The 25 Essential Trades to Marvel Comics From 1961 to 2000

For the life of Comic Book Herald, I’ve concentrated most heavily on what I consider the modern Marvel era, 1998 to present day. This is all well and good for catching up with the Marvel comics scene, and there are plenty of great comics from this time period, but obviously it overlooks the fantastically varied and full library of Marvel comics from 1961 (the publication of Fantastic Four #1) to the new millennium.

Now, narrowing 40 years of stories down to 25 essential collections is like trying to find an Ant-Man in a haystack (hint: he’s the nut talking to insects). I had a hard enough time picking 25 trades from 2000 to 2012, and even then I left out some instant classics like Uncanny X-Force and Venom.

Nonetheless… I kinda think I nailed it. These are the graphic novels and trade collections for the new Marvel fan. Without further ado, the 25 essential trades any new or old Marvel Comics fan has gotsta read before they die at Thanos’ hand (like there’s any other way to go).

FF #2
That’s Jack Kirby art inside Jack Kirby art

Amazing Spider-Man #1 – #38 + Amazing Fantasy #15

We’re only going to go all the way back to the start for a couple series, and you’re darn well right that Amazing Spider-Man is among them. Web-slinging out of the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man is the comic book all other comics aspire to be. Steve Ditko and Stan Lee created an icon, and these first 38 issues (the issues Ditko plotted and drew before John Romita took over artistic duties) are shockingly fun and captivating all these years later.

These are the comics that reminded me I love comics, and there’s never a bad time, age, or era to enjoy the original Amazing Spider-Man. For the record, the John Romita years are just as impressive (with iconic Green Goblin stories really taking off with Romita on the pen), and I’d encourage you to keep going strong with AMS for as long as it feels right.

As part of the My Marvelous Year 1960’s reading club, I put together an issue by issue Spidey reading order for the era. Check it out if you really want to dive in to Spider-Man!

Amazing Spider-Man on Marvel Unlimited

Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus – Volume 1

Fantastic Four #31 – #60 + Annual #1

While you certainly wouldn’t be blamed for beginning with the first thirty issues of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four, I’m diving straight for the meat. Kirby and Lee were never stronger than this period of Fantastic Four with the introduction of the Inhumans, Frightful Four, Silver Surfer, The Watcher, and of course, Galactus!

Fantastic Four On Marvel Unlimited

The Fantastic Four Omnibus Volume 2

Comic Book Herald's My Marvelous Year

Silver Surfer #1 – #18

One of two late 60’s Marvel books that ingratiated Marvel Comics with the collegiate and counter-cultural communities.

Following his creation in the pages of Fantastic Four by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the Silver Surfer would go on to really showcase what Marvel Comics might be capable of. In the hands of Stan Lee and John Buscema, Norrin Radd became Marvel’s greatest cosmic icon.

Silver Surfer On Marvel Unlimited

Silver Surfer Omnibus

Strange Tales #143 – #168

The psychedelic comic voted most likely to be likened to 60’s critical darlings like The Beatle’s “Revolver.” Also the Dr. Strange stories by which all Dr. Strange comics are measured, and in many ways the reason we were able to have Jim Starlin cosmic mind-bombs later in Marvel’s history (and on this list).

For the most part, you’re going to want to read Strange Tales #115 through #142 as well, as this is where the Dr. Strange stories actually begin, and feature some epic early Steve Ditko art and plotting. Nonetheless, you’ll find plenty of cosmic exploration in both sections.

Dr. Strange On Marvel Unlimited

Marvel Masterworks: Dr. Strange Vol 2

The Kree / Skrull War – Avengers #89 – #97

One of the single biggest Avengers stories of all time, and an event so epic it’s echoes can be seen reaching as far as 2007’s Secret Invasion.

