The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been running the rooftops and sewer systems for nearly 40 years. In that time, comic creators have taken a turn with the lean, mean, green machines across multiple publishers. Sometimes they rocked steady and other times, fans shredded them.
This week, TMNT: The Last Ronin #2 brought back some classic Turtles concepts with new twists - and showed some of what happened to the three turtles who died, leaving Michaelangelo the only surviving Ninja Turtle (R.I.P. Leo, Donny, and Raph).
If you're like us, TMNT: The Last Ronin is shaping up to be a definite contender for this list - but we're reserving our judgment until the series concludes later this year.
So, pop out of your shells, prep those nunchucks, and let the drum roll, please!
And, if you're looking for new TMNT stories to dig into, check out our list of new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, graphic novels, and collections in 2021 and beyond.
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101 proves noteworthy as it introduces readers to the newest addition to the TMNT – Jennika, the fifth Turtle.
Masked in yellow and bearing claws, she joins the brothers after her mutation via blood transfusion she receives from Leonardo.
Although Jennika's debut took place six issues prior, it wasn't until this issue that her place on the team becomes official. While Sophie Campbell is forging a remarkable tenure as an artist and writer for TMNT, Jennika may prove to be one of her longest-lasting creations.
And with Jennika taking a prominent place in the current series, now's the time to go back and read up on her origins.
9. Urban Legends
Admittedly, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' 'Urban Legends' era is a controversial topic among shellheads for the ways it deviated from what came before - but in the years since its publication in the mid '90s, it has grown to be a cult-favorite even among those who initially dismissed it (like TMNT co-creator Peter Laird).
Writer Gary Carlson and artist Frank Fosco's run, published by Image Comics, pushed the Turtles into a fast-paced and ultra-violent world that saw them lose limbs, eyes, and even showed us Donnie as a cyborg (for the first time).
Heck, it even had Raphael take on the mantle of Shredder... who wouldn't want to see that?
8. Attack on the Technodrome
This 2014 arc - collected as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The IDW Collection Vol. 5 - re-introduced the sometimes-comedic Bebop and Rocksteady in a brutal way that fans still might hold a grudge over.
Why? Using a sledgehammer, they mercilessly attacked and crushed Donatello's shell - leading to his eventual death, from wounds suffered there.
For fans coming into TMNT from the cartoons and more kid-friendly versions of the team, we'll give you a moment to let that sink in.
7. Usagi Yojimbo / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Once you come to terms with weapon-wielding humanoid turtles, a rabbit samurai seems like an ideal companion.
Usagi Yojimbo and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first crossed paths in the 1987 anthology Turtle Soup, with Usagi creator Stan Sakai telling a rabbit-out-of-time story to get him side-by-side with the crew. Over the course of the next few decades, Yojbimbo became a frequent face - not only in comic books, but also the cartoons.
While this cross-time friendship delivered fans one of the best TMNT action figures from the '90s, it also provided an opportunity to showcase Leo's admirable core traits – often subject to ridicule by his brothers and fans at times – through the respect shown to him by the samurai rabbit.
You can read all of the adventures to date in Dark Horse's Usagi Yojimbo / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Complete Collection.
6. Gang Wars
Although Tales of the TMNT was canceled before Tristan Huw Jones and Jim Lawson could complete their full intended story, what was published of their 'Gang Wars' arc stands out in the way it both humanizes Michelangelo while imparting the youngest brother's humorous side.
Published intermittently in the Tales of the TMNT run (issues #36, #56, #59, #61, and #64), 'Gang War' gives a fresh perspective on the turtles from Mikey's vantage point - and despite unfinished, is still worth tracking down.
5. Old Times
While not as rare as some of the earlier TMNT publications, good luck finding an original copy of 1992's Plastron Café #1, which contains the Peter Laird story 'Old Times.'
Set sometime in the future, an older Donatello is running a fighting simulation against the Foot and Shredder. It ends with him seeing his brothers, which causes him to break down and shut down the game. Why? In this future, they're all dead.
Almost 30 years old, this standalone story works now as a precursor to the current TMNT: Last Ronin series.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1-5 (2011)
IDW's current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ongoing series is arguably the best synthesis of the tones and stories from the previous volumes, with writers Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz synthesizing those together into an organic world that's been going for nine years and over 100 issues.
The original first arc - collected as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The IDW Collection Volume 1 - is particularly notable for artist Dan Duncan's seminal take on the Turtles which has gone on to define their aesthetic for the past decade in comic books.
3. City at War
Arguably the most important storyline of all TMNT stories, the '90s arc 'City at War' from issues #50 through #62 - collected as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume 5 - was at the time the grand finale of Eastman and Laird's TMNT franchise, culminating with the final defeat of Shredder and the Turtles disbanding.
One of the most poignant moments in the arc takes place not between the Turtles, but rather between Splinter and April O'Neil as he recognizes her as part of their group.
Not only was 1992's 'City at War' influential in its own right, but the 13-part arc would also go on to be adapted in subsequent cartoons, and even in the current IDW comic book series.
So what else could possibly be ranked higher than this seminal storyline? Read on…
2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1
This is where it all began.
With only 4,000 copies originally published by hand, this 1986 black and white oversized issue introduces the main characters and the conflicts we've all come to know and love.
The issue was dedicated to Jack Kirby and Frank Miller, and this first issue includes subtle (and not-so-subtle) homage to the latter's Daredevil run: Splinter and Stick as mentors to the budding martial artist(s); the evil ninja clans dubbed after human appendages; and of course, the mutagen and radioactive liquid as the catalyst for their respective origins.
Nonetheless, the uniqueness of the story Eastman and Laird concocted helped launch a green empire of comic books, cartoons, games, and films thanks to this must-read first issue that still stands up today as a bit of punk rock-ish comic book storytelling.
This, along with the entire first year of stories, is collected in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1. Read our review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 - #7.
1. Return to New York
While 'City at War' rightly earns praise for the epic fashion in which it brought about the conclusion of the first volume of the TMNT, no other story brought as much attention to the TMNT as 1989's 'Return to New York' from #19 - to 21 - collected in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume 3.
Although the tension between ready-to-rumble Raphael and Leonardo the leader seems almost cliché at this point in time, it was in 'Return to New York' where the relationship between these two brothers is first and best seen at play.
Not only does this story really begin to flesh out the family dynamics, it also features an epic battle between Leo and the Shredder resulting in what was thought to be the death of Oroku Saki (for a second time).
Between foundational character development and the impact of its storyline through the films, 'Return to New York' stands out as the best TMNT story to date.