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All 47 Marvel Comics' cartoons, ranked from best to worst!

We rank every Marvel related cartoon! Who got first place, and which show was the worst?

X-Men '97
Image credit: Marvel Studios/Disney+

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When it comes to cartoons, nobody does it like Marvel. From the charming fun of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends to the complex emotional roller-coaster that is X-Men ’97, Marvel has produced some epic cartoons. But which animated series is the best? Popverse decided to investigate and come up with a ranking. Just call me the Watcher, because I had to watch 47 cartoons for this! Some were great, some were not, but the experience was fun! Join us as we go through Marvel’s animated universe and determine once and for all which Marvel cartoon is the greatest of all.

How we came up with this ranking

Before we begin our ranking, let’s go over our criteria. First of all, the list only applies to Marvel cartoons. This means animated shows, not animated movies. This list does not cover web-shows like Marvel Battleworld or television shorts like Marvel Rising. Pilots or animated specials don’t count, unless they were made into an ongoing television series. That’s why Pryde of the X-Men isn’t on here. Special projects like the Spider-Woman motion comic don’t fall under here, because ultimately it wasn’t an ongoing television cartoon.

These rankings were determined based on a few factors. Writing and animation quality was a key factor, but it wasn’t the only one. Most of this list is ranked in favor of new cartoons, since older cartoons don’t contain as much creative depth or good animation. In other words, I apologize to anyone who grew up loving the 1967 Spider-Man series, but I couldn’t rank it higher than Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.

I’ve also ranked these animated projects based on how much I enjoyed them. After all, I am the author of this list. Rankings are subjective, and I won’t pretend mine is infallible. If you feel Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends should be higher, or think someone else should’ve gotten the top spot, feel free to drop your own ranking in the comments section.

With that in mind, let’s get started!

47. Spider-Man Unlimited (1999-2001)

Spider-Man Unlimited
Image credit: Marvel

This series has almost nothing to do with Spider-Man. It places Spidey on Counter-Earth, which is inhabited by human/animal hybrids. Spidey’s familiar costume, villains, and supporting characters are all absent. Venom and Carnage are around, but not enough to make it worthwhile. It’s essentially an American produced isekai, except it’s not nearly as entertaining.

46. The Marvel Super Heroes (1966)

The Marvel Super Heroes cartoon
Image credit: Grantray-Lawrence Animation

The first Marvel animated series, but unfortunately, it’s also one of the weakest. The Marvel Super Heroes was an anthology series comprised of multiple segments adapting the comic adventures of Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Namor, and Thor. However, most of these adaptations were just xeroxing the comic book panels and giving them limited animation. When I say limited animation, I’m talking barely animated at all. The only reason this series isn’t in last place is because it’s cool to see Jack Kirby’s artwork on screen, and each segment had some real catchy (if not corny) theme songs.

45. The Avengers: United They Stand (1999-2000)

Avengers United They Stand
Image credit: Marvel

This wasn’t a cartoon; it was an animated toy commercial. Fox Kids and Marvel Productions had found great success in the 90s with their X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons. They hoped Avengers: United They Stand would capture the same magic.

It didn’t.

Studio executives forced Marvel to set the series in the future, hoping they could capture some of the Batman Beyond audience. Each episode contained unnecessary costumes and vehicles designed to sell toys. The toys didn’t sell, and audiences weren’t buying the series either. It was quickly cancelled, and not one tear was shed.

44. Spider-Woman (1979-1980)

Spider-Woman cartoon
Image credit: DePatie–Freleng Enterprises

An animated series chronicling the adventures of Jessica Drew. The cartoon gave Spider-Woman some extra powers she didn’t have in the comics, such as clairvoyance, instant-costume-changing, and telepathy. Jessica worked at Justice Magazine, and most of her comic book background (Hydra and the High Evolutionary) was omitted in favor of standard superhero cartoon fun.

43. Ultraforce (1994-1995)

Ultraforce cartoon
Image credit: DIC

Why is Ultraforce on here? Remember, Ultraforce was published by Malibu Comics, and the company was later acquired by Marvel. So yes, during the cartoon’s run, Ultraforce was a Marvel property. It was a standard cartoon action character focusing on the first version of the Ultraforce comic. The animation wasn’t anything to write home about, and the stories didn’t have much depth. The series was cancelled after a few episodes.