Avengers On Marvel Unlimited

Avengers: Kree/Skrull War

The Death of Gwen Stacy

Kind of a bummer of a story title? Otherwise, the culmination of everything you’ve grown to love about Amazing Spider-Man, and one of the most memorable (and saddest) moments in Marvel history. Gwen is one of the few defining deaths in the Marvel Universe that have remained relatively unscathed (meaning, like Uncle Ben, she hasn’t just up and come back to life) granting additional heft to her impact.

On Marvel Unlimited

Spider-Man: Death of the Stacys

Howard the Duck – #1 – #33

You could make an entirely reasonable case that Howard the Duck has no place on any essential Marvel list. You’d be wrong, but it would be an entirely reasonable case.

Howard the Duck does not impact greater Marvel continuity, but holy quack does Steve Gerber’s cranky, antagonized duck impact style and substance of Marvel comics. You know all those off-the-cuff solo series that are easily the best Marvel comics is offering as part of Marvel NOW? She-Hulk, Superior Foes of Spider-Man, Hawkeye… none of those exist without Howard the Duck. He’s an American Hero.

Howard the Duck On Marvel Unlimited

Howard The Duck Omnibus

Uncanny X-Men – #94 – #131

This might be the easiest selection on the list. Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and Dave Cockrum’s work on Uncanny X-Men turned the mutant also-rans into the biggest success in Marvel Comics. It’s astonishing how many all-time classic stories are included in this run, and fans of X-Men the Animated Series will be pleased to see the origins of many of their favorite episodes.

Uncanny X-Men On Marvel Unlimited

The Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume 1

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

Armor Wars is equally revered, but it’s Demon in a Bottle that had the farthest reaching ramifications for Tony Stark’s life and comics in general. While it’s far from the first time superhero comics took on real issues (Denny O’Neil and Neal Adam’s ‘Hard Travelin’ Heroes’), Tony Stark coming to the realization that he’s an alcoholic is strikingly bold and has become an essential part of the comic book character.

Iron Man On Marvel Unlimited

Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle

Daredevil – #158 – #191

Frank Miller is best known for his incredible work on Batman (The Dark Knight Returns and Year One), but his Daredevil is just as good over an increased period of time. Every Daredevil story you know – Elektra, Kingpin, Bullseye – comes out of Miller’s run and it’s one of the strongest runs on this list.

Daredevil On Marvel Unlimited

Daredevil by Frank Miller & Klaus Janson Omnibus

The Life and Death of Captain Marvel

Jim Starlin is the architect and mastermind of nearly all things Marvel Cosmic, and I could just as soon select his work on Warlock as highly recommended reading. Nonetheless, it’s Captain Marvel that grabs the headlines, with the oft-referenced Marvel original graphic novel “The Death of Captain Marvel” showing one of the Marvel U’s best heroes in the unshakeable grip of cancer.

The Death of Captain Marvel On Marvel Unlimited

The Life and Death of Captain Marvel (Marvel Comics)

Uncanny X-Men #132 – #141

Continuing the Claremont and Byrne era to include the Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past. The lesson here, as always, is you really should read the Claremont era X-Men.

Uncanny X-Men On Marvel Unlimited

The Uncanny X-Men Omnibus Volume 2

Wolverine #1 – #4

The Wolverine background story from Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. These four issues give Wolverine so much of his essential character: the flawed Samurai, the cigars, the “I’m the best there is at what I do. And what I do isn’t very nice.”

Wolverine On Marvel Unlimited

Wolverine

Thor #337 – #382

One of the lengthier runs included on this essential guide, and a fairly tough decision given similarly excellent and long runs like John Byrne’s Fantastic Four and Peter David’s Hulk. Nonetheless, it’s Walt Simonson’s Thor that truly defines the Norse Avenger, in a way that not many writers have been able to do before or since.

Thor On Marvel Unlimited

Thor by Walter Simonson – Volume 1

Secret Wars #1 – #12

The Contest of Champions came first, but it was Secret Wars that really blasted off the Marvel Universe event series. Hero vs. Villain brought against their will to Battleworld by the Beyonder. It’s a simple, child-like concept (created to sell toys), and go figure, it’s one of the most entertaining and fun comics in Marvel’s history. My personal favorite Doctor Doom story, and also the origin of Spider-Man’s symbiote black suit.

