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Best X-men Graphic Novels Of All Time

author
David Lawrence
• Wednesday, 20 January, 2021
• 14 min read

When they first started out in 1963, most of their stories wouldn't last more than a few issues at a time, as Stan and Jack looked to keep readers interested in introducing new villains and arcs every few months or so. With all that past and all that history to look back on, it's time to take a closer peek at what comics made Marvel's most Uncanny team so special, and the ones every fan should read, given the opportunity.

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Contents

The X-Men have long been a central focus of Marvel's publishing line, with countless ongoing series, crossovers and graphic novels to their name. This list is a mixture of full creative runs, specific story arcs, and isolated graphic novels.

In general, we ignored solo and character-specific books, as well as spinoff franchises like Alpha Flight, in favor of projects that showcase the X-Men as a whole. Chris Claremont's New Mutants run received an unexpected shakeup when Bill Sienkiewicz became the regular artist on the series.

The series grew darker with Sienkiewicz on board as Chris Claremont introduced new characters like Charles Xavier's crazed son, Legion. At times the two creators seemed to struggle to find a unified voice, with Claremont's verbose writing style clashing against Sienkiewicz's evocative imagery.

But if never perfectly united, the duo delivered some memorable adventures starring a younger generation of mutant heroes. Anyone complaining that the X-Men never interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe got their wish with House of M. One of the first major event books of the modern era, this crossover teamed the X-Men and the Avengers as they struggled to deal with an out-of-control Scarlet Witch and her less than helpful family members.

Their efforts led to an alternate reality where mutants were the dominant race and Magneto's family reigned supreme. But just as quickly as it began, this world started to crumble, and the end result was one of the most devastating days in the history of the mutant race.

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House of M also deserves credit for elevating Olivier Compel's name and paving the way for his work on Thor and Siege. Scott Lob dell was one of the writers tasked with the thankless role of steering the X-Men franchise after the departure of Chris Claremont.

Shortly after their marriage in X-Men #30, Cyclops and Jean Grey were whisked away to the future by Mother Assani in order to raise baby Nathan Day spring (better known to most X-fans as Cable). This mini-series also features some all too rare superhero art by Gene Ha, which alone makes it worth the price of admission.

Mutant Massacre is one of the more violent X-Men tales, with plenty of innocents falling victim to Sinister's Warlocks and even an X-Men being maimed in battle. Mike Carey placed Xavier at the forefront of the book as the former head of the X-Men sought to rebuild his shattered memories and atone for the many questionable deeds he committed.

The series also made excellent use of X-Men history, providing numerous flashbacks rendered by a variety of top artists. The Internet has brought with it the possibility of previously near-impossible completion, and with it, the overwhelming implicit weight of years of continuity and the necessity of “catching up” before you dive in.

If you like long, intricate stories, try In the fast-moving world of shared-universe superhero comics, Chris Claremont has spent a staggering 17 years shaping the X-Men. While his run technically starts a few issues after this, Giant-Size X-Men #1 lays the foundation for a decade and a half of intricate long-form storytelling, interwoven plot lines, and the kind of slow-burn soap opera for which the X-Men are famous.

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Excalibur has plenty of X-Men -style soap opera, but the long-game storytelling here veers further into the realm of the weird; and Davis’s run deftly weaves Claremont’s spiraling plot threads into surprisingly poignant tapestry. Ask any fan to pinpoint the classic, iconic X-Men story, and most will send you straight to Uncanny X-Men #129-138: the issues that chronicle the corruption and fall of the cosmically empowered Jean Grey.

All of that is because The Dark Phoenix Saga is the X-Men at their best : fighting as and for their found family and the fate of the world, backs to the wall, in the face of impossible odds. If you’ve watched the eponymous 2014 feature film or the 1993 arc from the animated series, you’ll recognize a lot of the motifs in X-Men #141-142, which have been adapted almost as often as The Dark Phoenix Saga.

Next, try The dystopian timeline of Earth-811 plays a cameo role in Days of Future Past, but one of its residents would go on to become a refugee in the main Marvel Universe. Rachel Summers, the daughter of Earth-811’s Cyclops and Jean Grey, served first on the X-Men, and then on the British superhero team Excalibur.

