For the better part of 60 years, Marvel Comics’ X-Men franchise has ruled the comic book store shelves. And in that time, the mutants sworn to protect a world that fears and hates them have had some legendary creator runs. We’re here to reveal our choices for the best of the best. Now, we should note, that these are just the flagship X-Men books. So, no spin-off teams. Also, unless it’s a writer/artist duo that collaborated on the entire run together, we’re classifying each run by writer primarily. For unknown reasons, writers defined the X-Men runs, with various artists contributing more often than not. Now, with all that out of the way, let’s rank the top 10 X-Men creator runs of all time.
10. Fabian Nicieza (X-Men, Vol. 2)
Writer Fabian Nicieza, the co-creator of Deadpool, had the unenviable task of following up writer Chris Claremont’s legendary 16-year run on the X-Men, which was no easy feat. To say he (and writer Scott Lobdell, who wrote Uncanny X-Men) had big shoes to fill is an understatement. But after a rocky start, Nicieza wrote the hell out of the main X-Men title. He really developed Psylocke into more than a gimmick character, truly developed Gambit, and wrote some of the best issues of the groundbreaking Age of Apocalypse storyline, not to mention, he was behind the moment Magneto ripped the adamantium off of Wolverine’s skeleton. His writing was also augmented by some incredible artwork from folks like Andy Kubert. You can’t write that many iconic X-Men moments in their history and not make it on this list.
Issues in Fabian Nicieza’s X-Men Comic Run:
X-Men (Vol.2) #12-45, Amazing X-Men #1-4, X-Men Forever #1-6
9. Brian Michael Bendis (All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men)
Writer Brian Michael Bendis wrote many celebrated Marvel contributions. His run on Ultimate Spider-Man is legendary, and he co-created Miles Morales, Jessica Jones, and more. Then there’s his New Avengers run, his time on Daredevil, and on and on. So, expectations were high when he finally came on board the X-Men in 2013 for All-New X-Men. And to be fair, for many, he didn’t meet those expectations. His run, which saw the teenage original five X-Men come to the present, was not without its faults. However, it had some big, noteworthy highlights.
For starters, Bendis made Kitty Pryde the primary mentor of the young, time-lost X-Men. Many of them were her mentors as adults (oh, timey-wimey headaches!), all of which yielded great storytelling moments. He wrote some great chemistry between the adult Emma Frost and the teen Jean Grey. And Bendis finally made it official, and had Iceman come out of the closet as a gay man. This after years of speculation. The art by the likes of Stuart Immonen and others was also consistently top-tier. So yes, the “teen X-Men in the past” thing went on for way too long. But the best parts of this run make it worthy of inclusion in a best X-Men runs list.
Issues in Brian Michael Bendis’ X-Men Comic Run:
All-New X-Men (Vol.1) #1-41, Uncanny X-Men (Vol.2) #1-35, (Vol.1) #600 (2012-2015)
8. Mark Millar (Ultimate X-Men)
In the early 2000s, Marvel Comics was just emerging from bankruptcy and was desperate to get new readers. Unlike DC Comics, they had never resorted to rebooting their universe. But with their new Ultimate line of comics, they created a new universe where younger, contemporary versions of their iconic characters start from scratch, all adjacent to the main universe. Marvel tasked writer Mark Millar, fresh from DC’s controversial superhero book The Authority, to reinvent the X-Men for the 21st century with Ultimate X-Men.
Although some of his choices were questionable (no one needed incest versions of Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), some were so exciting to read. Millar and his principal artists Adam Kubert and Chris Bachalo gave the X-Men’s classic stories a blockbuster movie makeover, showing the potential of what the mutants could be with a budget behind them. Eventually, this series ran out of steam, especially as other writers took over. Not least because they stopped having truly classic stories to reinvent. But Millar’s run remains a big, bombastic blast to read. Sometimes a slightly problematic blast, but a blast nevertheless.
Issues in Mark Millar’s X-Men Comic Run:
Ultimate X-Men (Vol. 1) #1-33 (2000-2003)
7. Mike Carey (X-Men, Vol. 2, X-Men: Legacy)
Although Mike Carey wrote the X-Men for five years, the longest outside of Chris Claremont’s, his run remains criminally underrated. While he used many iconic members like Wolverine and Cyclops, his best team during his years on the title had a very unusual roster—Iceman, Mystique, Rogue, Sabretooth, Cannonball, Cable, and new characters Lady Mastermind and Omega Sentinel. This oddball grouping of wild cards and ex-villains provided the X-Men with some much-needed uniqueness, smack in the middle of crossover event after crossover event.