On top of all that, Secret Wars is Marvel’s enormous mega event of 2015. Naturally, I have for you a Secret Wars reading order all the way from this original run to present day.

Secret Wars On Marvel Unlimited

Secret Wars

Squadron Supreme

Outside Earth-616 continuity, and arguably the best limited series Marvel has ever published. Squadron Supreme takes DC’s Justice League, warps them through a “we don’t want to get sued” new character transformer, and then asks the question: “What if the Justice League took control of the world? Wouldn’t things be better?”

While it’s not on Watchmen’s level in terms of execution (nothing is), the ambition is similar, and it’s an all-time great reimagining of the superhero genre.

Squadron Supreme On Marvel Unlimited

Squadron Supreme

God Loves, Man Kills

Another of Marvel’s original graphic novels from the 80’s, with themes that define the X-Men and are sadly still relevant today. Iconic story that set the stage for much of the X-Men comics to come, as well as the foundation for X2 the movie.

God Loves, Man Kills On Marvel Unlimited

X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills

Daredevil: Born Again + Man Without Fear Miniseries

Collects: #226 – #223, MWF 5 issue mini

Frank Miller back at it, making Matt Murdock’s life even more of a living hell. Born Again would reverberate strongly across the Daredevil landscape, driving much of Kevin Smith’s “Guardian Devil” and Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev’s “Out” storylines.

Daredevil On Marvel Unlimited

Daredevil: Born Again + Man Without Fear

Elektra: Assassin

Probably the most avant-garde book on this list, and undoubtedly the one least tied to Marvel Earth-616 continuity. It’s also the most interesting Marvel comic I’ve ever read, with Frank Miller and Bill Sienciwiecz pouring The Dark Knight Returns through a newspaper shredder and haze of pyschedelia.

Not on Marvel Unlimited!
Elektra: Assassin

Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos + Thanos Quest

Infinity Gauntlet gets all the hype, but it’s actually the preceding Silver Surfer that is the stronger story. This is both Norrin Radd and Thanos at their absolute best, with Jim Starlin flexing his cosmic muscles at his peak.

Thanos Quest On Marvel Unlimited

Silver Surfer: Rebirth of Thanos

Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt

One of the best Spider-Man stories of all time, and possibly the best. You never would have guessed it would be Kraven who gave us the greatest of Spider-Man, but he does it and then some. There were a lot of 80’s attempts to give the world a “dark” Spider-Man, and while many of them were absolute bombs, Kraven’s Last Hunt is one of the most strenuous gauntlets the webslinger’s ever seen.

You can also check out my Kraven’s Last Hunt reading order, since this series crosses over between three Spidey titles.

Kraven’s Last Hunt On Marvel Unlimited

Spider-Man: Kraven’s Last Hunt

Infinity Gauntlet

Hey, just because I said the Silver Surfer build-up is a better read doesn’t mean I don’t get the Infinity Gauntlet’s significance. This is the one cosmic story to rule them all, with Thanos finally gaining possession of the Infinity Gauntlet and doing more damage to the Marvel Universe than anyone ever had before. It’s a rare Marvel story where all the heroes working together are truly unable to defeat the threat at hand, and yet that’s exactly what we see with Thanos in his god-like form. It’s no surprise that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building to an Infinity War – this story is nothing but the biggest Marvel has offered.

Infinity Gauntlet On Marvel Unlimited

Infinity Gauntlet

Wolverine: Weapon X

Mind-bending look at Wolverine’s time in the Weapon X program, when he was being experimented on in order to create the ultimate killer.

It’s a shockingly thoughtful look at the crimes against humanity perpetrated against Wolverine, and is easily the comic most readily adaptable for an M. Night Shamalyan screenplay.

