(Updated on 8/20/20, with Dawn of X.)
- major stories from 1975 to 2012
- 2012 through 2018 still in progress (I’m currently still catching up on this era)
- Continues with 2019 through 2020 (Dawn of X)
The goal with this list is to share my project of quickly catching up on all of the major X-Men storylines at reasonable prices, with the main focus on enjoying the stories. I’ve tried to keep things listed by trade paperback whenever possible to make things simple, and for those who like to pick up the physical editions. The Essential collections are all reprinted in black & white. This is disappointing (and sometimes a bit hard to read), but I picked up quite a few of them where full colored collections of major story arcs were out of print, super hard to find and/or ridiculously expensive. The Essential collections can be found for far below their already low cover prices if you shop around, which is a big plus, allowing you to catch up on huge chunks of stories (normally over 500 pages each) at really great values. When available at reasonable prices, the full color collections are recommended instead, for a much more enjoyable experience. (Another option for reading these issues in color is Marvel Unlimited, if you don’t mind reading them digitally.)
Later in this project I used Marvel Unlimited much more since it as a TON of material and is a really great value. I’ll try to list all of the individual issues that the collections include either here on this list or in individual reviews, since Marvel Unlimited has things collected under each individual series (although it may take me a while to get all of them updated if I haven’t reviewed them yet).
From all of the research I did, I found that the preferred place to start among most fans is at the beginning of the Chris Claremont Era and Giant Sized X-Men #1, and I would have to agree. I have collected some of the earlier material, but I’m not planning on reading it until I’m completely caught up to current stories. There are an overwhelming amount of different titles and issues in the X-Men timeline, often times crossing over with one another, making it difficult to know where to start. It’s quite a daunting task, but I hope this guide will make it a bit easier. It’ll likely be a work in progress for some time, but I’ll add to and alter it as I go. (I’ll also add the cover art for each collection as I read it.)
Collections listed chronologically:
Recommended – Essential X-Men vol 1
Beginning of the Chris Claremont era, starting with Giant Sized X-Men #1. Features the Professor X’s formation of the “All New X-Men” to rescue the original team, and their ensuing adventures. Includes the first appearances of Colossus, Storm and Nightcrawler (while Wolverine, Banshee and a couple of others are recruited as well). Widely considered to be where the series became truly great. Review
Recommended – Essential X-Men vol 2
Recommended mainly for the Proteus Saga and continuing adventures from Essential X-Men vol 1. The Dark Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past are also included in this amazing collection, but I highly recommend reading their full color collections. (I’d advise reading the issues leading up to them, jumping over to the full color trade paperbacks, then moving back to Essential X-Men vol 2 for the remainder of this amazing collection). Also includes the first appearance of Kitty Pryde. Review
Recommended – The Dark Phoenix Saga
Still widely available at a very reasonable cover price at the time of this writing. This story is a must. Review
Recommended – Days of Future Past
Another must read story. Like The Dark Phoenix Saga, it’s still widely available at a reasonable cover price at the time of this writing. Review
Optional – Essential X-Men vol 3
Good stories, though not as amazing as those before. I grabbed this collection mainly because it sets up the next major story: The Brood Saga. It includes Avengers Annual #10, which features Rogue’s first appearance, but the black & white presentation of that issue in particular leaves a lot to be desired. Definitely worth reading, especially for some parts with Colossus’ sister, Illyana, but I wouldn’t consider this volume to be critical as far as catching up on the major stories. Review
Recommended – Essential X-Men vol 4
