How to use this guide:
Xavier Files only exist because the X-Men are complicated. One of the most common questions is “Where do I start?”. Luckily for you, we have plenty of options. This guide will hit the highlights of the X-Men since 1963 in chronological order and specify which of these titles are perfect for beginners. I’ll even provide a link to the story on Amazon so you don’t even have to track the books down.
With that out of the way, welcome to the X-Men dear reader, I hope you survive the experience!
Quick Editors note: We are in the process of revamping this guide but it isn’t quite finished yet. More details to be added soon. If you are desperate to get some more direction check out the other guides at the bottom of the page. Thanks
X-Men: Season One – Starting Point
The X-Men were created in 1963 by comics legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The dirty secret is that Silver Age X-Men is one of the weaker collaborations between the two. It is filled with fantastic ideas that just weren’t well executed. Back in 2012, then fresh face Dennis Hopeless teamed up with all-star Jamie McKelvie to reinvent these original stories in a standalone, original graphic novel. Season One is the promise of the strangest teens on Earth acting like, you know, teens. McKelvie’s art is breathtaking and his sense of style is perfect for the book. If you want to get a taste for what the X-Men were at the very beginning, this is the book.
Giant-Size X-Men #1 – Starting Point
The original run of X-Men was canceled in 1970 due to some low sales but there was a contingent inside Marvel that wanted to reinvent the concept. Enter writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum. They scrapped the original team, save Cyclops and Professor X, and added an international roster. This is where Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, and a little someone known as Wolverine join the book and change comics history forever.
With the original X-Men captured, Professor X enlists this new team to travel to the mysterious island of Krakoa on a daring rescue mission. This is an action-packed story that kicked off one of the most important runs in comic books history. The writing is a little dated, so this may not be the perfect place to start if you have never read a comic before. It is still a great time filled with memorable characters. If you want to know where all your favorite X-Men started, read this and move onto X-Men #94 where a plucky young writer named Chris Claremont was about to lead a revolution. This collection collects Giant-Size X-Men #1 and the first couple of arcs in his run, up to X-Men #100.
The Dark Phoenix Saga
Claremont’s run on the series was well regarded, but The Dark Phoenix Saga elevated it to legend. Claremont took the story he had been building since issue #101 and executed it to a level few comics dare dream of. His collaborator, John Byrne, defined the style of superhero comics with cosmic action and emotive characters. Jean Grey’s struggle with power and Cyclops’ desperate fight to save the woman he loved makes for a gripping tale for the ages.
This is possibly the best X-Men story out there but its emotional resonance only comes from spending time with these characters first. It is a must read for anyone who knows anything about the X-Men, just not the perfect place to start. Go from X-Men #129 through #138 and hold on for the ride of your life.
Days of Future Past – Starting Point
Few writers ever create a genre defining work. Claremont and Byrne did it twice in three stories. Days of Future Past is two issues that sum up the struggle of the X-Men so perfectly that every subsequent writer has tried to match it. In a dark future, mutants are rounded into camps and murdered for being different. In the present, the X-Men battle to stop the assassination of a politician who would rather see them dead. These worlds collide as the newest X-Man, Kitty Pryde, is inhabited by her future self to write the wrongs of the past.
In lesser hands, this would be a forgettable and confusing arc, but Claremont and Byrne make the two worlds believable. The hopeless struggle in the future is gut-wrenching as the reader is forced to watch their beloved X-Men get gunned down. The reader gets to meet the X-Men alongside Kitty, making it a fantastic place to jump onto Claremont’s seventeen-year run. This collection includes a couple of stories that bridge the gap between The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past and is well worth your time.
God Loves, Man Kills – Starting Point
The beauty of God Loves, Man Kills is how it deftly distills everything that works about X-Men into a single story. Claremont andweave a beautiful tale based on the X-Men’s timeless creed. This is a group that is sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them, and no other story has shown that quite as well. In it, you get a conflicted Magneto, a pitch-perfect team of X-Men, and a villain who is only motivated by hate and fear. This is a relatively quick read and it doesn’t require any real build up or context. God Loves, Man Kills is everything you think of when it comes to X-Men.
As Claremont’s run pressed forward the X-Men were faced with foes more dangerous and deadly than they ever believed possible. This kicked off with the first true X-Men crossover, Mutant Massacre. The X-Men, now joined by their sister titles New Mutants and X-Factor, battle in the sewers in a hopeless bid to save hundreds of mutant lives. This was the first story to hint at the massive scope the X-Men books would be known for. More than that, the consequences of this event are long-lasting. Characters are forever changed, lives are lost, and the X-Men are forced to follow the fundamental law of mutation, adapt or die. If you enjoyed this you can keep reading Uncanny X-Men with the next issue. It also gives you the option of checking out any of the other X-Books involved.