Weapon X On Marvel Unlimited

Wolverine: Weapon X

Marvels

Kurt Busiek teamed with legendary comic painter Alex Ross for a 4 issue miniseries looking back at the history of the Marvel Universe. The end result was one of the most humanizing and beautiful looks inside the Marvel U of all time.

Marvels On Marvel Unlimited

Marvels

Age of Apocalypse

One of my first favorite loves, and an idea so epic in scope even the bad comics are good.

What if Professor Charles Xavier was killed? What if his dream of peaceful coexistence between mutants and humans died with him?

Enter the Age of Apocalypse. Here’s the Age of Apocalypse reading order with Marvel Unlimited links.

X-Men: The Age of Apocalypse Omnibus


57 Replies to “The 25 Essential Trades to Marvel Comics From 1961 to 2000”

  1. I agree with pretty much most of these. I think Spider-Man and Fantastic Four are easily the two most readable ’60s Marvels for new readers; I think they sum up pretty well the best the Silver Age has to offer.

    Elektra and Squadron Supreme are the two I’ve never read, so I’ll have to make an effort to seek them out now.

    My one gripe, and of course You Mileage May Vary, is Silver Surfer. The John Buscema art is excellent but this series has Stan at his most soapy and angsty. The stories, especially the later ones, really get kind of inconsistent/sloppy, and in general, are just hard to get through.

    1. I’m a sucker for soapy Stan, so I can’t really argue 🙂

      I think what I find most fascinating about this series (aside form the art, like you mentioned), is that it feels very much like the idiosyncratic offbeat solo character series that are so popular now.

      Squadron Supreme is absolutely excellent, I highly recommend. Elektra sadly not on MU, but it’s one of the most ambitious Marvel limited series I’ve ever read. Few Marvel Comics take as many chances as that Elektra book.

  2. “Uncanny X-Men #132 – #141

    Continuing the Claremont and Byrne era to include the Phoenix Saga and Days of Future Past. The lesson here, as always, is YOU REALLY SHOULD THE CLAREMONT ERA X-MEN.”

    I can’t make sense of the part I typed in all caps there. Should skip? Should read? Should make a pile of and roll around in?

  3. I don´t understand anything about any of this. Are you saying that my first ever comic book should be Amazing Spider-Man #1 with this post? please HELP!

  4. I haven’t read any of this stuff! I’m following some of your other guides, working through the ultimate lines SpiderMan/X-Men/F4/Ultimates using your issue order and also looking into the post 2000 events starting with Avengers Disassembled. I don’t mind admitting that the MCU movies have turned me on to this whole world, so I’m not really an ‘old school’ comics fan.

    I’ll be sure to pick up these volumes where I can. For someone like me, just discovering the beauty of comics in their early 30s your website and knowledge are fantastic tools. Thanks for your efforts!

  5. Do you think you could make a full guide on this time period like you did for the modern era? I really want to read the old books to get a lot of background, but I cannot find any good orders online. So could you possibly make a full order for 1961-2000? That would be great. Thanks.

    1. I’ll certainly consider.

      One short term recommendation would be to make use of the publication date filter in Marvel Unlimited. You can read all comics published in 1962 by the month they were released, for example. Now this has some flaws (1963 starts with a bunch of annual issues that don’t actually make sense until mid-year), but it’s an option.

      1. Well, I would do that, except many issues aren’t relevant. For example, many silver age comics have nothing to do with the marvel universe itself. But thank you for considering this. It would be great. The only thing I know is that the real marvel universe starts with Fantastic Four #1, so I’ll try what you said. But an Earth 616 reading order for before modern would be amazing.

  6. These are the important ones right? I mean if I read all of them, there will be -almost- nothing I won’t understand in 2000s? If it’s like that, you saved me a lot of trouble (which is ~5000 comics).

  7. A very useful and detailed guide, Thank You! I subscribed to MU because of this site.

    Just so I am clear, after finishing the reading list there, I should start with * Early 2000s Until Avengers Disassembled * and all the way down on “Complete Marvel Reading Order Guide”?

