Naruto is one of the most successful anime and manga series, both in Japan and across the world, and has amassed a legion of loyal fans since first debuting in Shonen Jump way back in 1999. Masashi Kishimoto’s manga series is now complete and a spinoff featuring Naruto’s son Boruto has begun with an anime counterpart soon to follow. Meanwhile, in the West, Lionsgate are reportedly developing a live-action Naruto movie are reportedly developing a live-action Naruto movie with Kishimoto’s involvement. Clearly, the next chapter in the franchise’s lifespan has started.

A large part of the reason for this continued success is Naruto’s abundance of engaging characters; figures that make you want to root for them, make you laugh out loud and keep viewers and readers coming back week after week. Narrowing down this impressive ensemble is no easy task but taking into account personality, development and outright awesomeness, here are the 16 Best Characters From Naruto.

16. Tsunade

Tsunade in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

The third Hokage was a popular character in his own right, and finding a replacement wasn’t just a difficult task for the citizens of Konaha but for Kishimoto as well. Luckily, Sarutobi’s (technically second) successor was every bit as entertaining and engaging and quickly endeared herself to Naruto fans.

As one of the legendary Sannin alongside Orochimaru and Jiraiya, Tsunade is an excellent fighter with monstrous strength and techniques that derive from her grandfather Hashirama. She’s also perhaps the premier healing ninja in Naruto and later passes this knowledge down to her student Sakura. Such is Tsunade’s skill with healing jutsu, she actually manages to maintain the appearance of an attractive 30-something woman despite actually being an old lady. She also has the ability to summon a giant talking slug which proves to be far more useful than it sounds.

Tsunade’s personality is full of detail and intricacy, from her comedic gambling habit to the death of her lover Dan and brother Nawaki and although some might groan at the more fan-service based elements of Tsunade’s appearance, there’s plenty more to her than meets the eye.

15. Rock Lee

Rock Lee in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

The Marmite of the Naruto universe, fans tend to either love or hate this strictly taijutsu-only ninja. Inspired by his beloved teacher, Might Guy, Lee is endlessly optimistic and sees an opportunity for training at every juncture. For some, Lee’s uber-positive attitude can sometimes be grating but his determination and strength more than make up for this.

Rock Lee has been involved in some classic Naruto battles during the show’s tenure. His bout with Gaara during the Chuunin exams and taking on Kimimaro whilst drunk being just two highlights. Lee’s ability to harness the power of the Eight Gates always proved exciting and although some might argue that the character is somewhat one-dimensional, it’s certainly an entertaining dimension to watch.

Ultimately, Rock Lee is one of Naruto’s goofiest characters but this is tempered by his brutal martial arts skills and it’s this juxtaposition that makes Lee one of the franchise’s most memorable figures – and the owner of one of its worst haircuts.

14. Minato

Minato Naruto and Kurama in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

The fourth Hokage and – SPOILER ALERT – Naruto’s old man is already deceased when the series starts and so doesn’t feature as heavily in the franchise as the rest of this list. But during his scenes of flashback material and when semi-revived as a spirit and part of the Edo Tensei technique, Minato certainly makes an impact.

The character’s ongoing love for his wife and child is clear – even if he did stuff a deadly demonic fox into his newborn boy – and Minato has an array of attractive, fan-pleasing attacks such as the Flying Thunder God technique at his disposal.

After Naruto’s parentage is revealed, the father and son duo share several touching moments such as their dual-Nine Tails fist bump and of course, their final goodbye when the Edo Tensei is released. In fact, the more the series reveals about Minato, the more poignant and noble his sacrifice ultimately seems.

13. Shikamaru

Shikamaru in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

When Shikamaru first debuted in the Naruto manga, he was an unassuming, somewhat snarky kid who wanted nothing more than to live a carefree life and put in minimal effort. Despite this, however, it was always hinted that at the character’s core was a kind heart and a strong desire to do good.

As Naruto and its sequel series Naruto Shippuden progress, Shikamaru’s more conscientious and responsible traits begin to come to the fore and the character gets a large chunk of his development due to the death of his sensei Asuma. Shikamaru goes on to become perhaps the most mature member of the Konaha Eleven and assumes his father’s role of master tactician thanks to his fantastic intellect.

Making the character even more interesting is Shikamaru’s move-set which is largely based around his manipulation of shadows, allowing him to use darkness to choke, control or stab enemies in battle.

12. Sakura

Sakura in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Sakura, the Naruto franchise’s most prominent female character, gets a bit of a bad rap from certain sections of fans. Some believe that in the Shippuden half of the story in particular, Sakura is written into irrelevance and others find her continued crush on Sasuke in spite of his increasingly evil actions incredibly frustrating.

Although you can certainly make the argument that Naruto might’ve done greater things with Sakura, the character is still more entertaining than many give her credit for. Early in the series, the female ninja is distinguished by her superior intelligence but as the narrative progresses, Sakura begins to excel in medical jutsu and inherits Tsunade’s barbaric strength to boot.

