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The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

The student news site of Moravian University

The Comenian

Every X-Men Cartoon Reviewed and Ranked

Photo courtesy of Disney+
Photo courtesy of Disney+

Just 10 years ago, the X-Men were Marvel’s all-star superhero property, second only to Spider-Man. They have been a pop culture powerhouse since Chris Claremont redefined the team in the late 70s into the 80s. In recent years, it feels like the X-Men have had a rough time. After 2012’s The Avengers everyone’s favorite mutants have taken a back seat in the wider cultural zeitgeist. After nearly a decade of essentially being Marvel’s sloppy seconds, it finally seems like they are getting the comeback they deserve.

In 2024, the classic X-Men: The Animated Series from the 90’s is getting a new revival in X-Men ‘97. Also, Marvel Studios is currently developing an X-Men movie and has been teasing it for years. Insomniac Games is also making a Wolverine game set to release in 2026 and a fully-fledged X-Men game slated for release in 2026. Between the recent Krakoa era of comics to the plethora of multimedia adaptations, X-Men fans will be feasting for years. 

A large part of the popularity of the Marvel-ous Mutants stems from the cartoon adaptations so with the upcoming upheaval of X-Men stories, what better time is there to rank every animated X-Men series?

3: X-Men Evolution

Photo courtesy of Disney+

This show is a little conflicting for me. On one hand, I like the unique take on the X-Men that blends the original Stan Lee days with more modern stories. On the other hand, I think a lot of the changes hold this show back from realizing its full potential. 

This show de-ages most of the X-Men to be in high school which definitely sets it apart from different interpretations. Also, instead of going to school at Xavier’s Institute, they go to a normal high school. On one hand, I like this change because it allows the writers to stick these characters in unique scenarios that feel not unlike the early days of Spider-Man.

My issue is that this show relentlessly sticks by this premise to the point where the juvenile shenanigans get in the way of the larger story being told. By the end of season two and the beginning of season three, it looks like the team is about to go through some life-altering events but the consequences of those events don’t feel fully-fledged or realized.

The insistence on making this show stick to its high school premise makes the plight of the mutants feel minimalized a bit by contextualizing the majority of their mythos to a small town. The biggest example of this is how the Brotherhood of Mutants comes off as petty rivals to the X-Men rather than ideologically opposed forces. These characters don’t have actual reasons for not liking the X-Men beyond just being petty and short-sighted.

The use of this setting also makes discrimination against the mutants feel like petty squabbles rather than systemic oppression. For example, instead of being a US senator, Robert Kelly is just a high school principal who has a bone to pick with mutants which weakens the impact of his anti-mutant actions to just a small town.

Beyond the change in setting, most of the characters are great. All of the X-Men have interesting dynamics with the rest of the team and I especially like how this show does not place Wolverine at the center of this team. It always grinds my gears when Wolverine is placed at the center of the X-Men universe so it’s nice to see the writers reeled him back to let other members shine.

Storm, however, was a really disappointing character. I feel like this show gave her absolutely nothing interesting to do which sucks considering she is one of Marvel’s first and most prominent black female superheroes. She’s very static for the majority of the show and doesn’t have much to do besides being a generic mentor figure.

Cyclops is a big standout in this show. I feel like he has gotten a bad reputation since the first X-Men movie came out but he is one of the best characters on the team so I’m happy that this show gave him the spotlight. You come to understand why he is the leader of this group but also the personal struggles he must overcome. He’s not just used to force some crappy love triangle with Jean Grey and Wolverine this time around and he has a definite arc throughout the show as he grows from a boy to a leader who is able to reign in and inspire this group of misfits.

Also, be prepared for a wave of purely 2000s tropes. There are obnoxious electric guitar riffs, skating competitions, flashing white lights every five seconds, and dumb adults being oblivious to everything around them.

This is very much a show of its time, but it still holds up for the most part even if many of the creative decisions are disagreeable.

Score: 7/10

2: Wolverine and The X-Men

Photo courtesy of Disney+

In terms of writing, plot development, and character work, this could have easily been the best X-Men show, but it suffers from two fatal flaws, this is a Wolverine show first and foremost and this show got canceled after one season.

My biggest problem with modern X-Men stories is that Wolverine always seems to be the main star of the show. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great character and one of my favorite Marvel characters, but this is supposed to be a team of characters so placing him at the center does a disservice to the rest of the team.

This show heavily prioritizes Logan to the point that he is the interim leader of the X-Men. I will say that seeing Logan having to step up to become the leader of the X-Men while Cyclops is an angry walking disaster is an interesting role reversal that I think makes the two’s dynamic very interesting, especially if you are familiar with previous iterations of the characters.

My issue is not inherently that he took charge but rather that this came at a time when everything made Wolverine the main star which left the rest of the team feeling underdeveloped. Where the other two shows had extensive time to develop the entire cast, this show seems to only really be interested in Wolverine, Cyclops, and Rogue.

Going by what the plans for season 2 were, it seems like this issue would be rectified as it would focus less on Wolverine in favor of the rest of the team. What little focus is there for the rest of the team is very very good. While the others’ time to shine may have been fleeting, every character is excellently written and performed.

More than even the other two shows, Wolverine and the X-Men very much hinges on a long-form continuous storyline that develops throughout the entire season. In a way, it kind of feels like Game of Thrones where you see all these different pieces head into a collision course. It’s incredibly satisfying seeing all these different plot threads slowly converge over the course of all 26 episodes. 