42. Fred and Barney Meet the Thing (1979)

Fred and Barney Meet the Thing
Image credit: Hanna-Barbera

This title is a total lie. In fact, the image accompanying this entry is also a lie. At no point in this series do Fred and Barney ever actually meet the Thing. They are seen together in the opening sequence, but never for any of the actual episodes. That’s a shame, because that would have been REAL interesting.

Fred and Barney Meet the Thing was actually a package series, which aired Flintstones segments and segments starring the Thing. However, the rocky hero bore little resemblance to his comic book counterpart. The Thing was a teenage boy named Benjy Grimm, who transformed into the rocky hero by using two magic rings. “Thing Ring, do your thing,” Benjy would say.

The rest of the Fantastic Four never appear. I suppose they wanted to be as far away from this oddity as possible.

41. The Super Hero Squad Show (2009-2011)

Super Hero Squad Show
Image credit: Marvel

A lighthearted children’s cartoon inspired by the Super Hero Squad toyline. Unlike other toyline-inspired-cartoons, this one didn’t come off as a half-hour toy commercial. The designs were goofy, the stories were juvenile, the characterizations were wacky, and the scripts were full of jokes. However, this series has its charm, and it can be entertaining if you make the conscious decision not to take it too seriously. There was even some fun in-jokes that seasoned comic book readers would appreciate.

The series was lacking in depth, but it still has some value to it.

40. The New Fantastic Four (1978)

Fantastic Four 1978 cartoon
Image credit: DePatie–Freleng Enterprises

An animated series featuring the adventures of Mr. Fantastic, the Thing, Invisible Girl, and…H.E.R.B.I.E.???

The Human Torch wasn’t available due to another studio having the rights, so Johnny Storm was replaced with a robot. The cartoon was already starting off on the wrong foot, losing ¼ of the iconic team. This threw the dynamic off, and as you watch the series you can’t help but get the sense that something is missing.

39. Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H. (2013-2015)

Hulk and the Agents SMASH
Image credit: Marvel

A team-up series featuring Hulk, Red Hulk, She-Hulk, A-Bomb, and Skaar. Each of the Gamma-heroes seemed like watered down versions of their comic book counterparts. Their personalities were more agreeable, and their powers had been scaled back. The series was geared towards a younger audience, so it was missing most of the pathos that can be found in Hulk’s comics.

I’ll be honest, I’m also kind of lost by the premise. Although the Hulk has been in the Avengers and Defenders, he’s not much of a team player. Having him lead a team seems like a flawed premise for a cartoon.

38. Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes (2006-2007)

Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes
Image credit: Marvel

An animated series that was meant to capitalize on the success of the 2005 Fantastic Four film. The film didn’t move the needle for the audience, and neither did this cartoon. The character designs were fresh, but the scripts were subpar. The series did a good job of mixing adventure with superhero sitcom hijinks, but it never quite felt like the Fantastic Four.

37. Spidey and His Amazing Friends (2021-present)

Spidey and his Amazing Friends
Image credit: Marvel

A preschool series focusing on the adventures of Spider-Man (Peter Parker) Spin (Miles Morales), and Ghost-Spider (Gwen Stacy). Each episode contains a lesson, such as patience, teamwork, and the usual toddler series television show themes. This is basically PJ Masks or PAW Patrol for Marvel fans.

It feels wrong to rank this alongside the more adult-oriented shows because it plays to a different audience. The show may not be deep or comic accurate, but it’s wholesome, and I hope it’s converting the next generation of Marvel fans.

36. Wolverine and the X-Men (2009)

Wolverine and the X-Men
Image credit: Marvel

Charles Xavier and Jean Grey are missing, and the school has been destroyed. Now it’s up to Wolverine to put the pieces back together. Logan puts together his own X-Men team, learning what it takes to be a leader. Right away, the premise feels like something an executive thought up. We know Wolverine is popular but putting him as leader of the team doesn’t feel right for his character. Putting his name in the title was also a cheap marketing ploy. The series itself was alright, but we’ve had multiple animated versions of the X-Men that have been so much better.

35. Baymax! (2022)

Image credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

No, this isn’t a mistake. Baymax is a Marvel character too. A lot of people forget, but Big Hero 6 was originally a 1996 Marvel Comic. As so, we’re ranking Baymax alongside Marvel heroes like Wolverine and Rocket Racoon.

