The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) follows a unique "Phase" release structure to organize interconnected stories across multiple movies and TV shows. However, that interconnectedness can overwhelm anyone looking to start their MCU journey. 

Even with the complete catalog on Disney+, the amount of material may deter many individuals. This guide will break down each Phase, providing ideal viewing orders, quick summaries of the key titles, and expert tips to fully immerse yourself in this iconic universe.

The MCU Phase Structure

The Phase system is the overarching framework that Marvel Studios has constructed to organize and release the MCU's interconnected movies and shows. Each Phase is a group of titles intentionally linked narratively, building toward a climactic storyline or event.

By watching the MCU content in Phase order, you experience the epic narratives as the creators intended. The storylines, character arcs, and plot threads seamlessly carry over from one title to the next within a given Phase.

Following the Phase construct helps provide important context, avoids confusion from prematurely viewing spoilers, and allows you to invest fully in the continuous storytelling journey. It mimics how longtime MCU fans have experienced the releases chronologically over the years.

While there's no single "correct" way to explore these stories, the Phase structure is the simplest, most straightforward way to immerse yourself into the richly interconnected MCU.

MCU Phase One (2008-2012)

Phase One consists of six films that establish the foundations of the MCU. This Phase introduces core heroes like Iron Man/Tony Stark, Hulk/Bruce Banner, Thor, Captain America/Steve Rogers, Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff, and Hawkeye/Clint Barton. It shows their coming together as the Avengers team.

Iron Man (2008) 

Tony Stark builds a powerful suit of armor after being held captive. He then assists the military in battling the terrorist group that kidnapped him. This lays the groundwork for the MCU and shows Stark's transition into the heroic Iron Man.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

The Incredible Hulk (2008) 

Scientist Bruce Banner struggles to control his angry green alter-ego, the Hulk, after exposure to gamma radiation. He runs from the military, who wants to capture him. At the same time, he battles the crazed soldier Blonsky/The Abomination.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Iron Man 2 (2010)

Tony Stark faces the consequences of his bravado as Iron Man, dealing with a blood toxicity issue and the government's demands for the Iron Man technology. He must take on new foes like Whiplash and corporate rival Justin Hammer.

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Thor (2011) 

The arrogant warrior Thor is banished from the realm of Asgard to Earth and stripped of his powers by his father, Odin. Once there, he must prove himself worthy of his powers to stop his brother Loki's nefarious schemes.

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Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 

Brave but scrawny Steve Rogers receives an experimental super-soldier serum in World War II. He emerges as the powerful Captain America to battle the villainous Red Skull and his Hydra forces.

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The Avengers (2012)

Loki opens a wormhole to allow an alien invasion of Earth. Nick Fury, director of the Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division, (S.H.I.E.L.D.), a law enforcement agency that deals with superhuman threats, prepares a response. Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Captain America, Black Widow, and Hawkeye assemble in an epic team-up.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

MCU Phase Two (2013 – 2015)

Phase Two expands the universe dramatically with six films and the first TV show. While continuing stories with established characters, this Phase introduces new heroes such as the Guardians of the Galaxy (Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot), Falcon/Sam Wilson, Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff, Vision, and Ant-Man/Scott Lang.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

Struggling with anxiety after his experience in The Avengers, Tony Stark confronts a mysterious terrorist leader, The Mandarin, after a series of deadly bombings. 

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Thor: The Dark World (2013) 

Malekith and his army of Dark Elves escape from centuries of imprisonment, seeking to plunge the Nine Realms into darkness, including Asgard and Earth. Thor battles them with the help of his human love interest, Jane Foster.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) 

Captain America and Black Widow uncover a vast conspiracy within the spy agency S.H.I.E.L.D. and face off against a skilled assassin, the Winter Soldier.

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) 

Outlaws Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot come together to stop villain Ronan and his Accuser allies from obtaining an ancient Infinity Stone.

