In 1962 Spider-Man was introduced in an 11-page story of a comic anthology already slated for cancellation. Now he’s one of the most recognizable characters in the world, starring in critically acclaimed video games, multiple billion-dollar movies, and of course numerous comic books. It all started when a high school student was bitten by a radioactive spider, giving the youth arachnid-related powers. Since then Peter Parker has battled evil as Spider-Man, while trying to balance his complicated personal life.
Throughout his 60-year comic career, Spider-Man has seen many triumphs and tragedies, which has led to some gripping comic books. To celebrate our favorite webhead, we’ve put together a list of what we feel are the best Spider-Man stories. From undisputed classics to underrated masterpieces, here are the high points of Spider-Man’s publishing career.
After you read this, make sure you check out our guide to watching all of the Spider-Man movies.
10. Who is Miles Morales?
Originally Published: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1-5 (2011)
Creative Team: Written by Brian Michael Bendis and penciled by Sara Pichelli
A 13-year-old boy named Miles Morales finds his life turned upside down when he’s bitten by a genetically-altered spider. Miles discovers he can now stick to walls, turn invisible, and shock the body of anybody who tries to harm him. At first the boy is frightened by his new abilities, but the death of Peter Parker changes everything. Peter Parker’s sacrifices as Spider-Man begin to give Miles new questions about power and responsibility, setting the stage for a new Spider-Man.
Over the years there have been numerous variants of Spider-Man, but none of them have ever broken through to the mainstream the way Miles Morales has. The introduction of Miles expanded the Spider-Man legend without devaluing Peter Parker. Reading his introductory storyline, it’s easy to see why Miles has taken off. From the very beginning he comes as a relatable kid who is in over his head, without being a carbon copy of Peter. This storyline served as the basis for the Oscar award winning film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and it isn’t hyperbole to say that it changed Spider-Man forever.
Buy now on Amazon: Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1-5
9. The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man
Originally Published: Amazing Spider-Man #248 (1984)
Creative Team: Written by Roger Stern and penciled by Ron Frenz
The majority of Amazing Spider-Man #248 focuses on a battle between Spider-Man and Thunderball, a minor villain was part of a group called the Wrecking Crew. However, this issue is mostly remembered for its emotional backup story. A young Spider-Man fan named Timothy Harrison receives the surprise of his life when the Webhead pays him a visit. Timothy excitedly shows Spider-Man his collection, as Spidey answers all of Tim’s burning questions – including his secret identity. As Spider-Man bids Timothy goodnight, the narration reveals the reason for his visit – Timothy has leukemia, and is expected to die in less than a month.
This is a Spider-Man story that focuses on heart instead of action, and the result is beautiful. Rereading this story for this article made me cry, and I guarantee it will bring a tear to your eyes as well. This story is probably the first time Peter allows himself to be completely honest and open about his burdens with any other person, which makes his connection with Tim all the more genuine. The revelation of why Spider-Man is visiting Timothy also gives this story new context during a second reading. You’ll notice how Spider-Man reacts when Tim mentions them being buddies “to the end.” It’s a truly powerful story about the impact one person can have on another.
Buy now on Amazon: Amazing Spider-Man #248
Originally Published: Amazing Spider-Man #243 (1983)
Creative Team: Written by Roger Stern and penciled by John Romita Jr.
Peter Parker has a lot on his mind. His ex-girlfriend Mary Jane Watson has just returned to town, and his feelings for her are a bit complicated. His current girlfriend Felicia Hardy is still recovering from her battle with Doctor Octopus, and Peter is not sure how he’ll be able to pay her medical bills. Peter is also facing a crossroads in his academic life, as he’s forced to make a decision about remaining in Empire State University’s graduate program. How can he afford graduate school, and even if he could, how could he find the time to complete his degree?
The appeal to Spider-Man has always been Peter Parker’s story. It’s fun to see Spidey battle villains, but our emotional investment in Peter Parker’s life is what keeps many readers coming back month to month. 'Options' is the perfect Peter Parker story, showing readers the struggles young adults face when they’re pulled in different directions. There is some Spider-Man action in this story, but it is very brief and inconsequential, which is just fine. Nobody reading this article has ever battled the Scorpion, but most of us can relate to struggling with decisions about our academic future or resolving medical bills. Stories like this are the reason Peter Parker is one of the greatest comic book characters ever created.
