One of my favorite aspects of House of X / Powers of X and Jonathan Hickman’s takeover of Marvel’s X-Men comics line is how many new or lapsed readers want to dive into the vast and often complicated world of the X-Men. While I have a wide array of guides on Comic Book Herald – including massive full reading orders for all of X-Men – I thought it’d be easier for some new readers to start with a fast-track guide to the essential starting places.
As I identify starting places, I’ll call out what type of reader I think the pick best suits, categorizing types of fans as follows:
- Mutant? – Total beginner!
- I Know Them! – Familiar with mutants and the main characters, but haven’t read many/any comics
- X-Gene Scholar – You’ve read plenty of X-Men Comics a while ago, but now want to catch up
Keep in mind that as you read current X-Men comics from the Dawn of X into the Reign of X and the future, there *will* be references to other X-Men comics and history that you may not have read, and that I likely will not reference here. Don’t panic! This is ok! This is how comics work, and how they will always work, but generally, there will be sufficient context in the story that you can get by. And hey, if you want more, I’m breaking it all down on Krakin’ Krakoa on the Youtube channel weekly.
As always, there are many more highly recommended X-Men stories than what you’ll see included here, and I’d encourage you to check out some of them via the links to CBH included throughout the site. In the meantime, these 10 picks will get you set on a path to X-Men fandom!
Issues: House of X #1 to #6, Powers of X #1 to #6 (reading order here!)
Era: Hickman X-Men (2019 – Present)
Type of fan it’s good for: 2, 3
Is It Awesome? Yes!
If you want to dive into the current era of X-Men comics, where the line is at in 2021 and for the foreseeable future, then the starting place is the House of X / Powers of X kickoff event, by Jonathan Hickman, Pepe Larraz, RB Silva, Marte Gracia, and team. The 2019 maxiseries was a watershed moment for Marvel, X-Men, and frankly the superhero comics genre, and it remains one of the most interesting blends of storytelling, sales, and planning in contemporary comics.
The recurring question is whether this 2019 series is actually a good starting place for X-Men Comics that started with Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1963! And that of course is more complicated, and I’ve answered in a whole bunch of detail on CBH when House of X #1 was released.
The shortest version, though, is that yes, it’s about as good an entry point as you’ll find for a franchise with over 60 years of history, and it’s absolutely the doorway into what’s happening at this moment.
Issues: Giant-Size X-Men #1, Uncanny X-Men #94 to #138
Era: Chris Claremont X-Men (1975 – 1991)
Type of fan it’s good for: 1, 2
Is It Awesome? Yes!
The clearest starting place for X-Men, and the definite consensus among broad swaths of X-Men fans, is kicking things off with the franchise reboot in 1975, Giant-Size X-Men #1, before writer Chris Claremont and artist Dave Cockrum re-energized the merry Marvel mutants starting with Uncanny X-Men #94.
We’ll talk briefly about Silver Age X-Men, but the modern Marvel Universe begins with Fantastic Four #1 in 1961, with the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others creating the Marvel Comics characters as we know them today. With X-Men, though, the franchise doesn’t come into its own until midway through the 70s and Marvel’s Bronze Age, with so much of what we know about X-Men today defined by Len Wein, Claremont, Cockrum, and later John Byrne.
Now if you start reading here, and you’re having a good time, you’re now on track for the Claremont-verse of X-Men, which runs for 16 years across Uncanny X-Men, and later spinoff titles like New Mutants, Excalibur, Wolverine, X-Factor, and other minis. I have a complete reading order on CBH that I highly recommend. For starting places, though, You can ride from the launch through the Phoenix Saga, which is one of the most celebrated and most well-known X-Men sagas of all time. If you just want to jump straight to the Dark Phoenix part of the programming, read Uncanny X-Men #129 to #137.
3) New X-Men
Issues: #114 to #146
Era: Grant Morrison X-Men (2001 – 2004)
Type of Fans: 2, 3
Is It Awesome?: Mostly, yeah
Grant Morrison is one of the most important and celebrated comic book writers in Marvel and DC superhero comics since the late 1980s, and their four-year stint refreshing X-Men for the new millennium is one of the most energizing, inventive, and influential works readers can revisit today. Likewise, modern creators like Jonathan Hickman look up to Morrison as an uncompromising creative mastermind, meaning their work often serves as a template for current stories.
