Julien Neaves, Editor
Last month during the Disney+ Day celebration a sequel series to the beloved 90s superhero show X-Men: The Animated Series was announced called X-Men ‘97. The news was a major surprise and a welcome one for the show’s legion of fans.
While we don’t have a release date yet it is a perfect opportunity to revisit the original series (1992-1997), which is a personal favourite and easily one of the best comic book adaptations ever. With 76 episodes over five seasons there was so much great content (the middling final season notwithstanding) but some stories soared higher than the rest. So with a Blob-sized SPOILER ALERT let’s rank the Top 12 Episodes/Arcs of X-Men: The Animated Series!
#12 The Phalanx Covenant Parts 1&2, Season 5
When the titular race of techno-organic aliens start assimilating humans the series takes a dip into Body Snatchers-esque Sci Fi horror. I would be surprised if the creepy imagery didn’t give a few kids nightmares. Throw in super-cool shapeshifting alien Warlock (sadly no Cypher) and an unlikely alliance with recurring villain Mr Sinister, and you have one stand-out two parter. And it is definitely one of the highlights of the less-than-stellar fifth and final season.
#11 Old Soldiers, Season 5
And speaking of the fifth season, the other highlight is this episode which sees Logan reminiscing about his time as a World War II agent, and teaming up with Mr Stars and Stripes himself Captain America. Previous episodes had glimpses of non-X-Men-related heroes like Spider-Man, War Machine, Ghost Rider, The Punisher and Dr Strange, but this was the only story to have one front and centre (except for our next entry, but we’ll get to that).
And it is a pretty great story, with Logan and Cap making a cool odd couple, Wolverine getting some pre-Adamantium claws, and the heroes battling Nazis, a giant robot and Red Skull himself. It is so very old school comic book, and a truly fun ride. It also makes me wish we had more Marvel crossover episodes. Maybe in the revival series.
#10 A Rogue’s Tale, Season 2
Of the eight featured X-Men one of my favourites was sassy, sexy, super powered southern belle Rogue. Why they didn’t have this comic-accurate version in the Fox X-Men films is beyond me because she is awesome. And in this episode we get her origin story and learn that she is haunted by Marvel superheroine Ms Marvel whose powers she absorbed, whose alter ego Carol Danvers she condemned to a coma, and whose psyche is rolling around in her brain. The scene pictured above is one of the most memorable in the entire series and the Carol Danvers storyline one of the most tragic.
The episode does create a plot hole by having Mystique be Rogue’s mother and showing scenes of the pre-X-Man training with Avalanche and Pyro when none of them seemed to recognise each other in the previous episodes The Cure/Come the Apocalypse. But other than that a very good and resonant episode.
#9 Nightcrawler, Season 4
I seriously doubt this episode would be made today and I am kinda surprised it even got made back then. The issue of prejudice is a thread throughout the series (and it is a main plot point here) but what makes Nightcrawler (the episode here) standout is its exploration of faith. Nightcrawler (the character) is Catholic in the comics but having his religion on display and helping Logan with a crisis of faith is pretty heavy for a kids’ show. But it is very well done, and it was just cool having one of the most interesting X-Men guest star. Nightcrawler would return later in Season 4 with the episode Bloodlines, but his first appearance is the stronger one.
#8 One Man’s Worth Part 1&2, Season 4
Giving It’s a Wonderful Life an X-Men spin, One Man’s Worth is a great alternate reality two-parter. There are some shades of Days of Future Past but seeing badass old Magneto aka “The Leader”, alternate versions of Wolverine and Storm who are an ill-fated couple, and Terminator-esque Nimrod makes the story standout. Add in some “quaint” racism, awesome action and the quirky duo of Trevor Fitzroy and Bantam and you’ve got a story that’s worth your time. You see what I did there, and you liked it!
#7 Sanctuary Part 1&2, Season 4
Poor Magneto. All he wanted was to create a mutant sanctuary on Asteroid M. But with troubled world leaders and the treacherous Fabian Cortez things do not go as planned. But even death can’t hold old Magnus down, and he resurrects to save the day.
We also have some great mutant on mutant action and super cool space suits (the black Wolverine suit and Professor Xavier battle suit are highlights). Good stuff.
#6 Repo Man, Season 2
This episode sees Wolverine getting kidnapped by his old team, the Canadian superheroes Alpha Flight. What more is there to say? It’s freakin’ Alpha Flight, one of the most diverse but sadly underrated Marvel teams. Seeing characters like Puck, Snowbird, Sasquatch and Vindicator in action is just 12 flavours of awesome sauce. Hey MCU, I have your next Marvel property to adapt.
#5 Till Death Do Us Part 1&2, Season 2
Scott and Jean just can’t catch a break. They decide to get married only to find out a mentally scarred, split personality Morph pretended to be the minister as part of Mr Sinister’s, well, sinister plan to experiment on them. Morph’s troubled psyche and the X-Men’s superb clashes with the Nasty Boys and Sinister himself are definitely the draws here.
#4 Days of Future Past Part 1&2, Season 1
Who adapts one of the most iconic X-Men stories in their first season? If you said X-Men: The Animated Series then DING DING DING you are correct sir. With lots of awesome Sentinel-fighting action in a grim future and time traveller Bishop trying to stop an assassin in the present you get a one-two punch of a story here.
And the image of the tombstones with the X-Men’s names on them was quite the shocking image for me as a child and remains a potent one to this day. Man the censors must have loved this show.
#3 The Phoenix Saga Part I-V, Season 3
This incredible adaptation of the even more iconic comic book storyline makes the crappy The Last Stand and Dark Phoenix live action films look even more craptastic. Everything here feels epic, from Jean in Phoenix mode to the introduction of the Shi’ar and the Starjammers to all the cosmic action. It is one wild ride filled with twists and major moments.
And who could forget “The Unstoppable” Juggernaut getting punched into next year by Shi’ar Imperial Guard Gladiator? I was like…
#2 The Dark Phoenix Part I-IV, Season 3
What’s better than the Phoenix? The Dark Phoenix! When power-hungry mutant elites the Inner Circle (no mention of Hellfire Club because kids), including Jason Wyngarde and Emma Frost, mentally manipulate Jean they unleash the Dark Phoenix.
Man this was soooooo good. We have the X-Men taking on the Inner Circle (did you see Wolverine get power slammed down multiple floors?), the all-powerful Dark Phoenix herself and the colourful Shi’ar Imperial Guard in an epic showdown. Just check it out and let the awesomeness wash over you.
#1 Beyond Good and Evil Part 1-4, Season 4
As brilliant as both Phoenix arcs were I have got to give the top spot to this Season 4 four-part finale (and yeah, I have a lot of Season 4 on this list, but that was definitely not planned). It felt like everything before was leading to this. Not only do we have all three big bads in Apocalypse, Mr Sinister and Magneto, guest mutants Cable, Bishop, Shard, Archangel (yes) and Psylocke (YES), and lots and lots great action, but it is in service of an intriguing story involving time travel and the kidnapping of mutant telepaths (including Jean at her second wedding. Seriously. Can’t catch a break).
There are multiple plot threads and multiple times (and outside of time) but everything works together perfectly to deliver a thoroughly compelling and mind-blowing arc. And it is also the best story of one of the best animated series ever.
So that’s my list. With more than 60 episodes not making the cut surely some of your favourites didn’t make the cut. Correct my oversight by dropping them in the comments. And you can check out more animated X-Men content below:
Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.