The best Marvel Comics stories ever also stand among some of the best fiction stories ever told in any medium – with many of the venerable publisher’s most well-known tales already being adapted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and more likely on the way.
Though the best Marvel Comics stories of all time have often transcended media, there will always be something uniquely special about reading – or re-reading – the original comic books.
So without further ado, here are Newsarama’s picks for the best Marvel Comics stories ever.
10. X-Men: Days of Future Past (1981)
The original X-Men story ‘Days of Future Past (opens in new tab) ‘ was simply two issues of the main ongoing series, Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142 (Take that, 200+ issue events of today!) In a dystopian future, mutants have been rounded up into concentration camps; that is, the ones who haven’t been slaughtered.
Adult Kitty Pryde’s consciousness travels back in time to stop the assassination of a prominent government figure (in the story, Senator Robert Kelly) by Mystique and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
While she succeeds, and the world is avoided (at least in one timeline), there are some lasting effects. Rachel Summers, a prominent character in today’s X-Men titles, came from that alternate future. So did the hyper-advanced Nimrod Sentinel, which has been a key antagonist in the current X-Men era.
The storyline was adapted into the 2014 feature film, one of the most highly-regarded of the Fox X-Men franchise.
9. Annihilation (2006)
In 2006, Marvel Comics decided they were going to ignite the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. Writer Keith Giffen was tapped to conceive a limited series and a set of tie-ins titled Annihilation (opens in new tab), intended to establish characters new and old as major players in the Marvel universe.
The story, told entirely apart from the mainstream Marvel Universe without the input of heroes like the Avengers and X-Men, letting the more obscure cosmic heroes take the spotlight – eventually leading to the formation of a new version of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who became the basis for the popular MCU version of the team.
Indeed, the Guardians of the Galaxy movie franchise literally would not have come to pass without Annihilation having redefined Star-Lord, Groot, and Rocket, and bringing that group of heroes together in the first place.
8. Fantastic Four: The Coming of Galactus (1965)
Long before anyone could even conceive of carving out a whole corner of the Marvel Universe devoted to cosmic threats, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created what may still be considered the ultimate cosmic threat: Galactus.
First appearing in Fantastic Four #48-50 (opens in new tab), the godlike being from beyond the stars came careening into the solar system and the lives of Marvel’s First Family, widening the entire scope of the Marvel Universe in the process.
Both the Silver Surfer and The Watcher also made their debuts in ‘The Coming of Galactus,’ with the latter becoming a burgeoning figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the recent What If…? animated Disney Plus series.
7. Daredevil: Born Again (1986)
There was a time when Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli could basically do no wrong, and 1986-1987 was simply a magical period for the pair, who essentially reinvented major street-level vigilante heroes for both Marvel and DC in the span of about a year and a half – including, most importantly for this list, Marvel’s Daredevil.
The pair’s arc together on Daredevil #227-231 (opens in new tab) (with some ancillary work in #232 and #233) has it all: romance, intrigue, religion, and of course tons of action. There’s The Kingpin, Ben Urich, Nuke, and Captain America. This story basically tears Daredevil down to virtually nothing and lets him emerge, ‘Born Again,’ into a better, stronger hero than ever before.
6. Secret Wars (1985)
No, not 2015-16’s Secret Wars (opens in new tab) – but the original!
Back in 1984, Marvel Comics and toy makers Mattel had the big idea to team up for a joint toyline and accompanying comic book series featuring all the biggest heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe in one story, resulting in Secret Wars, the first major Marvel crossover event.
Secret Wars set the mold for later Marvel events with its own 12-issue limited series, as well as tie-in stories told through ten other comics. Secret Wars pitted a veritable who’s-who of Marvel heroes and villains against each other, with the results being an occasionally goofy but still exciting and even defining story with ramifications that spiraled out across the entire Marvel Universe.
Spider-Man’s black Symbiote suit (that was really Venom), She-Hulk on the Fantastic Four, the second Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter – they all got their start in Secret Wars, along with even more storylines and character changes that continued to play out in a much less well-received sequel just a few years later.
5. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse (1995)
In the late ’90s, Marvel proclaimed they were going to cancel the entire X-Men line, then at the height of its immense popularity, and replace it with a whole new slate of titles – and lo they did, reimagining the entire X-line in an alternate reality with a vastly different status quo.
The result was four months of alternate-reality comic books titled ‘Age of Apocalypse (opens in new tab),’ which turned the entire X-Men franchise on its head with new roles and new relationships for almost all the line’s characters.
