It is a widely held belief that the quality of a story is largely determined by the villains within that story. It’s appropriate, then, that a series with as many highs and lows as Naruto would have a broad spectrum of villains ranging from some of the best in anime to some utterly forgettable antagonists. While a lot of Naruto fans were initially drawn to the anime and manga due to the distinctive character designs and inspiration themes, the many compelling and sympathetic villains in Naruto is what kept a lot of the fanbase around. Then again, less interesting antagonists are also directly responsible for some of the weakest moments in the series.
Villains in Naruto tend to fall into one of three categories: long standing foes that have super defined and explored character, one off baddies that appear briefly at the beginning or end of story arcs, and filler villains that are just around to pad out the anime. As one would expect, the quality of these villains decreases dramatically when looking at the latter two categories. Even though Naruto is a pretty great series and one of the most successful shounen anime and manga in recent memory, there’s not telling the heights it would have reached if all of its villains were given the same consideration and exploration as the best of its baddies. These ten awesome antagonists and ten boring baddies are a huge part of why Naruto is such a roller-coaster of incredible moments and disappointment.
Here are 10 Villains That Hurt The Show (And Ten That Saved It).
20 Hurt: Black Zetsu
Black Zetsu was a minor antagonist throughout most of the second half of Naruto, until it’s revealed near the very end of the story that he was manipulating many of the other villains and was orchestrating a complicated plot to free his master from her eternal confinement.
While this is supposed to be a major twist, all it does is undercut the efforts and accomplishments of the more beloved villains he deceived earlier in the story. Their ingenuity and motivations mean a lot less if they just amount to footnotes in Black Zetsu’s master scheme. Black Zetsu’s unveiling as the true man behind the curtain in Naruto is a tired trope within shounen anime that has long worn out its welcome and brings down the series’ ending.
19 Saved: Zabuza
The first major antagonist in Naruto also happens to be one of the best as Zabuza is both a tragic figure and instrumental in building up Naruto’s world. A former Hidden Mist ninja turned contract criminal, Zabuza firmly establishes the horrors of a world where children are expected to fight and end other warriors from different nations.
He’s also only able to escape from this cycle of violence following the passing of this adopted son Haku and his own demise following a confrontation with his final employer. When his iconic sword is added on top of his memorable character arc, Zabuza is a great first antagonist and sets a great standard that all following villains have to measure up against.
18 Hurt: Sasori
Sasori is a seemingly immortal puppet man who’s a member of the villainous Akatsuki organization. He premiers just after the midway point in the series and while it would make sense for him to have some kind of relationship with one of the well-established characters in the franchise, his only relationship is with a character introduced shortly before he plays an active role in the story.
Yes he is part of a pretty cool fight and yes his grief at losing his parents to war is pretty heartbreaking, but to have him have virtually no connection to a major character in the series is a major waste. Sasori’s character comes out of left field during a time when the series really needed to reestablish some of its best characters, and instead he draws the story away from them.
17 Saved: Pain
The leader of the Akatsuki during the majority of Naruto, Pain is a fantastic villain that embodies the generational violence at the root of the majority of conflicts in Naruto. A war orphan, Nagato – Pain’s real name – would suffer further tragedy in his life as his best friend and many of his comrades were eliminated during his efforts to create peace in the world.
Following this loss, he adopted the name Pain and decided gain enough power to rule over the world and form an artificial peace until someone became strong enough to end him and create a new era of false tranquility. After losing to Naruto and understanding the error of his ways, he sacrifices his life to revive those he’s eliminated and trusts that Naruto will create true peace someday.
16 Hurt: Kaguya
Kaguya is an alien or divine being that introduced ninjutsu to the world of Naruto thousands of years before the start of the series. She’s extremely powerful, functionally immortal, and seeks to rule over humanity as she sees them as little more than children that need guidance from a mother.
Kaguya also happens to be horrifically boring and hardly interacts with any other character. She isn’t even foreshadowed much before she appears in the series, giving the impression that she was added at the last minute to give the protagonists one last hurdle to overcome. While it seems like she might get more depth and screen time in Boruto: Naruto Next Generations, Kaguya’s current standing as a villain is severely lacking.
15 Saved: Orochimaru
Like a lot of amazing villains, Orochimaru is more self-motivated than he is outright evil. His goal of living forever and mastering every ninja technique in the series leads him to commit some truly awful acts, but also assist the heroes of series during some of the most critical moments.
