- X-Men animated series excel in fully developing the team members, unlike the movies.
- Wolverine’s solo series lacked faithful adaptation, with poor animation and voice acting.
- X-Men: Evolution successfully explores the academic side of the X-Men while influencing the comics.
The X-Men have become well-known for their animated series, with cartoon incarnation of the legendary superhero team having its own unique appeal. Before even the first X-Men movie came to theaters, the mutants of Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters made a name for themselves in animation, debuting on TV screens in 1992. However, not all the X-Men’s ventures into the medium have been successful, with the redundantly-titled TV pilot X-Men: Pryde of the X-Men failing to materialize, despite the efforts of its Australian-accented Wolverine.
As a concept, the X-Men almost work better within the context of a serialized cartoon to begin with. The X-Men movies sometimes struggled to find room to fully develop the many members of the X-Men roster, something a TV show has far more time to do. In addition, animation makes it easier to portray the fantastic powers and mutant appearances of the X-Men and their villains without worrying about budgetary constraints. While each of the five animated series the X-Men have hold their own merits, some accomplish these tasks better than others.
Contrary to the other animated shows that delved into the mutant side of Marvel Comics, 2011’s Wolverine was a solo series that focused on the titular character’s adventures in Japan, hoping to save his long-lost love interest, Mariko, from a dangerous criminal element. The miniseries was part of the Marvel Anime collaboration series featuring famed anime studio Madhouse, known for their work on big names like Death Note, Trigun, and One Punch Man. Like all projects in the lineup, Wolverine featured in daring art style and decidedly darker tone from Marvel’s compared to TV fare.
The benefits of an X-Men animated series being able to take more time to focus on each member of the team’s roster were wasted on this one-note solo series, centered around Wolverine only. Not only that, but the show’s depiction of him wasn’t terribly faithful, with Madhouse’s stock slender anime protagonist design mixing with Logan’s character like oil and water. Combined with the terrible dubbed voice acting and sub-par animation by Madhouse standards, and Wolverine is an unremarkable entry in an already forgotten Marvel collaboration attempt.
The third show of the Marvel Anime series, X-Men commits to a remarkable improvement over Wolverine, taking the time to feature the team’s most prominent characters rather than just Logan. Describing an older, harsher, more worn down X-Men team that have already weathered the death of Jean Grey, Madhouse’s studios upped the ante for X-Men, with more faithful character designs, better action sequences, and going all-out with the series’ depiction of technology and mutation gone rampant. Still ultimately limited by its small episode number and odd anime idiosyncrasies, X-Men winds up being the strongest miniseries of the Marvel Anime collaboration.
3 X-Men: Evolution
Leaning in heavily to the academic side of the premise of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, X-Men: Evolution is a fondly-remembered series that took the team in a new direction. Depicting the earliest days of the X-Men, X-Men: Evolution aged most of the iconic team’s roster down, becoming more of a coming-of-age story about a group of teens with powerful gifts rather than an already-established elite hero task force. Daring to go in different directions with the source material, X-Men: Evolution is fondly remembered by many fans.
Looking back on the series objectively, the student angle works well for the franchise, giving the X-Men more room to grow. X-Men: Evolution also influenced the comics in a big way with the introduction of X-23, a wholly original character popular enough to become a series mainstay in the source material and beyond. The show wasn’t without its failings, including some painfully-childish network-mandated humor and spotty voice acting, but the dark, yet kid-friendly balance it strikes is worthy of praise.
2 Wolverine and the X-Men
Whereas X-Men: Evolution wound back the clock on the X-Men characters, Wolverine and the X-Men instead did the opposite, beginning with a reunion of an X-Men team that had long since drifted apart. Thrusting Wolverine into a bigger leadership role than he’d ever seen, the show was startlingly dramatic, with the crux of the premise relying on the disappearance of Jean Grey and Charles Xavier as well as the looming threat of war. The series was notable for its faithfhful depictions of iconic X-Men characters while incorporating obscure villains like Master Mold and the Stepford Cuckoos.
Wolverin and the X-Men had a clear love for its source material that shone through, boldly incorporating more fantastical elements of the comics like the Phoenix Force. Tragically, the Disney acquisition of Marvel put the show’s financial status on thin ice, forcing a cancelation just as the story was setting up an Age of Apocalypse adaptation. For everything Wolverine and the X-Men does right, it’s unfair early demise forever limited what could have been, leaving heaps of wasted potential on the table that can’t be ignored when comparing it to its peers.
1 X-Men: The Animated Series
From the moment the first notes of its iconic theme song invaded living rooms in 1992, X-Men: The Animated Series was a highly-regarded classic. Bringing the X-Men into the public consciousness much in the same way the 1960s Spider-Man animated series did, the show would be instrumental in informing the public’s image of the various heroes and villains of the X-Men mythos for years to come. From Gambit and Rogue to Storm and Wolverine himself, X-Men: The Animated Series brought the 90s comics to life in full force.
Admittedly, the less-refined animation of the 90s hasn’t aged the most gracefully, and some of the storylines, particularly Cable’s time-traveling, can get confusing at times. But the stoic commitment to an overarching story, thrilling voice over performances, and sheer excitement generated from the show’s many excellent action scenes more than made up for it. Easy for kids and adults alike to enjoy, there’s a reason that the 90s animation series stands to this day as one of the X-Men‘s all-time greatest adaptations.