The path of a shinobi is filled with pain. Naruto and his companions, as well as his enemies, discover this repeatedly throughout Naruto and Naruto: Shippuden. For some, this reality made them stronger characters. However, for others, the backstory never clicked, or when the role did start to click it was too little too late. On top of this, some characters are just too compelling to be intriguing or get boxed into a role that hurts the overall story expectations.
The entire manga and anime became a feast or famine for any new character. Fans are strict with expectations and characters that did not live up to expectations hurt the show. On the other hand, when a character rose above their purpose and surprised the audience in a meaningful way, the decision saved the series at times. This balance is part of what makes Naruto so intriguing to watch. When things become unbalanced, the series becomes less entertaining.
This list aims to dissect the impact some of those shinobi. Shinobi who hurt the series are defined by their lack of impact or flatlined involvement in the plot. The shinobi who save the series is defined in the exact opposite way. All shinobi are considered for their full impact throughout both series, but no movies or other outside sources are discussed.
Here are 10 Shinobi That Hurt The Show (And 10 That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Sasori
The Akatsuki entered fans’ hearts early in the show and never left. The group had personality and mystery. Almost every member became a character worth remembering—almost. Sasori turned into a real bummer.
Listen, his backstory is muddled and overly complicated. It became too much too quickly to start a new series. Sasori is the first member fans see a fight in Shippuden. At the time it worked well enough, however, as time progressed, viewers forgot the fight. Sasori lacked real intrigue in the long run which made him the odd man out in this group.
19 Saved: Jiraiya
Boy, Naruto’s progress moved slowly in the early seasons. Seriously, go back and watch it. Naruto takes a long time to be the shinobi fans know now. Plus, many forget the legend that got him training seriously.
Jiraiya brought a new tone to the series. His antics and his power were fresh. The second of the three legendary sannin audiences met became the guide into a new age. Naruto needed to grow up, and so did the fans; Jiraiya helped make that happen.
18 Hurt: Kimimaro
The writers should have named Kimimaro “plot device” because ultimately that is all he is in the grand scheme. Seriously, Kimimaro went out with a whimper, and some fans cannot admit that. Sure, he helped propel the plot forward, but his whole story felt forced.
Fans do not want to feel tricked. Kimimaro is supposed to be this ultimate machine, who, sadly, got awfully ill. The whole backstory felt like a character that had cool powers, so they forced him into the story to serve the plot. Seriously, Kimimaro seems only to exist to explain the vessel exchange and keep Naruto from fighting Sasuke sooner.
17 Saved: Zabuza
If the series missed on the first villain, this list would not exist (some may be okay with that). Luckily, this scenario wasn’t the case. The series survived, and the first conflicting shinobi met expectations.
Zabuza will not hold up to the test of time. In comparison to other significant villains throughout both shows, he is not as strong. That being said, the demon of the mist proved to be formidable at the time. His deadpan, deadly delivery left a mark on viewers. Without Zabuza there is no other villain, he saved the series. The argument is that simple.
16 Hurt: Hidan
Sometimes the enemy has too much going on. The series created some characters that were just overloaded with talent. On top of this, most of their personalities were frustratingly grotesque. Hidan fit this bill, and it hurt the series.
Hidan is immortal. That ability alone made him an annoying opponent. The battle between him, Asuma, and Shikamaru felt frustratingly hopeless. No fan likes seeing an enemy that will only be defeated by a technicality. Immortality is a risky business, and the power should be used selectively. Hidan had an obnoxiously rude personality, and his fighting style showed that immortality breeds ignorance. It’s safe to say Hidan became an example of the worst kind of rogue shinobi.
15 Hurt: Asuma
Young genins need strong jonin leaders. The early seasons leaned heavily on creating sympathetic genin by utilizing jonin with strong personalities. Kakashi and Guy are memorable. Even now, fans can conjure up clear feelings for both these characters. This rule is partly why Lee, Neji, Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke receives admiration from fans.
Now the rule is not entirely true, but Asuma definitely did not fit this ideal. As a leader his skills were generic, and his guiding presence did not help his squad grow in fans eyes. Sadly, team 10 grew more after his passing. That fact stings and says something about how flat the impact of his character is.
14 Saved: Gaara
For a long time, Naruto was the only known jinchuuriki in the series. His backstory felt isolated, and the potential for other tailed beast remained a mystery. The manga had to meet fans expectations and deliver a real threat with their next jinchuuriki.
Gaara delivered on all fronts. The sand demon felt like a real threat. He displayed the potential Naruto had inside him, but also highlighted the splinters in Naruto’s path. Gaara then continued to help the series develop as a converted hero figure. This Swiss Army knife usefulness made him one of a kind.
13 Hurt: Choji
A real ninja shows courage in the face of danger. Now it is true that no shinobi is perfect, but this entry is about developing a character too late in the series. Choji lives in this awkward middle ground.
Choji never amounts to much. He seems to skate by in early episodes without much effort. He is shown to be cowardly and lazy unless provoked. This backstory took time to develops and when it did it never mustered up an impact. The result is a half-baked ninja with a faulty completion to an uninspired character arc.
12 Saved: Itachi
Few characters ever carry an entire arc emotional weight. The expert design enlightens fans and helps them appreciate the planning that went into the story. So, when Itachi proves he is the backbone of Sasuke’s life and that his actions show his care for his little brother, fans gained a new appreciation for the gifted Uchiha brother.
Itachi filled the narrative with mystery and intrigue. His actions reverberated through multiple story arcs. Few characters had such clear weight in the progression of the plot. It’s safe to say Itachi holds his own amongst his peers and is worth the praise he gets for his use in the story.