If you want to read a book that examines just about all the main themes of X-Men, you’re not going to find a more on-brand option than God Loves, Man Kills. Published in 1982 as the fifth installment of Marvel’s fledgling graphic novel line, God Loves, Man Kills takes on anti-mutant sentiment through the lens of bigotry in an evangelical megachurch, juxtaposing the “monstrous” mutant X-Men with the inhumane doctrine of a man perceived as a moral force.

Over the more than half a century he’s been appearing in comics, Magneto has gone from a one-dimensional super villain to a strikingly nuanced and sympathetic figure who more than once has put aside ideological differences to aid X-Men in need. Cullen Burn, Gabriel Hernandez Malta, and Jodie Bella ire’s 2014 serial adds even more depth to Magneto’s complex legacy as a Holocaust survivor, mutant activist, and first and closest friend of X-Men founder Charles Xavier.

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There have been a lot of reality-hopping X-books over the years, but few so substantial and deft as this series, which spun off from writer Greg PAK’s single arc on Astonishing X-Men. Instead of shifting the main status quo, PAK and a series of spectacular artists reimagine the X-Men’s corner of the Marvel universe over and over, building a fascinating and unlikely cast of heroes in the process.

Husband-and-wife writer team Walter and Louise Simon son’s surreal, noir-tinged story of Cold War paranoia, and artists Jon J. Much and Kent Williams’s lush painted art, combine into a strange, elegant, and intricately built series that spotlights both one of the more rarely explored dynamics between X-Men team members and the breathtaking potential of comics as a narrative medium. Kent Williams returned to the X-line with Wolverine: Killing, a one-shot comic that’s even harder to track down than Meltdown : it’s never been collected, and it’s not available digitally.

Williams and writer John Na Racer craft a work that falls somewhere between traditional comic and visual tone poem, and a lyrical exploration of some quieter parts of Wolverine’s story. With appealing art by Gurihiru, the Power Pack crossover series are generally great kid-friendly introductions to Marvel’s adult superheroes.

It’s silly and fun enough to hold the attention of even fairly young kids; and seeded with enough layered humor and continuity gags to keep adults engaged at the same time. Dark Phoenix may signal the end of a cinematic era for the X-Men, but fans probably won't have to wait too long until the fan-favorite team is back on the big screen.

Disney's ownership of the X-Men and Fantastic Four film rights guarantee a reboot for the X-franchise, which means another chance at seeing a few fan-favorite storylines adapted, this time with Marvel Studios in creative control. Thankfully there have been a few modern retelling of the early years of the X-Men, which focus on the original five mutants assembled by Professor Xavier; Scott Summers, Jean Grey, Bobby Drake, Hank McCoy, and Warren Worthington the III.

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Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKenzie's X-Men : Season One retold the first year of the young X-Men's lives, while Jeff Parker and Roger Cruz's X-Men : First Class provides an alternate retelling of the team's origins and carries on until their fateful mission to Krakow. The new team, which featured iconic members like Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine, would then head off on their own adventures in the relaunched X-Men title from legendary X-scribe Chris Claremont.

Giant-Size X-Men #1 kicked off the increasing popularity of Marvel's mutants for years and remains a great introduction to the fan-favorite characters, but Ed Breaker and Trevor Hairline's X-Men : Deadly Genesis offers a bit more depth to the team's origins and the Krakow mission. Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson released God Loves, Man Kills in 1982 as a part of Marvel's newest foray into publishing, graphic novels.

The story featured the X-Men as they were attacked publicly by religious fanatic Reverend William Stryker, whose own son was born with an abnormal mutation that he considered an abomination against God. While God Loves, Man Kills was originally considered non-canon, Claremont officially brought in to continuity with a sequel storyline that took place during his Extreme X-Men run and further launched the ongoing threat of Reverend Stryker.

We can't talk about important issues of the X-Men without discussing Chris Claremont and Jim Lee's X-Men #1, which became the best -selling comic of the modern era after its launch in 1991. The issue debuted an updated team with new costumes and characters that kicked off the series' highest levels of popularity and launched the X-Men into the mainstream.

The characters and designs from X-Men #1 inspired the hit X-Men : The Animated Series and launched a number of spin-off titles that further expanded the huge line of X-Men -related comics during the industry's boom in the 90s. However, during one of the first big X-Men crossover events, Claremont and John Romina, Jr. would unite for the “Mutant Massacre,” which saw the Marauders set out to exterminate the Warlocks living beneath the streets of Manhattan.

