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The best Marvel Comics stories of all time

Infinity Gauntlet #4 cover
(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

2021 is coming to an end, bringing a close to Marvel Comics' 60th anniversary year. And in those six decades, the vaunted publisher has produced some of the greatest tales in comic books, and in fiction in general, with stories and characters that have become household names.

But what are the best Marvel Comics stories ever? That may seem like a daunting question, but Newsarama has prepared a list of the best Marvel Comics stories of all time!

10. X-Men: Days of Future Past

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The original X-Men story 'Days of Future Past ' was simply two issues of the main ongoing series, Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142 (Take that, 200+ issue events of today!) In a dystopian future, mutants have been rounded up into concentration camps; that is, the ones who haven't been slaughtered. 

Adult Kitty Pryde's consciousness travels back in time to stop the assassination of a prominent government figure (in the story, Senator Robert Kelly) by Mystique and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

While she succeeds, and the world is avoided (at least in one timeline), there are some lasting effects. Rachel Summers, a prominent character in today's X-Men titles, came from that alternate future. So did the hyper-advanced Nimrod Sentinel, which has been a key antagonist in the current X-Men era.

The storyline was adapted into the 2014 feature film, one of the most highly-regarded of the Fox X-Men franchise. 

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9. Annihilation

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In 2006, Marvel Comics decided they were going to ignite the cosmic corner of the Marvel Universe. Writer Keith Giffen was tapped to conceive a limited series and a set of tie-ins titled Annihilation, intended to establish characters new and old as major players in the Marvel universe. 

The story, told entirely apart from the mainstream Marvel Universe without the input of heroes like the Avengers and X-Men, letting the more obscure cosmic heroes take the spotlight - eventually leading to the formation of a new version of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who became the basis for the popular MCU version of the team.

Indeed, the Guardians of the Galaxy movie franchise literally would not have come to pass without Annihilation having redefined Star-Lord, Groot, and Rocket, and bringing that group of heroes together in the first place.

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8. Fantastic Four: The Coming of Galactus

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Long before anyone could even conceive of carving out a whole corner of the Marvel Universe devoted to cosmic threats, Jack Kirby and Stan Lee created what may still be considered the ultimate cosmic threat: Galactus.

First appearing in Fantastic Four #48-50, the godlike being from beyond the stars came careening into the solar system and the lives of Marvel's First Family, widening the entire scope of the Marvel Universe in the process.

Both the Silver Surfer and The Watcher also made their debuts in 'The Coming of Galactus,' with the latter becoming a burgeoning figure in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the recent What If...? animated Disney Plus series.

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7. Daredevil: Born Again

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

There was a time when Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli could basically do no wrong, and 1986-1987 was simply a magical period for the pair, who essentially reinvented major street-level vigilante heroes for both Marvel and DC in the span of about a year and a half - including, most importantly for this list, Marvel's Daredevil.

The pair's arc together on Daredevil #227-231 (with some ancillary work in #232 and #233) has it all: romance, intrigue, religion, and of course tons of action. There’s The Kingpin, Ben Urich, Nuke, and Captain America. This story basically tears Daredevil down to virtually nothing and lets him emerge, 'Born Again,' into a better, stronger hero than ever before.

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6. Secret Wars

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

No, not 2015-16's Secret Wars - but the original!

Back in 1984, Marvel Comics and toy makers Mattel had the big idea to team up for a joint toyline and accompanying comic book series featuring all the biggest heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe in one story, resulting in Secret Wars, the first major Marvel crossover event.

Secret Wars set the mold for later Marvel events with its own 12-issue limited series, as well as tie-in stories told through ten other comics. Secret Wars pitted a veritable who's-who of Marvel heroes and villains against each other, with the results being an occasionally goofy but still exciting and even defining story with ramifications that spiraled out across the entire Marvel Universe.

Spider-Man's black Symbiote suit (that was really Venom), She-Hulk on the Fantastic Four, the second Spider-Woman Julia Carpenter - they all got their start in Secret Wars, along with even more storylines and character changes that continued to play out in a much less well-received sequel just a few years later.

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5. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

In the late '90s, Marvel proclaimed they were going to cancel the entire X-Men line, then at the height of its immense popularity, and replace it with a whole new slate of titles - and lo they did, reimagining the entire X-line in an alternate reality with a vastly different status quo.

The result was four months of alternate-reality comic books titled 'Age of Apocalypse,' which turned the entire X-Men franchise on its head with new roles and new relationships for almost all the line's characters. 

