Everything’s coming up Spider-Man lately. Barely a week passes without news of some new movie, TV or game featuring our favorite wall-crawler. And that’s to say nothing of the many promising Spider-Man comics in the works for 2020 and beyond.
To celebrate our love of the wonderful wall-crawler, we’re looking back on his 25 greatest comic book stories — not an easy feat with nearly 60 years of history to dig through. Be warned, though, if you’ve never read these stories, there are spoilers within. Most of said spoilers are decades old, but hey, you never know. And just to keep things simple, we’re limiting the list to stories focused on Peter Parker, not other characters like Miles Morales or Spider-Gwen.
Check out the slideshow gallery below or scroll down to see the essential Spider-Man comics every fan should read.
Note: This list has been updated with the latest, greatest Spider-Man comics.
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Spider-Man crossovers don’t get more epic than this. Spider-Verse pits our hero against the one villain who successfully killed him – vampiric totem-feeder Morlun. Worse, Morlun’s entire family has surfaced with the goal of devouring any and all Spider-Men they can find. Spidey’s only hope is join forces with his counterparts from across the Marvel multiverse and defend the Web of Life before it’s destroyed for good.
Spider-Verse is full of drama and high stakes, but it’s also some of the most fun you’ll have reading a Spider-Man comic. The crossover pays tribute to many different incarnations of the Spidey franchise in comics and television. Even the Spider-Men from the 1960’s animated series and the Hostess Fruit Pies ads are drawn into this fight.
While the main crossover is contained within the pages of the monthly Amazing Spider-Man series, fans really owe it to themselves to read the numerous tie-ins and take in the full scope of the crossover. The Edge of Spider-Verse prologue series is especially key, as it introduces important new characters like Spider-Gwen and Sp//dr. We wouldn’t have the Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse movie without this crossover lighting the way.
24. How Green Was My Goblin/Spidey Saves the Day
By their own admission, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko never had a solid plan in mind for who was behind the mask of the Green Goblin when they created him. Luckily, the eventual decision to make him Norman Osborn in this two-parter became one of the most crucial moments of the entire Spidey saga. Having been recently acquainted with Harry Osborn at school, Norman’s role as the Goblin instantly created a personal connection to the character that would go on to become Spidey’s most popular rogue.
Perhaps more importantly is that not only is Green Goblin unmasked – so too is Peter Parker. For the first time, Peter’s worst fears come to fruition when one of his enemies discovers his civilian identity. The resulting relationship between Spidey and the Gobby is forever altered, giving the duo a twisted, unbroken bond that would later become essential to Spider-Man’s tragedy-ridden career.
23. Goblin Nation
Dan Slott has the longest tenure of any Amazing Spider-Man writer, and it goes without saying he did a lot to reshape the franchise and redefine Peter Parker during that time. No Slott-penned storyline was more ground-breaking or controversial than Superior Spider-Man, a book wherein Doctor Octopus’ mind took over Peter Parker’s body and set out to prove himself as the better hero.
It’s a risk that paid off, as the climactic “Goblin Nation” storyline proves. The series wraps in the only way it good, with Otto Octavius fighting a losing battle against a resurgent Norman Osborn and his underground army of Green Goblins. This is Otto’s moment of truth. The series climaxes with his realization that, for all his resources and tech and ambition, he lacks the self-sacrificing nature that truly makes Spider-Man a hero for the ages. His decision to die so that Peter can live again is a perfect end-cap to a years-long character arc. And the scene where Osborn realizes he’s no longer battling Octavius ranks among the best Spider-Man moments ever.
22. The Wedding
After killing off Gwen Stacy in order to never see a married Spider-Man, Marvel had Peter and Mary Jane tie the knot – a marriage that would last for over 20 years – in 1987. While the first portion of the issue is essentially a by-the-numbers bout with Electro, the story picks up steam once the bride and groom begin to get cold feet.
MJ ponders becoming domesticated, giving up her life of parties and rich boys to become the wife of a superhero. For his part, Peter reflects on Gwen’s death and how his being Spider-Man directly contributed to it. Each situation is made worse by the fact that neither one of them can talk to anyone – except each other – about their fears. It’s a heartfelt look at the couple’s relationship using the usual storytelling tropes of a sitcom-like wedding episode.