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Many lives were lost, and the X-Men suffered a number of injuries and personal losses that would shatter the team and set them on a dark path for many years. The Mutant Massacre crossover also included other titles like Daredevil, Thor, and Power Pack and would continue to inspire new storylines for years to come.

The new series kicked off a new super heroic era that saw the main Astonishing team lead the rest of the X-Men through other big events like Messiah Complex, Second Coming, and Avengers Vs. X-Men. The classic storyline from Chris Claremont and John Byrne lasted for a few years and featured some of the best and saddest moments the X-Men have ever dealt with over their storied past.

While the popularity of Batman, X-Men and the heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have all helped lift comics into the mainstream, publishers haven’t really done enough to make the medium more accessible to newcomers. We’ve compiled a comprehensive list featuring some of the best comics published between the early 1980s and today, all tonally directed to a more mature audience.

Story and art: Mike Magnolia, John Arcade, Mark Cheaply, various Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Genre: Adventure, horror The pop-culture juggernaut that LED TV ratings for years began life as one of the best comics for adults, kicking off in 2003 and only concluding its epic run mid-2019.

Story and Art: Christopher Rebel, Ibrahim Moustafa Publishers: Monkey brain, Image Comics Genre: Crime, thriller A new, vicious breed of vampire that can survive the sunlight and this series traces their bloodline across decades of American history from the wild west and World War II to the space race and beyond.

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Horror fans will appreciate that Stephen King co-wrote the first five issues of this detailed adult comic series, and American Vampire looks set to receive its final story arc in the near future. Watchmen creator Alan Moore tells a disturbing tale focusing on the relationship between The Dark Knight and his greatest foe, the Joker.

Looking to prove that any man can be pushed past his breaking point, the Joker attempts to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. This story goes to some dark places, gave the Joker a backstory long before the hit Joaquin Phoenix film and defined the tone of the DC universe for years to come.

Between 2015 and 2018, Dynamite Entertainment published a series of six original stories starring 007 each inspired by the novels of Bond creator Ian Fleming. Each standalone story makes a great entry point into the adult comic series and should tie you over until the eventual release of No Time to Die.

Yet living in the shadow of these extraordinary icons are ordinary men and women who view them with a mixture of fear, disbelief, envy and admiration. Spanning from the 1939 debut of the Human Torch to the fearsome coming of Galactic and the shocking death of Gwen Stacy, this mini-series is a must-read for anyone who loves the Marvel universe and its characters.

It also means he’s a hell of a detective, as long as he doesn’t mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit, and why. The concept of the superhero is dissected through an alternate history lens as an unknown assassin sets into motion events that bring the world ever closer to doomsday.

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In this award-winning tale of Cold War paranoia, Led Author is a presidential candidate, Batman wears a Russian hat with ear flaps, and the fate of American capitalism hangs in the balance. While the Soviet Union makes for an exciting setting, Red Son is a character study more than anything else, exploring what these timeless heroes mean to us and as symbols.

When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. Fantasy, sci-fi and comedy have meshed in a sexy, subversive adults-only comic that is already over fifty issues long and is expected to reach 100 before it concludes, so stick to the graphic novels or compendiums when sourcing this one.

Ten years after hanging up the cowl, Bruce Wayne is forced out of retirement to take on a new generation of criminals, unlike anything Gotham has ever seen. With a new female robin and an increasing thirst for violence, Batman incidentally spurs several of his deadliest enemies into action, and the government recruits Superman to put an end to the caped crusader once and for all.

With the big bad wolf as sheriff and Snow White as mayor, these creatures clash with real-world problems as a result of their new fish-out-of-water situation. At its core, Fables is a complex story of relationships and opportunity surrounding an intriguing mystery about who conquered the lands of fairy tales and why.

What makes Head Copper a great series is its expressive art which conveys most of the story and emotion aided by very little in the way of dialogue. Unlike traditional monthly comics, Head Copper releases quarterly in larger issues, enabling space for its creator Andrew Maclean to pen longer fights, dark jokes and more comfortable conclusions to his stories.

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Shortly after Buffy, Angel and Firefly concluded, and before directing two Avengers films, Joss When lead 25 critically acclaimed issues of Astonishing X-Men. The Astonishing X-Men series continued for years after When left with some great talent behind it, but it’s his 25-issue run that’s fondly remembered as a mutant must-read.

