Storylines are the bulk of any long-lasting series. To be successful, storylines need to weave into one another seamlessly and build on the overarching themes. However, good storylines mix well with the other storylines, but also hold the attention of the viewer in memorable ways. Without a certain quality of distinction, most storylines will fade into obscurity. This is not a golden rule of writing, but examples of it can be seen in the series all over the spectrum.
Naruto is no exception. Since the manga began, fans were drawn into its ability to make quality attention-grabbing storylines. However, nothing can remain perfect forever. The anime started production and with that came filler storylines. Where the manga slipped up, the anime also slipped up. However, the anime’s mistakes were much larger due to its inclusion of filler (storylines put in place to let the manga catch up and make more content). Most fans do not even remember this though, because the show was so successful. The storylines that hurt the show are forgotten to time, and the storylines that saved the show are put in its place.
This list aims to go back and reopen those wounds (sorry about it). Many of the storylines that hurt the series did it in one of the following ways: the storyline lacked proper ability to fit in the overall sequence, it crammed too much exposition into the plot, it slowed down the pacing too much, and/or the storyline did not hold the viewer’s attention as well as it should have. In contrast, many of the storylines that saved the show did the exact opposite. Also, keep in mind no storyline is safe. This list includes anime only storylines and some controversial entries.
With all the rules and stipulations out of the way, it is time to get into 13 Storylines That Hurt Naruto (And 12 That Saved It).
25 Hurt: Search For Tsunade
This list is already letting the haymakers fly. The truth is the Search for Tsunade is an okay storyline. The plot helps outline the path to Hokage for the protagonist and explains some background information. However, the problem comes in the sequencing of this storyline.
Unfortunately, the storyline is sandwiched between Orochimaru’s attack on Konoha and Sasuke’s betrayal. The sequencing, though necessary, throws off the pace, and many fans were clamoring for the end of it. In the end, the storyline felt too much like a stop gap an became the first storyline to slow the show’s momentum.
24 Hurt: Six-Tails Unleashed
This anime only storyline is bizarre for many reasons. It seems to be one of the only filler storylines to get recalled over and over again in the anime series. Usually, the creators do their best not to include the arcs after they happen.
Still, this arc is lost on viewers, and some would rather forget it anyways. The themes and character development are stale. The whole storyline retreads previous concepts. Naruto does not like it when people are used as tools by their comrades, and that is understood clearly before this storyline took place. Fans did not need a reminder.
23 Saved: Fated Battle Between Brothers
Pay off is huge, and a long developing feud needs to pay off. This is true for any kind of story. So, when Itachi and Sasuke finally faced-off, fans were expecting great things. Luckily, this storyline came through.
The Fated Battle between Brothers arc accomplishes so much in such little time. The pacing and stake raising is extraordinary. The action sequences are mesmerizing and work better because the viewers know the stakes. Without all the build up this storyline would mean nothing, but the creators worked hard to illustrate their ability to fulfill fan’s desires with this one.
22 Hurt: Bikochu Search Mission
This arc is small in the grand scheme of things, and its biggest problem is the lack of real stakes. Team 8 devises a plan to capture a unique beetle that can locate anyone based on scent. The trick is the beetle can only attach itself to one scent for its entire life.
The small storyline ends with Naruto farting out of frustration and the beetle attaching to that scent. Seriously, that is the actual end to this arc. The four episodes are filler at its worst, and most fans would prefer the storyline never be brought up again.
21 Saved: Kakashi’s Anbu Arc
Some filler arcs are worth the time. The best filler dives into unseen stories with characters that fans want to see more of and understand better. Kakashi is one of the best examples, and this longer filler arc succeeds in spite of its sequencing.
The arc is placed smack dab in the middle of the climax of the Fourth Shinobi World War. However, the arc ends up bringing more to the story by giving more depth to the main character. Kakashi’s Anbu arc does not slow the pacing too much and even offers some new perspectives on Itachi. All in all the arc ends up helping the show, which is not typical for filler.
20 Hurt: Fourth Shinobi World War: Countdown
The Fourth Shinobi World War is incredible, but the countdown to it is a little uneven. Fans look back on the arc fondly, but, in the overall plot, the storyline ends up hurting the show. It may not seem possible to many fans, but the argument is there.
The chief motivation behind this entry is the complexity the arc shows. The storyline carries a lot of exposition, and the exposition weighs down the storyline. When there are action sets, they come after a done of slowed down preparation. The storyline works in coordination with the other two World War arcs, but on its own, it becomes weaker, than the other two.
19 Saved: Konoha Crush
To help grow the tension, great creators will move the goalpost on the protagonist. The minute things seem confidently in the protagonist advantage, the story will shift and disadvantage them. The decision raises the stakes and keeps viewers invested.
Konoha Crush does a great job of moving the goalpost on the main characters. It unsettles the norm and brings in a new era of threat. Now Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura need to grow and develop more. The main characters have new decisions to make, and viewers reinvest in the main themes.
