There are dozens of interpretations of the X-Men story, but really, there’s only one version that matters, and that’s the X-Men animated series. Created in the early '90s, the X-Men cartoon was buoyed by a creative team that wrote outstanding stories while facing down notes from competing corporations, merciless cost-cutting initiatives, and a call for a more marketable series.
Despite the setbacks, the series was both a critical and popular success that bolstered America’s love for these weirdo mutants with a catchy theme song. From 1992 to 1997, the X-Men TV series told intricate and tense stories through the medium of a Fox cartoon - something that no one else at the time was doing.
The X-Men adaptations that followed may have had more money and star power, but they were nowhere near as faithful as X-Men: The Animated Series.
The success and longevity of the X-Men animated series is due to its interest in telling character-driven stories rather than stories that focus on pure action. There are plenty of superpowers and cool costumes on the show, but the story arcs are based around the characters, which got young viewers invested in the show.
The team may fight Mr. Sinister or Magneto once an episode, but the real battles are those that the characters have with themselves. These storylines that explore the fear and pain of characters like Wolverine, Rogue, and Jubilee hark back to the Marvel comics stories from the '60s and '70s, an era when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were breaking the format of comic books in order to tell personal narratives.
Rather than ignore the comic book and try to create their own mythos, the creators of the animated series looked to some of the most beloved storylines from the comics and faithfully adapted them while finding time to create their own story arcs.
The most iconic storylines that made their way from the comics are "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past," but the creators also adapted lesser-known storylines like "Shiva Scenario" and "Madripoor Knights." In the case of "The Dark Phoenix Saga" and "Days of Future Past," the animated series did a good job adapting these stories for the screen - perhaps an even better job than the film adaptations of the 2010s.
Even if you’re not a constant reader of X-Men, you know that there have been a lot of mutants who’ve passed though Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. The animated series combined characters from the comic’s first two and a half decades to build what’s now considered the classic lineup of the group.
Led by Professor X, the roster on the animated series is a mixed bag of characters who each have their own strengths: Cyclops, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, Gambit, Rogue, Jubilee, Beast, Morph, and Colossus.
Before the animated series, this particular group didn’t share much space toghether, but thanks to the popularity of the show, they have become the team that most millennials think of as THEIR X-Men.
From the first episode of X-Men: The Animated Series, it's clear that this isn't just an average children's cartoon. Everyone who worked on the show, from series creator Eric Lewald down to the voice talent and animators, wanted to make a show for children that didn't talk down to them. They wanted to make a show that everyone could enjoy.
Many of the episodes deal with real issues like racial prejudice and existing as the "other" in society, using the X-Men as a metaphor for everything from sexual orientation to skin color to people who don't conform to the values of regular society. On top of that, many of the storylines are serialized, something that the creators knew would set them apart from the more childish shows on television.
This search for realism extended to the voice talent of the show; the creators wanted to use actors who didn't sound too cartoonish or childish. Alyson Court, who voiced Jubilee, explained:
Originally, they cast someone else as Jubilee... The actress they cast was a real pro, but she had a sweeter, cuter voice that wasn’t really representative of the more serious world they were trying to portray.