The Disney+ streaming series focuses on Baymax as he tries to help anyone that needs medical care or mental health assistance. There aren’t any world-ending threats or grand schemes, it’s just Baymax being himself, which is enough. The series is a cute breath of fresh air in our cynical world.

34. Ultimate Spider-Man (2012-2017)

Ultimate Spider-Man
Image credit: Marvel

Released in 2012, this was the first Spider-Man cartoon after Marvel got the animation rights back from Sony. The premise is that Nick Fury is having Spider-Man train in a S.H.I.E.L.D. school for superheroes. Spidey regularly teamed up with his classmates Nova, White Tiger, Iron Fist, and Power Man.

As a result, this didn’t feel like Spider-Man from the comics. Instead of being a loner, he was practically a junior agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., constantly working with other heroes. However, the animated series did pull off some big swings, including giving Miles Morales his first cartoon appearance.

33. Hit Monkey (2021-present)

Hit Monkey
Image credit: Hulu

An adult animated series about a monkey who is trained by the ghost of an assassin. Yes, that’s a real sentence I just typed. The ghost guides Hit-Monkey as he takes down the Japanese criminals that killed him. This is a refreshing Marvel cartoon that doesn’t focus on their famous superheroes. Hit-Monkey is an entertaining, violent, and very adult series that explores the offbeat corner of Marvel’s animated multiverse.

32. Big Hero 6: The Series (2017-2021)

Big Hero 6
Image credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

An animated series that picks up where the 2014 film left off. Hiro, Baymax, and the rest of Big Hero 6 face a series of mad science supervillains as they fight to save San Fransokyo. While it never reached the artistic heights of the original film, the television series did a great job expanding the characters and building on their relationships. Some of the best scenes were just seeing Fred, Go Go, Honey Lemon, and Wasabi playing off one another. And of course, getting more Baymax is always a treat.

31. The Incredible Hulk (1982-1983)

Hulk 1982 cartoon
Image credit: Marvel

A short-lived animated series featuring the Incredible Hulk. This cartoon was actually closer to the comics than the live-action 1978 show. The series featured classic characters like Rick Jones, Betty Ross, and General Thunderbolt Ross. Glenn Talbot was renamed Ned Talbot, and was reimagined as a typical henchman for General Ross. Rick was given a girlfriend named Rita, who helped him protect the Hulk.

Keep in mind, it was a 1982 cartoon, so the animation wasn’t strong, and the scripts weren’t very deep. However, it was nice to see a more comic accurate Hulk onscreen.

30. Spider-Man (1981-1982)

Spider-Man 1981 cartoon
Image credit: Marvel

A companion series to Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, although it featured a different voice actor as Spidey. This show concentrated on Spidey’s solo adventures, and boy were they wild. For example, Mysterio opened a disco nightclub in order to turn people into slaves. Another episode had the Chameleon pretend to be Uncle Ben’s ghost so he could trick Aunt May into killing Spider-Man. Reread that sentence as many times as you need to.

29. Super Crooks (2021)

Super Crooks
Image credit: Millarworld

A Japanese-American anime based on the Mark Millar comic. Super Crooks follows Johnny Bolt, an electricity powered man who became a crook after failing as a hero. Bolt is joined by a team of other supervillains. Together, they plan heists, avoid the authorities, and dodge heroes. The animation is crisp, and the plot feels like a fusion of Ocean’s Eleven and HBO Max’s Harley Quinn. All in all, it’s an entertaining and overlooked series.

28. Spider-Man (1967-1970)

Spider-Man 1967 pointing meme
Image credit: Grantray-Lawrence Animation

The first Spider-Man animated series! In many ways, it felt like a watered-down version of the comics. Peter Parker’s personal problems were missing, with the cartoon instead focusing on the superhero action. Episodes would regularly pad their runtime with reused animation…sometimes multiple times within the same episode.

However, this series gets major points for its iconic theme song, which is still a major part of the Spider-Man mythos today. Plus, this cartoon gave birth to dozens of iconic memes, including the one pictured here. Those two facts give it a few extra points, saving it from a spot closer to the bottom of this list.