18 Hurt: Twelve Guardian Ninja
Sometimes filler arcs try to do too much. The creators want the fans to invest in the added arcs, and the results can be mixed. The Twelve Guardian Ninja arc, unlike Kakashi’s Anbu arc, is an example of where that can go wrong.
The arc does introduce fans to the idea of nature release and helps Naruto grow his wind release. Additionally, the arc gives a little more background on Asuma and his role with the twelve guardian ninja. All of this matches the manga, but the problem comes with the pseudo-jinchuuriki concept brought up through Sora. Sora is a monk with the remnants of the nine-tails attached to him. The inclusion of this concept convoluted jinchuuriki and made the whole definition confusing to fans.
17 Hurt: Land of Tea Escort Mission
Talk about a pointless arc. The Land of Tea Escort Mission makes no sense in the grand scheme of things. The arc is only included in the anime and is the creator’s attempt at showing how much Naruto has caught up to Sasuke.
The storyline ends up weakening Sasuke as a character and reunites Team 7 right before they split up. The arc also has to put Sasuke back in the hospital for the standoff with Naruto. However, this time, instead of Itachi being on Sasuke’s mind (like in the manga) now its some forgettable, half-baked villain.
16 Saved: Tale of Jiraiya the Gallant
If fans were to think about it, not many of Naruto’s closest friends and mentors die early in the show. Many of his friends get close to passing or find themselves in life-altering battles, but many of them do not end up passing away. This storyline is the first time that truly happens.
Jiraiya is the first person Naruto loses after becoming a shinobi. This storyline is the passing of his mentor, and that emotional weight hits the fans hard. For the first time, one of the main characters is shown to be more than just vulnerable. People meeting their end seems like a possibility for any character after Jiraiya passes, and the creators used that to their advantage. The third Hokage passing away impacts the whole village early on, but Jiraiya’s passing actually feels like it comes as a surprise.
15 Akatsuki Suppression Mission
This storyline is okay, mostly. Many fans remember it because it leads to a significant change in Shikamaru's character. Plus, it is not the worst arc to ever come out of the series. The reason it is included as a “hurt” entry is the antagonist in the storyline.
The Akatsuki is filled with a ton of exciting characters with incredible concepts. However, the zombie combo feels like one of the more uninspired inclusions. The storyline also writes off two members early in the series, which hurts the strength of the group. The writers had to make up for this apparent weakness later, and other arcs helped recover the Akatsuki’s reputation.
14 Hurt: Peddlers Escort Mission
Some storylines are poorly designed and inconsequential. The writers involved characters with little fan draw and lay out a plot worth forgetting. The Peddlers Escort Mission highlights all of this in one storyline.
The team is Naruto, Hinata, and Choji. At the time, the combination would not excite even the most avid fan. On top of this, the mission takes place in the Land of Vegetables. The poor setting led to a dull arc that many fans probably forgot until they saw this entry.
13 Saved: Chunin Exams
Sometimes the most straightforward objective can lead to some great moments. One storyline packed to the brim with perfect action sets and character development is the Chunin Exams. The storyline gives background to a ton of characters that hold an actual stake to the larger narrative, while also explaining more of the path to Hokage.
The storyline included great plot twist and excellent matchups that kept the fans invested. The viewers were treated to an even pace that ramped up to the final rounds of the Chunin Exam. The entire symphony of story devices play off each other beautifully and make for a storyline worth rewatching.
12 Saved: Fourth Shinobi World War: Climax
This entry is another example of building stakes and pacing it so the fans can appreciate the payoff. While the countdown arc drowns the viewer in exposition, the Fourth Shinobi World War: Climax more than makes up for it.
The arc sees many relationships and conflicts reach their boiling point and the resolutions a cathartic. The escalation of this storyline goes on for chapter after chapter, but most fans could not take their eyes off of the story. The storyline is Naruto at its best and shows why the series is so successful.
11 Hurt: Power Arc
The is a matter of lousy sequencing for a filler arc. Power does an excellent job of blending into the natural, manga storyline. The characters feel worthy of investment, and it explains to the viewers some of the backgrounds for the war.
However, the arc comes in the middle of the countdown arc. That arc is already built off exposition and creating the story blocks for future storylines. So, the inclusion of another stand-alone filler in the middle of this arc felt heavy of the viewer’s attention span.
10 Saved: Itachi Pursuit Mission
Sometimes set up arcs work well. The Itachi Pursuit Mission merges two main characters into parallel stories. The goals are the same, but the path to the end result is entirely different. This separate building intrigued fans and kept the attention of the story.
There are a lot of action sets early on in the storyline, and that helped peak investment for many fans. From here the story is all about building up to the showdown between Itachi and Sasuke, and Naruto’s attempts to pursue them. The storyline balances the motives of each character perfectly, and the exposition never feels dry. Instead, fans are left ready for the next storyline as this one draws to a conclusion.
