X-Men: The Animated Series is iconic. Taking the fantastic Jim Lee artwork from the team’s 90s heyday, the cartoon ushered in a new generation of fans to the mutant franchise. Less well known, but equally as important, is the cartoon that followed: X-Men: Evolution.
Debuting just a few short months after the original Fox X-Men film in 2000, the cartoon struck a very different tone than the 90s series, casting the characters largely as teenagers and focusing on slightly more grounded problems than mutant-hunting Sentinels. But which show was better? Here are five reasons why X-Men: Evolution is the best series, and five why it’s X-Men: The Animated Series.
10 X-Men: Evolution – Teenagers
With the exception of a few of the teachers at the X-Mansion, including Professor X, Wolverine, and Beast, most of the characters you’d expect to find in an X-Men cartoon are all aged down to teenagers. This decision skewed the show younger, and in the process, more relatable to the kids who were watching it on WB Kids in the year 2000. The theme of persecution morphs into more standard teenage struggles with evolving identity, taking a lot of weight off the show, and making it a bit more fun.
9 X-Men: The Animated Series – Weighty
Part of the appeal of the X-Men though is their often sobering look at societal issues, filtered through the lens of mutant persecution. X-Men: The Animated Series didn’t shy away from this at all. In fact, it confronted the issue right out of the gate by featuring the Sentinels in the first episode. “Night of the Sentinels” signaled that the show would cover the same thematic territory as the comics despite the change in medium, and though the results varied, the show was better for it.
8 X-Men: Evolution – The Music
X-Men: Evolution has a leg up on its predecessor – and a lot of other animated series – in its use of music. The most striking feature of the show’s soundtrack is the character-specific leitmotifs that composer William Kevin Anderson provided. Wolverine, Avalanche, Storm, and a host of others. Even better than that, Anderson wrote specific songs for the show, including a rap for Toad which ranks among the silliest – and coolest – things in any X-Men animated series. “T-O-A-D…”
7 X-Men: The Animated Series – That Theme Though
A great as the music for X-Men: Evolution is (and any show that pulls a John Williams and gives its characters each a theme is a winner) the edge has to go X-Men: The Animated Series. As instantly iconic and synonymous with the 90s as the Danny Elfman theme for Batman: The Animated Series, the X-Men theme was written by Ron Wasserman.
Wasserman also contributed another kid classic “Go Go Power Rangers,” the theme for Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. His X-Men theme endures nearly thirty years later in ringtones and endless YouTube videos. But as always, with much success, a lot of people want credit.
6 X-Men: Evolution – New Mutants
One of the best things about the X-Men world, in general, is the infinitely expanding roster. There are always more and new mutants. Setting X-Men: Evolution in the school with a heavy focus on the growth of teenagers allowed the series to introduce the New Mutants in a more natural and comprehensive way than its predecessor. Though not entirely faithful to the 80s roster in the comics, when the new recruits came in, they featured a blend of New Mutants characters like Wolfsbane, Cannonball, and Sunspot.
5 X-Men: The Animated Series – Cosmic
By staying so close to the school, X-Men: Evolution eschewed big branches of X-Men continuity, including its frequent and dramatic forays into space. X-Men: The Animated Series had no such compunction, spending an enormous amount of time developing Lilandra and the Shi’ar (so much the final episode of the series hinges on them) along with the Starjammers, and of course, Dark Phoenix (more to come). This broad scope gave the series a truly cosmic canvas, with a gonzo sci-fi feel. No story was beyond its reach.
4 X-Men: Evolution – Smaller Scale
The tight focus on the school and the character growth provides a rich investigation into the lives of the X-Men that the 90s series simply couldn’t, with its constant world and galaxy-ending stakes. The relationships between the characters, their teachers, and their families get as much screentime as battle royales and the show skews much closer to Buffy: The Vampire Slayer than X-Men: The Animated Series. The best example of this may be in its treatment of its villains, particularly Mystique.
3 X-Men: The Animated Series – Bigger Universe
Along with the tight focus on Xavier’s Institute and the students (who went to high school as cover, because no one knew they were mutants), X-Men: Evolution generally avoided crossovers with other sections of the Marvel Universe. Moderation in everything, but it’s still a key ingredient of any Marvel franchise.
X-Men: The Animated Series delivered on this front in spades. Dozens of characters from the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and more all got cameos or better in the show, including a sly appearance by the Wall-Crawler himself, Spider-Man.
2 X-Men: Evolution – X-23
There’s something about animated series introducing fan-favorite characters who later go on to join the comics. Perhaps the biggest contribution X-Men: Evolution made to X-lore (and the most compelling argument for it against the 90s series) is the introduction of X-23. X-23 debuted in season three of the show, in an attempt by the creative team to make Wolverine a bit younger and more relatable to the show’s audience as it had done other characters. X-23 later jumped into the comics and of course feature films, with a star turn in Logan.
1 X-Men: The Animated Series – Dark Phoenix
While X-Men: The Animated Series was uneven in its some areas of its production (maybe the animation wasn’t exactly that great) it did give fans something they’ll always cherish. The 90s series wins any argument for delivering what remains the single best screen adaptation of the Dark Phoenix Saga to date. As two poorly received feature films have proven in the last twenty years, what this legendary story needs is time and space to properly touch on all its intricacies and better than any other, the animated series did so.
Both X-Men: The Animated Series and X-Men: Evolution are good series for favorite mutants, but it's argued which show tells their story definitively.