Carey introduced the Children of the Vault, another advanced breed of humanity which continues to play a part in X-Men lore today. He finally gave Rogue control of her powers after decades, and when the title switched names to X-Men: Legacy, he used it to truly develop Charles Xavier into a multi-faceted character, after years of being either a saint or a monster. Carey’s run was accompanied by a bevy of talented artists, including Chris Bachalo, Humberto Ramos, and more. Hopefully, one day, more X-Men fans will recognize this run as one of the best. We sure think it is.
Issues in Mike Carey’s X-Men Comic Run:
X-Men (Vol.2) #188-207, X-Men: Legacy #208-260 (2006-2011)
6. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (X-Men, Vol. 1)
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were only on the original X-Men series for the first seventeen issues, from 1963-1965. Compared to Lee & Kirby’s run on Fantastic Four, Thor, and even Avengers, these first X-Men comics were certainly lacking. But without a doubt, they lay the groundwork for the entire future of the franchise in these still innovative first few years of Lee and Kirby’s run. Xavier’s School, the Magneto vs. Charles conflict, the love affair of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, the Sentinels. All Lee and Kirby concepts. Really, just the entire idea of Marvel mutants, period. It all started here. Other creators might have improved on the framework that Lee and Kirby created, but without a doubt, their run is where a large chunk of what makes the X-Men THE X-MEN came from.
Issues in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s X-Men Comic Run:
X-Men (Vol.1) #1-17 (1963-1965)
5. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men, Vol.2)
When writer Joss Whedon came on board the X-Men titles with Astonishing X-Men, he wasn’t the problematic creator we know him as today (Or he likely was, we just didn’t know). Nor was he the director of the first two Avengers films. He was the guy who reinvented TV genre storytelling with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. But the inspiration for many of the characters on those shows was none other than the X-Men. Buffy Summers herself was based on Kitty Pryde, and her last name was a nod to Scott Summers, a.k.a. Cyclops. So Whedon on an X-Men series felt like a long time coming.
Whedon and artist John Cassaday did a full 25-issue run on Astonishing X-Men that followed up on Grant Morrison’s, incorporating elements of his run, like Cyclops and Emma Frost in a relationship, and the Xavier School expanded to dozens of students. However, they also made the X-Men into costumed superheroes once again, something Morrison stayed away from. Most importantly, the Whedon/Cassaday run put Kitty Pryde back in the spotlight after years of being a second-stringer, and gave the character one of her defining moments in the franchise. New villains like Danger, and Cassaday’s incredibly detailed pencils on every issue, also make this a truly top-notch run, and one that was hard to beat for several years after.
Issues in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s X-Men Comic Run:
Astonishing X-Men (Vol.2) #1-24, Giant Size Astonishing X-Men #1 (2004-2008)
4. Jason Aaron (Wolverine and the X-Men, Vol. 1)
These days, Jason Aaron is thought of more for his extended run on Thor, or even his own series, Scalped. But his Wolverine and the X-Men series was a breath of fresh air during an era when the X-books were mostly deadly serious. After the (most recent) death of Jean Grey, Cyclops and Wolverine have an ideological schism, and split the team in two. Logan ends up being the headmaster of the newly named Jean Grey School. Characters like former students Kitty Pryde, Beast, and Iceman were now part of the faculty.
Aaron infused a ton of humor into the awkward nature of Wolverine trying to teach a bunch of teenage kids. All while also writing those same kids with genuine heart and pathos. Aaron wrote the first 42 issues, with artists like Chris Bachalo, Nick Bradshaw, Ramon Perez, and Pepe Larraz. Each of them gave the book a true visual panache. A second Wolverine and the X-Men series came from writer Christos Gage for another 12 issues. It ended when Wolverine died under Marvel mandate (he got better). But the Jason Aaron run remains the best version, and still one of the best X-Men runs overall.
Issues in Jason Aaron’s X-Men Comic Run:
X-Men: Schism #1-5, Wolverine & The X-Men (2011) 1-35, 38-42; Wolverine & The X-Men Annual (2011-2014)
3. Grant Morrison (New X-Men)
Grant Morrison took over the X-Men titles in 2001, following a full decade of other writers trying to emulate Chris Claremont’s style. Some pulled it off. But just as many did not. By the turn of the 21st century, the Jim Lee/X-Men: The Animated Series look and feel was just tired. Morrison, who’d already written groundbreaking runs for DC on JLA and Doom Patrol, decided to change the game for Marvel’s mutants. Their New X-Men run, with artists like Frank Quitely and Phil Jimenez, was the biggest change to the series since 1975.