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) 

Avenging Tony Stark's failed A.I. experiment, maniacal robot Ultron unleashes a devastating plan to exterminate humanity. The Avengers, joined by twins Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, scramble to stop it.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Ant-Man (2015) 

Former petty criminal Scott Lang gains a suit that allows him to shrink in size but increase in strength. He uses it in a heist planned by his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, to stop corporate villainy.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-2020) 

The MCU's first TV series follows undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agents like Phil Coulson dealing with the fallout of events tied to the Phase Two films. Watching this series after the Phase 2 films avoids spoiling key plot points.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

MCU Phase Three (2016-2019)

With a TV series and 11 films, the climactic Phase Three brings the Infinity Saga to an epic conclusion. This phase weaves in new heroes like Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and Black Panther while building up to the universe-shattering events of Infinity War and Endgame over multiple films. 

For the ultimate experience, watch in the precise release order with no deviations. Captain Marvel (2019), set in the 1990s, gives a backstory best viewed before Endgame.

Agent Carter (2015-2016) 

This series follows Peggy Carter's adventures in 1940s New York after the events of Captain America: The First Avenger. It explores her career as a secret agent while the world thinks Captain America is gone.

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Captain America: Civil War (2016)

An incident involving civilian casualties causes the Avengers to fracture into two camps. One, led by Iron Man, favors UN oversight. The other camp, led by Captain America, opposes it.

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Doctor Strange (2016) 

Brilliant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange's career ends after a car crash. He finds a new purpose after being drawn into mystical teachings, gaining unique abilities to protect reality.

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) 

The ragtag Guardians struggle to keep their newfound family together while helping Quill/Star-Lord uncover the truth about his mysterious parentage.

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Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017) 

Following his experiences with the Avengers, young Peter Parker tries to prove himself as Spider-Man while dealing with the deadly weapons trafficker Vulture.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) 

Thor must race to stop the all-powerful Hela, his long-missing sister, from destroying Asgard after she escapes from interdimensional imprisonment. He gets help from Hulk/Bruce Banner and other unlikely allies.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Black Panther (2018) 

T'Challa ascends the throne of the technologically advanced nation Wakanda after his father's death. However, his nation faces threats from factions that want to disrupt Wakandan traditions.

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) 

The Avengers join forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy to halt Thanos's quest to collect all six Infinity Stones, powerful artifacts that control aspects of existence.

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Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Years after becoming Ant-Man, Scott Lang teams up with his mentor's daughter, Hope, the new Wasp. Together, they go on a daring rescue mission in the Quantum Realm.

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Captain Marvel (2019) 

This film, set in the 1990s, introduces Carol Danvers and gives a backstory best viewed before Endgame.

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Avengers: Endgame (2019) 

Five years after Thanos' devastating snap eliminated half of life, the remaining Avengers launch an ambitious time travel plan to undo his actions in one final, desperate stand.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) 

In the aftermath of Endgame, Peter Parker's school trip to Europe is hijacked by elemental attacks and encounters with mysterious Quentin Beck/Mysterio.

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MCU Phase Four (2021-2022)

With the Infinity Saga concluded, Phase Four starts the Multiverse Saga, which has seven series and five films. In addition to advancing the main MCU timeline, also known as “the Sacred Timeline,” this Phase introduces multiversal themes/timelines and new heroes/antiheroes. These include Shang-Chi, the Eternals, America Chavez, Moon Knight/Marc Spector, Kate Bishop, Yelena Belova, Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan, and the unsettling threat of Kang the Conqueror.

WandaVision (2021)

This reality-bending series follows Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) and Vision as they live an idyllic suburban life. However, not everything is as it seems.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021) 

In this series, Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) team up in a worldwide adventure that tests their abilities and patience as they navigate a life without Steve Rogers.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Loki, Season 1 (2021)

This series follows the version of Loki, who escaped with the Tesseract during Avengers: Endgame. The Tesseract is a crystalline cube-shaped containment vessel for the Space Stone, one of the six Infinity Stones that predate the universe and possess unlimited energy. As he hops through various realities, he runs afoul of the Time Variance Authority.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Black Widow (2021)

Set after Captain America: Civil War, the film delves into Natasha Romanoff's past and her relationship with her Russian family, while facing the deadly Taskmaster.