9 Hurt: Five Kage Summit
Sure, it is cool to see the five Kage all in one place. However, there is not much also to glamorize about this storyline. Ultimately, the Five Kage Summit falls short of its goals.
The storyline is meant to ramp up growing tension amongst the leaders of the five nations, while simultaneously making Sasuke an incredible threat. What ends up preceding is a bunch of half-baked concepts heated up with too much melodrama. The whole thing comes off as jumbled and poorly paced to many viewers.
8 Saved: Fourth Shinobi World War: Confrontation
Unlike the previous entry, this storyline balances its plot reveals perfectly and highlights the character development that has taken place so far in the show. The moments are more memorable than other storylines like this, and the stakes are raised more in this arc.
The best moments in this storyline are too frequent and astonishing to recollect in so few words. Ultimately, the middle arc of the Fourth Shinobi World War builds towards the climax like the crescendo of a masterful movement. Fans were grateful that this arc made the countdown immediately worth their time and investment.
7 Saved: Pain’s Assault
Pain’s Assault hits on a lot of themes that were already familiar to fans of the series. It felt like a bit of a retread from the Konoha Crush arc and led many viewers to believe this kind of story would be a reoccurring theme. However, the end is what made this whole arc worth it.
Nagato and his Six Paths of Pain fall to Naruto in the conclusion of the arc and the protagonist are shown growing to a new level. The village and the shinobi of the world now know and recognize Naruto as one of the greatest of his generations. For fans, it was like watching the creation of a future myth in real time. The arc became a defining moment in the series.
6 Hurt: Cursed Warrior Extermination Mission
So far, this list has gone over tracking beetles, pseudo-jinchuuriki, and a bizarro place known as the Land of Vegetables. It feels as if this list could not get any weirder, right? Wrong.
The Cursed Warrior Extermination Mission saw Naruto and his makeshift team take on a “spirit.” The whole concept felt silly, and fans felt the filler slowly drain away their attention. It is the worst feeling knowing that a story is not taking itself seriously enough, and this filler arc is the biggest culprit.
5 Saved: Tenchi Bridge Mission
The storyline that finally concluded a long waiting period. The Tenchi Bridge Mission saw the reunion of Team 7 for the first time in the Shippuden series. The storyline lived up to the hype and delivered on many fans expectations.
The storyline is such a huge part of the series that the anime actually teased the conclusion during the debut episode of Shippuden. The hype only grows from here, and many episodes/chapters had to pass before fans finally saw the team back together. The wait was worth it, and the storyline even did an excellent job of planting the seeds for further conflicts later down the line.
4 Hurt: Birth of the Ten-Tails’ Jinchuuriki
This will be the most controversial entry in the list. Many fans of the show enjoyed the ending. Most believe the creators handle the narrative well and that the final storyline accumulates all the loose ends nicely. However, upon further inspection, this may not be the case.
The pacing of this storyline feels overwhelming. Some can even argue that this is the moment the show completely jumps the shark and falls away from reality. The power of the villains and subsequent power-up of the heroes feels totally unnatural to the state of the show at the time. This storyline is not a problem of slowing down the pacing of the show, but instead the exact opposite. The Birth of the Ten-Tails’ Jinchuuriki becomes a dizzying affair.
3 Saved: Sasuke Recovery Mission
Sasuke’s betrayal and the mission to bring him back to the village is a moment many fans will not forget. The storyline captured all the themes of the first part of the manga perfectly and left the viewer satisfied but intrigued in the next part.
The storyline is not perfect, but the way it continues to raise the stakes is close to excellent. The rhythm of the pursuit settles the viewer into expectations only to rattle them away from the expectations soon after that. The result is an every shifting game of cat and mouse with invested stakes that fans remember fondly to this day.
2 Hurt: Kazekage Rescue Mission
This entry is merely a matter of bad sequencing on behalf of the anime and only speaks to the storyline concerning its spot in the anime’s timeline. The creators thought it would be a good idea to tease the reunion between Team 7 before the second part even gets underway.
The decision hyped a storyline that was fifty episodes away at that point. The result is this storyline gets overlooked, and the attention for this plot was never there in the anime. Fans were too excited about the future to focus on the present, and by the time the storyline shifts into high gear many fans were already waiting for the next big plot.
1 Saved: Kakashi Gaiden
This storyline should not have worked, but somehow it did. Kakashi Gaiden is now one of many fans favorite storylines. The storyline takes viewers back in time and gives them background on Konoha during Kakashi’s early life.
The story dramatically shifts the series direction and offered a new perspective for fans to approach these characters. The result is an extra layer to the rest of the main story and a bunch of memorable moments. The whole thing is sequenced well in both the manga and the anime. Plus, the exposition it provides for the main themes never feels out place or unbalanced. The whole risk paid off and took the series to a whole new level.
What other storylines from Naruto do you think hurt or saved the show? Let us know in the comments!