Sakura’s affection for Sasuke can be annoying at times but this is somewhat remedied by the fact that she eventually has a child with him, proving her feelings to be genuine love rather than a silly childhood crush as often appeared to be the case.

11. Madara

Madara Uchiha from Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Madara Uchiha is a figure of legend for much of the Naruto series, eventually evolving into one of its primary antagonists. As a rival to Hashirama Senju, Madara’s strength is verging on biblical and his mastery of the Susanoo technique makes for many an awe-inspiring scene in the anime series.

Madara’s calm and menacing demeanour immediately makes him a figure of interest and the reveal that he’s secretly responsible for so many events in the Naruto story make his eventual resurrection even more gripping. Upon being brought back to life, Madara’s overwhelming power cements his status as one of the franchise’s premier villains, as evidenced by his awesome battle with an Eight Gates-powered Might Guy.

Unfortunately, much of this good character work is undermined by the revelations towards the end of Naruto Shippuden which prove him to be little more than a pawn in the schemes of an even more powerful arch-villain. This decision wasn’t universally well received and some fans felt that the legendary Uchiha deserved to be the series’ final antagonist.

10. Neji

Neji from Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Oh, Neji. This one still hurts. Initially, Neji felt more like one of Naruto’s baddies as he brutalized his fellow Hyuuga clan member Hinata in the Chuunin exams. Neji’s anger is well-fleshed out with an engaging political-themed back-story that delves into the inner workings of his clan and his abominable strength marks the youngster out as an intimidating character early on.

After taking a beating from the supposedly inferior Naruto however, Neji quickly changes his ways and chills out further as the series progresses. This character arc comes to a tear-jerking conclusion when Neji sacrifices himself to aid Naruto and Hinata in the Fourth Great Shinobi War and fans were left permanently scarred by the character’s emotional last stand.

Even before his tragic death, Neji makes a sizeable contribution to the Naruto franchise with his striking, white-eyed appearance, graceful fighting technique and cool, collected personality. His natural genius was always at odds with Naruto’s hard-working approach but the pair’s eventual friendship epitomized one of the show’s key messages: greatness isn’t born, it’s earned.

9. Kurama

Kurama and Naruto in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

As the only non-human character on this list, Kurama is perhaps at a disadvantage when it comes to endearing himself to audiences. Furthermore, the Nine Tailed Fox spends the majority of Naruto acting more like a plot device than a fully-fledged character. However, as Naruto’s power begins to grow, Kurama’s true personality slowly starts to emerge.

The development truly begins when Naruto finally gains enough power to tame the beast inside of him, allowing the ninja to make the pledge that one day, he’ll remove the rage inside of Kurama. From this point on, the Nine Tails becomes less of a faceless, angry temptation to Naruto and a genuinely more sympathetic entity.

And when the Nine Tailed Fox’s background is finally told, the reasons for his rage become clear and his burgeoning friendship with his Jinchuuriki Naruto becomes one of the most gripping elements of the series. After a multitude of episodes with the pair at odds, Naruto and Kurama’s partnership is a joy to behold and the fox’s dry sense of humor only adds to his bright personality.

8. Orochimaru

Orochimaru from Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

As the first arch villain in the Naruto series, Orochimaru certainly had a lot to live up to and judging by the character’s enduring popularity, he succeeded. With a creepy, snake-like design and reptilian techniques to match, Orochimaru is a natural villain but his ability to manipulate others and alter his appearance makes his presence far more threatening than your average evil-doer.

Character highlights include the mesmerizing battle between Orochimaru and the Third Hokage – even if the anime did drag things out a bit too much – and the epic three-way stand-off between the antagonist and his two fellow Sannin, Jiraiya and Tsunade.

Sadly, much like Madara, Orochimaru’s story arguably deserved a better conclusion. Instead of being bested in a climactic final bout, Orochimaru is assassinated by his student Sasuke in a segment that comes without much warning. To complicate matters, Sasuke later revives his former master who then seemingly becomes a reluctant good guy. Nevertheless, these later developments don’t undermine Orochimaru’s strong showing in the original Naruto series.

7. Hinata

Hinata Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Towards the end of the Naruto manga, the series’ fandom was split into two distinct groups: those who wanted Naruto to end up with Sakura and those who thought Hinata was his ideal partner. Author Masashi Kishimoto was clearly in the latter camp and given the amount of character progression the Hyuuga undergoes, it’s easy to see why.

Hinata’s transformation from a shy, demure figure afraid to make a peep into a valued Konoha ninja able to stand up the might of Pain is one of the greatest arcs in the franchise. The fact that this evolution is inspired by Naruto himself only makes the pair’s eventual romance even more heart-warming.

Hinata isn’t just a romantic partner for Naruto though, she’s a more than capable fighter in her own right, able to give Neji a run for his money as far as her usage of the Gentle Fist goes. She also shows outstanding loyalty and crucially, is one of the few characters to have recognized Naruto’s virtues since the very beginning.