I also think this show handles the mutant question the best as the show is centered around an impending war between mutants and humans which would eventually destroy the world. Seeing these tensions build to a critical boiling point throughout the show properly demonstrates how bigotry, discrimination, and prejudice only lead society to worse and more violent outcomes.

The cast of this show is also absolutely incredible with A-list voice acting talent across the board. In particular, Steve Blum as Wolverine is the best and most definitive voice performance of the character. This man is the definitive voice of Wolverine in my eyes and this show is a very big part of that. In particular, his relationship with Rogue is captivating because of how similar they paint each character as and how they form a rift because of that.

Nolan North is surprisingly great as Cyclops. I’ve grown very accustomed to him playing more jokey characters in Marvel projects such as Deadpool and Iron Man, so I was pleasantly surprised with his performance here and the levity he brings to Cyclops’ self-destructive habits. Many X-Men fans will likely not like this version of the character but I thought he acted as a great foil to Logan (even if his obsession with Jean can get annoying. 

This is a show that deserved so much more than it got and it’s painful that it never got another season. This had the potential to be one of the all-time great superhero cartoons but Disney’s purchase of Marvel unfortunately cut this great show short. Even worse is that it ends on one of the biggest cliffhangers ever. Wolverine and the X-Men does tell a complete story so new watchers won’t be left with huge dangling plot threads, but it’s clear that there was so much more story to tell here and it’s unfortunate that the showrunners never got to continue the adventures of these characters.

Score: 8/10

1: X-Men The Animated Series

Photo courtesy of IMDb

This should serve as no surprise to anyone. X-Men The Animated Series (XTAS), along with Batman The Animated Series, set the stage for modern superhero cartoons by telling compelling stories that pay extreme reverence to the original source material. If you are looking for a place to get properly introduced to the X-Men (especially after seeing how poorly the movies represented them), this is your best shot at experiencing what makes this team great without dumping loads of time and money into reading the comics.

I will always recommend the comics first and foremost for new fans, but this show is the second-best option available. Yes, it’s a bit superficial, but this show absolutely nails the aesthetics of the X-Men by directly adapting the looks straight from the 90’s era of comics. Of course, there are some misfires such as Apocalypse who looks like an advanced blobfish, but on the whole, they excellently nail the aesthetics of the original comics. Compared to other cartoons at the time, It feels like there was such an extreme level of detail in the art and animation due in large part to the three-tone shading on each character which gives them a better sense of depth than most cartoons at the time.

Not only is this show aesthetically faithful, it’s also extremely faithful to the comic storylines, going as far as to directly adapt numerous storylines. In a sense, this acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, those storylines are already great and they are excellently adapted to the small screen, on the other, if you have read much of those comic storylines (specifically the Chris Claremont era), then this show could feel a little repetitive. Thankfully, this show does attempt to differentiate itself from the books in meaningful ways to fit the context of the show. Some adaptations can be hit or miss, however, the Phoenix and Dark Phoenix Sagas are both great while Days of Future Past left a lot to be desired.

A lot of the characters are surprisingly great with some impactful and meaningful stories. Nevertheless, that doesn’t save this show from the occasional stinker.

Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm were incredibly disappointing. All three of them are boring for the majority of the show and often feel like archetypes more than actual characters. Cyclops is just a boring leader who can be a little strict. Jean only really exists to be Cyclops’ love interest until she becomes the Phoenix, and Storm is basically just the wind lady with claustrophobia. I don’t know why it’s so hard for writers to adapt Storm, but she gets treated extremely dirty in every single cartoon or movie. She is one of the best and most important X-Men characters so to see such a seminal character get treated this poorly across every adaptation is disheartening, to say the least.

As usual, Wolverine is great. This is well before every version got infected with Hugh Jackman syndrome so he’s still the angry hairy little meatball we all know and love. Throughout the show, he gets some great development and some of the best character moments. Despite that, I can’t help but feel like Wolverine is kinda lame. This is not a problem limited to this show because every one of these shows has this problem. He is a character whose power is knives coming out of his knuckles so he is often neutered in what exactly he can do since this is a kids’ show. It often feels like his claws are a secondary tool rather than his actual namesake.

In my eyes, Rogue is the superstar of this show. She consistently has the most compelling and engaging storylines along with some of the best voice work across the entire show. Her powers allow her to absorb the abilities and memories of others when she touches them. This power also has significant drawbacks, however. Whenever she touches someone, she also absorbs part of their life force so she is unable to be physically intimate with anyone without risking harming or killing them. This drawback gives way to some really interesting and compelling stories for her. She’s normally a lively and bubbly character but when the curtain is lifted, there’s a palpable sense of loneliness to her.

This show also impressively has long and continuous storylines that build over the course of entire seasons which makes the narrative have more weight than many of its contemporaries. This is something many would think is a given now but back then narrative-driven kids’ shows typically did not have continuous storylines like this. 

Yes, this show has aged but it still remains the most complete and definitive X-Men cartoon to date, and the fact that it’s getting continued means that it’s now the gift that just keeps on giving. Despite some stiff animation and occasionally lousy voice acting, this show remains the best representation of Marvel’s most important team.

Score: 8/10

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