Honestly, at a minimum, you could read Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s work on New X-Men #114 to #116, the “E is for Extinction” storyline, and you’d have a good feel for what the run is going to be, and the major plot points that are heavily referenced in the current era of X-Men. I should point out as you get started here, that Morrison’s the type of writer who sometimes feels like they require an advanced degree to fully make sense of the story. I don’t think their X-Men quite requires a Ph.D. in Morrison-ology the way DC Batman or Final Crisis might, but that’s the main reason I don’t consider this an easy entry point for readers new to X-Men.
Issues: Uncanny X-Men #1, #4, #12 to #16, Marvels #2
Era: Silver Age, Kirby & Lee
Type of Fans: 1
Is It Awesome?: Not like you’d think!
We’ve made it this far without really digging into the X-Men’s true beginnings, the 1963 Silver Age debut by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Truth be told, Lee and Kirby’s X-Men is consistently one of the least essential Marvel Origins works, at least compared to the likes of Fantastic Four, Thor, or the Lee and Steve Ditko work on Amazing Spider-Man. Nonetheless, X-Men introduces us to the concept of mutants, Professor X, Magneto, the original 5 X-Men (Cyclops, Angel, Beast, Ice Man, and Jean Grey, Marvel Girl), Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Juggernaut, and Sentinels (among other characters and concepts!).
I’d recommend the My Marvelous Year reading club curated approach to this era of X-Men, prioritizing the best stories and ideas, mostly around Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the debut of Juggernaut (one of my favorite Lee/Kirby works, full stop), and the rise of the Sentinels. If you’re really committed to exploring X-Men through the years from this time period, I’d suggest joining the MMY reading club and podcast for my full guide year by year through Marvel Comics history!
5) House of M / Decimation
Issues: House of M #1 to #8 / House of M: Decimation – The Day After #1
Era: Decimation, Post Morrison 2000’s
Type of Fans: 2, 3
Is It Awesome?: Ehhhhhhhhh
I mentioned that there’s a moment in “E is for Extinction” that provides some crucial X-history for the House of X era, and the second crucial piece of history stems from the fallout of House of M, namely the Decimation of Marvel’s mutants. Given this was heavily discussed as a possible influence for WandaVision (and that it’s been over 15 years since it happened!), I’m going to reference the outcome here in clear terms. If you’ve dodged all House of M related possible spoilers though, skip ahead to the next section.
House of M creates a Utopia-like alt-reality where Magneto leads the ruling House of mutants in a world where mutants do in fact reign supreme. Ultimately, it’s revealed that this is not so much Magneto’s doing as it is Quicksilver pressuring a desperately de-stable Scarlet Witch into using her unhinged abilities to create the House of M reality. During the final push from the heroes to restoring reality (for… reasons), Magneto lashes out at Quicksilver for his role, and Wanda then strikes back at her (then) father with the famous “No More Mutants,” restoring reality, but with Magneto and a great many mutants massively depowered.
The ‘Decimation’ era of mutants sets the stage for X-Men comics from 2006 through 2019, with the exploding population of the Morrison era stripped down to an initial 198 total mutants in the Marvel Universe. While the comics themselves aren’t obvious must-reads, the context is crucial to seeing what House and Powers are recovering from.
Issues: Uncanny X-Men #141, #142
Era: Chris Claremont / John Byrne X-Men
Type of Fans: 1, 2
Is It Awesome?: Yes!
The template for dystopian possible mutant futures is distilled and executed almost flawlessly across these two issues towards the very end of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s legendary collaboration on Uncanny X-Men. In the not TOO distant future, Sentinels have run rampant across Earth, and mutants are persecuted and imprisoned in camps where those who haven’t lost their lives in the genocide are forced to wear collars to depower them. A handful of mutant survivors including adult Kate Pryde must travel through time to prevent this future from ever coming to pass.
This is a classic must-read, but also a perfect introduction to the kinds of futures mutantkind is perpetually fighting to avoid. Powers of X plays with futuristic storytelling a great deal, and it’s safe to say “Days of Future Past” is a huge influence on the tone and feel of those stories as well.
Issues: See the Comic Book Herald reading order
Era: AoA Alternate Reality (1995)
Type of Fans: 2
Is It Awesome?: YES I WILL NOT BE TAKING QUESTIONS AT THIS TIME
In 1995, Marvel Comics relaunched their entire bestselling X-Men line of comics in an alternate reality known as the Age of Apocalypse. In the grand tradition of “Days of Future Past,” the AoA is a dystopian future where Apocalypse has risen to power, Magneto leads a band of resisting X-Men, and many familiar humans and mutants have been killed.
