The Naruto franchise, like many popular anime of the 90s and 2000s, was based on a manga. Masashi Kishimoto created a sprawling world where ninja harnessed their chakra to accomplish impossible feats. The franchise is still ongoing with the Boruto: Naruto Next Generations manga and anime. Before Boruto became the center of the story, however, his father was just a kid trying to find his way in the shinobi world. Some of Naruto’s most popular story arcs include those of the Chunin Exams and the Sasuke Recovery Mission. In fact, many of the most popular, and the highest-rated, episodes land in those two story arcs.
The first chapter of the Naruto franchise contained over 200 episodes. Those episodes average an 8.3 out of 10 in the Internet Movie Database rating system. IMDb allows users to rate movies and television shows on a one to ten scale. One star is considered the worst, while ten stars is considered the best. After over 57,000 ratings, the top ten episodes of Naruto range from an 8.7 to a 9.1, comprising some seriously good anime.
10 The Demon In The Snow S1E19 (8.7)
The earliest Naruto episode to land in the top 10, this one takes place while Team 7 is on a mission in the Land of Waves. It marks the end of their confrontation with the ninja Zabuza.
Though Zabuza spent the previous episodes as their enemy, after Naruto mourned the loss of Zabuza’s protege Haku, the ninja had a change of heart. Zabuza targeted the organized crime boss who took the life of Haku instead. Naruto learned in the episode that many of the people in power only thought of shinobi as tools to be used in battle, something Naruto disagreed with. It was the first time in the series that the idea of being more than just a fighting machine was brought up, though it wouldn’t be the last.
9 Losing Is Not An Option S1E117 (8.8)
The Sasuke Recovery Mission is one of the fan-favorite arcs of the anime. There was something so satisfying about seeing so many of the young characters take on such a brutal mission - and live to tell the tale. This particular chapter spotlights Neji’s part of the battle.
In “Losing Is Not An Option,” Neji faced off against one of the Sound Four on his own. Though nearly outmatched, Neji found a way to use an injury to his advantage. When his enemy launched an arrow at him, Neji allowed it to pierce him, then sent his chakra traveling back along the arrow and its string to paralyze his opponent. Neji’s injuries were so severe that fans thought he might not make it through the mission, but they didn’t have to worry about losing him just yet.
8 The Beast Within S1E124 (8.8)
As the Sasuke Recovery Mission neared its end, many of the team members found themselves in dire straights. Luckily, another group of shinobi went from being enemies to allies in “The Beast Within.”
Much of the episode was spent simply showing how much trouble Kiba, Rock Lee, and Shikamaru were in. Great animation sequences showcased their fights, but all of that was set up for the big reveal. Kankuro came to Kiba’s aid. Gaara defended Lee. Temari swooped in to save Shikamaru. After having been considered enemies in an earlier story arc, it was a nice change. It was also a sign of things to come as the Sand Siblings would become a much larger part of the franchise moving forward.
7 Naruto’s Ninja Handbook S1E78 (8.8)
One of the aspects fans love about the Naruto franchise is the title character’s battles with other tailed beasts. This episode gave fans their first real taste of that - and helped Gaara become a fan favorite.
While battling Gaara, this is the episode where Naruto realized that the two weren’t so different. When he couldn’t make headway with the other shinobi, he called for help, summoning one of the giant toads. Gamabunta named Gaara’s tailed beast form as Shukaku. It was the first glimpse the audience got of what it meant for someone to have a tailed beast locked inside and take control. It led to a massive fight sequence that, of course, couldn’t be contained in a single episode.
6 Beyond The Limit Of Darkness And Light S1E79 (8.8)
Unlike the previous episode, this one didn’t focus entirely on Gaara and Naruto’s battle. Part of the Konoha Crush arc, this episode expanded to allow for the audience to see what was going on in the village beyond the battle between the two teens. As serious as Naruto’s face-off with Gaara was, the rest of the village was also in big trouble.
The Third Hokage battled Orochimaru for as long as he could. When his power wasn’t enough to hold out anymore, he sacrificed himself, but not before making sure to paralyze Orochimaru’s arms. Without the use of his arms, Orochimaru couldn’t properly form hand signs to engage in battle, giving the village a minor win against him. That win came at a heartbreaking cost though as they needed a new leader.
5 For A Friend… S1E132 (8.8)
Following Sasuke’s defection from Konohagakure, Naruto was determined to bring his rival home. Unfortunately for him, Sasuke had other plans. This episode kicked off said plans.
In it, Sasuke decided Naruto was the closest person to him. He considered the other boy a friend, and as a result, he found it necessary to destroy Naruto so that he could grow stronger. Throughout the episode, Sasuke attacked Naruto, while Naruto did little more than take it. It might have infuriated some fans, but Naruto wasn’t initially willing to hurt Sasuke. The nine-tailed fox inside Naruto healed his wounds while Naruto reminded Sasuke of their rivalry and friendship. The reminder only added to Sasuke’s resolve, while it made Naruto more determined to bring him home. They were at an impasse.
4 The End Of Tears S1E134 (8.9)
Though there is another episode between this and the previous list entry, it ranks differently. This just edges out “For A Friend…” “The End Of Tears” saw Sasuke and Naruto’s battle come to an end.
Throughout the battle, the two used their most powerful weapons against one another. Sasuke activated his full cursed seal while Naruto gave in to the power of the fox. Interestingly, the battle reads more like two friends showing off as neither can bring himself to outright destroy the other. Sasuke, technically, won the fight as he’s still standing in the end. It’s a prelude to the battles the two would fight in the sequel series Naruto Shippuden.
3 Gaara Vs Rock Lee: The Power Of Youth Explodes S1E48 (9.0)
During the Chunin Exams, the characters the audience knew and loved had to face off in one-on-one matches against newly introduced characters. Rock Lee was matched against soon to be fan-favorite Gaara.
Despite their very different abilities, the two managed to appear relatively evenly matched. Unfortunately, for Lee, appearances could be deceiving. The audience got a great fight sequence between the two in the episode, but the end revealed the Gaara Lee had been fighting the whole time was actually the result of a body replacement jutsu. It was a great twist, and Lee had his work cut out for him.
2 The Fifth Gate: A Splendid Ninja Is Born S1E50 (9.0)
Also set during the arc of the Chunin Exams, this episode showcased how great of a ninja Rock Lee could be. Unlike his classmates, Lee didn’t have access to the same fancy jutsu. He had no special inherited abilities. Instead, Lee relied on his hand-to-hand skills.
This episode saw the culmination of his match against Gaara during the exams. Lee’s hand-to-hand skills were no match for an opponent who used sand as a weapon, so Lee began to use the Eight-Gates technique. As far as he got was opening the Fifth Gate, a move which granted him more physical power, but made Gaara take more extreme measures. After Gaara crushed one of Lee’s legs and arms, it was revealed that Lee would never be able to fight like a ninja again. It was an emotional ending to the match for fans.
1 A Plea From A Friend S1E133 (9.1)
The episodes before and after this one rank slightly lower. Perhaps it’s because the bulk of the fight occurs in this one as Sasuke and Naruto battle over the former defecting from Konohagakure.
“A Plea From A Friend” saw Sasuke pummel Naruto as he taunted his former teammate that he “won’t even be able to scratch [his] forehead.” That taunt came back to haunt Sasuke in “The End Of Tears,” but here, it only served to set the mood. The very fluid fight sequence occurred only after Naruto admitted that he thought of Sasuke like a brother for the first time. Naruto’s bond with Sasuke, and Sasuke’s desire to break it, forms the foundation of their conflict for the entire rest of the series.