27. Avengers Assemble (2013-2019)

Avenger Assemble cartoon
Image credit: Marvel

This series was commissioned to capitalize on the success of the Marvel Studios Avengers film. While it doesn’t take place in the same continuity as the films, it takes many cues from it. The character designs, personalities, and imagery is all meant to evoke the MCU. However, as the series progressed it went in its own direction. The show was aimed at elementary schoolers, so the plot never got very deep. However, it was an entertaining action show, which is just what cartoons are supposed to be.

26. Men in Black: The Series (1997-2001)

Men in Black animated series
Image credit: Columbia TriStar Television

That’s right, Men in Black is on here too. Believe it or not, Men in Black was originally a Malibu Comic. Since Malibu is owned by Marvel, that makes Men in Black a Marvel property. Isn’t that wild?

This cartoon was meant to capitalize on the Men in Black film. However, unlike most movie tie-in cartoons, this one was really good! The episodes were entertaining, the animation was awesome, and the intro sequence absolutely slapped. The animated series was set in an alternate continuity where Agent K never retired, and it gave a larger role to other movie characters like Agent L and Frank. Most people overlook this series, which is a big mistake.

25. Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends (1981-1983)

Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends
Image credit: Marvel

An animated series that teamed Spider-Man up with Firestar and Iceman. Firestar was an original character created for the show who would later be added to the comics. The series itself had little to do with the comics, but it was pure fun. For example, Peter Parker’s bedroom had a secret button which would transform the space into a high-tech laboratory. The instrumental music and sound effects were memorable. To this day, I can hear the Amazing Friends fanfare whenever I read an 80s era Spider-Man comic.

24. Iron Man (1994-1996)

Iron Man 1994 cartoon
Image credit: Marvel

If we were just going by the first season of this show, it would be closer to the bottom of this list. Iron Man season 1 was crudely animated with dumb stories. However, season 2 was a major course correction that told more mature storylines, focusing on Tony’s mortality, Rhodey’s mental health, and more. The storylines became more serialized, and the character relationships were actually interesting. For example, Force Works, the team of heroes Tony worked with throughout season 1, disbands at the beginning of season 2 due to Iron Man lying to them. It was the type of nuanced character conflict that was regularly found in the source material.

23. Guardians of the Galaxy (2015-2019)

Guardians of the Galaxy animated
Image credit: Marvel

An animated series released after the success of the 2014 film. The animated series takes many of its cues from the Marvel Studios film, but it’s set in a different continuity. Since the series only had one film to work from, at times it would lean heavily into the comic book lore. For example, we had episodes dealing with Rocket’s past on Halfworld, and Peter’s relationship with his father J’Son. A fun space opera cartoon with overarching arcs and loveable characters.

22. Marvel’s Spider-Man (2017-2020)

Spider-Man cartoon logo
Image credit: Marvel

An animated series focusing on the early days of Peter’s career as Spider-Man. Peter Parker attends Horizon High, a magnet school that focuses on science and technology. Unlike Ultimate Spider-Man, this series has a more back-to-basics approach, with more of a focus on Peter finding his own way in the world, rather than working as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Over time, more spider-themed heroes show up, including the Anya Corazon version of Spider-Girl, Ghost-Spider, and Miles Morales. A great entry level Spider-Man show for elementary schoolers.

21. Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (2003)

Spider-Man 2003 MTV animated show
Image credit: Marvel

Okay….the last entry was for elementary schoolers. This one was for college students…or at least it was trying to be.

Spider-Man: The New Animated Series aired in primetime on MTV, and it really tried to go for the young adult demographic. The series was set at Empire State University, with most of the villains and plots somehow relating to the college. The animation looks like it came from a PlayStation 1 game, but at the time it seemed revolutionary.

Some of the attempts to be more adult fell flat. For example, at one point Harry Osborn says Peter needs to be watching more R-rated DVDs. The series also had a “no old people” rule, which meant no Aunt May. However, J. Jonah Jameson was allowed to appear….briefly.

It’s ridiculous, it’s pandering, and it’s heavily dated, but there were times when it worked. And when it worked, it worked well. It proved that Spider-Man could work as an animated series…just pull back on the pandering.

20. Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers (2014-2015)

Marvel Disk Wars Avengers
Image credit: Toei Animation

When Loki traps most of the Marvel heroes in special disks, it’s up to Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Wasp to free their captive friends. However, they won’t be going it alone. Due to a series of convoluted circumstances (it is an anime after all), the heroes can’t stop Loki unless a group of kids help them. This Shonen anime bears little resemblance to the Marvel Comics, but it’s a fun series with beautiful animation, and stunning action sequences.

