Back in 1963, Stan Lee created a new team of five heroes—Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Beast, Angel and Iceman—known as the X-Men, named after their mentor Charles Xavier. Little did he know then that the gang would go onto become one of Marvel’s most successful properties, and with that success came a blooming, ever-growing cast which has exploded to near-incalculable numbers over the years.
The 1970s, beginning the long reign of the great Chris Claremont, brought us the likes of Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Colossus. The 1980s saw characters such as Kitty Pryde, Jubilee and Dazzler joining up, the 1990s introduced Cable, Bishop and Gambit, while the 21st century has given us Northstar, Armor, Warpath and others. And that’s not even mentioning the many villains who’ve crossed over to the good side over the years.
But who are the best X-Men members of all-time? We’ve whittled the entire mutant population down to just the 20 greatest children of the atom. Check out our picks and as always, let us know if you agree with them or not by leaving a comment in the usual place.
The most recent creation on this list, Laura Kinney AKA X-23 has made up for her short lifespan with her immense, breakout popularity. Unusually, she also debuted on TV first—specifically, in the X-Men: Evolution animated series – before being brought into the comics.
As anyone who’s seen Logan will know, Laura is the cloned daughter of Wolverine. Created to be the perfect killing machine, X-23 served as an assassin until she united with Logan and switched to the side of the X-Men. After her father’s death, Laura took up the mantle of Wolverine herself.
Though usually connected with the more militant X-Force team, Cable has served on the X-Men roster on at least one occasion—as part of Rogue’s X-Men team alongside Cannonball, Sabretooth, Mystique and others—which allows us to place the fan-favourite character on this list.
Nathan Summers is the son of Cyclops from a dystopian future. A grizzled warrior infected with a techno-organic virus, Cable traveled back in time to the present. The movie-going public got to see him in action when he appeared in the hit Deadpool 2.
Is Cable not enough grizzled action-hero from a dystopian future for you? Well, you’re in luck, because that’s pretty much Bishop’s core concept as well. Unlike Cable, Bishop is more overtly connected to the X-Men team, but he’s also been portrayed in the occasional villainous role (that’s far from the last time you’ll hear that over this list). Bishop’s heyday was back in the 90s, but he still gets a meaty part from time to time. Recently, he served on a Cable-less X-Force team.
One of the five founding members of the X-Men, Warren Worthington III might have been born into money but his mutant power—his angelic wings—proved to be a curse, as they’re impossible to conceal. Angel also has one of the most infamous turns to the dark side in X-Men canon, as he was turned into the more powerful Arcangel, complete with metallic wings, by Apocalypse and became one of his Four Horsemen. Recent comics have split Angel and Arcangel into two different personas, though they’re currently one and the same again.
Similarly, Angel’s occasional lover Psylocke is another mutant who’s had her ups and downs. With her distinctive purple psionic powers, Betsy Braddock—the sister of Captain Britain—has had a crazy time of it over the years. Most notably having her mind transferred into the body of an Asian assassin. Despite her straightforwardly villainous depiction in X-Men: Apocalypse, however, Psylocke is usually one of the good guys—and a heck of a dangerous one at that.
If you loved X-Men: The Animated Series back in the 1990s, the chances are you’re a fan of Jubilee, too. The Asian teen with the ability to basically create fireworks from her hands was the audience surrogate for the show. In the comics, her story has gone to some much weirder places, though. For instance, she was turned into a vampire after losing her powers in the “No More Mutants” saga. It’s a shame she’s so far been terribly under-utilized in the movies.
Another of the original X-Men, Iceman’s icy power-set has seriously increased over the years. Originally, Bobby Drake was depicted as more of a cuddly-looking snowman, but later grew into an Omega-level mutant, which puts him alongside Professor X and Magneto (no, really). Underneath the ice, Bobby has a lot of heart and confidence issues, though. And let’s not forget that he’s also one of Spider-Man’s best buds (or should we say “amazing friends?”) and has recently come out as gay.
If this was a ranking of the greatest characters affiliated with the X-Men, Erik Lensherr would be right at the top. However, his traditional status as an enemy of the X-Men prevents him from rising any higher up the list.
Though he usually serves as the leader of the Brotherhood of (Evil) Mutants, the Master of Magnetism has been on his enemy’s team from time to time. He first started to redeem himself after a battle with the Beyonder and eventually went on to lead the team after his old friend Charles Xavier nearly died. Most recently, he formed a version of his own X-Men to protect mutantkind.
Gambit has to be the standout creation of the X-Men’s convoluted 1990s era. The caijun wisecracker has the ability to fling exploding playing cards, which sounds kind of ridiculous but has helped him become a firm cult favourite among fans. He’s also the only person cool enough to make a trenchcoat over a garish purple spandex suit work. Plus, he’s traditionally in a popular romantic relationship with Rogue. Channing Tatum was set to play him in his own solo movie, however, the project has since been tabled.
11) Emma Frost
Emma Frost AKA the White Queen started out as an out-and-out villain, as a member of the Hellfire Club. She completely turned to the good side, though, and entered into a relationship with Cyclops. The pair even led the X-Men for a time.
With her significant telepathic powers and the handy ability to turn into diamond, Emma is one of the most powerful members of the X-Men. She was a valuable hero for many years—until, in a major twist, she was revealed to have gone bad again in Inhumans vs. X-Men.
