Which Mutant Cartoon Was the Best?

X-Men: The Animated Series is still a classic to this day, and for many people, it’s their ideal version of the titular team. The first big adaptation of merry mutants following the failure of the Pryde of the X-Men driver, X-Men was a resounding success that paved the way for other Marvel cartoons and cartoons in general. It’s not the only X-Men around, however, and it may not even be the best.

X-Men: Evolution and Wolverine and the X-Men were two later shows that excelled in their own ways. In fact, they both had areas in which they actually surpassed the original series. This makes crowning the king of animated X-Men adaptations rather hard to crown, even with nostalgia in the way. With a new show from Disney+ on the way, here’s a look at which animated series handled the X-Men the best.

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X-Men: TAS Was a Classic That Started It All

Even once the rocking theme song is moved past, there’s still a lot to like about X-Men: The Animated Series besides just nostalgia. The series had an incredibly high amount of fidelity to the comics, namely the stories written by Chris Claremont. This meant being accurate not only to the layered characters that made up the X-Men’s world, but also doing justice to the themes and topics that the franchise had come to represent.

Focusing on prejudice, hatred and discrimination in a science fiction shell, X-Men: The Animated Series was far darker and deeper than many of its predecessors the decade before. Coming out of a time when cartoons were basically glorified toy commercials, the X-Men cartoon pushed boundaries for the kinds of stories that animation could tell.

At the same time, it’s not without its faults. The fidelity to the comics sadly means adapting things that should have stayed there, such as the repetitive resurrections and other silly storylines. Likewise, the show attempts to be both episodic and an ongoing narrative, leading to many seasons feeling disjointed and haphazard until finally coming together in the finale. The latter can be seen as a strength, however, as well as a testament to the show’s quality.

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X-Men: Evolution Made Teenage X-Men Somehow Work

Taking the franchise’s original tagline of being about the “strangest teens of all,” X-Men: Evolution recast several prominent X-Men heroes as high school students instead of teachers and adults as they had been for decades at that point. Wolverine and Storm remained adults, but Cyclops, Jean Gray and Nightcrawler were now teeny boppers. Despite the potential for cringe, the change ended up working, giving a fresh take on what had already become several well-worn paths for the franchise. It helps that, while not quite as iconic as its predecessor, the show’s theme song is pretty good.

The main drawbacks would include the fact that the series takes a bit to really get excellent. At first, mutants are not publicly known about, and the series focuses mainly on high school hijinks. Once the cat is out of the bag and the usual themes of persecution come into play, however, the show really hits its stride. Other dated elements include the “street” characterization of Toad, as well as the similar attribute of many male characters sagging their pants, including Nightcrawler! Otherwise, the series is classic in its own right that ended up being far better than it had any right to be. Like its successor, however, it was cut short, keeping it from portraying its take on classic X-Men concepts.

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Wolverine and the X-Men Had the Potential to Be the Best X-Men Cartoon Ever

Coming out after the release of X3, Wolverine and the X-Men was easily the most thematic of all the X-Men cartoons. The best way to describe the series is that it’s an entire show made out of the tone portrayed by Jubilee’s being hunted down in the intro of X-Men: The Animated Series. Though the flashy costumes of the comics are there, Wolverine and the X-Mensimilar to Evolution before it, wisely ignores the most ridiculous elements of the comics to turn the series into a science fiction allegory. The denizens of the Mojoverse are some of the only exceptions to this rule, and the show is otherwise a dour, humorless affair. This likely led to its early cancellation, with the series only being given one season. That’s honestly the only real complaint with the show, though the mishandling of Cyclops’ character (and the lack of a distinctive theme song) likely ruffled many fans’ feathers.

In drawing from most recent comics like age of apocalypse and Grant Morrison’s New X-Men run, the series distilled the franchise into a better product than either of the two preceding classics. It was a show that was inarguably X-Men, but it was also only the best parts of the X-Men. Most notably, Jean Grey’s Phoenix persona was made into a multiple personality allegory instead of a ludicrous alien bird, but the only pay-off from this plot point was the teasing of what could have been. Nevertheless, in its short run, Wolverine and the X-Men provided the ultimate primer on what the franchise had become, so X-Men ’97 will have to come out swinging in order to compete.

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