Like vol 2, vol 4 contains awesome stories that make picking up this collection up easily worth it, despite the black & white presentation. Included are The Brood Saga and God Loves Man Kills (both are amazing) and also the introductions of Madelyne Pryor and the Morlocks. Like the other Essential collections, it can be found for far below the $19.99 cover price. Review
Optional – New Mutants Classic vol 1
A nice collection featuring the introduction of Professor X’s new students. It’s a good read, but I wouldn’t consider it critical to the overall stories if you’re just trying to catch up on major events like I am. Review
Optional – Essential X-Men vol 5
Fun to read, but not critical. There are some other stories that go on during this time that I’d like to come back to and possibly add to this list (Secret Wars I & II and the Wolverine & Kitty Pryde Limited Series). Review
Recommended – Essential X-Men vol 6
This volume can be found for pretty cheap and not only includes the Trial of Magneto, the early part of his stint leading the X-Men, stories with Rachel and early Nimrod stories, but includes most of the Mutant Massacre! You may want to do like I did, however, and read the Mutant Massacre in its full color trade paperback collection (it’s affordable and much more enjoyable in color). Review
Recommended – Essential X-Factor vol 1
Highly recommended for the return of Jean Grey, the reunion of the original 5 X-men as X-Factor, the beginning of Angel’s transformation as well as the first appearance of the long-time and very important villain Apocalypse! Much of the Mutant Massacre is included in this collection, but I’d recommend jumping over to the full color trade paperback collection, then returning to the remainder of this collection. Review
Recommended – The Mutant Massacre
Another must read. One of the darker stories, and has ramifications for lots of later storylines. Review
Recommended – Essential X-Factor vol 2 *First Part*
More great and really important stories for the 5 original X-Men! I’d recommend reading from the beginning of this great collection through X-Factor #29, then jumping over to read the rest of The Fall of the Mutants, then coming back and finishing this volume, just to keep things in a good order (see below). Review
Recommended – The Fall of the Mutants
While I personally didn’t enjoy this one as much as previous stories, I’d still recommend it for the sake of completion, and there are a few key moments. Review
Recommended – Essential X-Factor vol 2 *Remainder*
As mentioned above, I’d recommend reading the first part of this great collection, jumping over to The Fall of the Mutants, then back to this collection to finish these important stories which lead up to the next big story, Inferno. One other quick note: the last issue in this collection (X-Factor #35) is also included in the Inferno collection (recommended to read next), so you could skip it here and read it in color there. Review
Optional – Essential X-Men Vol. 8
The first half of this volume bridges the gap for the team between Fall of the Mutants and Inferno, but there’s nothing critical, while the second half includes part of Inferno (The Uncanny X-Men & X-Factor issues only), and can be found in full color with the entire story in the Inferno trade paperback. Review
Long, but very weird and fun! Major events with Madelyne & Cyclops featuring Mr. Sinister and long some long-awaited revelations. Review
Optional: Cable and the New Mutants
If you’re a fan of The New Mutants & Cable (or later, X-Force) you’ll probably want to check these stories out if you haven’t yet. Otherwise, nothing critical is collected here. Review
Recommended* – X-Men Epic Collection: Dissolution & Rebirth
While I didn’t enjoy these stories nearly as much as the others so far, there is a lot that happens that will help the next major story to make sense. Also, a couple of key team members are added. If you’re not worried about activities in between Inferno and X-Tinction Agenda, you could go ahead and skip this one, and stick with the major storylines. Review
Recommended – X-Tinction Agenda
Another major event that shouldn’t be missed. The newly released (at the time of this writing) Milestones edition is better quality and includes more issues than older collections, and is also at a great price. Review
Recommended – Essential X-Factor vol 5
The last black & white collection in my reading order is a must because it contains not only X-Tinction Agenda (which I’d recommend reading in color but still adds to the value here), End Game, and The Muir Island Saga, but a good Proteus story too!