  8. Do you find it necessary to read all of the above comics before beginning on *Early 2000’s until Avengers disassembled*, or can I focus on the ones here that interests me the most? (For example by only reading Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Wars and Age of Apocalypse, just to mention a few)

    1. I would definitely encourage jumping to the reads that interest you most. It’s certainly an option, but you don’t need to have read all these books to start 2000’s era Marvel.

  9. Quick question about amazing spider-man you said go up to 38 but what about 39 and 40 as those have green goblin in it and thats when the memory is loss?

    1. Issue #38 marks the last Steve Ditko issue, which is why the cut off is there. That said, you’re absolutely encouraged to keep reading Amazing Spider-Man as long as you see fit 🙂

  10. Long-time (and unrepentant) DC fan, this list is proving to be quite rewarding. I struggle to get through the 60s stuff (to be fair, that applies to DC as well) but the Claremont X-Men was a delight to read and I’m looking forward to reading the rest. I think the fact that you included the one Spiderman story that everyone recommends to me as a Spiderman hater means I have to read it. 🙂

    Part of why I was so reluctant to get into Marvel was because without any clear starting point other than “the 60s” there was a ton of material, much of it quite old and overly wordy. This is proving to be a good way to hit all the notes without having to read the spaces in between.

  11. Lol venom and x-force are classics? Can’t stop laughing. 1998 to present? You might as well stick hot irons in your eyes in place of reason marvel or DC. At least there’s less damage to your psyche that way. Lol what a joke

    1. Wrong list. But Remender’s Venom and Remender’s Uncanny X-Force runs are both great. Well written, smart and dealing with interesting subjects, like PTSD for one. But scoff and write badly phrased, poorly edited comments on the internet all you want. It does wonders for your credibility.

  12. Another nigh-impeccable list. My only peck is that there needs to be some Steranko. Either the Nick Fury series–given the importance of SHIELD in 21st century Marvel–or his truly bizarre short run on Captain America, which was Brubaker’s acknowledged template for his Cap run.

    And THANK YOU for the kudos for the Gerber Howard the Duck. Still one of the most subversive things Marvel’s ever done.

    1. Glad you enjoy! I need to check out Steranko’s Cap, I’ve been meaning to do that for a while. For some reason his Nick Fury – while visually stunning – never really grabbed me. I think maybe I had too weird of a hacked-up Marvel Unlimited approach. Another one for the list 🙂

  13. This list is great for someone who is just getting into the comic world.

    What about Hulk though? Are any of his pre-2000 runs essential reading? The only stories I really know about are modern like Planet Hulk and World War Hulk.

  14. So starting with “Amazing Spider-Man #1 – #38 + Amazing Fantasy #15” where exactly can I get these from? Do you have read them online? I would rather prefer physical copies. Where would I buy from?

    Thanks for the list by the way, even though I’m a bit slow at catching on haha.

  15. On the Daredevil: Born Again + Man Without Fear Miniseries entry,

    you state it collects:
    Collects: #226 – #223, MWF 5 issue mini

    Did you mean #226 – #233 or # 223 – # 226 ?

    Thanks

  16. Dear God. This is such a life saver.
    I looked around for a solid half a day trying to figure out where to start in MCU, getting a million answers, picking a starting point then being confused, when I found your complete reading order and the essential trades collections. Those have been fantastic, but I still felt like I was missing a bunch of back story, and as a completionist with not a lot of free time on his hands, I was VERY conflicted as to what to do.
    This is the best of both worlds. I like the older comics, but yeah, they’re dry sometimes. This list, though, is a tremendous help and I can’t wait to hop back on MU and start to make a dent. You, sir, deserve all the awards.

  17. Hello, thank you for your guides! They are really helpful for a new reader to get into the marvel universe, as I always wanted.
    One question about the strange tales. Should I read the entire issues or just the doctor strange parts?

