An illustration of Nightcrawler and Shadowcat, two characters from X-Men: Evolution. The X-Men: Evolution cartoon ran from 2000-2003, developing stories inspired by the X-Men comics as well as introducing original concepts, characters, and plots. Illustration by Miranda Phinney.

While not as well-known as the Fox X-Men films or as widely beloved as X-Men: The Animated Series, X-Men: Evolution holds a special place in my heart as the show that got me hooked on superhero stories. X-Men: Evolution is an animated television series from the early 2000s featuring the cast of mutants as high schoolers, with notable exceptions like Professor Xavier, Storm, Wolverine, and Magneto remaining adults. While clearly targeted at children, it remains a generally well-written and enjoyable show for all ages. X-Men: Evolution is a must-watch for any Marvel completionist waiting for the 90’s cartoon revival’s release next year, or those searching for an on-ramp to past or future X-Men content. Currently available to stream on Disney Plus, the series features a pretty solid execution of the X-Men classic social allegory, aided by compelling characters, and thoughtful world building.

For those who have seen the X-Men movies, X-Men: Evolution is the perfect companion; it succeeds where the films failed. The episodic format makes a much stronger medium for building team dynamics than the films. There’s space for each character from the main cast, as well as the relationships between them to develop. Over the course of the show’s 52 episodes, X-Men: Evolution is able to establish a distinctive found family dynamic, something that the films reached for, but never truly accomplished. Classic X-Men like Nightcrawler, Cyclops, and Rogue receive fuller and more complex characterization in X-Men: Evolution than they did in the Fox films, allowing audiences to get to know these distinctive characters.

X-Men: Evolution is made to stand on its own, aside from the comics’ canon, making it an accessible way to get to know the story and characters. Logan Lebold, Franklin senior, fellow X-Men: Evolution-enjoyer, and self-described X-Men fiend, found the show on Netflix after watching the early X-Men movies as a kid. Going into today’s world of Disney-owned Marvel movies, television shows, and cartoons, Logan thinks that X-Men: Evolution is one way for those looking for it to expand their knowledge of Marvel lore. “If you had watched X-Men: Evolution, you would have known Agatha Harkness before WandaVision,” they add. X-Men: Evolution also saw the creation of now popular character X-23, or Laura Kinney, who got her silver-screen debut in the critically acclaimed Logan.

The show’s characters, both protagonists and antagonists, are lovable and fun. Nightcrawler, who saw little of the limelight in the Fox films, gets to play a much larger role in X-Men: Evolution, taking on the part of his comedic, fuzzy self. Logan seconds this sentiment. “Part of the reason I kept watching X-Men: Evolution is Nightcrawler, who is such a good character that they just cannot get right in the movies,” he says. Side characters that feature more prominently in the comics than the movies, like Toad, show up as recurring characters in the show as well. Toad, or Todd Tolanksy, gets to be his endearingly slimy self and is even one of a few characters to get their own theme.

These characters make for a fuller, richer world, and so does the show’s detail-oriented world building. Characters’ superpowers are incorporated regularly into how they interact with the world. Jean Grey uses her telekinesis when styling her hair in the mornings, Nightcrawler holds a bowl of popcorn with his prehensile tail when he’s snacking, and Kitty Pryde phases her car through obstacles when she learns how to drive. The inclusion of these thoughtful details makes for an immersive story with humanized characters.

Those who hate love triangles will be happy to learn that X-Men: Evolution avoids the traditional Wolverine-Jean Grey-Cyclops love triangle in favor of making Wolverine a mentor figure, a role that works well for his character development.

All in all, X-Men: Evolution is a fun show for audience members who may or may not already be familiar with the Marvel comics canon.

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