X-Men: The Animated Series – The 10 Best Episodes

From Night of the Sentinels all the way to Graduation Day, these are the best episodes of X-Men: The Animated Series.

(L-R): Beast (voiced by George Buza), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), and Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.
Photo: Marvel

Forgive the broadness of this Generation X boast, but the ‘90s were just different. Were they a simpler time? Perhaps. Were they a better time? Objectively yes, absolutely. At least in terms of pop culture, and again … that’s not really up for debate, that’s just a fact! At the very least, television was objectively stellar in the 1990s. 

If that weren’t the case, then why is Friends one of the most streamed shows for teens recently? Why has the Fresh Prince reimagining worked? And most importantly: why is the greatest Saturday morning cartoon of all time making a Disney-fied comeback in X-Men ‘97

X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997) was one of the strongest entries in the history of comic book adaptations simply because it was a rare mix of solid animation (for at least four of those seasons), brilliant storytelling (being able to pull from 30 years of X-Men comics at the time didn’t hurt), all while possessing a moral center that kids understood and respected. 

The new series, set to release on March 20 had better respect those qualities as well. In the meantime, if it has been awhile since your last rewatch of the series, here are the 10 best episodes to help remind you just what the original X-Men animated series had to offer…aside from that unforgettable theme song

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Night of the Sentinels: Part 1

Season 1 Episode 1

It stands to reason that the one that started it all is essential viewing, but the series premiere is, without hyperbole, near-perfect television. What always separated X-Men: The Animated Series from the rest of the Saturday morning pack was how it didn’t talk down to the children watching the show. It deals with some very serious issues, much like the comic did for nearly 30 years at the point of the show’s airing. Younger kids could enjoy the brightly colored characters and Sentinel fighting sequences, granted, but pre-teens and older kids got important lessons about acceptance and social justice. 

The premiere also sets up an entire team of characters flawlessly in only a matter of 21 minutes. You learn who everyone is and what their personalities are very efficiently. Rogue has more than a few country-fried colloquialisms. Beast quotes poetry. Gambit charms a stationery shop employee the very first time we see him. Cyclops proves to be the vanilla boy scout we’ve all come to expect from the character (at least in the animated series) from his very first line. 

More importantly it sets the tone, not only in that gritty visual style, but atmospherically and subtextually as well. Without even realizing it, the audience is privy to what made the comic so successful – the team is diverse, full of fantastic over-the-top accents which signify how global the X-Men are, all the while subtlety showing how gender roles can be truly equal. 

The Unstoppable Juggernaut 

Season 1 Episode 8

In an all-too-quick cameo, the X-Men’s most iconic gentle-giant, Colossus, is mistaken by Wolverine as the perpetrator of destruction after the X-Mansion is found razed to mere rubble. As Wolverine finally realizes Colossus is not the behemoth they’re looking for, he, Jubilee, and the Russian X-Man quickly stumble on the not-so-subtle Juggernaut who is currently on a crime spree across the city. This episode for many young X-fans was the introduction to one of the X-Men’s greatest foes, and much like Rick Bennett’s husky voice acting (who pulls double duty as both Colossus and Juggernaut), it does not disappoint. 

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The action sequences alone are worth a watch (and a rewatch at any given point) but the attention to detail and the respect for X-lore is yet another standout for this episode. Even if it is a mere throw-away line of expositional dialogue (a common tool often used within the show’s writing), audiences learn so much about Juggernaut – that he is not a mutant, that his powers are mystical, that he and his half-brother Charles had a tumultuous relationship. It is a fairly light episode, there’s no important parable, or subtextual political lesson, but anyone new to the vast X-Men history can watch two of the X-Men’s greatest heavies duke it out, and at the same time become fairly knowledgeable about the character of Juggernaut in a very enjoyable 22 minutes.

The Cure 

Season 1 Episode 9

Much like Bennett’s version of Juggernaut, Cal Dodd’s raspy snarls as Wolverine, George Buza’s mellifluous Beast, or Lenore Zann’s Southern drawl with Rogue, there were countless voice characterizations that are now burned into the brain of an entire generation of X-Men fans because of this show. 

Perhaps none were so impactful, however, as John Colicos’ Apocalypse. The writing for this mutant powerhouse was impeccable for this series, as his dialogue resonated with the fierce intelligence and genocidal maliciousness the character is synonymous with. Apocalypse had only appeared in the comic pages for half a dozen years at the point of his debut in the animated show, but he quickly established himself as one of the most powerful beings in all of Marvel.

The episode also introduces us properly to the shape-shifting Mystique, as well as future Brotherhood members Avalanche and Pyro. Once again, the writing of the show is to be praised, as it deals with one of the most important story threads of the X-Men mythology – that of a cure for the mutant X-gene. Centering around Rogue and her inability to be intimate with someone because of her abilities, we start to learn that not all mutants consider their powers a gift. It should be commended that once again, in a small half hour-arc, we are able to see Rogue lament her powers, seeking out a cure, and come to the realization she’s better off embracing who she is, all while still holding onto the pain and loneliness the character often feels.