Ultimately, of course, the couple goes through with it and live happily ever after. At least until Mephisto did that mind-erasey thing many years later…
21. The Gift/The Conversation
Technically we’re cheating by including two separate stories here, but it seems fitting to spotlight two single issues that approach a similar concept from radically different angles. Both “The Gift” and “The Conversation” deal with the fallout of Peter finally revealing his secret to Aunt May.
The former takes place in the midst of the infamous Clone Saga storyline. And while fans would just as soon forget most of that bloated crossover, Amazing Spider-Man #400 stands out as a true highlight. Peter faces one of the greatest tragedies of his life as he opens up to a dying May. Before she passes, May reveals she had always known her nephew was Spider-Man. Truly, it’s one of the most poignant Spider-Man moments ever, even if Marvel wiped the slate clean by revealing May had been replaced by an impostor.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski revisited this concept several years later in his Amazing Spider-Man run. Shortly after his near-fatal run-in with Morlun, an unconscious, still-costumed Peter is discovered by his aunt. This time, however, May has a much harder time accepting the truth. The twist comes with JMS giving May her own share of guilt over Ben’s death – it seems the pair had a tiff the night he was killed, and she’s felt responsible for what happened.
After being afraid of telling Aunt May for so many years, the two are brought even closer together by a shared guilt and mutual understanding. JMS manages to avoid the expected beats of the conversation and instead provides a fascinating new layer to the May/Peter relationship. It’s a shame that Marvel again reverted to the status quo by restoring Peter’s secret identity. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
20. Ultimate Fallout
Though the original Peter Parker has never really died, Marvel Comics shocked us all when the Ultimate version of Spider-Man – a character under the guidance of writer Brian Bendis for over 10 years – got the axe. Fortunately, the unique setup of the Ultimate Universe allowed his death to be one of meaning and consequence, eventually resulting in new web-head Miles Morales taking over thwipping duties.
However, it was the very first chapter of Ultimate Comics Fallout that was the best moment to follow Peter’s tragic death. As we know, Spider-Man isn’t typically liked by the public. But here, once he was removed from the equation, we got to see a public show of appreciation at Peter’s funeral that we can only imagine would be on par with someone like Captain America. New York City showed their gratitude for this kid – now revealed to the world as Peter Parker, high school student – and the tears came fast and furious.
The pivotal moment comes at the issue’s conclusion, when Aunt May is confronted by a little girl who had been saved by Spider-Man and offers her a hug. It’s a gut-wrenching finale to a heroic life, and proves how essential Peter’s legacy is to the Ultimate Universe.
19. Spider-Man/Human Torch: I’m With Stupid
The Peter Parker and Johnny Storm relationship is one of the most fascinating amongst superhero friendships, and perhaps no other comic has explored it as well as this mini-series from 2005. A collection of five stand-alone stories that occur in-between the pages through the history of Marvel – from the earliest days of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four right up through the run of J. Michael Straczynski – Spider-Man/Human Torch is a love letter to not only the Peter/Johnny bromance , but Spider-Man’s history as a whole.
Covering everything from the emotional downturn of Peter’s life after the death of Gwen Stacy, to his romance with Black Cat, to poking fun at the Clone Saga, to in-jokes about the symbiote costume and beyond, the series reaffirms Peter’s role as Spider-Man by showing us that despite everything he’s lost, he’s gained family and friends that are irreplaceable. Perhaps it’s summed up best when Johnny references the ol’ “Parker luck” – a phrase that’s typically been used to describe Peter’s constant tribulations – and shows him that from the outside, Peter’s got everything a guy could want.
18. The Original Clone Saga
Before the much-maligned and seemingly endless Clone Saga of the mid-90s, there was the original Clone Saga published in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in the 70s. The story is about the Jackal – originally Miles Warren, Peter Parker’s biology professor at ESU – who we learn had a secret obsession with Gwen Stacy and blames Spider-Man for her death. Out of his pain he clones both Gwen and Peter, leading to a rather tormenting series of events for the wall-crawler.
