But even from an in-universe perspective, the X-men's job is to protect and train mutants, and to fight threats to all of humanity...

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non-essential yet awesome X-men stories?

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This list is still in progress, but this was the stuff off the top of my head.

Please feel free to make suggestions, because I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting :v

List items

  • X-men:Children of the Atom #1-6 (1999)

    This miniseries is a great read for anyone looking for a contemporary origin of the X-men. Starting before Xavier formed the X-men, and ending just before the events of Lee and Kirby's the X-men #1 (1963), this prequel to the original stories explores in some depth the world that Xavier was building his school in, as well as his initial relationships to each of the team's original members.

  • Marvels #2(of 4, 1994)

    I really like all of Marvels, but issue 2 is an especially interesting take on the perception of the original X-men within the MU, and the events surrounding the first attack by the Sentinels.

    While the X-men themselves aren't really the main characters here, I still feel like this is one of the most compelling stories surrounding the mythos of the original team; just classic.

  • Classic X-men #4 (1986)

    Arguably, pretty much any X-men story between 1975 and 1980 is better if read in the 1984 reprint series Classic X-men.

    Each issue had a back up story written by Claremont to show the more human side of the characters being featured in the high-adventure stories of late 70's X-men comics.

    I've chosen Classic X-men #4 here especially for one of my favorite of those stories, "The Big Dare". Set directly after the events of the X-men #96 (1975), we are witness to the humble beginnings of Nightcrawler and Wolverine's legendary friendship. It's an inspiring and character defining story for both of these guys, and one of the most human of all X-men stories.

  • The (uncanny) X-men #126-128

    Prequel to the Dark Phoenix Saga, the original "Proteus Saga" is arguably the beginning of the X-men's greatness as a distinctly different kind of superhero comic.

  • The X-men #139,140 (1980)

    Sandwiched between the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga and the beginning of Days of Future Past, issues 139 and 140 may seem somewhat forgettable in the grand scheme, but I still love them.

    Besides seeing Kitty's first impressions of life with the X-men, we get a great two part story about Wolverine and Nightcrawler solving mysteries in the Canadian wilderness. Really fun bookend to the end of the 70's era X-men.

  • Marvel Super Heroes Secret War #1-12 (1984)

    I may be biased on this story as #5 was the first comic I read that had the X-men (or most other marvel characters) in it, but I still love this story, especially the X-men's unique role in it.

    Also interesting to see the power dynamic that that comes up between Cyclops, Xavier, and Storm, and how that would play out in the regular series, as well as Magneto being presented as more than just a villain and joining the X-men for the first time.

  • The Uncanny X-men #183 (1984)

    As far as I'm concerned, pretty much any issue of Claremont's X-men between the Phoenix Saga and the Mutant Massacre can be considered a classic read, but a lot of what made it so great was quirky, human stories like this one.

    Set after the X-men have returned from the Secret War, this story chronicles the first time Colossus drinks at a bar with Wolverine and Nightcrawler. What starts as a down-time issue, meant to clear the air between members of the team and illustrate the protective brotherhood these characters share, quickly becomes an accidental drunken brawl with the Juggernaut.

    Juggernaut was a great villain in the 80's, a very human and sympathetic character who you actually felt for, and this is also a classic example of why. Though, in honesty, this really is a character defining story for each of these characters, and would definitely be on my essential reading list for any of them.

  • The Uncanny X-men #185 (1984)

    Another character defining story from Claremont's classic era, this is the beginning of the often overlooked, but epic friendship between Storm and Rogue.

    Not only is this the story of Storm first extending the olive branch to Rogue (after threatening to quit the team were Rogue allowed to join), but also where we see Storm lose her powers protecting Rogue from the blast of an experimental gun, thus forging a friendship that would completely redefine both characters.

  • Marvel Team-up #150 (1985)

    I'd never realized that the book Marvel Team-up existed until I read this issue, but it was basically everything I could have wanted in a random superhero team-up, and still stands as my personal measure of such.