It was something that even a feature length film couldn’t get right when Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand embraced a similar storyline. Considering the shortcomings of that film, it was merely a drop in a large bucket of failure, but at least the animated show taught kids about trying to embrace any perceived faults they may have, and accepting who they are.

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Days of Future Past: Part 1 

Season 1 Episode 11

The original and perhaps paramount time travel X-story was given a near-perfect adaptation in the animated series long before it became arguably the greatest Fox-produced X-Men film

While the crossover movie event which brought the original X-Men cast and the “First Class” generation of actors together was superb entertainment, and delivered the same dystopian drama that the storyline is known for, there were certain things the animated adaptation did that make it just as strong, if not stronger.

The depth into which this two-part adventure goes in a mere 45 minutes of combined screen time is commendable, dealing with more of the nuanced political repercussions of the dark future where mutants are hunted and rounded up into workcamps. The show never shied away from Magneto’s past as a Holocaust survivor, and so even at a young age, viewers could understand the lesson of the show, and that the “Days of Future Past” story was trying to teach us about true atrocities humans have perpetrated in our own dystopian history. 

While it did have to take some liberties with the characters, once again pushing Shadowcat aside (not for golden boy Hugh Jackman this time, but for the X-Man outside of time, Bishop), the visuals and heightened drama remain faultless, and because of the popularity of these Bishop episodes, the character will be joining the new animated X-Men adventures as a main character. 

The Final Decision 

Season 1 Episode 13

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“The Final Decision” is one of the major reasons that the continuation of “The Night of the Sentinels” is not included in this list, as this is the jewel of the Sentinel-episode crown. While the series premiere and its second part deals out action and emotion, including the loss of Morph and the political imprisonment of Beast (which broke the heart of this writer for an entire season), it all comes to a giant-robotic head with this finale. 

The X-Men must gather all their strength to go on what is essentially a suicide mission to find and destroy Master Mold (the chief Sentinel in terms of artificial intelligence and manufacturing) along with hundreds of Sentinels to ensure the survival of mutantkind everywhere. 

The Sentinels were always worthy foes for the X-Men, especially in the premiere season, and it was a great move to establish them as the main antagonist over the seasonal arc. The massive purple bots, causing millions in collateral property damage wherever they went, were a clear visual cue for young viewers of the lengths humans would go to hunt mutants. 

Watching the X-Men tear apart a small army of these nondescript colossal pawns is some of the greatest animated action you can watch anywhere. Coupled with the fact that we know how dangerous the Sentinels are, as the team has been dealing with the repercussions of their first major battle with the Sentinels since the premiere, the season one finale is high stakes and high drama. Once again, without dumbing it down for the youth watching, or making it too PG, the showrunners of X-Men gave the audience some very palpable tension, and one of the most memorable episodes of the entire show.

Till Death Do Us Part: Part 2 

Season 2 Episode 2

The marriage between two of the founding members of the X-Men, Jean Grey and Cyclops, was a massive event in Marvel comics when it came out. So when the animated show took a stab at the story a year before the issue was released, it was an equally colossal story idea. 

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Yet fans quickly discover the marriage was a sham, and it was all a revenge plot. Morph, who was long thought dead, has been playing tricks on his former team. By shapeshifting into different X-Men teammates, he fools Jubilee into visiting the extremist group the Friends of Humanity. Storm is attacked by the hateful xenophobes and ends up in the hospital. Gambit is in a small coma after trying to sneak a kiss from Rogue. Most importantly, the newlyweds have been kidnapped while on their honeymoon by Mister Sinister and his group of evil mutants, the Nasty Boys. It’s a highly entertaining pair of episodes featuring truly high stakes. 

The second part of “Till Death Do Us Part” showcases so many amazing and perennially successful aspects of the show. The visceral hatred of the Friends of Humanity is something ingrained in the minds of a generation, as their leader Creed spits out that it is merely enough that mutants were born for them to earn the hatred. Couple that with the promotion of Sinister as a brilliant second season villain and a battle between the X-Men and the Nasty Boys that showcases some little known characters and a visual explosion of mutant powers, and the episode is easily one of the highlights of the sophomore season. 

The Phoenix Saga Part III: The Cry of the Banshee

Season 3 Episode 5

While there may have been certain liberties taken with venerated X-Men events, one thing the animated series should always be praised for is how well it did in terms of storytelling considering the limitations of the Saturday morning format.

Case in point, the legendary Phoenix storyline. The show rightfully utilized most of the third season to tell their version of Chris Claremont’s infamous intergalactic X-Men adventure. What makes Part III of the Phoenix saga stand out compared to the other parts is the eclectic collection of characters that truly expands the animated X-Universe for the first time.