  18. What are you trying to pull here? (Just Jokes)
    Noticing a theme so far…Your Spider-man run ends before Peter can Meet MJ
    …Your Fantastic Four Run ends before Johnny Re-unites with Crystal
    …The silver surfer never unites with Shalla-ball

    Reading Dr. Strange now, hopefully he can unite with Clea

    Thanks for the list

  19. Thanks for the list. Started this morning and I’m on issue 11 of spiderman it’s awesome. Quick question do u have a longer list cuz I would love to read more into spiderman with venom and carnage and all but if I do that I would be jumping back to the past reading fantastic four. Any tips?

  20. Personally, I’d replace Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus Vol. 1 with Vol. 2. Aside from Amazing Fantasy #15, pretty much all of Vol. 1 is filler. The stories that truly define Spidey’s legacy are in Vol. 2.

    1. I think calling the entirety of Steve Ditko’s run on AMS filler is a step (or several million) too far, but I do agree that Vol. 2 is great as well.

  21. OMG THANK YOU SO MUCH!
    This list is really helping, just a quick question though (may seem stupid and I think I already know the answer)

    Do I have to read everything here in order or can i jump to silver surfer or secret wars?
    I’m guessing I can’t but I really can’t wait to read secret wars

    1. Glad you enjoy!

      A series like Silver Surfer (assuming you mean the more recent 2014 version ) is relatively accessible. You don’t need to read everything before that, although the surfers appearances in fantastic four will provide essential background.

      For Secret Wars, there’s definitely a build up that will make the read better. Check out my secret wars guide in the complete marvel reading order, and head to the Hickman avengers lead in (at the least).

      Enjoy the comics!

  22. Hi, before I say anything I just have to say I love your work here 🙂 but I’m undecided as to how I should read the oldest Marvel Comics.

    I’ve started reading My Marvelous Year but (even though I’m liking the good old commie villains and patriotism) I want to get to the 2000s as fast as possible but without missing anything (I’m kinda picky I guess). Also, I’m a complete newbie to Marvel and I have read absolutely nothing so I don’t really know if I should stick to My Marvelous Year or read the Fast Track and then follow THE GUIDE from the 2000s.

    Any advice? Is My Marvelous Year complete enough story-wise?

    Thanks in advance

    1. Welcome! The fast track here will get you to the 2000’s more quickly than My Marvelous Year. MMY is extremely thorough – we definitely cover a broader scope of comics and storylines in the MMY club than the fast track.

      So, if you’re in a hurry to get to the present day, I’d recommend the fast track, otherwise MMY is my rec for getting as much Marvel history as possible. Either way, I always encourage readers to stick with the books they’re enjoying the most! No point in forcing yourself through older comics if you’re not that into them, and vice versa.

      Enjoy the comics!

      1. Thanks! I continued reading MMY and even though I really want to get to present day I feel like every chapter I read will have some relevance later on! So I’m reading the best and the very good according to your 60’s recap and just the synopsis of the weaker ones so I don’t loose much time.

        Reeally great work though, I’ve been wanting to get into Marvel for years (ever since I read the death of captain america at a library, a bit of a spoiler for me I guess -_-) but didn’t know where to start.

        Thanks again and I’ll start voting when I catch up with you in MMY!

  23. Hey, issue numbers for daredevil born again + man without fear are really confusing) Could you clear them up a bit please, cause now it shows 226 – 223, while all the other sources claim, that born again is 227 – 233.

    Anyway, love your project, keep it up!)

      1. IMHO the first 200 issues of ASM are like one big story. There are some weak periods in the late 100s but its all worth reading. Then pick u again with 229 through to 329 then come back with Volume 2 issue 30

  24. I’m loving the list right now, but I have 1 problem: I feel like you’re missing some very good stories from this time period (#maximum carnage, birth of venom, etc.), but I think my marvelous year would be too much. Could you maybe make a 100 best stories from this time period? Thanks 😀😀😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *