Ten best X-Men comics to read before their MCU debut

Christopher Baggett
Proteus, Dark Phoenix Saga, and God Loves, Man Kills key art

The X-Men are on their way to take over the MCU, and these stories are the quintessential tales before their next big-screen debut.

The X-Men are back and in a big way. In the comics, the end of the Krakoan Age is making way for a massive soft-relaunch, From The Ashes, which sees the X-Men return to their roots around the world.

On TV, we’re seeing a resurgence nobody saw coming in X-Men ’97 (which finally made people realize how cool Cyclops is!). And as all this goes down, movies are getting ready for a mutant takeover yet again, as Deadpool & Wolverine opens the floodgates for the X-Men to join the MCU.

It’s a great time to be a fan, and no better time than now to get started if you’re not. If you aren’t familiar, here are ten X-Men books you should read before their MCU debut.

Best X-Men books to read before the new MCU X-Men Movie

If you want to dive into the source material before the first MCU outing, these X-Men stories are the perfect primer for new fans just getting started or old fans looking to revisit a favorite

Uncanny Avengers

Uncanny Avengers cover art
A dream team of Avengers and X-Men work to repair human/mutant relations in Uncanny Avengers.

In the wake of Avengers vs. X-Men, tensions between humans and mutants have never been higher. To that end, Captain America seeks to form a new team of heroes to help bridge the gap. 

Dubbed the Unity Team, the Uncanny Avengers are the Avengers’ strongest members alongside the X-Men’s most notable mutants. Taking the lead is Cyclops’ brother, Havok, seeking to fix the perception of mutants after his brother’s actions alongside the Phoenix Five. 

Uncanny Avengers gets real weird, real fast, as time travel, alternate dimensions, and the concept of fate rear their heads. If you can stick with it, though, you’ll be treated to one of the more notable X-Men-adjacent stories in recent history.

Giant-Size X-Men #1

Giant-Size X-Men #1
An all-new X-Men is formed to save the original team in the landmark Giant-Size X-Men #1.

If you’re looking for the beginning of the X-Men, look no further than the original soft reboot. Marvel’s Merry Mutants spent much of the ‘70s in publishing limbo, with the Uncanny X-Men title reverting to reprints as they debated what to do with the property. 

Giant-Size X-Men #1 picks up some time after the last new X-Men stories, as Cyclops and Professor X assemble a new team. Their mission is to rescue the remaining original team, who have been kidnapped by the sentient island, Krakoa. 

The elements that debut here, including a more internationally-flavored team that includes Wolverine, Storm and Nightcrawler, would go on to become X-Men mainstays, making this almost required reading for modern fans. 

Wolverine Vol. 1

Wolverine Vol 1 cover art
Wolverine’s first solo series pits him against a criminal underworld in Japan in the name of love.

Wolverine became almost immediately popular when he was introduced, thanks in part to his mysterious origins. Slowly, details about his past and personality are drip-fed to readers, and it only seems to make him more popular.

It culminates in 1982’s first Wolverine solo series, a four-part mini-series by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. By this point, Claremont has already begun to establish the samurai mentality that would define Wolverine for the character’s life, and this solo fleshed it out even more.

Here, Wolverine prowls Japan to save his then-lover, Mariko. The relationship between Wolverine and Mariko is an iconic one with an unforgettable, tragic end, but some of its most important moments start here.

Astonishing X-Men

Astonishing X-Men team
Astonishing X-Men distanced the team from their black leather era and put them back into superheroics.

Joss Whedon may be a controversial figure these days, but once upon a time, his name was a sign of something big. His run on X-Men isn’t just an all-time classic, but it’s still, to this date, the best jumping-on-point for new readers. 

While it isn’t quite the soft reboot that Giant-Size was, Astonishing X-Men #1 does a lot to re-establish just who the X-Men are. It’s both a throwback to the classics while addressing the previous few years of X-Men stories. Those stories were incredible, but their darker tone and black leather costumes absolutely date them. 

Astonishing quickly established the tensions among the team, setting up the drama of the new Xavier Institute. What starts with the X-Men returning to heroics and a grand lingering threat – a proposed “cure” for the mutant gene – quickly becomes an all-out war and one of the better space epics for the team. Astonishing X-Men is a rollercoaster ride for fans, new and old alike. 


X-Men: Proteus cover art
The X-Men must stop the limitless power of a mutant serial killer in Proteus.

Proteus isn’t talked about as much today as the stories that surround it, but who can blame fans? It’s flanked by genuinely some of the best comic stories ever written, let alone X-Men tales. 

The story contends with the revelation that Moira McTaggart’s son has escaped his prison on Muir Island. Dubbing himself Proteus, this deranged energy being jumps from host to host, seeking to kill his father. 

