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
Mutant Genesis – Starting Point
New X-Men: E Is for Extinction – Starting Point
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted – Starting Point
House of M
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.