Marvel Started Another Iconic Shared Universe 16 Years Before The MCU

  • The Marvel Animated Universe (MAU) started in 1992 with X-Men: The Animated Series, paving the way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe over a decade later.
  • The MAU included animated series like Spider-Man and Fantastic Four, dominating the 90s and influencing the success of later live-action adaptations.
  • Marvel is capitalizing on nostalgia by continuing the X-Men: The Animated Series continuity with X-Men '97, potentially leading to more animated crossovers.
While the MCU may have popularized the concept of a shared cinematic universe, Marvel's first came 16 years prior. Since it debuted with Iron Man in 2008, the MCU has proven that a shared cinematic universe is an exceptionally compelling structure that helps to enrich the stories it tells by having dozens of movies feed into an overarching narrative. While other movie franchises have tried to emulate the success of this structure, none have matched the MCU movies, and it's likely because Marvel is well-versed in the process.
Before comic book movies came to dominate cinema, the comics on which they are based had already mastered the art of crossovers. Marvel and DC Comics have been placing their most popular characters in each other's stories for decades, so it's no surprise that the practice continued with the advent of the MCU and DCEU. Before both of these, however, came the animated series that also adapted the comics.
Related Every Upcoming Marvel Movie: Full MCU Phase 5 & 6 List (& Beyond) Between Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, here is every upcoming Marvel movie release date and what we know about the projects so far. 9 Marvel Animated TV Shows Take Place In The Same Universe The Marvel Animated Universe comprises a collection of animated series depicting Marvel's comic book heroes in shared animated adventures. This began with X-Men: The Animated Series in 1992, 16 years before Iron Man launched the MCU. His adventures in the animated Iron Man, meanwhile, debuted in 1994 and ran for two years. Other iconic animated series from the Marvel Animated Universe include Spider-Man and Spider-Man Unlimited, which ran for nearly six years, combined. The series dominated the 90s, which helps to explain why their live-action adventures over a decade later landed so well with those who grew up watching these shows.
Marvel Animated Universe Show
Number of Seasons
Years Active
X-Men: The Animated Series
1992 - 1997
Iron Man
1994 - 1996
Fantastic Four
1994 - 1996
1994 - 1998
The Incredible Hulk
1996 - 1997
Silver Surfer
Spider-Man Unlimited
1999 - 2001
The Avengers: United They Stand
1999 - 2000
Marvel is, of course, capitalizing on the nostalgia of these shows - which were very successful at the time - by continuing the X-Men: The Animated Series continuity with X-Men '97, slated to release March 20 on Disney+. While this presumably will not feed into the main MCU continuity (outside of possible multiversal shenanigans), the series will pick up where the first animated series left off in 1997, following the death of Charles Xavier. Given the history of Marvel's animated offerings, however, this could lead to some more animated crossovers.
How Marvel's Animated Series Crossed Over The shows of the Marvel Animated Universe made many references to one another throughout the 90s. Some episodes, however, included guest appearances in the same vein as Hulk in Thor: Ragnarok, or Iron Man in Spider-Man: Homecoming. The Incredible Hulk played host to many of these cameos, including Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. A fight between Hulk and the Fantastic Four's Ben Grimm occurred twice in the Hulk's animated series, leading to a longstanding rivalry. Spider-Man, meanwhile, was also happy to host the characters of other series - especially the X-Men.
Spider-Man's animated adventures also gave way to a heavily revised version of Secret Wars, in which Spider-Man was tasked by Beyonder and Madame Web to prove himself as a capable leader in a reduced-stakes version of Battleworld. This saw Spider-Man team up with Captain America, Iron Man, Storm, and the Fantastic Four against Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, Lizard, Alistair Smythe, and Red Skull. Given the absence of some key figures, the MCU may also take some creative liberties with its own Secret Wars adaptation.


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