Optional – Bishop’s Crossing
Spans much of the gap between The Muir Island Saga and the X-Cutioner’s Song and introduces Bishop, who will be a big part of the team from this point on. Besides that, however, nothing that is terribly critical overall. Review
Recommended – X-Cutioner’s Song
A big crossover event with a bunch of major events which have a long-lasting effect for years to come. Exciting, and highly recommended. Review
Recommended – Fatal Attractions
This one is really exciting, as tensions between the X-Men and Magneto finally come to a head and some crazy stuff happens. One of my childhood favorites. Fun and highly recommended. Review
Recommended – Father’s and Sons (Cable #6-8)
This story is just three issues long, but has some pretty important parts for our favorite merry mutants. Review
Optional* – Generation X Classic vol. 1 (The Phalanx Covenant)
While this was a big event, I feel like it’s more of an intro for the Generation X characters than anything. A good read if you’d like to see these characters from the beginning, and has really great artwork. Review
Recommended – Age of Apocalypse Prelude (Includes Legion Quest)
Includes Legion Quest, which leads into the main Age of Apocalypse story. Explains how and why the AoA started. Great stories and art. Review
Recommended* – Age of Apocalypse The Complete Epic
This mega event is BIG (1300+ pages). If you don’t want to shell out the money or time, I’d recommend at least reading a detailed synopsis. Even though it’s an alternate timeline story, there are some aspects that carry on over into the real world afterward.
Optional – Road to Onslaught
Spans the gap between Age of Apocalypse and Onslaught. If you’re only reading the major stories, this one can be skipped. Recommended for more in depth reading and keeping up with the X-Men between big events. Review
Recommended – Onslaught
This major crossover includes issues from The Avengers, Spiderman, Hulk, Punisher and more. I read Onslaught: The Complete Saga, but X-Men Milestones: Onslaught has since been released, which is shorter, easier to find and more affordable. Review
Recommended* – Operation Zero Tolerance
While I wasn’t a big fan of this story, I’d at least recommend reading a story summary since it’s a major one. Review
Recommended – Uncanny X-Men #350
Just a single issue, but a pretty big one with major revelations. Highly recommended for Gambit fans and X-Men fans in general. Review
Recommended – Magneto: Rogue Nation
This collection was even more fun than I was expecting. Not only does it feature one of the greatest villains/characters: Magneto, it also reveals the mystery of the X-Man Joseph! There are some other important events that will set the stage for a lot of later stories.
Recommended – X-Men vs. Apocalypse: The Twelve
Another good battle with Apocalypse. Part 1 of 2 in the X-Men vs. Apocalypse collection.
Recommended – X-Men vs. Apocalypse: Ages of Apocalypse
Part 2 of 2 in the X-Men vs. Apocalypse trade paperbacks. There are a lot of alternate timelines, but none are nearly as long as the original, giant “Age of Apocalypse” storyline, and they’re all wrapped up in this volume. Also included is The Search for Cyclops miniseries, which is a nice bonus. Apocalypse fans will like the parts which delve into the villain’s past.
Recommended* – Dream’s End
Great, and really important story with a major event and big implications for some beloved team members. I’m giving this one “Recommended*” with an asterisk because the collection I had contained a crazy amount of weird printing errors. I’ll get into more detail when I catch up to it on reviews. If you don’t want to grab the trade paperback, I’d highly recommend the last two issues in this collection: Uncanny X-Men #390 for the major events, and X-Men #110 for a touching follow up.
Optional – Eve of Destruction
This collection features a battle with Magneto, but I personally felt like it didn’t have the impact of previous confrontations. You could read a summary of the conclusion (X-Men #113) to sum up the results if you’re interested.
Recommended – New X-Men (2001 series)
This series is known for bringing a new look and direction to the X-Men, and I’d agree that it definitely does. The costumes are more sleek and simple, the art is way different than anything up to this point, as is the storytelling, which goes in some bold new directions. While I wasn’t a fan of a few of the events that happened and some of the changes to the team, I did really enjoy it, and it brought something fresh and exciting to the series.
Recommended – Astonishing X-Men (2004 series)
This 2 volume collection features the Joss Whedon and John Cassaday run: Astonishing X-Men #1-24 and Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1. Highly recommended not only because of some big events and it’s very well written, but also because the art is just amazing – it’s gorgeous – probably my personal favorite art in any X-book thus far.