6. Gaara

Naruto Headband Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Easily one of the coolest characters in the Naruto canon, Gaara is a reformed antagonist in the series. A fellow Jinchuuriki, Gaara and Naruto both suffered difficult childhoods but respond to this in vastly different ways. As was the case with Neji, it’s up to Naruto to set Gaara back on the right path with a sound beating and naturally, the duo become firm friends as a result.

Gaara’s sand-based techniques give him a highly interesting style of fighting and the brutality in which he executes such moves – particularly as a villain – is often gleefully painful to watch. Gaara’s transition from angry child to respected Kage keeps the character fresh heading into Shippuden and happily, his new job doesn’t prevent the character from taking to the battlefield.

The sad history that accompanies Gaara gives his character an added layer of detail and somehow succeeds in explaining both his villainous origins and his eventual turn towards the good side, whilst also getting every viewer and reader firmly behind him.

5. Jiraiya

Jiraiya from Naruto Shippuden Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Naruto has a few teachers over the course of his story but Jiraiya is one of the most crucial and the man arguably responsible for transforming him from a wannabe that many in Konoha laughed at to a genuine contender that commands respect. Jiraiya also gives Naruto a number of techniques that would later become synonymous with the character including his father’s Rasengan and his ability to summon toads.

Jiraiya is far than just a means of powering up Naruto though and it could be argued that he’s actually a sort of phantom narrator in the series. Jaraiya was eternally committed to finding the ninja of prophecy who would bring peace to the land. If you can get past the cliché of that missive, Naruto’s entire journey actually represents the fulfilment of Jiraiya’s dream, making the Sennin one of the most important characters in the franchise. Even if he is a massive pervert.

4. Itachi

Itachi in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

For much of Naruto, Itachi is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma and bent into the shape of a question mark. Did he really kill the entire Uchiha clan? Did he do it for a reason? Is he just downright evil? Even when answers to those questions do eventually come, there are yet more twists and turns waiting further down the road.

Despite the often convoluted nature of Itachi’s arc, unwrapping his secrets is one of the most intriguing parts of the Naruto story. Adding to his mysterious nature, Itachi has an endless cool that combines well with his unparalleled Genjutsu skills, allowing him to dispatch enemies without moving a muscle.

Both of Itachi’s farewell scenes with his brother Sasuke rank among the series’ most emotional moments and when all of his motivations are finally revealed, Itachi becomes the franchise’s ultimate tragic figure. Itachi is almost the highest ranking Uchiha on this list, but not quite…

3. Sasuke

Sasuke Uchiha Naruto and Naruto Shippuden Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Arguably as integral to the narrative as the title character, Sasuke is the yin the Naruto’s yang; the moon to his sun and although the two often seem like polar opposites, they are also inextricably connected on many levels.

As early as Naruto’s opening few episodes, Sasuke immediately commands the audience’s attention with his rage-filled attitude and natural skill at ninjutsu. His gradual acceptance of Naruto as a rival is compelling enough but it’s Sasuke’s descent towards evil that provides the original Naruto series with its explosive climax.

Although Sasuke’s evil phase lasted a little longer than some fans may have liked, this period gave rise to the always-entertaining Taka group and was also the catalyst for some amazing fight scenes such as Sasuke’s battles with Danzo, Bee and his brother Itachi. Naruto might provide this series with its foundations but Sasuke gives it a great deal of its color.

2. Naruto

naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Of course, Naruto’s title character has to rank highly on any list of its best characters. The boy’s journey from ambitious but unskilled rookie to Hokage and one of the most powerful ninja of all time is the lifeblood of the franchise, and ultimately the very thing that hooked fans into the story in the first place.

It isn’t just the flashy attacks and youthful exuberance that make Naruto such a compelling protagonist though, there are multiple layers to his personality that are unpicked over the course of the entire narrative.

Naruto’s underlying desire to be accepted and loved is universally relatable to audiences and his drive to pass these feelings onto others gives fans something to aspire to. But Naruto is also inherently flawed and this makes him far more realistic than many of his peers. By ultimately achieving his dreams, Naruto’s tale is a feel good one, at least for the most part, and the unwavering resolve of the character goes a long way to towards this.

1. Kakashi

Kakashi in Naruto Naruto: The 16 Best Characters In The Series

Naruto may have title billing but the spotlight is just nicked away by his Team 7 leader, Kakashi. The Sharingan user might not be as crucial to the story as Naruto or Sasuke but he has, arguably, captured fans’ imaginations more than any other figure in the franchise.

Kakashi’s backstory and character development are utterly engaging. Moreover, his generally unaffected attitude to life, ability to read adult romance novels and kick ass simultaneously and his way of being in complete control of any situation are every bit as amusing as they are fist-pumpingly awesome.

Such is Kakashi’s popularity that in the brief moments in which it appeared he’d been killed in the fight against Pain, viewers were genuinely left wondering if the show would ever be able to recover from such a loss. Most tellingly however, Kakashi is perhaps the only main character in the series with no obvious frustrating or annoying traits. Sasuke’s brooding might wear thin and Naruto’s stubbornness can be irksome but through it all, Naruto fans can always rely on Kakashi.

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