19. Marvel Anime: Iron Man (2010-2011)

Marvel Anime Iron Man
Image credit: Madhouse

As the title suggests, this is an anime starring Iron Man. Released shortly after the 2008 film, Tony’s look and characterization take a lot of cues from the MCU. The story follows Iron Man as he travels to Japan for business. During his trip, he comes across a villainous organization known as Zodiac. A short but entertaining series.

18. Marvel Anime: X-Men (2010-2011)

Marvel Anime X-Men
Image credit: Madhouse

An anime series starring the X-Men. Marvel’s mutants travel to Japan to stop a group of villains known as the U-Men. The series also has their own version of the Dark Phoenix Saga, which includes a few twists and fake outs absent from the original comics. The series lasted for 12 episodes, making it a short but sweet binging experience.

17. Marvel Future Avengers (2017-2018)

Marvel Future Avenger
Image credit: Madhouse

This anime follows three teenagers named Chloe, Adi, and Makoto. The children were raised by HYDRA to believe that the Avengers were villains. Once they learned they were on the wrong side, they escaped. The Avengers take the teens under their wing, dubbing them the ‘Future Avengers.’ The teens join Marvel’s heroes as they take down small threats like mad scientists, and world-ending threats like Kang. Like Marvel’s other anime productions, this one contains stunning animation and breathtaking action sequences.

16. The Incredible Hulk (1996-1997)

Hulk 1996 cartoon
Image credit: Marvel

An animated series following the adventures of the Hulk. Lou Ferringo, who played Hulk in the live-action series, voices the misunderstood hero in this cartoon. The series took elements from various eras of the Hulk’s comic history, making it a good entry point for fans. The series featured numerous guest appearances from other Marvel heroes and villains. The second season promoted She-Hulk to a regular, causing the series to be renamed The Incredible Hulk and She-Hulk.

The second season was also more serialized, juggling running sub-plots between the various characters. The scripts were more mature than contemporary Saturday morning cartoon shows. The series was darker and edgier while still feeling accessible to young audiences.

15. Fantastic Four (1994-1996)

Marvel Action Hour Fantastic Four
Image credit: Marvel

This series aired alongside the 1994 Iron Man series as part of the Marvel Action Hour programming block. Like Iron Man, Fantastic Four had a goofier first season, but grew into a more mature show in its second year. The animated series took most of their stories from the Lee/Kirby comics. Occasionally we had weird moments like Johnny Storm rapping a song called ‘Flame On.’ However, the show did a great job of bringing the old Lee/Kirby comics to life, especially during the second season.

14. M.O.D.O.K. (2021)

Image credit: Hulu

An adult-oriented show that follows the villain M.O.D.O.K. as he has a mid-life crisis. The stop-motion animated comedy is less about heroes and villains, and more about how family drama effects villains living in the Marvel Universe. Patton Oswalt voices the title character, delivering a fun and witty performance. The series has been compared to the DC Universe adult cartoon Haley Quinn. While M.O.D.O.K. doesn’t hit the mark as often as Harley does, it’s still a worthwhile show for those who don’t take these characters too seriously.

13. Marvel Anime: Blade (2010-2011)

Marvel Anime Blade
Image credit: Madhouse

An anime starring Blade, a Daywalker who hunts vampires. There isn’t much more to the concept than that, but the anime does plenty with it. As someone who grew up seeing watered down versions of vampires on cartoons, it was refreshing to see how this anime made the undead creatures truly scary. The series didn’t hold back when it came to blood and gore, delivering some horrifying (but memorable) sequences. An underrated treasure.

12. Marvel Anime: Wolverine

Marvel Anime Wolverine
Image credit: Madhouse

This was the crown jewel of Marvel’s anime productions. Marvel Anime: Wolverine adapted Chris Claremont and Frank Miller’s 1982 Wolverine mini-series, and they couldn’t have picked a better story to draw from. While it’s not a direct beat-by-beat translation of the comic, it does a wonderful job of putting an anime spin on the classic story. The biggest shame is that it only lasted 12 episodes.