Recommended – House of M
The main trade paperback includes all of the major stuff in this mega event (House of M #1-8 plus some bonus material). This story has long lasting implications for years to come and was a blast to read. I personally enjoyed seeing the X-Men work with the Avengers since I normally don’t read a lot of Avengers books myself.
Optional – X-Men: Decimation – The Day After
This collection includes the one shot Decimation: House of M – The Day After, as well as X-Men #177-181. The one shot has some nice material for a lot of characters left in the wake of the events of House of M, while the X-Men issues follow what the team gets up to immediately following, but there isn’t really anything major that happens. However, the last issue does include the return of a major villain and leads directly into the next story. This was the first time in this reading project that I could not find a physical copy and instead read on Marvel Unlimited. (More on that when I catch up to this collection in reviews).
Recommended* – X-Men: Blood of Apocalypse
While this isn’t much of a mega event as many of the battles with Apocalypse, I’m listing it as “Recommended*” because there are a couple of things that happen with characters that you’ll likely be glad to have read before upcoming stories, rather than asking yourself “Since when is so and so…” You get the picture. The collection includes X-Men (2004) #182-187 in case you’re looking for individual issues. I enjoyed reading this one.
Optional – Endangered Species
This collection includes the X-Men: Endangered Species One Shot as well as “back up stories from X-Men #200-204, Uncanny X-Men #488-491, X-Factor #21-23 and New X-Men (2004 series) #40-42.” These back up stories were at the end of each of those issues (after their main stories), and titled Endangered Species Chapter 1-15. The collection puts all those back up stories nicely into one volume. The story follows Beast on his quest to reverse the effects of M-Day (the events which took place in House of M). While it’s a good read (especially for Beast fans) I wouldn’t say that anything critical happens. So for a quick catch up, you could skip this one. Like most of the “Optional” entries on this list, however, it’s a fun read for those looking for a more detailed experience.
Recommended – Messiah Complex
This one is a major event that ranks up there with the best of them, in my opinion. Lots of important events and surprises (which I won’t get into to keep things totally spoiler free). Don’t miss this one!
Optional: X-Men Legacy #208-210
Again, I won’t say much for fear of spoilers, but after reading the important Messiah Complex, you’ll likely be wondering some things (you’ll know what I mean when finishing that story), and these three issues have you covered. To sum up chronologically, Messiah Complex ended with X-Men #207. In the very next issue, the same book changes its title to X-Men Legacy, but keeps the numbering with #208. So, X-Men Legacy #208 picks up pretty much immediately after Messiah Complex, following certain characters. Not an essential read, but it answers a big question you’ll soon come to as you read later stories. On top of that, they’re a good read and worth checking out.
Optional – Divided We Stand
This collection is short and sweet – just two issues and some bonus material – and features quick updates on a bunch of different characters post-Messiah Complex. Not critical, but enjoyable. (Collects X-Men: Divided We Stand #1 & 2 plus X-Men Messiah Complex – Mutant Files Handbook.)
Optional – Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand
Not to be confused with the above collection, this one collects Uncanny X-Men #495-499. While this one is up next, nothing major really happens other than the team settling into San Francisco.
Recommended* – Dark Avengers/Uncanny X-Men: Utopia
I’m giving this collection Recommended* with an asterisk because we see Utopia for the first time, which is important. However this makes up very little of the collection, with the majority focusing on Norman Osborn running the Dark Avengers and putting together his own Dark X-Men team. You may want to check out the collected issues (pictured below) and then pick and choose if you’re only into the main X-Men parts.
Recommended – Nation X
Long time readers will be pleased with the return of a certain character as the team settles into Utopia.
Recommended – Second Coming
This story features the return of Hope and has ties back as far as House of M.