Buy on Amazon: Amazing Spider-Man #243
7. Carrion, My Wayward Son
Originally Published: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #25-31 (1978)
Creative Team: Written by Bill Mantlo, penciled by Jim Mooney and Frank Miller
A mysterious figure named Carrion sets his sights on Spider-Man, and quickly proves that he’s a threat to be taken seriously. Carrion has the power to turn organic matter to dust by touching it, making him deadly to all living beings. As his campaign against Spider-Man intensifies, Peter learns that his new foe is a decomposed clone of the mad scientist villain Miles Warren out for revenge. Spider-Man takes on Carrion and the Maggia crime family, and even overcomes temporary blindness throughout this thrilling storyline.
Spider-Man doesn’t dive into the horror genre very often, making this story a real treat. Carrion’s zombie-like appearance, mysterious origins, and deadly powers will make you feel like you’re watching a classic monster movie. Spider-Man is being relentlessly hunted by someone who could kill him with his very touch; how can you not be thrilled by a story like that? As a bonus, this storyline is the first time Frank Miller drew Daredevil.
Buy now on Amazon: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #25-31
6. Hobgoblin Lives
Originally Published: Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives #1-3 (1996)
Creative Team: Written by Roger Stern, penciled by Ron Frenz, and inked by George Perez
After being tried for his crimes as the second Hobgoblin, Jason Macendale is murdered in his jail cell by a hooded figure claiming to be the original Hobgoblin. This development stuns Spider-Man, who thought that the original Hobgoblin was his deceased friend Ned Leeds. If Ned wasn’t the Hobgoblin, then who framed him, and who was really under the mask? Spider-Man reopens the cold case, as the original Hobgoblin returns, deadlier than ever.
In 1984 Roger Stern left Amazing Spider-Man before he could resolve Hobgoblin’s identity. Subsequent writers revealed that the masked villain was Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds, but that resolution never sat well with Stern. In 1996 Stern was able to finish his story the way he wanted with a three-issue series. The storyline was a treat for longtime Spider-Man fans, as Stern enhanced the mystery with deep cuts from Spider-Man’s mythology. The continuity cliffnotes in the back of each issue were also fun, giving readers background information on how each clue tied into back issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Ron Frenz illustrating Spider-Man is always a treat, and George Perez inking was the cherry on top.
Buy now on Amazon: Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives #1-3
5 – Spider-Man
Originally Published: Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962)
Creative Team: Written by Stan Lee and penciled by Steve Ditko
This is where it alk began. If you’re reading this list, chances are you’re familiar with this story, but let’s recap. An ostracized high school student named Peter Parker gains new powers after being bitten by a radioactive spider. Initially seeking to cash in on his new abilities, Peter is given the shock of his life when his inaction inadvertently leads to the death of his beloved Uncle Ben. And thus Spider-Man learns an important lesson about power and responsibility.
While the dialogue and pacing might seem dated when compared to modern comics, this story has proven itself to be timeless. Whenever Spider-Man’s origin is adapted in other media, it rarely strays from this comic. That’s because Stan Lee and Steve Ditko got it right the first time. In 11 pages, Stan and Steve laid the groundwork for a saga that stood the test of time for 60 years and counting.
Buy now on Amazon: Amazing Fantasy #15
4. Best of Enemies
Originally Published: Spectacular Spider-Man #200 (1993)
Creative Team: Written by J.M. DeMatteis and penciled by Sal Buscema
Peter Parker and Harry Osborn were once best friends, but now the blood feud between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin has turned them into enemies. Once again, Harry has taken up the Green Goblin mantle, vowing to finish what his father Norman Osborn (the original Green Goblin) started. Through all this, Harry struggles with his mental health, his unresolved feelings about his relationship with his father, and how it has affected his relationship with his own son. This all erupts in an emotional climax as Harry is forced to choose between revenge and love.
When it comes to character driven stories, nobody does it better than J.M. DeMatteis. Throughout his run on Spectacular Spider-Man DeMatteis told a compelling story with Harry Osborn, exploring his pathos in a way no writer ever had. This all culminated in 'Best of Enemies' which served as the perfect magnum opus to Harry Osborn’s saga. DeMatteis couldn’t have been paired with a better collaborator than Sal Buscema. Harry Osborn’s emotional death scene contains no dialogue, allowing Buscema’s art to tell the story – and what a story it was!
Buy now on Amazon: Spectacular Spider-Man #200
3. Down Among the Dead Men'
Originally Published: Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #1-12 (2004)
Creative Team: Written by Mark Millar and penciled by Terry Dodson
When Spider-Man’s Aunt May is kidnapped, Peter puts everything he has into bringing her home safely. A gauntlet of Spider-Man’s greatest villains slow down his search, including a new version of Venom. As if things weren’t hectic enough, J. Jonah Jameson offers a huge reward for anyone who could bring proof of Spider-Man’s real identity, which only creates more chaos. As Spider-Man’s search continues, he discovers that Norman Osborn knows more than he’s letting on, and has got a few surprises waiting for Peter in their final showdown.