Set in a timeline where Charles Xavier died before founding the X-Men and Apocalypse is the unquestioned ruler of the world, ‘Age of Apocalypse’ presented readers with wildly different takes on Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Wolverine, Magneto, Rogue, and many, many more.
Though an event as massive as ‘Age of Apocalypse’ is never without its hiccups, the story took fans by storm – with some of the new versions of the characters even making it into the mainstream Marvel Universe after the story concluded and the classic X-Men timeline was restored.
4. Civil War (2006)
This story beat ‘Age of Apocalypse’ by one vote in our reader poll. One of the newest stories on our list, Marvel’s Civil War (opens in new tab) asked the question, ‘Whose side are you on?’
Civil War starts with a bang (so sorry) as the New Warriors, while trying to subdue a B-list villain, are involved in a resulting explosion that kills 600 people (including many children and the New Warriors themselves) at a Stamford, Connecticut elementary school.
As a result, the US government fast-tracks legislation called the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring anyone with powers and abilities beyond that of a mortal person to register with the government – thereby revealing their identity, with the caveat that they must train with government-approved heroes if they want to keep using their powers.
(The concept of the SHRA was somewhat adapted into the MCU as the Sokovia Accords).
Ultimately, this leads to Iron Man leading the pro-registration side and Captain America leading the anti-registration folks, with the two sides going all-out in a superhero civil war – a war with real consequences with major deaths.
Tony Stark becomes Director of SHIELD, while Captain America is assassinated, leading to a much deeper, longer-term rift between many of Marvel’s heroes.
Marvel loved this story so much it was adapted to film in the blockbuster Captain America: Civil War and led to a comic book sequel, Civil War II (opens in new tab).
3. Amazing Spider-Man: The Night Gwen Stacy Died (1973)
Outside of the death of Uncle Ben, Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 may be the most important issues in the entire life of Peter Parker. The story said it right there in the title. They spoiled the outcome. They told the truth.
This would be ‘The Night Gwen Stacy Died (opens in new tab).’
Norman Osborn, back as the Green Goblin, takes Gwen Stacy – Pete’s girlfriend at the time – and throws her off a bridge. Just when it looks like Spider-Man successfully saves her, his webbing catches her ankle … but the sudden stop snaps her neck.
Gwen’s death was utterly tragic, and a true surprise – devastating Peter Parker (and many readers) like almost nothing before or since. It’s heartbreaking and shocking, and in 1973, it was something that made people look at comic books, especially superhero comic books, in a very different way.
2. X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga (1980)
To this day ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga (opens in new tab) ‘ is the story that all other X-Men stories are held up to. The first seeds of the tale began way back in 1976 when Jean Grey first came into contact with the Phoenix Force in X-Men #101-108. Then the ‘Dark’ part hit four years later in #129-138, as Jean comes under the influence of the Hellfire Club.
A masterpiece of a story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, this epic holds some true marquee moments for the team both as a whole and as individual members.
Cyclops battles Mastermind on the psychic plane. Wolverine takes on a seemingly endless stream of Hellfire Club soldiers. Oh, and Jean Grey, as the Dark Phoenix, goes berzerk, eats a sun (killing an orbiting planet’s entire population), and goes on trial for genocide.
When Jean manages to gain control of herself for one short moment, she sacrifices herself to end the Dark Phoenix, dying in Cyclops’ arms.
Over the next few years (and several retcons), some of the pivotal moments would later be backtracked to bring back Jean and the Phoenix Force, but none of it has managed to cheapen or take away from the original classic.
1. Infinity Gauntlet (1991)
At this point, if you don’t know about Infinity Gauntlet – the seminal Marvel Comics event that took the lead on our poll of the best Marvel stories by a wide margin – you simply haven’t been paying attention.
Bringing together basically all of Marvel’s heroes at the time to take on the existential threat of Thanos the Mad Titan and his quest for the Infinity Stones, which hold the power to remake reality itself, Infinity Gauntlet tells the story of what happens when the heroes actually fail – a somewhat unprecedented story at the time.
Of course, the heroes manage to overcome their defeat and win the day, restoring the universal destruction caused by Thanos, but not before the entire landscape of the Marvel Universe is changed by the experience – and not entirely for the better.
Infinity Gauntlet has it all – an unbeatable foe, an incredible creative team in Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim, and a conglomeration of the world’s greatest heroes involved in cosmic action with the highest stakes possible.
Even if you haven’t read Infinity Gauntlet (and you should!), you probably know some of the story’s broad strokes from its two-part MCU adaptation as Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
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