    One of my favorite things about the issue though, is the friendship we see between Black Tom and the Juggernaut, who, in many ways, are the real protagonists of this story.

  • Uncanny X-men Annual #11 (1987)

    Set after the devastating events of the Mutant Massacre, this issue still retains the fun and lightheartedness of Claremont's early 80's X-men. The first introduction of the group dynamic of the new team that would come to be known as the "Outback" X-men, this story also gives us a sense of consistency with the old team, with it's central roles for both Storm and especially Wolverine.

    If I had to pick one story to illustrate why Wolverine is one of my favorite superheroes, this might be it. Plus, it's got got some of my favorite Alan Davis art ever.

  • the Uncanny X-men #297 (1993)

    This issue deals primarily with Beast and Archangel pretending to be construction workers while Prof.X goes rollerblading with Jubilee. If that doesn't sound awesome to you, I dunno, don't read it.. but it is awesome.

  • the Uncanny X-men Annual #17 (1993)

    This one's mostly on here for the electrifying Jason Pearson art, but the Gift Goodbye is a good story too, dealing primarily with Jean Grey's final confrontation with the dying Mastermind, as well as introducing the intriguing X-cutioner. The two confrontations overlap providing a fairly emotional story with some amazing action. Arguably the best Jean Grey story of the 90's.

    The back-up story about Trevor Fitzroy was also both action-packed and pretty intriguing. The 90's really did have some fun villains.

  • X-men #33 (1994)

    To me, this will always be the definitive Gambit story. And, in many ways, it really is an origin story. Set before he's ever heard of the X-men, we're introduced to a younger, more care-free version of the character as he first experiences the heartache of young love and the sadistic violence of Sabretooth.

    Sounds cheesy, but this was the story that, for me, first humanized and made sense of Gambit's motivations as a hero.

  • the Uncanny X-men #312,313 (1994)

    Storm and Yukio are always fun, Storm and Gambit are always fun; add in some of the strongest work Joe Madureira ever turned in for the X-men and some of the most fun action scenes of any X-men comic, and this story is one of the most enjoyable and satisfying X-men reads of the 90's.

  • X-men #36,37 (1994)

    the Uncanny X-men #316,317 (1994)

    Though I'm not sure I've read the entire Phalanx Covenant, I quite enjoyed the Generation Next story that ran through the main books.

  • X-men and Spider-man #1-4, (2009)

    This often overlooked mini-series uses some amazing artwork and great character-work to tell a story that unites Spider-man with the X-men of four different eras.

    Though each chapter is set at a different time period within the history of the characters, there's a common mystery that threads them all together, slowly unraveled over years of team ups.

    It's also probably among the most memorable stories to involve Mr.Sinister's shady past, as well as his previously unknown connection to Kraven the Hunter, who manages to remain threatening even against the combined forces of the protagonists.

    just a really fun story all around.

  • the Uncanny X-men #495-499 (2008)

    This arc, set just before the X-men reform in San Francisco, simultaneously evokes the nostalgia of Claremont's X-men (by reuniting Colossus, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine for the first time since Kitty's apparent death), yet is also very much about moving on and looking to the future, and the dangers of idealizing the past.

  • Astonishing X-men #62-66 (2013)

    Marjorie Liu's run on Astonishing X-men may have been too subtle and meandering for many X-men fans, but I'm sure many other Iceman fans have since decided it was worth it for this great, character-redefining epic. If you've ever liked Iceman at all, I'd consider this a must-read.

  • All-new X-men Special#1,

    Indestructible Hulk Special #1,

    Superior Spider-man Team-Up Special #1 (2013)

    For me, this story alone justified both the idea to have the original X-men in new stories and the concept behind the Superior Spider-man.

    This is just a fun read from start to finish, with art by three great artists, and was arguably the best X-men story of the past year.