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7 best X-Men: The Animated Series episodes, ranked

The X-Men looking in the same direction in the animated show X-Men.

Earlier this month, Disney+ debuted X-Men ’97, an official continuation of the fan-favorite cartoon X-Men: The Animated Series. After only two episodes, X-Men ’97 has reminded viewers why they loved Marvel’s mutant heroes in the first place. The original series was produced in 1992 for Fox Kids’ Saturday morning lineup, and it was the first time that Marvel had a show that took its characters and stories seriously. X-Men: The Animated Series depicted a world where the heroes were hated and feared simply because they were born with superhuman abilities. That powerful allegory helped X-Men become a top-selling comic book series before it became a franchise in Hollywood.

Now that X-Men ’97 has reignited the X-Men fandom, we’re taking a look back at the seven best X-Men: The Animated Series episodes. Although for the purposes of this list, multipart episodes are being counted as a single story.

7. Days of Future Past

Wolverine confronts Bishop in X-Men: The Animated Series.

Season 1, episodes 11 and 12

Much like the X-Men: Days of Future Past feature film, the animated series took some liberties when adapting the fan-favorite storyline from the comic. But the core idea remains that in the future, the X-Men have failed and the Sentinels have nearly exterminated all mutants. These episodes introduced Bishop, a mutant bounty hunter who initially works for the Sentinels in the future before he’s forced to side with his fellow mutants and make the trip back in time to the present to change history.

When Bishop finally meets the modern X-Men, they’re not sure what to make of him. Bishop also warns the team that one of their own created his future by murdering Senator Robert Kelly. But because of his time travel ordeal, Bishop can’t remember who betrayed the team.

6. Time Fugitives

Cable and Bishop in X-Men: The Animated Series.

Season 2, episodes 7 and 8

Bishop returns in Time Fugitives, a two-part storyline that reveals that his future has been changed due to his efforts, and not necessarily for the better. To save the world from a plague that targets mutants, Bishop once again travels back in time to the present. The complication is that Bishop’s efforts to change the past are altering the future for Cable, another time traveler. And in order to save his own future, Cable may have to let one of the X-Men’s greatest foes eliminate the team.

5. Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler speaks to Wolverine in X-Men: The Animated Series.

Season 4, episode 8

Nightcrawler unexpectedly dropped some weighty issues on Saturday morning cartoons when the show finally got around to introducing the title character. While on vacation in Germany, Wolverine, Rogue, and Gambit meet Nightcrawler, aka Kurt Wagner, a teleporting mutant whose demonic physical appearance makes normal people afraid of him.

Instead of allowing that hate and prejudice to consume him, Nightcrawler embraces religion and openly practices what he preaches. Nightcrawler’s blind faith angers Wolverine at first, before it eventually inspires him to reawaken his own belief in God.

4. Beyond Good and Evil

The X-Men and Cable plot their next move in X-Men: The Animated Series.

Season 4, episodes 18-21

The series was originally going to come to a conclusion with the epic four-part adventure Beyond Good and Evil. Almost every major character in the show to that point was featured, as Apocalypse kidnapped Professor X, Jean Grey, and powerful psychics from around the world in a bid to rewrite reality in his image.

Bishop and Cable both returned for this storyline, which also introduced Shard and Psylocke to the show. This was also the story where Cyclops and Jean Grey finally got married after a long courtship. They just had to save all of reality before they could go on their honeymoon.

3. Graduation Day

The X-Men and Magneto look on as Professor X departs in X-Men: The Animated Series.

Season 5, episode 10

Because of budget cuts and the unavailability of the previous animation studio, the fifth season of X-Men: The Animated Series features a much looser and more cartoonish style that tends to undercut the show’s dramatic moments. But even that wasn’t enough to stop the final episode, Graduation Day, from delivering a powerful coda for the entire series.

After Charles Xavier is fatally wounded in an assassination attempt, mutant and humans are on a collision course for war. The X-Men realize that their only hope lies in convincing Xavier’s friend-turned-foe, Magneto, to step back from the brink of war and help them with a long-shot bid to save the professor’s life.

2. The Dark Phoenix Saga

Jean Grey struggles to maintain her humanity in The Dark Phoenix Saga.

Season 3, episodes 14-17

The Phoenix Saga and The Dark Phoenix Saga are two of the most beloved comic book storylines in X-Men history. And the animated series was more faithful to both than either X-Men: The Last Stand or the 2019 Dark Phoenix movie. Jean Grey was already one of the most powerful members of the team before she was merged with the cosmic entity known as the Phoenix. But in The Dark Phoenix Saga, Jean’s control over the Phoenix weakened to the point that it made her a threat to the entire universe.

Even if the X-Men manage to defeat the Dark Phoenix, the other alien races won’t stop coming until Jean Grey is dead. And that may be the best option that the universe has.

1. The Final Decision

Storm, Cyclops, and Rogue in X-Men: The Animated Series.

Season 1, episode 13

At the time The Final Decision was written, it wasn’t known if X-Men: The Animated Series would be a hit. So the first season finale was envisioned as a potential series finale, and the creative team pulled out all of the stops. With their present and future on the line, the X-Men team up with their greatest foe, Magneto, to face an army of Sentinels in an increasingly hopeless battle.

Most of the team gets their due in this story with small and big moments of their own, as the first season’s plotlines converge into a satisfying conclusion. While the show could have ended here, we’re all fortunate that it didn’t.

Watch X-Men: The Animated Series on Disney+.

Editors' Recommendations

Blair Marnell
Blair Marnell has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. His bylines have appeared in Wizard Magazine, Geek…
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