Optional – X-Men (2010 series)
Cool stories (including Curse of the Mutants) but nothing essential if you’re just reading the major stuff. One thing to note, which can be a bit confusing as far as listings go, is that this series runs through both Schism and Avengers vs. X-Men, from July 2010 to February 2013. 41 issues. (Issue #1 pictured).
Recommended – Schism
The next major storyline is another must read. I can’t wait until I catch up to this one in reviews – I picked up the hardback, which is priced very reasonably, and the binding, cover and printing are gorgeous! 🙂 The collection includes
After Schism: At this point, the X-Men are split into two teams, which were marked by the release of a couple of new titles:
Wolverine and the X-Men (2011 series) (Not to be confused with the 2014 title of the same name.)
and Uncanny X-Men (2011 series) (Not to be confused with the four other series of the same name 😛 )
I’ll be going back to read these (and likely a bunch of other titles) eventually and adding anything that is critical to this list.
Recommended – Avengers vs. X-Men
A major event not only for our beloved merry mutants, but for Marvel in general. There are some additional stories to go along with it (A vs. X Aftermath, for example), but the collection pictured above is the main event, and collects Avengers vs X-Men 1-12.
After A vs. X – 2012 to 2015: Similar to when Schism finished, the conclusion of A vs. X saw the launch/relaunch of some new titles, including:
Uncanny X-Men (2013 series),
Wolverine and the X-Men (2014 series)
Uncanny Avengers (2012 series)
and All-New X-Men (2012), which sees the original 5 X-Men pulled from the past into our time.
Also, Death of Wolverine was released in 2014
As with the post-Schism stories, I’ll eventually be going back to read these and adding anything critical to catching up on the major stories on this list.
It’s especially at this point that things (at least for me personally) become harder to follow when you factor in not only the above titles but a bunch of other series as well. There are less trade paperback stories to collect, and more ongoing series instead.
The main books through this period are:
Extraordinary X-Men (2015)
Uncanny X-Men (2016 series… yes, another restart to Uncanny, and not the last.)
and All New X-Men (2015 series),
but there is so much more going on, including the series Civil War II and Inhumans vs. X-Men.
There’s a lot going on in this era, too. Some of the series included are:
X-Men Gold 2017-2018)
X-Men Blue (2017-2018)
X-Men Red (2018)
Uncanny X-Men (2018-2019)
Once again, I’ll eventually be reading these titles and anything else that happens around this time chronologically to try and add the most important/major stories to the list.
Notes on 2012 through 2019: I went ahead and jumped from A vs. X to the big event House of X and Powers of X and continued into Dawn of X for a couple of reasons. Partly so I could keep up with current events, which is exciting, and also to avoid spoilers for new stories as they are released. I’ll also be reading the 2012-2019 stories to piece them together at the same time.
Recommended – House of X/Powers of X
This major event was meant to breathe new life into the X-books. All of the previous titles end as writer Jonathan Hickman gives the X-Men a new start. A great place to jump in, or even jump back in. The above collection (ISBN 978-1302915711) collects the whole event, which is much different than anything thus far. Definitely a bold new beginning.
Recommended – Dawn of X
This brings us to the current (as of this update on 8/16/20) era of the X-Men! Now is the perfect time to jump in, as it’s easy to get caught up on this exciting run. There are a variety of trade paperback options to make reading everything – or just the titles you want – easy. I’ll have more on those in a separate feature.
Recently Read and now Reading – reviews & insertion coming soon:
Dawn of X – Now Reading
More upcoming stories and events that I plan to read and list with recommended collections:
Uncanny X-Men (2013 series)
Wolverine and the X-Men (2014 series)
Uncanny Avengers (2012 series)
All-New X-Men (2012 series)
Death of Wolverine
Extraordinary X-Men (2015)
Uncanny X-Men (2016 series)
All New X-Men (2015 series)
X-Men Gold (2017-2018)
X-Men Blue (2017-2018)
X-Men Red (2018)
Uncanny X-Men (2018-2019)