11. Iron Man: Armored Adventures (2009-2012)

Iron Man Armored Adventure
Image credit: Marvel

A CGI-animated series that reimagines Tony Stark as a teenage boy. Tony becomes Iron Man after the death of his father, hoping the uncover the conspiracy behind his murder. At times the series feels more like Spider-Man than it does Iron Man. There are various scenes of teenage Tony coming up with excuses for his absences after fighting evil as Iron Man. However, the premise was fun, and it gave viewers a different take on Iron Man that they weren’t getting anywhere else. New versions of familiar characters also show up, like Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Justin Hammer, and even Doctor Doom. Iron Man: Armored Adventures gives us a new take on the character, while still respecting the core fundamentals of the mythos.

10. Fantastic Four (1967-1968)

Fantastic Four 1967 cartoon
Image credit: Hanna-Barbera

Most of Marvel’s early cartoons haven’t aged well, but this is an exception. Hanna-Barbera kept things simple by using the original Lee/Kirby comics as the basis for their series. Most of the episodes were scene-by-scene adaptations of the early FF comics. Occasionally some changes were made when it was necessary. For example, Hanna-Barbera was unable to use Namor due to rights issues, so he was replaced by a villain called Triton.

Otherwise, these were as close to direct translations as you can get. The series didn’t try to improve on the formula or experiment with the characters. It simply retold the Lee/Kirby stories in animated form, bringing the classic comics to life.

9. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (2023-present)

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Image credit: Marvel

This series follows the adventures of a teenage genius named Lunella and Devil Dinosaur, a T-Rex summoned from another dimension. Lunella fights crime while facing the trials and tribulations of a typical teen genius. The animation is bright and colorful, creating a hip-hop flavored world. The soundtrack perfectly complements the story, with contemporary music serving as the oxygen of the show, energizing the characters with each scene.

The show also deals with themes you can’t find on other Marvel shows. For example, the episode “Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow” has Lunella feeling self-conscious about her hair after being bullied at school. This is a common problem for young African-American women, and it’s not the type of story you would see in Spider-Man or Wolverine.

Oh, and the hair came to life and attacked Lunella. It was voiced by Jennifer Hudson. Don’t forget, this is still a Marvel superhero show.

8. Silver Surfer (1998)

Silver Surfer cartoon
Image credit: Marvel

An underrated series that was gone too quickly. From the beginning, Silver Surfer felt like it had a bigger scale than Marvel’s other 90s era cartoons. Everything from the theme song to the animation itself felt bigger, grander, and more sophisticated. The character designs were directly lifted from Jack Kirby’s comics, making the series a visual treat.

As the Silver Surfer explored the stars, he came across some of Marvel’s cosmic characters, such as Ego, Adam Warlock, Drax, the Watcher, and more. In many ways, this series was a good primer for any viewer who wanted to learn about the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe.

Like Stan Lee’s Silver Surfer comics, this series dealt with mature and complex themes such as pacifism, slavery, colonialism, and more. Marvel took some big swings with this, and they hit a homerun each time.

7. What If…? (2021-present)

What If
Image credit: Marvel

What If…? is an animated series that has fun with the Marvel multiverse. Like the comic that inspired it, each episode centers on an alternate reality which poses a question. For example, what if T’Challa had become Star-Lord? What if Ultron had won? We also get fun concepts, like a Die Hard homage where Happy Hogan saves Christmas. Marvel Studios put a lot of star power behind this series. In many cases, the Marvel heroes are voiced by the same characters who play them in the live-action films, giving this show a sense of legitimacy.

6. X-Men: Evolution (2000-2003)

X-Men Evolution
Image credit: Marvel

This animated series reimagines the X-Men as a teenage superhero drama. Many of the core characters are de-aged to high school students. The young mutants divide their time between Xavier’s Institute and their local high school. This framed X-Men as a coming-of-age story, as the teenagers struggled with their powers while juggling the trials and tribulations of adolescence.

However, this wasn’t Beverly Hills 90210. There was still plenty of action, danger, and all the elements that have made the X-Men franchise great. The series streamlined the mythos, making it feel less convoluted than the comics and the 1992 animated series. It was a refreshing take on the X-Men, and I wish it would’ve lasted longer.

5. The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (2010-2012)

Avenger EMH
Image credit: Marvel

An animated series that put a 21st century spin on Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s classic Avengers stories. In some ways this show can be considered Marvel: The Animated Series, because it expanded beyond the Avengers to tell stories encompassing the wider universe, including characters such as the Fantastic Four, X-Men, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The series contained long-running plot threads, mysteries, and plenty of Marvel Easter eggs. The stories were smart, the animation was superb, and the characters always felt true to the comic book source material.