In a lot of ways, the story is Peter’s worst fears brought to life. He’s forced to physically confront his guilt by looking Gwen in the eyes, never mind facing the man he holds responsible for her death – himself. If there’s any point of weakness to attack amongst Spidey’s repertoire of spider-strength and agility, it’s his endless guilt for those he’s caused to suffer. Though the clone thing would grow out of hand in the years to follow, the initial dramatic implications of the plotline are too meaty to ignore.
17. Cracked Hourglass
Marvel revived Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man in 2017 as a companion to the ongoing Amazing Spider-Man series, one aimed at telling a more intimate series of stories in an era where Peter himself was at the head of a multinational corporation. Nowhere did that formula work better than in the two-part “Cracked Hourglass” storyline.
Easily one of the best Spidey vs. Sandman stories ever told, “Cracked Hourglass” is a testament to the fact that even Peter’s worst enemies have real depth and humanity. In this story, Flint Marko faces his imminent death, even as he grapples with strange memories of a life he never lived. The result is a story that manages to balance high-concept science fiction with a very grounded story about one sworn enemy doing his best to save another. The two issues are cleverly structured so that the first revolves around Sandman confronting his mortality, while the second is about the even greater fear of a life without end.
16. And Death Shall Come
The worst mistake the Stacy family ever made was getting involved with Peter Parker. Though the Death of Captain Stacy storyline, which came to fruition through a battle with Doctor Octopus, ran for numerous chapters before the actual death happened in Amazing Spider-Man #90, it’s this climactic chapter that marks the first significant tragedy in Peter Parker’s life since the death of Uncle Ben. Captain Stacy had become something of a surrogate father to Peter – a mentor – and readers suspected that the character knew Peter’s secret about being Spider-Man. It wasn’t until this issue that those suspicions were confirmed, as Stacy lay dying in Spider-Man’s arms.
It’s a brutal moment in which Peter realizes, once again, he’s to blame for the death of a loved one. Modern readers have the benefit of an added dramatic beat when Captain Stacy begs Peter to protect his daughter, Gwen, to which Peter promises that he will. Of course, only years later, Peter would fail to keep his promise. More immediately at the time though, Captain Stacy’s death led to a new complication in Peter and Gwen’s relationship when she blamed his alter-ego for the death of her father.
15. The Gauntlet
During the Brand New Day era of Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel employed a rotating lineup of artists and writers to tell a single Spider-Man epic published three times a month for several years straight. That process culminated in The Gauntlet, an ambitious and hugely influential look at one of the most harrowing ordeals in Spider-Man’s career.
Not unlike the Knightfall crossover in the Batman books, The Gauntlet deals with a mysterious enemy manipulating Peter Parker and pushing him to the physical and psychological breaking point. Each story pits Spidey against a different foe, with the common thread being that most battles end with Spidey in an even worse state than before.
The Gauntlet contains multiple all-time classics like “Rage of the Rhino” and “Shed,” both of which tap into the human, tragic sides of Spidey’s iconic rogues. But to get the full impact, it’s best to read this entire grueling saga from start to finish.
14. Ultimate Venom
Though he’s enjoying a huge resurgence in the main Marvel Universe, at the time of Ultimate Spider-Man’s Venom arc, the character had become a stinging reminder of the excess of the 90s. However, with his rejuvenation of Spider-Man’s world under the Ultimate banner, Bendis found a way to make Venom and Eddie Brock a key part of Peter Parker’s history and bring back the flesh-devouring “symbiote” in a way that was integral to Peter’s personal history. Now a forgotten childhood friend of Peter’s, a college-age Eddie is continuing his father’s work on a cure for cancer in the form of a “bio suit” – a project his father had been working on with Peter’s father.
The two quickly reconnect, but not before the black slime hits the fan. When Peter discovers what the experiment is really capable of, he realizes that Eddie is not the person he thought he was. Bendis manages to weave the Venom story into the death of Peter’s parents, suggesting that their death might not have been an accident after all. Like most of Bendis’ Marvel Ultimate Universe successes, Venom is to be commended for streamlining one of the more outrageous elements of Spider-Man’s history and transforming it into something new, interesting, and best of all – central to Peter’s origins.