I used to write off Marvel’s Ultimate universe as a cheap imitation of the real Earth-616 Marvel continuity that began with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961.
Now? It’s possibly my preferred recommendation for new Marvel comic readers.
Before we get rolling, if you want to read through the entire Marvel Ultimate Universe – literally every issue! – with Comic Book Herald’s My Ultimate Year reading club, check out the podcast and club!
The Ultimate Marvel Universe is thrilling, a fantastic entry-point, and rarely wastes time on slow plodding storylines. For the uninitiated, Marvel’s Ultimate line of comics takes all the existing and known characters – Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers – and recasts them in a similar, yet different Ultimate Universe set in the 2000s. It’s the sort of concept that could have fallen flat on its head, but actually works for some of the best Marvel stories of the decade.
Below you’ll find a reading order for the Ultimate Universe. Although I split up all the issues, I would mention that you can actually read a lot of these series without too much concern for the others. For example, I read over 100 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man before I ever even thought about the outside Ultimate Universe, and the reading experience was highly enjoyable. So roll with the approach that feels right to you.
Best of the Ultimate Universe – Essential Fast Track
The Ultimate Universe is an enjoyable and completely palatable read in its entirety. Nonetheless, if you still want all killer no filler – and if Sum 41 taught us anything, it’s that you most certainly do – here are my picks for the best 10 Ultimate Universe comics of all time!
Ultimate Universe Trade Reading Order
Please note that the issue by issue reading order can be found below, and that the rest of these collections can be found in the Ultimate Universe trade collector’s guide.
The Ultimate Marvel Reading Order
Intro to the Ultimate U
This story is all flashback so you could choose to read it after Daredevil makes an appearance in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up, but I prefer it as origin here.
Another flashback that is actually published well after a number of the issues below. Daredevil and Elektra are not hugely essential to many of the following Spider-Man, X-Men, and Ultimates stories (although they do pop up) so you could always come back to these stories if you like.
Flashback Iron Man origins from series released in 2005 and 2007-2008 respectively. I consider these pretty inessential and prefer Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s fully formed Tony Stark in The Ultimates. That said, Iron Man’s origins in the Ultimate universe are very different than those of Earth-616 (the main Marvel Universe), so it’s some semi-interesting background.
Worth noting as well that several in the comments have declared these issues out of continuity, and I’m hard pressed to argue otherwise.
Ultimate Fantastic Four didn’t actually launch until 2003 – well after The Ultimates. The team is referenced off-handedly in Ultimates #2, but I prefer their origin here.
Alright, after some notes in the comments let’s go ahead and call this one: Out of continuity! It’s a weird Fantastic Four story that never really aligns with the Ultimate Fantastic Four that would come.
After the Ultimate War
The Gah Lak Tus Trilogy Begins
Technically the Ultimate Vision saga was collected in short stories across the Ultimate line of comics. So, for example, Ultimate Spider-Man #86 included a piece of the Vision story. In Marvel Unlimited, though, you can just read Ultimate Vision #0 altogether, and frankly it’s a lot more cohesive.
Most of this showdown is published well after Ultimates v2 but I think it makes more sense before the conclusion of the Ultimates second wave.
Countdown to Ultimate Power
In Marvel Unlimited, the first issue is “Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four” and the second is “Ultimate Fantastic Four/X-Men”
Countdown to Ultimate Human
March to Ultimatum
Squadron Supreme #1 – #6
Ultimate X-Men/Fantastic Four Annual #1
Ultimate Fantastic Four/X-Men Annual #1
Ultimatum Reading Order
Ultimate Enemy Begins
Death of Spider-Man Reading Order
The Ultimate Spider-Man numbering returns to the original counting for the 150th issue.
Countdown to Divided We Fall
Divided We Fall / United We Stand Reading Order
Ultimate Comics X-Men #14
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #13 – #14
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #13 – #14
Ultimate Comics X-Men #15
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #15
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #15 – #16
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #16
Ultimate Comics X-Men #16 – #17
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #17
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #17 – #18
Ultimate Comics X-Men #18 – #18.1
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #18
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #18.1
Countdown to Cataclysm
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #16.1 & #19 – #22
Ultimate Comics X-Men #19 – #22
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #19 – #24
Ultimate Comics Wolverine #1 – #4
Ultimate Comics X-Men #23 – #33
Ultimate Comics Iron Man #1 – #4
Ultimate Comics Ultimates #25 – #30
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #23 – #28
Cataclysm Reading Order
Cataclysm Point One #0.1
Cataclysm: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1
Cataclysm: Ultimate X-Men #1 – #3
Cataclysm: The Ultimate’s Last Stand #1
Cataclysm: Ultimates #1
Cataclysm: The Ultimate’s Last Stand #2
Cataclysm: Ultimates #2 – #3
Cataclysm: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #2 – #3
Cataclysm: The Ultimate’s Last Stand #3 – #5