4. Spider-Man (1994-1998)

Spider-Man 1994 animated series
Image credit: Marvel

Full disclosure – this is the series that made me a Marvel fan. If it wasn’t for this cartoon, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article. In 65 episodes, this animated series gave viewers a basic introduction to most of the important characters and concepts in Spider-Man’s world. Instead of starting from the beginning, the series picked up a few years into Spider-Man’s career, portraying Peter Parker as a mature college student.

The series perfectly captured what it’s like to be inside Spider-Man’s head, thanks to some great voiceover work from Christpher Daniel Barnes. His internal narration gave viewers a glimpse inside of Peter Parker’s tortured psyche.

The series had its flaws, including many instances of repeated animation, and awkwardly avoiding references to death. However, it more than made up for it with its mature storytelling and strong sense of continuity. This was the first series to feature Venom and Carnage, and the finale episode featured a team-up between a multiverse of Spider-Men, decades before the Spider-Verse films. This series gives fans a perfect tour of Spider-Man’s world circa 1994.

3. X-Men (1992-1997)

X-Men 1992 animated series
Image credit: Marvel

This series was a game-changer. To truly see how revolutionary X-Men was, you need to look at all the other cartoons that were airing in 1992. Many of them were cheaply produced, poorly written, and talked down to their audience.

X-Men broke the mold, giving its viewers complex storytelling, rich animation, and nuanced characters. Episodes contained themes such as racism, pacifism, religion, mental health, and more. The writers were able to communicate these themes while still making the show accessible to a young audience. This wasn’t a kids show or an adult show. It was an X-Men show that fans could enjoy whether they were elementary schoolers or middle-aged.

The series didn’t try to dumb down or streamline the X-Men. For better or worse, they made the lore just as convoluted as it was in the comics, having faith in their audience to keep up. This gamble paid off, with the series becoming a fan favorite. To this day, it’s one of the most influential pieces of comic book media ever produced.

2. The Spectacular Spider-Man (2008-2009)

Spectacular Spider-Man
Image credit: Sony

An animated series reimagining Peter Parker’s early career as Spider-Man. The show successfully captured the essence of the early Stan Lee and Steve Ditko comics, balancing Peter’s personal life with his crime-fighting adventures. The series also had the characters learn, grow, and evolve, just as they did in the classic comics. There was a heavy focus on Peter’s supporting cast, with characters like Harry Osborn, Gwen Stacy, and Flash Thompson experiencing character arcs of their own.

The storytelling was smart, and it wasn’t afraid to get experimental. For example, an episode in season 2 used a school production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as its framing sequence. Unfortunately the series was no match for studio lawyers. When Disney acquired the Spider-Man animation rights from Sony, it effectively ended Spectacular Spider-Man. Tangled rights issues prevent this series from being revived, but to this day, the show is a fan favorite.

1. X-Men ’97 (2024-present)

X-Men '97
Image credit: Marvel

A continuation of the 1992 X-Men animated series. This cartoon successfully captured the tone of the original show, without feeling cliched or dated. In some ways it was like a thought experiment, showing viewers what a sixth season of the series could have looked like back in 1997. However, instead of simply playing the greatest hits from the 90s cartoon, X-Men ’97 was a true evolution, taking the characters to challenging and unexpected places.

One episode dealt with the genocide of Genosha, one of the most tragic events from the comics. It also streamlined Madelyne Pryor’s storyline, fixing some of the sexism and problematic elements from the source material.

The series also gave us an adaptation of Lifedeath, one of the greatest X-Men storylines of all time. Lifedeath never would have worked on a show like X-Men: Evolution or Wolverine and the X-Men, but X-Men: ’97 was a different type of show. It didn’t compromise on any of the pacing or themes.X-Men ’97 raised the bar for comic book media, elevating the medium in a way no cartoon had since Batman: The Animated Series.

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Joshua Lapin-Bertone: Joshua is a pop culture writer specializing in comic book media. His work has appeared on the official DC Comics website, the DC Universe subscription service, HBO Max promotional videos, the Batman Universe fansite, and more. In between traveling around the country to cover various comic conventions, Joshua resides in Florida where he binges superhero television and reads obscure comics from yesteryear.
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