11 Saved: Shikamaru
Actions need consequences. Characters need to grow. Without these two fundamental rules, a story cannot survive a long development. One of the best characters to exemplify this ideal is Shikamaru.
As a genin, Shikamaru shows no promise. However, the story unravels around his character and circumstances force him to change his perspective. Shikamaru exploits the way a student can grow into a shinobi, unlike any other character. That reason, alone, is why he deserves a spot on this list.
10 Hurt: Ebisu
Characters that only serve to explain themes and concepts do not often gather a following amongst fans. No one likes an explanatory character. These kinds of characters are commonly used in anime and manga to explain things to the audience. Ebisu is a prime example of this kind of character.
Ebisu exists to explain certain parts of the shinobi’s path and fall for Naruto’s shenanigans. His involvement in the series is limited and frustrating. Fans knew they were in for a lecture when they saw Ebisu appear. Characters get boxed into specific roles, and this role is one of the worst ones to be packed into sadly.
9 Saved: Neji
Naruto needed a win, bad. The protagonist proved he could find ways to win battles and that he is stronger than fans estimated. Sadly, none of that came without forces outside Naruto’s control (like a fart).
Neji showed the impact Naruto could have on an opponent. His fight with Naruto propelled the titular character forward while allowing Neji’s arc to grow as well. All of this made Neji’s passing later in the series hold weight. The fans got a full arc that felt complete and understandable. Basically, Neji is handled the exact opposite of Choji.
8 Hurt: Kankuro
It’s not enough for a character to be a threat. Fans enjoy amazing abilities. It helps make the character worth investing in. However, if that’s all there is to the character, then they will struggle.
Kankuro lacked real development. His personality is flat, and his service to the storyline always felt like filler. He never escaped the shadow of the b-plots. It’s a shame because the abilities were there. Kankuro became an empty plot tool though, and it is a shame.
7 Saved: Lee
Put a hand up if Rock Lee broke your heart. This handsome devil immediately upped the talent level of the cast during his introduction. On top of this, Lee exhibited the heartbreak some go through when their shinobi way is challenged by impossible odds.
The best part of this character is the way he introduced the audience to an unfamiliar shinobi path. Lee is a master of hard work. He proves not every ninja needs fancy jutsu. His arc added more to the series and informed audiences. Lee is an integral character in the first part of the series.
6 Saved: Nagato (Pain)
Villains, at their best, add weight and tension to the storyline. The best opponents seem powerful but beatable. By having a strong villain with a potential weakness, writers are able to build pressure as the protagonist works to defeat them. So, when Naruto battles Nagato the same effect happens.
Nagato is a sympathetic villain. His motivations are comprehensible, and his plan is evil enough to be worrisome. His development and backstory made him the perfect enemy for Naruto to defeat. Plus, having Naruto vanquish Nagato bolstered the main character. The village realizes Naruto’s strength when he defeats Nagato, and this villain helps Naruto move along the path towards Hokage.
5 Hurt: Jirobo
It’s not easy being the first one to fight in a group. Audiences expect a lot from every new villainous group introduced in the series. If that first battle is off, then the whole group falters.
Jirobo highlights just how quickly a group can go off the rails if the first fight isn’t solid. This Orochimaru henchman barely made a mark on the heroes. Choji is able to defeat him in a dud showdown. The fight led many fans to question the strength of the sound four and Jirobo is a big reason for those questions lasting past the arc.
4 Hurt: Zetsu
“You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.” This famous Apocalypse Now quote encapsulates everything wrong with Zetsu. Some fans may not agree with this entry, but the argument is there.
Obito admits that Zetsu lacks the combat skills to be a frontline shinobi. This point means fans hardly got to see Zetsu actually fight. Zetsu is just a spy, which is important. However, the problem is he became a walking, talking exposition machine. Zetsu is the errand boy for the actual villains. He awkwardly pretends to pass down information so that the plot makes sense authentically, but his role actually hurts the natural feeling a story needs.
3 Saved: Killer B
Not going to lie, Killer B surprised many fans during his introduction. A jinchuuriki that wants to be the greatest rapper in the world is an odd concept. The best part is that the idea worked out.
Killer B turned out to be a powerful ally and mentor for Naruto. B helps Naruto discover how to control the nine-tails chakra for his own use accurately. In doing this, Killer B takes on the role of sympathizing teacher for the end of the series. This character is the one who helps bring Naruto to his final story arc. Without B the final arc does not happen how it should, and that means he more than saved the series.
2 Hurt: Kaguya
This entry is a technicality. Sometimes it’s just better to not meet God. Series get so complicated that they jump the shark and attempt to explain the entire origins of everything. The decision can leave many viewers confused and alienated.
Remember, overpowered villains become hard to cheer against. The battle only has one logical conclusion, and the audience just needs to wait patiently for that ending. A series should never be predictable and needs a little bit a mystery. Sadly, introducing a god, which is what Kaguya is, leads to predictable ends and the extinction of mystery in the series. Naruto’s story had to end at some point, but Kaguya being the final enemy made the last battle a power-up fest.
1 Saved: Hinata
Every great story needs a little love. Even Die Hard includes elements of love in its plot. Naruto is no different. Hinata offered this element and more.
Naruto and Hinata played the will-they-won’t-they game perfectly. Fans became eager to see the two together. Plus, the love story motivates Hinata’s development as a remarkable shinobi. She is ever as strong as Naruto, but by the end of the series, she proves she has grown. Hinata filled multiple needs in the story, and the greatest of those was becoming a strong, independent love interest for the protagonist to fall in love with late in the series.
What do you think about these shinobi from Naruto? Let us know in the comments!