Mutant Genesis – Starting Point
After seventeen long years, Chris Claremont’s epic run on the X-Men finally comes to a close. Mutant Genesis passes the torch in a beautiful, and action-packed three-issue arc. Thanks to this story, Jim Lee’s art and designs became the go-to for a generation of X-Fans. If you remember the X-Men from the animated series, this is the book for you. It is a fun jolt of comics determined to please even the most hardened of fan. The trade below contains Mutant Genesis as well as the subsequent Omega Red arc, providing a quintessential 90’s experience.
The dream of the 90’s lives on in X-Cutioner’s Song as everything you love and hate about 90’s comics is delivered to you on a polybagged platter. This crossover is a true team effort with the creative forces behind Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, and X-Men banding together for an epic like none other. This book has Summer’s family drama, gruff guys with big guns, and absolutely jaw-dropping art by some of the biggest names in the business. No one would call it the most coherent story out there, but X-Cutioner’s Song captures an era like few books could ever dream. If you enjoyed it, you can keep going with any of the titles involved as the story has huge ramifications for all of them.
New X-Men: E Is for Extinction – Starting Point
After the surprise success of 2000’s feature film X-Men, Marvel knew the X-Men needed an update. What was once counterculture had become stale. There is a reason this list skips over everything from 1994-2000. They enlisted comics rock star Grant Morrison and the renowned Frank Quitley to give the X-Men the refresher they desperately needed. Like the mutants themselves, New X-Men evolved the franchise. The story took chances and pushed boundaries like the X-Men hadn’t done in decades. It introduced exciting new threats with revitalizing old classics. This is a daring reimagining for the modern era and is the signal bearer for the modern X-Men comic.
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted – Starting Point
If New X-Men was an evolution of the franchise, Astonishing X-Men brought the book back to basics in the best possible way. Nerd icon Joss Whedon combined teamed up with the beautiful art of John Cassaday to create a book that combined a classic X-Men feel with modern sensibilities. This is the X-Men at their most approachable, it is a story that anyone can pick up and read without feeling bogged down in decades of continuity. It has the most balanced approach to writing franchises that are long in the tooth, it takes everything you loved about the X-Men and serves it up in new and surprising ways. Grab this title and prepare to be astonished.
In the massive Marvel crossover House of M all but 198 of Earths mutants lost their gifts. In Messiah CompleX, the first glimmer of hope shines out of that darkness and takes the X-Men through a thrill ride that would carry the franchise for years. Messiah CompleX takes one of the X-Men’s best assets, continuity, and weaponizes it in a way that doesn’t bog down the book. It enhances a readers enjoyment seeing tons of character’s interact in a desperate attempt to stave off extinction. Filled with twists, turns, and killer action, Messiah CompleX gives every X-Fan something that they want to see as it samples many of the titles of the day. If you enjoy the story you can continue in Cable, X-Force, X-Factor, X-Men: Legacy and Uncanny X-Men or go back to check out some of the build-up in Mike Carey’s fabulous X-Men, or the teen-focused New X-Men.
If Messiah CompleX got the ball rolling, Second Coming is where everything comes crashing together. The mutant messiah returns and starts a race for the future. Few crossovers are executed as deftly as Second Coming. While the book may always be juggling plot threads, it always ties together nicely. This is a story with stakes. Lives are lost, happiness is stolen, and the X-Men are faced with challenges they can hardly withstand. This might be the biggest an X-Men book has ever felt and it is well worth reading.
Schism – Starting Point
Avengers Vs X-Men
All-New X-Men: Yesterday’s X-Men – Starting Point
Death of X/Inhumans Vs X-Men
If you want a deeper guide, there are some excellent ones by friends of the site
MistakeTheory’s X-Men Reading Guide – This is a great, detailed, guide that hit every era hard and shows off some of the books that end up on the fringes of the franchise.
Crushing Krisis’ Definitive X-Men Reading Order – Are you already an X-Pert who wants to literally read everything? This is the guide for you. The level of detail in this thing is bonkers and it is well worth reading for someone who wants to know the minutia of X-Men.
Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men is a phenomenal X-Men podcast that is going through the franchise chronologically. If you are more a listener than a reader, this is the place for you.