for readers inside the X-Men team, and further serves to cement Cyclops’ role as leader of the X-Men after Xavier’s departure.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past: Although time travel stories and alternate future have been done before, it wasn’t until the seminal “Days Of Future Past” storyarc that it became a staple of the super-hero genre. An aged X-men from an apocalyptic future transports her mind back into the present-day to warn her teammates of the full-scale mutant/human war to come. One part Terminator and one part Mad Max, this storyline posits a dark future with memorable sights from a wizened Kitty Pryde and war-weary Wolverine to tombstones of countless heroes and the iconic cover image depicting a wanted poster with some of X-Men’s finest being listed as ‘slain, ‘apprehended’, or worse.

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga: A founding X-men rotting from within from an evil outside force, and the Earthbound team being pulled into an inter-galactic conflict. After Jean Grey is overpowered and consumed by the deadly Phoenix Force and begins killing planets, the X-Men are pulled into a war with a race of space aliens who want their team-mate dead. Chris Claremont and John Byrne are at the top of their game in this story-arc, setting the blueprint for a space-spanning storyarc with a host of characters that doesn’t lose itself in the process.

New X-Men: E For ExtinctionWithout argue the most forward-thinking of all the stories highlighted here, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely take the core tenants the X-men series had been built upon for years and pushed them past the well-worn grooves and onto a new path. The Scottish duo put humanity at a dead end with mutants place just years down the road, with the idea of beinga mutant turning froma social stigma into a social movement with all that comes with it. Although Emma Frost had madea hero turn years earlier in Generation X, it wasn’t until New X-Men that she took center stage and edged her way into Cyclops’ heart. Even years since its release, Marvel is still trying to make sense of it and incorporating the trend-setting ideas into their world at-large.

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills: Although Chris Claremont had been writing X-Men for some time, it wasn’t until the standalone graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills in 1982 that he began to fully embrace the real-world analogies in the persecution of mutants as a race in the Marvel U. Artist Brent Anderson gives an uncharacteristically realistic depiction for Marvel’s X-Men, giving Cyclops, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and even Reverend William Stryker. Portions of this were lifted and included in the second X-Men film, but the movie is a pale shadow of what Claremont and Anderson did here.

The All-New, All-Different X-Men Masterworks Vol. 1: Although some might cry foul since this list doesn’t include the series’ first issues by creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the strength of the X-Men concept lay less in its inception but rather in its evolution; fitting, if you consider the mutant concept itself. The “Deadly Genesis” arc saw Len Wein and Dave Cockrum resessutate and revitalized a low-selling series bordering on cancellation by putting its original team in deathy peril and an “all-new, all different” team of worldly heroes assembled to save the day and kick off the next generation of the X-team. Much in the same way that Star Trek: The Next Generation broke the formula of that franchise but expanded it dynamically, this new expanded the horizons for every creator and reader to come onto the title since.


  1. Careful recommending Whedon’s Astonishing X-men or Ron Richard will get you!

  2. well you can’t really argue with this list Chris, as an X-Fan I’ll admit you’ve got all the fundatmentals there. Great places to start!

    • So do I just follow that list in that order?im brand new

    • I definitely recommend following the list, as those are all great x-books, but the order is entirely up to you and is probably dependent on how comfortable you are with old style comics (they’re still good, but might feel a little hokey). So I’d say start with Astonishing X-Men (Gifted is the first of four volumes of Joss Whedon’s great run) and go from there. It’s the most recent book on the list, and extremely well done.

      This article predates it, so it’s not on the list, but I think the recent X-Men Season One graphic novel is also a very good entry point. Check out the Book of the Month review from a few months back.

  3. Does Ron have a problem with the Astonishing run? It’s my favorite x-men run!

  4. I really disliked Grant Morrison’s run.  Just saying…

  5. This is a nice taste of the different eras (Lee and Kirby notwithstanding, and the 90s being ignored, maybe for the better?).

    I have all these trades and love them all.  Different takes and all appealing for different reasons.  

  6. I jumped on X-Men with Astonishing and thought it was easy enough to follow.  I really enjoyed the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus, but it’s rather expensive now.

  7. I loved the beginning of Morrison’s run, but not so much with the ending.

    I would add From the Ashes. Classic stuff in there.

  8. THe 90s gave us the fantastic Age of Apocalypse, but the trades for that are… troublesome at best.

  9. Grant Morrisons run on the X-Men was amazing. There were more ideas in his 3 year run than we’ve seen in all the books since.

  10. What’s good now? I used to read Adjectiveless and Uncanny and Astonishing but I fell off all three after losing my job. Now that I’m back to being one of the working stiffs I want to get back on the wagon. What’s going on now and what should I be reading?

  11. I was relatively new to X-Men comics (I read Dark Phoenix about 15 years ago).  Not being a die-hard fan, Grant Morrison’s run was awesome.

    His and Whedon’s run were great for new-comers.

  12. @KreiderDesigns  Read this.

  13. I would also recommend X-Men: Supernovas by Mike Carey & Chris Bachalo (for some of the best seemingly beginner friendly X-Men I’ve read… since Whedon) and Essential X-Men Vol. 4 by Chris Claremont and Paul Smith (The X-Men in Japan, and Storm gets her mohawk).

    I was wracking my brain for other excellent X-Men stories, but they were all in the offshoot books, like early issues of Excalibur (a really fun book by Claremont and Alan Davis) or hefty on continuity like X-Men Legacy: Divided He Stands (Mike Carey delves deep into Xavier’s history and dredges up an ancient connection to Mr. Sinister).

  14. @conor  Thank you kindly, good sir.

  15. While not exactly an X-men story House of M is pretty “mutant” heavy and puts us where we are today with X-men and the mutant race.

  16. this is a pretty great list. Not too much i would add, really. this pretty much is the best of the best when it comes to the X-Men.

  17. I’ve been reading Uncanny X-Force and Angel has really caught my interest. I was wondering what people thought of Mutant Massacre (where he loses his wings and eventually becomes Archangel) or the original X-Factor in general.

  18. I’d give Messiah Complex/Second Coming an honorable mention, they Re pretty much responsible for the current X-men status quo.

  19. As someone who doesn’t buy X-MEN books or trades, I somehow have read all these!

  20. just read Morrison’s New X-Men, then Astonshing X-Men, then Messiah Complex to Uncanny X-Men 500 to now