Marvel Comics has a plethora of really unique heroes and villains. Considering all the stand-out characters, it will take days to ponder them thoroughly, from Spider-Man to The Hulk and Star-Lord from the Guardians of the Galaxy. There is an ocean’s worth of great characters to choose from, and it feels almost impossible to choose who the best Marvel character might be.
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The Marvel Cinematic Universe has tapped into this vast pool from the comics and only made characters like Spider-Man and The Hulk more iconic. Characters like Iron Man and Thor waned in popularity but were resurrected in the MCU to become household names once again.
This list will consider some of the most outstanding Marvel characters, heroes and villains from the comics and the MCU.
1. Adam Warlock
Although he is a prominent figure in the comics and well known by serious comic book fans, Adam Warlock was until recently relatively known to a general audience. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy III raised Adam Warlock’s profile to a broader audience.
The character is integral to the Marvel Universe. He was initially created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and called ‘Him’, appearing first in Fantastic Four #66. He would later be developed by Roy Thomas, Jim Starling and Gil Kane into Adam Warlock.
Within Marvel Comics, he was created by a group of scientists known as the Enclave. They genetically engineered Warlock to be physically perfect and the next stage of the evolution of humanity. Adam Warlock has super strength, speed, durability, stamina, and agility and can manipulate cosmic energy. He also can fly and is immortal.
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Warlock is featured in one of the most important stories in all of Marvel Entertainment, the Infinity Gauntlet comic book storyline. In it, Warlock plays a vital role as a foe against Thanos and his quest to obtain all the infinity gems. He is also prominent in the Infinity War storyline. Warlock has to battle his evil alter ego, Magus, who wants universal conquest and revenge against Adam Warlock and Thanos. The MCU films have only begun to tell some of Warlock’s great stories. Hopefully, we can see more of this fantastic character on film.
Ant-Man is one of the best Marvel characters of all time. His origins begin with Tales to Astonish#27. The original Ant-Man was biophysicist Dr Hank Pym, who decided to be a superhero after the death of his first wife, Maria Trovaya. In the comics, Ant-Man is a founding member of the Avengers. The Marvel movie version of Ant-Man is based on Scott Lang, created by David Michelinie, Bob Layton and John Byrne. This Ant-Man first appeared in Avengers#181 (March 1979). In the MCU films, Scott Lang has been played by Paul Rudd.
Ant-Man’s shrinking and growing abilities make him unique, allowing writers to weave fascinating stories about the character and the world he inhabits. Paul Rudd’s portrayal of the character made him explode in popularity mainly due to how relatable and funny he is.
3. Black Panther
T’Challa and his alter ego Black Panther is another marvellous creation by the incomparable duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The character first appeared in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966). As the King and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther possesses enhanced physical abilities achieved through ancient Wakandan rituals of drinking the essence of the mythical heart-shaped herb.
Modern audiences were thrilled by the character when he burst onto the scene during Captain America: Civil War and was portrayed with gravitas and depth by the late Chadwick Boseman.
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4. Black Widow
In the Marvel Comic Universe, Black Widow is played by various characters. The most popular Black Widow is Natasha Romanoff, played by Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Romanoff has one of the best character arcs. She moved from villain to hero in the MCU and became one of the most iconic female superheroes.
Romanoff was the first femme fatal to take on the Black Widow codename. She was created by Stan Lee together with Don Ricko and Don Heck. Her first comic appearance was in Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964). Scarlet Johansson’s portrayal proved that bad guys or girls could find redemption and become heroes.
5. Captain America: The First Avenger
The first MCU film portraying Captain America is one of the best Marvel movies. Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, is a foundational character in Marvel comics. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created the icon, first appearing in Captain America Comics #1 (December 1940). Captain America has one of the most interesting origin stories. Steve Rogers, a frail civilian, reaches the peak of human physical perfection, obtaining superhuman strength after he is injected with a super soldier serum during World War II.
Chris Evans portrayed the character in the film versions. Evans’ version of the character was a great mix of honesty and integrity while showcasing Cap’s extraordinary determination and fighting abilities. Together with his side-kick Sam Wilson, the Marvel films highlight Captain America’s character development from World War II super soldier to modern Avenger and beyond.
Created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett, the character debuted in Marvel Comics’ Daredevil #1 (April 1964). After Matt Murdock’s father is killed, he grows up seeking justice for his death. A toxic spill leaves Matt blind but enhances his other senses, and he becomes Daredevil. The character is appealing due to his quest for justice and the tension between him as a lawyer and a vigilante. Daredevil’s extraordinary radar sense gives him exceptional fighting abilities despite his crippling disability.