It’s not just the stakes of all the people Proteus kills but his absolute mastery over reality and how he shatters it. The X-Men very nearly lose this one. Even in winning, though, one X-Man pays an incredible price, changing the trajectory of their character arc forever.

House of M

X-Men and Avengers from House of M
The X-Men and Avengers found their pasts radically altered by a desperate Scarlet Witch in House of M.

When the Scarlet Witch suffers a mental breakdown, she unravels reality, leading to the disbanding of The Avengers. Their quest to find Wanda puts them at odds with the X-Men. The two teams’ attempts to capture Wanda ends in a shock of white light, and everyone awakens to a new reality.

House of M presented a Marvel Universe where mutants were not feared; rather, they flourished and dominated under the leadership of Magneto. The degree to which this story shaped the next decade of Marvel stories cannot be understated, as it led not only to the personal growth of multiple Marvel heroes but to a radical new status quo for the X-Men. 

With their numbers reduced to just under 200 and many important mutants losing their powers, House of M puts the X-Men on the verge of extinction, a status quo they’ve only just come back from. The MCU has already adapted elements of this for Wandavision, but a proper House of M project is still something fans clamor for. 

E is for Extinction

New X-Men: E is for Extinction cover art
The X-Men face the fearsome Cassandra Nova in E is for Extinction.

The X-Men had a rough going into the new millennium. After the roaring success of the ‘90s, there was a brief period where the main titles struggled to find their footing, torn between sticking to what had worked and trying to capitalize on the success of the first film. 

Writer Grant Morrison fixed that, though. Alongside artist Frank Quitely, the X-Men were reimagined somewhere in between. Bright spandex was traded for more atypical tactical wear, while the X-Men returned to more grounded stories about the struggles of mutants over world-ending wars. 

E is for Extinction kicks off the era with a bang, introducing the terrifying Cassandra Nova. Even more so, the story is notable today for finally outing Professor Xavier as a mutant and his school as an institute for educating mutants, breaking a status quo that had been around since the earliest X-Men stories.

The Dark Phoenix Saga

Cyclops and Jean Grey from Dark Phoenix Saga
Dark Phoenix Saga pit the X-Men against the universe in a fight that everyone lost.

If you’re looking for the quintessential classic X-Men story, The Dark Phoenix Saga is the one. This haunting classic is the first one many fans think of when lamenting their idea of a perfect old-school X-Men story. 

So many of the elements of the modern X-Men are introduced here. The story sees the debut of Kitty Pryde and Dazzler, introduces Kitty and Colossus’ flirtation, and cements Cyclops as a leader of the X-Men. But it also establishes the fraught dangers of Jean Grey’s association with the Phoenix and the fallout of that bond. 

Dark Phoenix Saga is a dark, winding epic that sets the bar for other stories to follow. The repercussions of this tale are still being felt more than 40 years later, and its narrative remains as timeless as ever. 

Days of Future Past

Wolverine and Kitty Pryde from Days of Future Past
Days of Future Past introduced the dark future of the mutant race – and the uncertain prospect of changing it.

Days of Future Past presents a dark future for mutants. Sentinels patrol the streets, with locked away in internment camps. Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and the few remaining X-Men attempt to save the world from a nuclear holocaust, all in the far-flung future of…2013. 

OK, sure, it’s dated now, but make no mistake about it. Days of Future Past tells a story of a dystopian future like no other. With their options running out, the Kitty of 2013 has her consciousness sent back to 1981, where she changes the future to save the mutant race. 

Did it work? Fans are left to interpret that for themselves. Though some sequels and prequel stories, such as Days of Future Present, have touched on this timeline, it was never actually revealed if Future Kitty’s efforts were in vain. But Days of Future Past, on its own, remains prime X-Men storytelling with a gripping narrative and some of the most iconic visuals of the franchise. 

God Loves, Man Kills

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills cover art
In God Loves, Man Kills, the X-Men are challenged by a televangelist spurring the public to lash out against mutants.

As tensions between humans and mutants reach an all-time high, the X-Men face their most challenging threat. William Stryker is a charismatic televangelist who is preaching about the evils of mutants. He’s also funding an army of assassins, the Purifiers, who aspire to kill all mutants. 

Originally published in the Marvel Graphic Novel collection, God Loves, Man Kills is a grim tale. Its opening pages show the Purifiers at work executing mutant children, and much of its subject matter revolves around the heady subject matter of mutant rights versus the misinterpreted word of god. 

God Loves, Man Kills is long heralded as one of the most important X-Men stories of its time, but its relevance has sadly not diminished over the years. This is an important tale in the lore of the X-Men and perhaps the strongest example of the hate and prejudice the team stands against.

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