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X-Men in Animation: From Nostalgia to Cringe, Which is the Best?

5 Minute Read
May 11 2024

Fans have been watching X-Men animated shows for decades, and everyone has a favorite. But which is the best? The competition is tough.

Everyone is holding their breath for the X-Men ’97 finale (breathe, y’all, don’t forget.) But the week-to-week air schedule and the reappearance of some of our favorite Marvel characters means that we’re also bingeing anything animated that involves Mutantkind. Yes, even Spider-Man cartoons.

The X-Men have such incredible staying power for a variety of reasons. Scene-stealing superpowers, soap opera quality drama, and an ensemble cast of some of the most memorable personalities in fiction—it’s a recipe for entertainment gold. And that’s before you crack open the inherent social commentary on how society treats people they see as “other”.

Each of these series spins all of these plates to spectacular effect. But pitted against one another in a Mojoworld scenario, which series could you call “the best”?

4. X-Men: Evolution

Gather your pitchforks, Millennials, and come for me, your elder (Millennial)—I have no fear.

Sorry, but of the four X-Men animated shows, this year-2000 reimagining of the X-Men as high school students had some growing pains. I’m willing to look past the overall cringe factor of Kitty’s dialogue and the lingo of the time. After all, I was 12 years old, and I have love for our poor fashion choices (except hiphuggers—never again.)

Condensing the setting would have been great for a one-shot episode. But the first arcs struggled with shoving the bigness of the mutant race into a small-town high school. Many of the characters felt limited by the plot changes. “Principal Kelly” is way less frightening than “Senator Kelly”. The choice felt strange and forced.

The show does find a footing in the third and fourth seasons. The dialogue stops feeling contrived. The high school shenanigans take a backseat as we see how the mutants handle being outed to their peers.

This series does get credit for bringing us our first Wolverine who doesn’t pine for Jean Grey. Thankfully, because her character is literally a child. And the good news is that he’s really not even the slightest bit creepy. He’s able to focus on what we love him for – teaching teenagers how to superpower-fight giant robots.

But what if—and hear me out—we could have imagined a Logan who, after more than 200 years of living, learned how to take a “no” from a grown woman? Wow, the early 2000s really were awful.


Now, please don’t sic the Sentinels on me. Know that I consider the worst X-Men animated show to be like Bob Ross’ ugliest painting. It’s still a pleasure to watch and comes with many heartwarming moments.

3. Wolverine and the X-Men

If this list were ranking Wolverines, you’d find this one in first place. Wolverine and the X-Men put our Adamantium-filled grumpy dad at the lead of an X-Men team. For those who read the comics, leading the X-Men is where Logan does some of his best work. We love a reluctant dad figure—just look at The Mandalorian!

Compared to its predecessors, this romp is lighter on the in-world politics, zooming out for a much starker peek at the future. The series benefits from this larger worldview and covers a lot of ground in its limited run. The action scenes are incredibly crisp and well-coordinated, and the cameos are bigger (literally, The Hulk shows up.)

The character work in this show deserves a chef’s kiss. With a cast so large, the story manages to weave several one-off stories into a plot that comes together in the end. It would have led to a second season had the show not been canceled almost out of the gate.

The show’s biggest flaw is that it didn’t run long enough. Some feel that it made Cyclops insufferable… but isn’t he usually?


2. X-Men (1992)

It’s the classic—the X-Men animated series that made the rest possible. It’s got the raddest theme song, tied only with Danny Elfman’s theme for Batman: The Animated Series. If you remember watching this on cable television, don’t forget to take your joint supplements today.

Legacy aside, the first animated X-Men series has incredible storytelling power. The show did its absolute best to bring the comic book panels right to the small screen— under the watchful eye of censors. In its five-season runtime, the show, which was heavily inspired by the comics, started to inspire the source material.

It’s virtually impossible to separate X-Men ’92 from the undeniable nostalgia it holds for fans. But if you set that aside, the show is host to a variety of ideological stances—which makes sense. This show, along with its sequel series, manages to establish a variety of outlooks on the complicated state of mutant equality.

But on rewatch, the series’ view of oppression and activism are heavily colored by censorship and the perspectives of the time. Professor X’s tactics for proving to humans that mutants should be accepted have aged like The Giving Tree. It makes the original animated series worth dissecting again and again and again and—

1. X-Men ’97

Mighty bold of me, to put a show whose first season finale hasn’t even aired yet, isn’t it? Do I know how it ends? No. But X-Men ’97 did many things its predecessor wasn’t allowed to do—including kill characters.

Some fans have taken issue with the choice to kill characters. I’ll bet part 2 of the finale had them in fits! But without censorship, X-Men ’97 can stretch its narrative wings and acknowledge the reality that lives are on the line.

Both Magneto and Professor X’s opposing ideas about mutant liberation are allowed to progress to their conclusions. And it illuminates just how wrong they both are. The first series was allowed to toy with the idea that Professor X’s methods were flawed. But after almost 30 years, we finally get to hear him say it. That alone is worth all the jellybeans in the bag.


And if you still don’t agree with my ranking, I have two words for you: Mohawk Storm.

Which X-Men animated series is your favorite? Would you include the anime in this list, and if so, where would you put it? Let us know in the comments, and stay strong for the X-Men ’97 finale. Until then, Kitty Pryde was right.

Professor Xavier really is a jerk.

Author: Danni Danger
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