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7. Doctor Doom
Although Doctor Doom is often depicted as a bad guy, he is nonetheless one of the most compelling characters in the comic books and the Marvel Universe. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Dr. Victor von Doom (Doctor Doom), and the character first appeared in The Fantastic Four #5 (1962). Doom usually serves as the primary enemy of Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four. Doom is highly intelligent, which offers a layer of complexity to his character. Hopefully, a new Fantastic Four film can better portray the cheesy version we were subjected to in previous Hollywood releases.
8. Doctor Strange
Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the arrogant yet brilliant Doctor Steven Strange in the MCU. After a car accident, neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange is left with permanent damage to his hands. He travels the world seeking alternative therapies to heal the neurological damage to his hands. He eventually finds an individual known as the Ancient One, who sets him on a path into the mystic arts and helps him become the Sorcerer Supreme, earth’s foremost defender against magical and mystic threats.
The character was created by Steve Ditko and was introduced in Strange Tales #110 (July 1963). While the latest film, Doctor Strange: The Multiverse of Madness, may not have pleased many fans as hoped. The character has plenty of backstories in the comics to showcase his fascinating magical abilities and restore the character’s appeal to audiences.
9. Peter Quill/Star-Lord
Chris Pratt plays the film version of the character, but in the comics, he was introduced in Marvel Preview #4 (1976). When the Guardians of the Galaxy comic was relaunched in 2008, Quill was made leader of the group. The film adaptation of the character by James Gunn and screenwriter Nicole Perlman catapulted the character into mainstream popular culture. His quirky humour, bravery and foolishness have made him a staple of the MCU and a more popular comic book character.
In the books, Star-Lord’s paths cross with the X-Men, notably Kitty Pryde, with whom he has a romantic relationship. If rumours of an MCU reboot after Avengers: Secret Wars are true, exploring a Quill/Star-Lord connection to the X-Men would make interesting viewing.
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10. Incredible Hulk
Bruce Banner and his alter ego, the Hulk, was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The character first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962). There have been various film adaptations of the character, but he became most famous after being portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the MCU.
Stan Lee has noted that the influence of the Hulk was drawn from classic literary sources like Frankenstein and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The Hulk’s rage and anger is a powerful metaphor that connects with people who feel helpless against injustice and oppressive forces that control their lives. Whether in the films or the comics, when Hulk is correctly portrayed, he will always be one of Marvel’s best characters. His incredible strength, healing factor, and indestructibility make him one of the most powerful Marvel characters ever.
11. Iron Man
The big screen version of Tony Stark is the face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When Marvel wanted to make their own films, they couldn’t use any of their most popular characters, like Spider-Man or The Hulk. In an entire universe of other comic book characters, they chose a relatively obscure character at the time, Tony Stark. His portrayal by Robert Downey Jr. gave rise to the success of the MCU and comic book movie industry. Iron Man has no incredible superhuman powers but uses his wits and engineering skills to rise above his demons and become a hero. His role as an icon was fixed in the MCU when he sacrificed himself for the greater good in Avengers: Endgame.
12. Jean Grey
While there might not have been the best version of the character on film, Jean Gray is an incredible comic character with incredible powers. She is an omega-level mutant rivalling even the most powerful hero or villain in the Marvel Universe. Her struggles with the Phoenix Force in books like The Dark Phoenix Saga show what a conflicted and exciting character she is when she tries to balance her persona with the alien Phoenix inside of her.
13. Jessica Jones
Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Gaydos created this superheroine. Jones is a former superhero who hangs up her cape and becomes a private investigator. The character became popular after the Netflix series became a critical hit. Her character is toned down in the tv series, only connected to a few heroes, like Luke Cage and Daredevil but in the comics, she is more integrated into the Marvel Universe, even becoming an Avenger. After an accident, she obtains superhuman strength and flight, but the character’s appeal is her combination of super abilities and her work as a detective.
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14. Luke Cage
Carl Lucas, also known as Luke Cage, was created by Archie Goodwin, George Tuska, Roy Thomas, and John Romita Sr. Cage debuted in Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #1 (June 1972). After a prison experiment goes wrong, Lucas receives super strength and incredible healing abilities. Cage was among the first black heroes to receive a solo comic book during the Blaxploitation era.
15. Nick Fury
No Marvel list would be complete without Nick Fury. Amongst a host of other characters, Fury was also created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. He first appeared in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1 (May 1963). In the MCU, Samuel L. Jackson made the character a cornerstone of the Marvel films and was integral to the success of the fledgling studio when it started making superhero movies. In the comics, he was a World War II hero turned spy, but what makes the modern character interesting is his mix of espionage and Shaft persona.