Welcome to Craw County, Alabama, home of the state champion Running’ Ribs football team and the backdrop for this southern-fried crime series. Southern Bastards follows the rivalry between high school football coach turned criminal Euless Boss and angry old man Earl Tube.

Returning to his childhood hometown, Earl soon discovers that the only way to survive in a place like this is by carrying a huge stick and that seeking justice isn’t easy when everyone’s a bastard. In this alt-history United States, the Civil War never ended; instead, it divided the country into seven distinct nations all spiraling towards a dystopian future on the brink of the apocalypse.

Before Saga, Brian K. Vaughan told the tale of Yo rick Brown–the only human survivor of a planet-wide plague that instantly kills every mammal with a Y chromosome. In a hostile and destructive world filled with confused and angry women, Yo rick, accompanied by his pet monkey Ampersand, searches for his lost love and some form of hope, as things have seriously gone to shit.

Watchman creator Alan Moore and Aussie artist Eddie Campbell explore London on the brink of the 20th century as one bloody-minded killer known as Jack the Ripper ushers in the modern age of terror. Often ranked among the greatest graphic novels of all time, this sprawling work based on both fact and fiction tells of a real conspiracy theory surrounding the misdeeds of the royal family and how the doctor hired to conceal the truth saw greater, more violent things in his future.

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Garth Tennis, the creator of Preacher and The Boys, helmed this series and appreciated the newfound ability to craft more graphic and hard-edged stories. Before Watchmen, Alan Moore made his mark on American comics by revitalizing the horror series Swamp Thing.

He deconstructed the classic comic monster and used his platform to explore environmental, political and social issues while retaining some original horror tones. Set in the mid-1970s, Black Hole follows a group of teenagers who contract a mysterious sexually transmitted disease referred to as “the Bug,” which causes them to develop bizarre mutations.

Series writer Charles Burns says that the mutations can be read as a metaphor for adolescence, sexual awakening and the transition into adulthood. We follow Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams from his 70-year imprisonment as he attempts the undoing of past sins and struggles within inevitable change.

Arkham Asylum was first published back in 1989, so there’s a good chance that everything you’ve seen, read or played since then was inspired by this story in some shape or form. With a pregnant wife at home and the rising pressures of impending fatherhood, Jack encounters a supernatural presence at the bottom of the sea that forces him to question his values.

Exploring themes of parental relationships, memory and reality, this graphic novel was an early showcase of Jeff Bemire’s immense talents and is often hailed as one of the best releases of the decade. When Sabrina disappears, an airman in the U.S. Air Force is drawn into a web of suppositions, wild theories, and outright lies.

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After videotape surfaces, we see devastation through a cinematic lens, as true tragedy is distorted when fringe thinkers and conspiracy theorists begin to interpret events to fit their own narratives. When twelve ordinary people discover they are reincarnated deities, fame, supernatural powers and a career as pop stars ensue.

Exploring themes of life, death, love and music, The Wicked + The Divine is recognized for more than being an engaging read; it’s one of the leading popular comics in portraying ethnicity, sexuality and modern gender roles. When Marine Biologist Lee Archer is approached by the Department of Homeland Security, she plunges to the depths of the Arctic Circle to a secret, underwater oil rig where scientists are on the brink of an incredible discovery.

Before the film introduced the world to the talents of Gerard Butler, 300 was a limited run comic series offering a fictional retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae from the perspective of Leonidas of Sparta. The physical version of 300 is the recommended read here, as it’s presented in an oversized format akin to that of a children’s picture book, but obviously not suitable for younger audiences.

Story and art: Frank Miller, Lynn Valley Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Genre: Adventure, historical Accident banished from existence, the old champions of Spiral City now lead simple lives in an idyllic, timeless farming village from which there is no escape.

But as the once heroes attempt to free themselves from this strange purgatory, a mysterious stranger works to bring them back into action for one last adventure. Black Hammer is an award-winning ongoing series featuring a compelling mystery surrounded by countless spin-offs covering a wide range of styles and genres.

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These notebook-like pages tell a series of interconnected stories, and Karen’s investigation takes us back to Anna’s life in Nazi Germany told with B-movie horror and pulp monster iconography.

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