This storyline can almost be considered 'Spider-Man 101.' In fact, this could be considered Spider-Man’s version of “Batman: Hush,” and they aren’t wrong. In just 12 issues Mark Millar and Terry Dodson give readers a tour of Spider-Man’s world, with almost every major ally or villain making an appearance. The stakes are high, the action is brutal, and the twists are intense. 'Down Among the Dead Men' is an underrated Spider-Man blockbuster that deserves more attention.
Buy now on Amazon: Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #1-12
2. The Master Planner Trilogy
Originally Published: Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 (1965)
Creative Team: Written by Stan Lee and penciled by Steve Ditko
The beginning of Peter Parker’s college career is interrupted when his Aunt May falls ill. Peter is shocked to learn that she’s dying of radiation poisoning, due to a blood transfusion he gave her months earlier. Spider-Man rushes to find the scientific materials he needs to save his aunt’s life, but the mysterious Master Planner has other ideas.
The Master Planner storyline is Stan Lee and Steve Ditko firing on all cylinders. A good Spider-Man story has personal high stakes, and it doesn’t get more personal with Aunt May’s life on the line. This saga also introduced Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn, two individuals who would alter the direction of Spider-Man comics for decades.
Amazing Spider-Man #33 begins with a dejected Spidey buried under rubble with all hope lost. As the scene progresses Spider-Man convinces himself to overcome the odds and lift himself out of the debris. This sequence has gone down in history as one of the most iconic images ever published in a Spider-Man comic. Believe the hype; this story is phenomenal.
Buy now on Amazon: Amazing Spider-Man #31-33
1. The Night Gwen Stacy Died
Originally Published: Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 (1973)
Creative Team: Written by Gerry Conway and penciled by Gil Kane
Peter returns from a trip to Canada to find that his roommate Harry Osborn has suffered a drug overdose. Harry’s decline sends Norman Osborn spiraling, causing the mogul to become the Green Goblin again. The Goblin kidnaps Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy, setting the stage for a battle that changes Spider-Man’s life forever.
It’s easy to forget what superhero comics were like before 'The Night Gwen Stacy Died.' The girlfriend would be captured, and the hero always saved her. Superman always saved Lois Lane, but this story broke the rules by having the hero fail. There was no magic revival or last minute save; Gwen Stacy was dead, and Spider-Man had to live with his guilt. Spider-Man’s showdown with the Green Goblin was emotionally intense, and Osborn’s apparent death didn’t leave Peter with the closure he thought it would.
The story sent shockwaves through Spider-Man’s life, which lasted for years. Gwen and Norman’s deaths changed the trajectory of Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn’s lives, not to mention how it effected Peter. Next to the death of his Uncle Ben, the death of Gwen Stacy is considered his biggest tragedy. It’s amazing to remember that Gerry Conway was only twenty years old when he wrote it. In addition to changing Spider-Man comics forever, this storyline has been credited with transitioning the comic book industry from the Silver Age to the more mature Bronze Age. The influence of this comic won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and there’s no question that it deserves the number one spot on this list.
Buy now on Amazon: Amazing Spider-Man #121-122
Cobweb Contenders: The Honorable Mentions
With so many great Spider-Man stories, it was hard to narrow them down to ten. As a result, there are numerous stories that didn’t quite crack the top ten, but they deserve an honorable mention all the same.
- 'The Spider and the Burglar…A Sequel,' originally published in Amazing Spider-Man #200.
- 'The Conversation,' originally published in 2002’s Amazing Spider-Man #38.
- 'The Death of Jean DeWolff,' originally published in Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110.
- 'No One Dies,' originally published in Amazing Spider-Man #655-656.
- 'Kraven’s Last Hunt,' originally published in Web of Spider-Man #31-32, Amazing Spider-Man 293-294, and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man 131-132.
Although they didn’t make our top ten, these stories are worth your time and attention. Keep your eyes peeled, because we might be spotlighting them in an upcoming feature. Whether he’s battling the Green Goblin or battling to balance his checkbook, Spider-Man has had an amazing career in comics. There’s no telling where Spidey will go next, but I for one can’t wait to see if any of his new stories become contenders for future updates of this article!
Want more of the wallcrawler? Read our guide to how to watch the Spider-Man movies.