We just built up a few Specialized 2019 Rockhoppers and they're looking pretty sweet! The Rockhopper is the go-to hardtail mountain bike for a lot of people. There are 4 spec levels, starting with the $850 Sport and up to the $1,900 Pro. They roll on 29" wheels and have hydraulic brakes throughout the range.
It's a good starter bike as well as a competent XC bike with the Pro model. They're available in mens and womens versions that share the same frame, but with specific "touch points" (saddle, bar widths, crank lengths, etc) and custom fork tunes.