16. Molecule Man
Owen Reece (Molecule Man) first appeared in Fantastic Four #20 (November 1963). He is a powerful character that veers between supervillain and antihero. He was born in New York, where he accidentally activated an experimental particle generator, which allowed him to control matter down to the molecular level. His notable battles are often with the Fantastic Four. The villain’s transformation in the Secret Wars comics is notable, as well as his prominent role in Secret Wars II. His connection to characters like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four and the Avengers could make him a great choice to include in the MCU.
17. Phil Coulson
Coulson is better known for his appearance in Marvel films. The character was initially created within the MCU with the first Iron Man film by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway. In the comics, he first appeared in Battle Scars #6 in 2012. Coulson is a dedicated agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. His notable role in the comics was in Secret Avengers, where he led a team of heroes like Captain America and Black Widow on secret missions.
18. Professor X
Professor Charles Xavier is one of the most powerful Marvel characters. He is best friends with Magneto, another powerful mutant. Charles Xavier founded the X-Men and has incredible telekinetic and telepathic abilities. The Dark Phoenix Saga is a prominent comic book story featuring Professor X. Other stories in which he has notable appearances are Days of Future Past and the Onslaught crossover. The character’s continuous fight for mutant rights and complex relationship with Magneto gives him an enduring appeal.
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The best friend of Professor X, Magneto, was born Max Eisenhardt. Magneto is a survivor of the holocaust, which profoundly impacted his psyche and subsequent character. Magneto is an incredibly powerful mutant that can manipulate magnetic fields and control metal objects. His friend Professor Xavier stands for equal human and mutant rights, while Magneto believes mutants are superior and should rule over humans. Comic book storylines like House of M showcase his exceptional abilities and moral ambiguity.
20. Reed Richards
Reed Richards, also known as Mr. Fantastic, was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He made his first appearance in Fantastic Four #1 (1961). Reed is a brilliant scientist and, with his wife, Sue Storm, her brother Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm as the Thing, gain their powers from cosmic radiation to become the Fantastic Four. Richards and the other members of the Fantastic Four are often pitted against their archnemesis Doctor Doom. Reed’s ability to stretch and wrap himself around anything, combined with his strong sense of leadership, make him a really inspiring, fun character.
21. Scarlet Witch (The Lady in Red)
The mistress of magic, Wanda Maximoff, first appeared in the X-Men #4 (March 1964). The powerful sorceress has many origin stories. She and her brother, Quicksilver, were considered the children of Magneto. At other times, the High Evolutionary performed genetic experiments on the siblings, which gave them their abilities. In the comics, Wanda was conceived as a nexus being in the broader Marvel Universes storyline. Her close association with many Marvel characters allowed her to be the glue holding the Avengers together.
22. Silver Surfer
Jack Kirby created the Silver Surfer and first appeared in Fantastic Four #48 (1966). His real name is Norrin Radd, and he belongs to the Zenn-Lavian race from the planet Zenn-La. Norrin was originally an astronomer, but when Galactus threatened Zenn-La with extinction, Radd offered to become his herald in exchange for sparing the planet.
Imbued with the Power Cosmic from his master Galactus, the Silver Surfer roams the galaxy, seeking suitable worlds for Galactus to drain and devoir. The Silver Surfer flies on his board, travelling faster than light. His metallic silver appearance and unique set of powers make him a truly wonderful creation.
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Often described as the most bloodthirsty villain in the Marvel Universe, Thanos is universally acclaimed as one of comics’ best supervillains. Thanos was born on the Saturn moon Titan. At birth, he was cast as an outsider due to the Deviant gene that gives him his foreboding physical appearance and his great power. Created by Jim Starling, he first appeared in The Invincible Iron Man #55 (February 1973). The Mad Titan is one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe. His primary opponents include Adam Warlock, the Avengers and the X-Men. The character’s most famous storyline is featured in The Infinity Gauntlet. The story was made famous in the MCU, culminating in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame.
Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man—the Marvel Universes’ most famous character. After so many decades, Peter Parker is still as popular as ever. The release of various popular films and video games featuring the web-slinger is a testament to his universal appeal. The Miles Morales version of Spider-Man and the Tom Holland MCU adaptation are all widely successful. The character’s appeal could be attributed to his relatability. He is a regular teenager dealing with everyday challenges, compounded by his extraordinary powers and responsibility as a superhero. No matter the difficulty or challenge, Peter Parker overcomes every setback.
What do you think of the list? Who should have been included? Let us know in the comments below!
The 24 Best Marvel Characters And Heroes of All-Time Written by Neilan Adams for Fortress of Solitude