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What If…?, Season 1 (2021) 

This animated series explores alternate realities if key moments from the MCU films occurred differently. It features various stories, such as Peggy Carter as Captain Carter, T’Challa as Star-Lord, and more, narrated by the Watcher, who oversees the Multiverse.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) 

This film introduces audiences to Shang-Chi, a martial arts expert drawn back into his father's criminal empire, the Ten Rings organization.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Eternals (2021) 

After Avengers: Endgame, the Eternals, an immortal alien race created by the Celestials, emerge from hiding to protect humanity from their evil counterparts, the Deviants.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Hawkeye (2021)

Clint Barton (Hawkeye) mentors Kate Bishop, an aspiring archer, to take up his mantle. The series features a mix of action and holiday spirit as they confront enemies from Barton's past.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021) 

In a thrilling multiverse-spanning adventure, Peter Parker's identity as Spider-Man is revealed. He asks Doctor Strange for help, leading to the Multiverse's collapse and the arrival of villains from alternate realities.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Moon Knight (2022) 

The series explores the life of Marc Spector, a complex vigilante who suffers from dissociative identity disorder and is imbued with powers by the Egyptian moon god Khonshu.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) 

With the help of old and new allies, Doctor Strange delves into the Multiverse to face a mysterious new adversary. This leads to reality-warping battles with ramifications for the entire MCU.

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Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) 

Thor embarks on a quest for inner peace but is interrupted by Gorr, the God Butcher, who seeks the extinction of the gods. The film reintroduces Jane Foster, who wields Mjolnir as the Mighty Thor.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) 

Wakandans fight to protect their home from intervening world powers as they mourn the death of King T'Challa. The film introduces new characters and explores the rich culture of Wakanda.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Ms. Marvel (2022) 

Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teen, discovers she has polymorphic abilities. Navigating the challenges of high school life, she aspires to be like her idol, Captain Marvel.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022)

Jennifer Walters, a lawyer specializing in superhuman-oriented legal cases, must navigate the complicated life of being a single 30-something attorney who is also a green 6-foot-7-inch superpowered hulk.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Werewolf by Night (2022) 

Jack Russell, known as Werewolf by Night, is drawn into a deadly hunt at a mysterious bloodstone gathering in this unique black-and-white horror-inspired special. It blends classic monster horror with the superhero genre, introducing a darker side of the MCU.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022) 

In this festive special, the Guardians of the Galaxy celebrate Christmas by attempting to make Star-Lord's holiday cheerful. Their plan includes a misadventure to Earth to find the perfect gift, blending humor and heart with the season's spirit.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

MCU Phase Five (2023–2025)

Phase Five, still ongoing, continues to expand the intricate superhero universe. It introduces new characters and narratives and follows established heroes and villains. This Phase delves deeper into the Multiverse and explores themes of legacy, identity, and the moral complexities of power.

Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania (2023)

Scott Lang and Hope van Dyne, along with Hope’s parents, Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne, explore the Quantum Realm. They encounter strange new creatures and embark on an adventure that pushes the boundaries of what they thought was possible.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (2023) 

The beloved band of misfits embark on another cosmic adventure that tests their bonds and resolves unfinished business from their pasts, likely culminating the group's story as we know it.

Image Credti: Marvel Studios

Secret Invasion (2023) 

Nick Fury and Talos discover a faction of shape-shifting Skrulls who have been infiltrating Earth for years. This series features a thrilling, espionage-filled narrative that questions trust and identity within the MCU.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Loki, Season 2 (2023) 

Following the first season's tumultuous events, Loki continues navigating the complexities of the Time Variance Authority and the Multiverse, likely deepening the lore about time and its impact on the universe.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

The Marvels (2023)

This sequel to Captain Marvel unites Carol Danvers, Monica Rambeau, and Kamala Khan as they face a cosmic adventure that pushes them to explore the limits of their powers and teamwork.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

What If...?, Season 2 (2023)  

This animated series continues to explore the Multiverse. It examines more intriguing and alternative realities within the MCU and asks what would happen if key events occurred differently.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Echo (2024) 

This series focuses on Maya Lopez, who returns to her hometown to face her past and reconnect with her Native American roots while dealing with her role as a deaf superhero.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Deadpool & Wolverine (2024) 

This movie promises to retain Deadpool's unique humor and irreverence while integrating him into the broader MCU. It will also give us Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine for one last time.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Agatha (2024)

Agatha Harkness, Wanda Maximoff’s nemesis in WandaVision, takes center stage. The series explores her complex backstory and mastery of dark magic, expanding on her villainous and enigmatic character.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Daredevil: Born Again (2025) 

Matt Murdock returns as the vigilante Daredevil in a more extensive exploration of his life and battles against crime in Hell's Kitchen. 