Morrison’s New X-Men focused on Xavier’s students teaching at a much-expanded School for the Gifted. Mutants became trendy in Morrison’s world, but also an endangered species when the mutant nation of Genosha was obliterated. Morrison evolved Hank McCoy, a.k.a. the Beast into something even more animal-like yet smarter. They even dared to have Cyclops cheat on Jean Grey, and engage in a (psychic) affair with Emma Frost. Their character of Xorn, a Chinese mutant with a star for a brain, was more than we thought at first. Morrison finally evolved the mutants into something more than they’d been in years, more than just costumed heroes. Their three-year run pushed the envelope in ways few writers have ever dared to.
Issues in Grant Morrison’s X-Men Comic Run:
New X-Men #114-156, New X-Men Annual #1 (2001-2004)
2. Jonathan Hickman (House of X, Powers of X, X-Men, X-Men: Inferno)
With few exceptions, for decades, the X-Men were always a group of mutants fighting for a world that fears and hates them. They usually lived in a big mansion, where they trained in the use of their powers. Then, in 2019, Jonathan Hickman came in and blew that whole paradigm up. Starting in the mini-series House of X and Powers of X, the mutants of Earth, under the guidance of Professor X and Magneto, migrate to the living island nation of Krakoa (itself a mutant). There, they essentially become immortal gods on Earth. For the first time, they find themselves in a position of power within humanity, and not perpetual victims.
Hickman’s X-Men era (of which he wrote the main X-Men title and topped it off with the series X-Men: Inferno) introduced new concepts and ideas to the Marvel mutant universe with practically every new issue. Because of this, the franchise became more exciting than it had been in years. Hickman worked with many artists during this time, primarily Pepe Larraz and Leinil Francis Yu, all of which elevated it to one of the best-looking X-Men runs, along with one of the most innovative and fresh. It might have only lasted three years, but Hickman’s time on the X-Men franchise is one fans will still be talking about for decades to come.
Issues in Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men Comic Run:
House of X (#1-6), Powers of X (#1-6) X-Men (Vol.5) #1-20, Giant-Size X-Men: Jean Grey, Giant Size X-Men: Storm, Giant Size X-Men: Magneto, Giant Size X-Men: Fantomex, Giant Size X-Men: Nightcrawler, X-Men: Inferno #1-4 (2019-2022)
1. Chris Claremont (Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, Vol. 2, X-Treme X-Men)
Simply put, no one else, alive or dead, could have topped this list. Writer Chris Claremont might not have created the X-Men himself, or even the “All-New, All-Different X-Men,” which he inherited from Len Wein. But he wrote the book on them in every other sense of the word. His epic 16-year run on Uncanny X-Men from 1975 to 1991 saw Xavier’s students go from previously canceled and washed-up heroes to the stars of Marvel’s best-selling flagship series. Claremont worked with artistic titans during his tenure too. Creators like Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Paul Smith, John Romita Jr., Marc Silvestri, and Jim Lee, to name but a few. To list Chris Claremont’s contributions to the X-Men universe would take us all day, so we’re just gonna lightly touch Claremont’s unique contributions to X-Men one at a time.
Ready? Here we go. The Shi’ar Empire. Magneto reframed as an anti-hero. Mystique. Rogue. The actual characterizations of Wolverine, Storm, and Nightcrawler. Jean Grey’s evolution from constant hostage to the all-powerful Phoenix. The creation of Kitty Pryde (with artist John Byrne). The Dark Phoenix Saga. Days of Future Past. The Mutant Massacre. Mister Sinister. Madelyne Pryor. The Brood. Gambit. All of this culminated in the legendary X-Men #1 in 1991, which sold 8 million copies. Chris Claremont’s later X-Men runs were not as beloved as his first, but who cares? He could have never written another issue again after 1991, and he’d still top this list. The X-Men simply would not be what they are today without him. Period.
Issues in Chris Claremont’s X-Men Comic Run:
Uncanny X-Men #94–279, 381–389, 444–473, Annual #3-14, X-Men (Vol.2) #1-3, (1975-1991) 100–109, 165, Annual 2000, X-Treme X-Men #1-46 (2000-2004) X-Men Forever #1-25, X-Men Forever 2 #1-16 (2009-2011)