Set in a timeline where Charles Xavier died before founding the X-Men and Apocalypse is the unquestioned ruler of the world, 'Age of Apocalypse' presented readers with wildly different takes on Nightcrawler, Cyclops, Wolverine, Magneto, Rogue, and many, many more.

Though an event as massive as 'Age of Apocalypse' is never without its hiccups, the story took fans by storm - with some of the new versions of the characters even making it into the mainstream Marvel Universe after the story concluded and the classic X-Men timeline was restored.

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4. Civil War

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

This story beat 'Age of Apocalypse' by one vote in our reader poll. One of the newest stories on our list, Marvel's Civil War asked the question, 'Whose side are you on?'

Civil War starts with a bang (so sorry) as the New Warriors, while trying to subdue a B-list villain, are involved in a resulting explosion that kills 600 people (including many children and the New Warriors themselves) at a Stamford, Connecticut elementary school. 

As a result, the US government fast-tracks legislation called the Superhuman Registration Act, requiring anyone with powers and abilities beyond that of a mortal person to register with the government - thereby revealing their identity, with the caveat that they must train with government-approved heroes if they want to keep using their powers.

(The concept of the SHRA was somewhat adapted into the MCU as the Sokovia Accords).

Ultimately, this leads to Iron Man leading the pro-registration side and Captain America leading the anti-registration folks, with the two sides going all-out in a superhero civil war - a war with real consequences with major deaths.

Tony Stark becomes Director of SHIELD, while Captain America is assassinated, leading to a much deeper, longer-term rift between many of Marvel's heroes.

Marvel loved this story so much it was adapted to film in the blockbuster Captain America: Civil War and led to a comic book sequel, Civil War II

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3. Amazing Spider-Man: The Night Gwen Stacy Died

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Outside of the death of Uncle Ben, it's quite possible that Amazing Spider-Man #121-122 are the most important issues in the entire life of Peter Parker. The story said it right there in the title. They spoiled the outcome. They told the truth. 

This would be 'The Night Gwen Stacy Died.'

Norman Osborn, back as the Green Goblin, takes Gwen Stacy - Pete's girlfriend at the time - and throws her off a bridge. Just when it looks like Spider-Man successfully saves her, his webbing catches her ankle ... but the sudden stop snaps her neck.

Gwen's death was utterly tragic, and a true surprise - devastating Peter Parker (and many readers) like almost nothing before or since. It's heartbreaking and shocking, and in 1973, it was something that made people look at comic books, especially superhero comic books, in a very different way.

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2. X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

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'The Dark Phoenix Saga ,' to this day, is the story that all other X-Men stories are held up to. The first seeds of the tale began way back in 1976 when Jean Grey first came into contact with the Phoenix Force in X-Men #101-108. Then the 'Dark' part hit four years later in #129-138, as Jean comes under the influence of the Hellfire Club.

A masterpiece of a story by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, this epic holds some truly marquee moments for the team both as a whole and as individual members. 

Cyclops battles Mastermind on the psychic plane. Wolverine takes on a seemingly endless stream of Hellfire Club soldiers. Oh, and Jean Grey, as the Dark Phoenix, goes berzerk, eats a sun (killing an orbiting planet's entire population), and goes on trial for genocide. 

When Jean manages to gain control of herself for one short moment, she sacrifices herself to end the Dark Phoenix, dying in Cyclops' arms.

Over the course of the next few years (and several retcons), some of the pivotal moments would later be backtracked to bring back Jean and the Phoenix Force, but none of it has managed to cheapen or take away from the original classic.

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1. Infinity Gauntlet

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

At this point, if you don't know about Infinity Gauntlet - the seminal Marvel Comics event that took the lead on our poll of the best Marvel stories by a wide margin - you simply haven't been paying attention.

Bringing together basically all of Marvel's heroes at the time to take on the existential threat of Thanos the Mad Titan and his quest for the Infinity Stones, which hold the power to remake reality itself, Infinity Gauntlet tells the story of what happens when the heroes actually fail - a somewhat unprecedented story at the time.

Of course, the heroes manage to overcome their defeat and win the day, restoring the universal destruction caused by Thanos, but not before the entire landscape of the Marvel Universe is changed by the experience - and not entirely for the better.

Infinity Gauntlet has it all - an unbeatable foe, an incredible creative team in Jim Starlin, George Perez, and Ron Lim, and a conglomeration of the world's greatest heroes involved in cosmic action with the highest stakes possible.

Even if you haven't read Infinity Gauntlet (and you should!), you probably know some of the story's broad strokes from its two-part MCU adaptation as Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.

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Newsarama Senior Editor Chris Arrant has covered comic book news for Newsarama since 2003, and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)