Sure he took down the Third Hokage for little more than his own personal gain, but he also reanimated the other Hokage so that they could aid the allied shinobi forces in the Fourth Great Ninja War. Orochimaru is a terrific villain because he is so utterly unpredictable that it’s impossible to know what he will do next. Although, whatever plans he does have in store are sure to be entertaining.
14 Hurt: Kimimaro
Kimimaro is the fifth, arguably sixth, member of the Sound Four ninja team and – if that weren’t exhausting enough already – he’s a central character in one of the most frustrating fights in Naruto. During the Sasuke retrieval arc, he first faces off against Rock Lee and than Gaara as well.
This battle places Kimimaro’s unnerving ability to use his own bones as weapons against Lee and Gaara’s own unique abilities. However, the fight ends abruptly when Kimimaro passes away from a terminal illness before the battle concludes. Kimimaro’s only fight in Naruto ends on more of a whimper than perhaps any other in the series and this wasted potential makes the Sound ninja one of the worst villains in the series.
13 Saved: Tobi/Obito Uchiha
After Naruto defeated Pain and the series was gearing up for its last few story arcs, a fresh twist surprised fans of the series. Despite playing the fool since his first appearance, the mysterious Tobi was in fact the true leader of the Akatsuki and more powerful than even Pain.
Later, viewers would learn that this mysterious ninja was Kakashi’s former teammate Obito Uchiha and that the heartbroken ninja sought to control the world by any means necessary after the passing of his beloved Rin due to his and Kakashi’s negligence. Even if similar twists would grow stale as the series wore on, this one and this character were welcome additions to the series and only improved it.
12 Hurt: Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist
The Seven Ninja Swordsmen of the Mist were a group mentioned since some of the earliest parts of Naruto, with Zabuza being a former member of the elite team. Hailed as some of the strongest ninja around and capable of destroying an entire nation with their combined might, many fans highly anticipated their eventual appearance in the series. However, there premier left a lot to be desired and it was soon obvious that the group was over-hyped.
While their actual appearance and conflicts involving these swordsmen is fine in a vacuum, all of the suitable build up and casual mentioning of this group made it seem like they were going to be a bigger deal and it’s a shame they ended up being pretty forgettable.
11 Saved: Kabuto Yakushi
Kabuto Yakushi is one of Naruto’s best villains and his character arc is one of the strongest in the series. Hiding behind Orochimaru for most of the series – like a stealthy ninja ought to – he waited until Orochimaru’s supposed passing to take action and become one of the strongest characters in the series.
In fact, he would have gone onto destroy nearly every character if Itachi had not intervened and placed Kabuto under a technique that rendered him immobile until he could move past his hatred for the world and his lost childhood. Few fans expected Kabuto to play such a pivotal role in Naruto’s ending and thankfully he made it better than it would have been without him.
10 Hurt: Sumire Kakei
While Sumire Kakei is the first major antagonist of the Boruto: Naruto Next Generations anime, her tired backstory and confusing powers make her one of the worst villains in any iteration of the Naruto franchise. Following through on the wishes of her deceased and fanatical father, Sumire steals chakra from those in the Hidden Leaf Village to foster the monster inside of her so it can destroy the village.
However, she can only steal chakra from people who are distressed for a reason that’s never explained and likely just a means to insert positive life messages into Boruto. Following her defeat at the hands of Boruto, or rather him convincing her not to eliminate a bunch of people, she’s moved into the background promptly forgotten by the majority of viewers.
9 Saved: Haku
Haku is a terrific character whose origins really drive home the brutality of the world of Naruto. Ostracized from his community as a young child for his natural capacity for combat, he has to eliminate his father after he creates a mob to take out his powerful son. Haku, now an orphan, then becomes a human weapon for Zabuza to use in his mercenary work.
Behind all the bright colors and intense action in Naruto, it’s easy to forget that these are largely children committing these acts and are comparable to child soldiers. Haku is a reminder of the horrors of this world to both the characters in the story and those viewing it, and deserves praise for doing so.
8 Hurt: Aoi Rokusho
Aoi Rokusho is a filler villain and is as forgettable as the storyline he appears in. Hired to take out competitors in a ninja footrace in the Land of Tea, Aio used his stolen lighting sword to change the outcome of the competition until he’s defeated by Naruto and Sasuke.
His powers are uninteresting, he has no character to speak of, and his only noticeable feature is getting the story back on track for the cannon Sasuke Retrieval Arc to kick off a few episodes after his appearance. This character is nothing short of a blemish on the Naruto anime and it’s fortunate that he only appeared briefly, because his every second on screen hurt the program overall.