In plenty of ways, the Age of Apocalypse is a strange place to start with X-Men, because its well-known characters operate outside their standard parameters, literally operating apart from their years of shared continuity in Marvel’s Earth-616. Yet, in so many ways, the variations on characters offer a chance for fans with a basic understanding of their personalities and abilities to explore the potential for fresh, new takes on these longstanding players, in a landscape that doesn’t deliberately mirror what we typically see in the likes of early 2000’s X-Men movies or the 90s Animated Series.
Cyclops is still a stoic commander, Wolverine is still a weaponized man in love with Jean Grey, Nightcrawler retains his skill with the blade without the humor he’s permitted outside of the Age of Apocalypse, and Mister Sinister is still the eugenics-obsessed scientist scheming for his own master plan to overtake Apocalypse and the four horsemen. And yet with all those similarities, there’s still plenty of change, from the visual (shouts to Cylcops’ ponytail) to the personality (AoA Sabretooth has a heart!) to the redesigned (X-Man as a revamped take on an alternate reality Cable).
Issues: X-Men #1 to #7
Era: Jim Lee X-Men
Type of Fans: 1, 2
Is It Awesome?: I believe the term you’re looking for is RAD
While the Claremont era of X-Men dictates most of what we know about the mutant metaphor, aka X-Men in a world that fears and hates them, and the nuance of characters like Magneto, the Jim Lee driven 1991 series relaunch dictates so much that we associate with the style, look and attitude of X-Men.
Honestly, until somewhat recently, I wouldn’t have prioritized this era of X-Men comics as highly for new readers, but it is frequently referenced, a huge modern touchstone, and for a lot of lapsed readers, where their journey with Marvel’s mutants may have stopped. The first three issues alone – the only in the run by both Claremont and Jim Lee – are clearly called out in House of X and Powers of X.
Issues: X-Men (2004-2007) #188 to #207
Era: Mike Carey X-Men
Type of Fans: 3
Is It Awesome?: Yeah!
Aside from HoX/PoX, this is the most I’ll throw you into the deep end of this guide, and why I primarily recommend it for readers looking to catch up on modern-day X-Men comics. Honestly, until recently, Carey’s X-Men was deeply underrated, often overshadowed by runs on X-Men comics running around the same time by creators like Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, and Kieron Gillen (whose opening “Everything is Sinister” arc on 2011’s Uncanny X-Men is an honorable mention starting place on this list!). Jonathan Hickman’s affinity for Carey’s work, as well as character and story references we’ve seen in the Dawn of X, have enhanced visibility into the Carey run, which extends from X-Men to X-Men Legacy to an alternate reality event, Age of X.
While I recommend reading as much of the run as you like, the opening story by Carey and artist Chris Bachalo, “Supernovas,” introduces some great new X-Men villains, and gives a good feel for modern X-stories set firmly in the post-Decimation landscape. As Carey’s run continues, it will also give a good feel for the Utopia era of X-Men, when Cyclops takes more definitive leadership of mutantkind and moves them to an island off the coast of San Francisco (sound familiar?). All in all, it’s very good X-Men comics, with a clear influence on the present day.
Issues: Check out the full Comic Book Herald reading order
Era: Dark Reign through Secret Wars (2015)
Type of Fans: 3
Is It Awesome?: I looooooove it!
Ok, so NOT an X-Men story, but I do recommend readers jumping into House of X and Powers of X consider familiarizing themselves with writer Jonathan Hickman, whether through his Marvel Universe works from 2008 to 2016, or through some of his creator-owned works. I love these works and would recommend them purely on a comic quality basis, but I also think there’s value in knowing how this creator works, what kind of themes they’re interested in, and how Hickman’s told stories visually and informationally throughout his career. It’s a way to immerse yourself in the language of the X-Men stories being told after House of X, less about the plot points and continuity, and more about the style and communication.
For my money, the most accessible non-Marvel Hickman work is East of West, which runs for nearly 50 issues with artist Nick Dragotta via Image Comics, and requires no background reading or crossover jumps across other works. The best place to get a feel for the long-term planning and ambitious concepts Hickman is known for in his superhero works is starting with his Fantastic Four.