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Captain America: Brave New World (2025)

Now wielding the shield as the new Captain America, Sam Wilson faces global challenges and threats that test his resolve and commitment to upholding justice and liberty. 

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Ironheart (TBD) 

Riri Williams, a genius inventor, creates the most advanced suit of armor since Iron Man. The series follows her journey as she grapples with her identity and the responsibilities of being a superhero.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

MCU Phase Six (2025-2027)

Phase Six of the MCU propels the expansive superhero narrative into new territories with a mix of fresh faces and grand ensemble pieces set to redefine the franchise. This phase promises monumental clashes, the introduction of iconic characters, and a narrative arc that could alter the fabric of the MCU Multiverse. Here are the projects slated for Phase Six.

The Fantastic Four (2025) 

This film marks the introduction of Marvel's original superhero team into the MCU. The story focuses on four people who gain superpowers after a space mission goes awry. As the characters come together to face cosmic-level threats, the film explores themes of family, science, and adventure.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Thunderbolts (2025)

This ensemble film features a group of antiheroes, villains, and misfits assembled by the government for black-ops missions. The team is a darker counterpart to the more morally upright Avengers, providing a platform for complex characters with ambiguous morals. 

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Blade (2025) 

Reviving the iconic vampire hunter, Blade explores the darker, supernatural corners of the MCU. The film explores the title character's origins as he undertakes a relentless quest to rid the world of vampires.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Avengers: The Kang Dynasty (2026) 

This Avengers film will focus on the formidable villain Kang the Conqueror, who uses his time-traveling abilities to attempt to dominate the multiverse. The movie promises epic battles and strategic mind games, with the Avengers teaming up to thwart Kang’s multidimensional threats.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Avengers: Secret Wars (2027) 

Touted as a culminating event for the MCU, Secret Wars could bring together characters from various MCU phases and alternate realities. This film will likely be based on the iconic comic book storyline, where heroes and villains are transported to a distant planet to battle it out under the control of a powerful entity known as the Beyonder.

Image Credit: Marvel Studios

Other Suggestions for Navigating the MCU

Navigating Timelines and the Multiverse 

The Multiverse concept, introduced in Phase Four, means that individual movies and shows now occur across multiple timelines and realities. For first-time viewers experiencing the MCU chronologically, it's best to focus on following the core "Sacred Timeline" narrative before exploring alternate "What If?" realities that branch off.

Don't get hung up if you encounter Multiverse storylines that seem confusing or contradictory. Consult official Marvel timelines and guidebooks to help make sense of how the different narratives and variants connect or diverge. The core intent of this guide is for viewers to simply enjoy these Multiversal stories without getting bogged down in overly complex theoretical cosmology.

Supplementary Materials

Marvel has a wealth of supplementary comic book stories and materials to explore if you want to dive even deeper into MCU lore beyond the films and shows:

  • Key comic storylines that inspired major MCU events, like "The Infinity Gauntlet" limited series, can provide backstories and additional context around the movies' cosmic-scaled conflicts.
  • For comic fans, reading pivotal comic runs that shaped these heroes' modern eras, like Jonathan Hickman's Avengers saga, Jason Aaron's Thor run, Al Ewing's Immortal Hulk, and others, are recommended.

Marvel's website and various online wikis/databases contain extensive guides that map complete timelines and viewing orders for interconnected arcs and character journeys spanning multiple projects. These also can point you to comic runs that have inspired major MCU events and shaped the heroes we see on screen.

With the MCU showing no signs of slowing down, there's never been a better time to dive in as a newcomer or longtime fan looking to enrich their journey.

The most important advice? Whichever way you choose to experience the Universe, immerse yourself in the spectacle and characters you love most. Above all else - enjoy the continuing, ever-evolving super-powered ride! And be sure to check out other guides, listen to Youtini podcasts, and join the discussion in Youtini’s Discord, where we have dedicated channels for comics, movies, and TV shows full of fans just like you!

Amir is a Data Risk Analytics Manager at Charles Schwab who is dedicated to his work and interests. When not working, he enjoys reading Star Wars comics and books and watching sports. He is also the Marketing Manager for Youtini, where he promotes the platform and engages with other fans. He is passionate about Star Wars and hopes to introduce new fans to the universe and Youtini community.