7 Saved: Danzo Shimura
Danzo is one of the most interesting villains in Naruto. He commits atrocities and commands what’s essentially a secret police, but his motivations come entirely from his desire to protect the Hidden Leaf Village and his sense of inferiority towards the Third Hokage.
He does extremely villainous things with a blatant disregard for the ethical issues of his actions, but he firmly believes that his actions are justified and that he’s a good guy. It’s fascinating to see Danzo torture his own subordinates and betray political allies while still believing himself to be the hero. Danzo only gets the spotlight for a brief while in Naruto, but his appearances also shine a light on the less savory elements of the ninja world that motivate protagonists like Sasuke.
6 Hurt: Team Oboro
Towards the end of the Forest of Death section of the Chunin Exams arc, Team Oboro appears and acts as the final challenge Team 7 needs to overcome to pass this test. With an army of clones, they prevent the team from advancing to the goal and tries to wear down or protagonists’ stamina until they’re unable to fight.
However, this fight is incredibly boring and the majority of it isn’t even shown to viewers. Team Oboro is so incompetent, that their plan failed because they let the majority of Team 7 sneak away and recover their stamina. Team Oboro makes virtually no lasting impression and it’s pretty obvious they were added to the story last minute to give our heroes one last challenge to clear.
5 Saved: Itachi Uchiha
Itachi Uchiha crosses the bridge from antagonist to protagonist over the course of Naruto, but he’s one best of both in the entire franchise. After slaughtering his entire clan to prevent a civil war in the Hidden Leaf Village, Itachi then joins the Akatsuki as a spy for the village and lives his life as a traitor and criminal.
Even his younger brother Sasuke isn’t aware of the true motivations behind Itachi’s actions until the older ninja comes back to life and explains his motivations to Sasuke. Itachi is a tragic character whose defined by his loss and sacrifice. Not only is he one of the best villains in Naruto, he’s one of the best characters in the entire franchise.
4 Hurt: Mizuki
The very first villain in Naruto, Mizuki, tricked the titular Naruto into stealing a forbidden ninja scroll by manipulating the child’s dream of becoming a respected ninja. He was beaten to a pulp by Naruto in the first chapter and episode of the series, but then appeared during an utterly forgettable filler arc where he transforms into a tiger-man and is defeated by Naruto’s teacher Iruka.
Mizuki’s only defining features are his hunger for power and his willingness to betray those close to him to increase his own strength. He’s a generic villain during his first appearance and so utterly uninteresting that his second appearance is a complete chore to watch. His only accomplishment is bringing down the overall quality of the series.
3 Saved: Sound Four
While the Sound Four has a misleading name and its members don’t have any ambitions besides aiding their master Orochimaru, this group of villainous ninja are involved in some of the most interesting fights in the series.
During the Sasuke Retrieval Arc, this group acts as the main antagonists and forces supporting characters like Choji, Neji, and Kiba into battles that force them to push past their limits and experiment with their specific abilities. Even if these fights are undercut a bit with the sudden appearance of Gaara and his siblings to aid in the battle, they still give these secondary characters time to shine and serves as terrific build up to the iconic fight between Naruto and Sasuke.
2 Hurt: Hanzo
Hanzo somehow manages to play a pivotal role in the lives of several major characters, while also being easily forgettable and unimpressive. His actions lead to the creation of the legendary Sannin and the rebirth of the Akatsuki as a criminal organization.
However, his actual character and appearance in the series are pretty lacking, with his only outstanding feature bing his deep sense of isolation due to the venomous organ implanted in his body at a young age. After impacting the story so much, it’s a shame that Hanzo doesn’t make much of an impact on viewers.
1 Saved: Madara Uchiha
Madara Uchiha is nothing short of one of the best villains in Naruto. He constructed and followed through on a centuries-long plan to be reanimated as an immortal being and harness the power of the apocalyptic Ten-Tailed demon beast for his own gains.
On top of his involvement in some of the best fights in the entire series, Madara is also a compelling character whose ideologies run entirely counter to the way the progression of the world over generations. Spoken of with an almost mythic regard since some of the earliest parts of Naruto, his eventual reveal all the more incredible and his impact on the series will be talked about for years to come in the Naruto fandom in broader anime and manga circles.
Who is your favourite villain from Naruto? Let us know in the comments!