Peter Rasputin is the archetypal gentle giant of the X-Men team. As Colossus, the six-foot Russian stallion is a literal man of steel and perhaps the strongest of the core X-Men. Outside of combat, though, he’s the most pure-hearted of the lot and his long-term romance with Kitty Pryde is a favourite of many fans.
Also, a shout out’s in order for his little sister, Illayna AKA Magick, who nearly got on this list, too, even though she’s usually a member of the New Mutants.
Rogue has the misfortune of having one of the coolest yet tragic mutant powers ever—she can absorb the superpowers of anyone she touches, but that also means she can’t touch anyone for fear of killing them. More than that, she was raised as a villain by her adoptive mother Mystique. Still, that hasn’t stopped the badass southern belle from becoming one of the X-Men’s most notable members. Forget the shrinking violet played by Anna Paquin in the movies, comics Rogue is way cooler.
With his demonic features—and the fact that he’s the son of the villainous Mystique and Azazel—you would expect Nightcrawler to be a bad guy. However, he’s one of the most fun-loving and endearing X-Men ever. Real name Kurt Wagner, the religious German served as a circus acrobat in his youth before joining Xavier’s school of mutants. As well as being loveable, Nightcrawler has to be one of the coolest X-Men, too, what his awesome appearance and “Bamf”-ing teleporting ability.
How badass is Ororo ‘Storm’ Monro? She was worshipped as a goddess in her native Egypt and later became queen of Wakanda when she married Black Panther. Plus, she was the first black female hero in mainstream comics. Beat that!
With her weather-controlling powers, Storm is an invaluable member of the X-Men and has also led the team on many occasions, as well. Not to mention the fact that she’s also served on the Avengers and Fantastic Four. That’s pretty impressive for someone who started out as a streetwise thief.
6) Jean Grey
All of the major X-Men have had a tough time of it over the years, but Jean Grey’s biography has been a roller coaster ride of death and resurrection ad infinitum. She started out as perhaps the team’s weakest member, a mere telepath and telekinetic, but later grew into by far its most powerful as Phoenix, a being with cosmic powers of destruction. In one of the X-Men’s most famous storylines, she was later consumed by this power and became the Dark Phoenix. Jean has to be the most transformative mutant of the lot, and it just wouldn’t be the X-Men without her.
Hank McCoy AKA Beast is pretty much the entire X-Men franchise in a nutshell: A prejudiced opinion might deem him subhuman, but really he’s a kind and cultured man. More than that, he’s a genius polymath —an expert in biochemistry, genetics and mathematics as well as being a political activist on the side. And he still finds time to serve as a core member of the X-Men team (as well as an occasional Avenger).
His mutation has changed a lot over the years, too. Originally, he just had prehensile feet before later sprouting blue fur. Sometimes he’s been more ape-like, and others more feline.
4) Kitty Pryde
Kitty Pryde is one of the most breakout popular X-Men, chiefly because we’ve seen the character age over the years (which is pretty rare in the time-halting world of comic books). Fans have grown up with the phasing mutant, who often has her trusty dragon Lockheed by her side, as she’s gone from adolescent newbie to adult teacher. Her finest hour though has to be her starring role in the classic Days of Future Past arc.
Whether she’s going by the name Sprite, Ariel or Shadowcat, or joining with Excalibur, New Mutants or Guardians of the Galaxy, or romancing Colossus, Star-Lord or Spider-Man, Kitty Pryde is always the heart of the X-Men.
3) Professor X
Charles Xavier deserves his high placing on this list because, without him, there would be no X-Men. The paraplegic telepath is Marvel’s very own Martin Luther King; fighting the good fight of equal rights for mutantkind.
Though he often acts as the moral compass of the team, what’s great about Charles is that he still makes mistakes. He has unknowingly put the X-Men in danger on multiple occasions, and his immense power has sometimes backfired and brought about a dangerous enemy. He’s also currently dead (for about the tenth time), but that’s likely to change with Marvel’s ResurrXion event.
There’s no doubt about it: Wolverine is by far the most popular X-Men character, ever. And for good reason, too. You don’t need us to tell you how awesome he is: apart from his super-cool Adamantium claws, Logan is the lone ranger of the team. With his berserker rage, the character doesn’t ostensibly play well with others, but he nonetheless has found a family with his fellow mutant heroes.
Though he isn’t usually in a position of power, Wolverine has led the X-Men team on occasion—it’s the premise of the Wolverine and the X-Men animated series for one. As of the All-New, All-Different Marvel initiative, the regular Logan is dead, though Old Man Logan (from an alternate timeline) has traveled to this universe and joined the ranks of the X-Men instead.
While Wolverine has to be the greatest character of the X-Men franchise, Cyclops is the best X-Men member.
The leader of the team for most of its history, Scott Summers might be the straight man of the X-Men, but his strength of character comes from his eternal struggle to remain the steadfast general that the X-Men need. Just like his destructive laser vision, Cyclops is always fighting to stay in control on the inside.
Occasionally, he has lost it and turned to the bad side—for instance, when being possessed by the Phoenix Force, Apocalypse and killing Professor X (yeah, it’s complicated). Currently, Cyclops is dead ,but his younger self has been brought forward in time. No doubt it won’t be long, though, until he’s back at the head of the X-Men.