The best X-Men show is likely one you’ve never heard of

Photo: Marvel Future Fight X-Men PHOENIX FIVE Uniforms.. Image Courtesy Netmarble Corp., Marvel Entertainment
Photo: Marvel Future Fight X-Men PHOENIX FIVE Uniforms.. Image Courtesy Netmarble Corp., Marvel Entertainment /

Thanks to Disney, we’ve certainly seen a lot of superhero teams in our entertainment. Among the most enduring of these are the X-Men. These mutated misfits have led numerous films, TV shows, and games through the years, each playing on the powerful themes surrounding discrimination and human advancement.

One such show, however, has gone somewhat overlooked. It’s a show that’s never achieved the same recognition as the 2000s film franchise or the 1992 animated series. Enter X-Men: Evolution.

In many ways, this is considered the awkward middle child of X-Men products. Fans generally don’t acknowledge it, and when they do, they’re often put off by the changes it makes to classic characters. That’s understandable. After all, it reimagines most of X-Men as high schoolers, and the atmosphere and aesthetic are very indicative of the early 2000s. Don’t dismiss it because of these issues, though.

Once you get past the surface-level quibbles, Evolution might be one of the best X-Men shows out there. The witty writing lets the characters play off each other beautifully; it has the best opening theme song (sorry, ‘90s show); it has the best voice for Wolverine (sorry, Steve Blum); and it manages to make the ridiculous outfits look presentable while keeping some degree of color (sorry, film series).

The X-Men return to their narrative roots.

As strong as these are, perhaps the most essential element to this show’s success is its serialized storytelling. Nearly every episode’s events have a direct impact on the next, be it in terms of character, story, or both.

For instance, Rogue might experience some mental trauma due to a crushing revelation (combined with all the powers/personalities she’s absorbed), and she’ll be bedridden and emotionally distant for the next several episodes. This, in turn, prompts certain other characters to get closer to her and offer emotional support.

Venturing into ratings suicide

Other animated shows at the time, such as Justice League, might have two-parters or events that inform future story arcs, but none of them had this level of interconnectivity from episode to episode.

In a time of syndication, this would have definitely decreased the show’s broader appeal, especially to the kids watching. If you didn’t catch the previous episode, then you’d wonder what’s going on and why the characters are doing such-and-such.

A similar scenario occurred with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It did the same thing, letting much of its narrative unfold in chapters while its peers opted for more self-contained episodes. That’s one of the reasons that it was considered the black sheep of the Star Trek franchise for so long.

Despite that disadvantage, Evolution must have done something right on the creative end since the X-Men shows before and after it both attempted a similar longform approach. Sadly, neither one worked as well.

The former—1992’s X-Men—was so cheesy, random, and over the top that it was hard to take seriously. Meanwhile, the latter—Wolverine and the X-Men—threw everything and the kitchen sink at audiences, not developing the world or letting it breathe. The characters’ personalities were rarely allowed to shine, which meant that they couldn’t grow effectively throughout the series. If anything, these showed how serialized tales can go wrong when not used effectively. Future creatives adapting these heroes should take note.

The evolution of Saturday morning storytelling

Some call it brave; others call it foolhardy. Whatever the case, this strategy works wonders for X-Men: Evolution. It particularly rewards those who watch it in order, as we see the characters’ gradual growth and changing relationships over several seasons.

Cyclops goes from a laid-back, somewhat reckless teen to a confident and responsible leader. Kitty Pryde progresses from a flighty girl with little self-esteem to an uplifting go-getter with a penchant for mischief. The list goes on.

In addition, the ongoing format lets us better appreciate the breadth of the tale they’re telling. It’s not just a bunch of little adventures where the X-Men tackle the freak of the week.

You might think this is all par for the course. After all, many of the most popular shows nowadays are serialized instead of episodic, and that’s exactly why modern audiences should give X-Men Evolution a shot.

To go back to an earlier example, Deep Space Nine has earned a new generation of fans, and part of that is due to the whole series being available on streaming platforms like Netflix. Who’s to say that Evolution can’t do the same?

With its long-running writing style, it’s practically perfect for this modern age of streaming and binging. Are you a fan of X-Men, superhero stories, or action-adventure tales in general? If so, then you’d do yourself a disservice not to check this show out.

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Have you seen this hidden gem? Which version of the X-Men is your favorite? What are some superheroes who you think would suit a serialized story?

You can stream X-Men Evolution on Disney Plus. While you can buy much of it in chunks, the whole series has yet to be released on Blu-ray or DVD.