Visiting Moira MacTaggert on Muir island, Professor X is worried that his visions of a beautiful alien woman is a sign of madness, not just his gift of telepathy. Much to his surprise, he is visited by Lilandra, the woman of his visions, and Empress of the Shi’ar Empire. While convalescing, Xavier and Lilandra are maliciously attacked by Juggernaut and his new partner, Black Tom Cassidy, who have been hired by Eric the Red to kidnap the Empress so that her brother can take control of the empire. 

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This episode is absolutely packed with old favorites, exciting new characters, and questionable Irish accents, as it not only features Black Tom, but supporting X-Men dark horse Banshee. Banshee was promoted to the limelight in the ‘90s to become a prominent character in other crossover comic events, even establishing himself as an Xavier-type mentor for the next Generation of mutants, and the character has always been entertaining to see (and hear) on the screen. 

The only thing that overshadowed Juggernaut’s entertaining goonery and the screams of the Banshee was the debut of Gladiator, the Shi’ar’s superman, who shocks the X-Men and young audiences alike in how easily he overpowers the Juggernaut. It is one of the most fun-filled episodes in the entire series, with one of the best collections of character cameos, and superbly animated fight sequences, which makes it stand out even in the midst of the indelible Phoenix saga.

One Man’s Worth Part 1

Season 4 Episode 9

The animated series went to the time-traveling well a few times within the show’s run, the most memorable one perhaps being the original “Days of Future Past,” but “One Man’s Worth “is a solid adaptation of one of the X-Men’s most iconic crossover events of the 1990s. 

“Age of Apocalypse” was an absolute gargantuan undertaking when Marvel released the event at the start of 1995, rewriting the entire Marvel universe. Charles Xavier was killed when his son, Legion, traveled back in time to kill a young Magneto, but instead accidentally killing his own father and plummeting that universe into the darkest timeline, where an unopposed Apocalypse has conquered the world. 

The show changed the event slightly, making the mutant terrorist Fitzroy, one of Bishop’s greatest adversaries the cause of Xavier’s death instead of Legion, and changing the dark timeline to merely be a literal post-apocalypse between human and mutant forces. The super X-fan will recognize some great visual Easter eggs from the A.o.A. pages, as well as story shards from both the “Legion Quest” issues and Bishop’s first appearance in Uncanny X-Men #282. 

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Weapon X, Lies, and Videotape 

Season 4 Episode 16

This Torontonian always had an affinity for the Canadian set episodes of X-Men, because not only were they representative of the fact that some of the best Mutants in the Marvel canon were Canadian characters, but that they shined a light on many of the great Wolverine stories the beloved character has built over the years. 

This hidden gem of an episode, deep within the run of the series, follows Wolverine, his mortal enemy Sabretooth and two other members of the Weapon X program, Silver Fox and Maverick, being inexplicably drawn to their former training facility. There, along with Beast, they discover that their memories were almost entirely fabricated to break their minds and make them susceptible to the brainwashing needed to make them perfect soldiers. 

It may be a dark horse in terms of the handful of prodigious Sabretooth-related episodes that the show created, but “Weapon X, Lies, and Videotape” is really well developed, and shines a little light on some of the horrors that Wolverine experienced before joining the X-Men. 

Graduation Day 

Season 5 Episode 14

We all know it. It doesn’t have to be said. It doesn’t have to be written… and yet, here it is – the fifth and final season of X-Men was its weakest. In fact, the show probably should have ended mid-fourth season with the three-part “Beyond Good and Evil” episodes. 

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Yet, if we didn’t have this final season, we wouldn’t have the launching off point of what could be a very interesting first season of X-Men ‘97. While the original show constantly teaching young children about the very real evils in the world, perhaps it was one last necessary evil that audiences got this fifth season. 

The essential plot point in this episode is that Professor Xavier’s health has declined as his mind is no longer able to truly control the sheer raw power of his telepathic abilities. There is very little action in this episode, but the reason it is essential is how Xavier leaves his legacy as he is taken away by Lilandra to the outer regions of space, perhaps never to return. 

Some of the greatest writing of the series comes from Xavier’s epilogue, addressing his beloved children of the atom one at a time, and without reading their minds, he reminds them, and the audience of what makes them beloved heroes. He shares with Rogue that she need not be able to physically touch someone in order to truly reach them. He reminds Wolverine that he is not a lone renegade, as he is a salient sibling among this family. He unravels Gambit in one line, unveiling that he knows the roguish persona the mutant puts on is a mere cover to a truly heroic heart. 

It empowers the X-Men to believe in themselves and the teachings of Xavier, and continue the impossibly tough and personal battle that lies ahead. It’s a perfect bridge after an almost 30-year hiatus, that this battle will once again continue in X-Men ‘97, and Xavier’s animated legacy will live on. 

X-Men ’97 premieres Wednesday, March 20 on Disney+.