1. If You Want to Jump Into the Current Status Quo
Yesterday’s X-Men, the first volume of Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen’s All New X-Men, is the starting point for the current status quo of the monthly X-Men comics. The story starts in the aftermath of Charles Xavier’s death at the hands of his star student Cyclops, who is now leading a “mutant revolution” alongside Emma Frost and Magneto. A grief-stricken Beast decides to get back at Cyclops by bringing the five original X-Men to the present so a teenage Cyclops can see what he becomes. Of course, this all backfires horribly, and sets in motion a number of stories that are still playing out every month in Bendis’ All New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men series.
2. If You Want a Brainy, Cool Take on the X-Men
Grant Morrison’s New X-Men series was a bold new direction for the X-Men that redefined many core characters while introducing many new characters who have since become mainstays of the franchise. Morrison’s clever, sci-fi take on the X-Men is available in many forms — split across three paperback volumes, spread across seven digests, compiled in one huge omnibus — but no matter what, start at the beginning. The first storyline, “E Is for Extinction,” is one of the all-time best X-stories and introduces Cassandra Nova, one of the team’s most nightmarish villains.
3. If You Want to Read X-Men Comics by the Guy Who Created Buffy
When Joss Whedon started his excellent, self-contained Astonishing X-Men series in 2004, he was known as the guy who created Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly, but was still years away from becoming the guy who wrote and directed the Avengers movie. Whedon’s take on the X-Men plays to his strengths: lots of great emotional beats, great one-liners, and strong female leads in Kitty Pryde and Emma Frost. This run, which is collected in many forms, is a great place to jump in if you’ve never read an X-Men comic before, but it’s even better if you think of the two volumes as being the two “seasons” following Grant Morrison’s three-year epic.
4. If You Want to Read the Most Iconic X-Men Story
The Dark Phoenix Saga is the most famous of all X-Men stories, and was the point at which Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s run on Uncanny X-Men became a huge phenomenon in the world of comics. Some aspects of these comics seem a bit dated today, but the overall story of Jean Grey being possessed by the Phoenix Force and corrupted by the Hellfire Club is a classic, and the basis for many future X-Men comics, cartoons, and movies.
5. If You Want a Comic With the Same Title as the New Movie
The original “Days of Future Past” storyline was a pivotal moment in the development of the X-Men franchise in the early ’80s, but only resembles the movie of the same name in that there’s a dystopian future full of mutant-killing Sentinel robots. The story has been collected many times over, but Marvel’s new hardcover edition features the original two-part story along with the issues just before and after it, and a sequel to the story that came years later. All of this probably makes more sense if you read it as it was originally intended — it’s the story that immediately follows the equally famous Dark Phoenix storyline — but it’s great if you just really love the time travel and Sentinels aspect of the X-mythos.
6. If You Want Grim X-Men Stories From the ’80s
Chris Claremont, the chief architect of the X-Men franchise, wrote Uncanny X-Men for 17 years starting in 1975. His entire run is collected in 10 inexpensive black and white volumes of Essential X-Men. It’s all great, but Volume 6 collects a particularly great and exciting chunk of his run from the mid ’80s in which the world of the X-Men becomes considerably darker, to the point that half the team is written out of the series after being wounded in a battle with Sabretooth and the Marauders.
7. If You Want Something Focused on the Core Themes
Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson’s 1982 graphic novel God Loves, Man Kills is considered by many to be the defining statement of Claremont’s lengthy tenure on the series and served as the partial basic for the second X-Men movie. The story, in which the X-Men team up with Magneto to confront a religious crusade against mutants, isn’t particularly subtle but is very effective in focusing on the series’ core theme of fighting bigotry and oppression.
8. If You Want an Extremely Dark and Violent X-Men Story
OK, this is not technically an X-Men comic, but Rick Remender’s extraordinary Uncanny X-Force is undoubtedly one of the best and most definitive X-Men stories of the past decade. Remender’s X-Force is basically a Wolverine-led secret kill squad that sets out to execute a cloned child version of the evil mutant Apocalypse, and whose members end up facing the horrible consequences of their actions over the course of Remender’s run on the series. It’s very exciting and action-packed every step of the way, but also very emotional, particularly in how Remender develops characters like Psylocke, Archangel, and Fantomex. Uncanny X-Force is collected in many forms, including a giant omnibus featuring the entire 35-issue epic, but make sure you start at the beginning with the “Apocalypse Solution” storyline.
9. If You Want a Fresh Take on the Original X-Men
Dennis Hopeless and Jamie McKelvie’s self-contained graphic novel X-Men: Season One puts a modern spin on the early days of the original X-Men from the 1960s. The story is a great introduction to the X-Men, especially if you’re into YA novels. Hopeless and McKelvie’s X-Men are vivid, believable teens, and their take on the Cyclops and Jean Grey romance is particularly nuanced and great.
10. If You Want to See Cyclops Fight Wolverine
Schism, a miniseries written by Jason Aaron, set up the current dynamic of the X-Men comics, in which Wolverine and Cyclops lead rival factions of X-Men with very different goals. Aaron’s story, which is set up as an easy jumping-on point for new readers, shows us how this philosophical rift happens, and more importantly, features a lot of pages of Wolverine and Cyclops beating each other up.
11. If You Want to See All the X-Men Fight All the Avengers
Avengers Vs. X-Men is exactly what the title implies, but also a lot more. The story is basically about what happens when Cyclops’ X-Men and the Avengers go to war after discovering that the Phoenix Force is about to return to Earth. Cyclops’ group ends up possessed by the Phoenix, which…doesn’t end well for anyone involved.
12. If You Just Really Love Magneto
Cullen Bunn and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s new Magneto ongoing series only recently began and won’t be collected until the fall, but it’s really the best thing you could pick up if you’re fascinated by Michael Fassbender’s version of the the character from the X-Men: First Class movie. The series follows Magneto as he pursues his own agenda outside the X-Men and goes after humans who are oppressing and killing mutants. Bunn writes the character as an ambiguous antihero, and doesn’t shy away from showing us how ruthless and brutal Magneto can be.