Originally written for WatchPlayRead.com
Naruto started out as a manga series created by Masashi Kishimoto, and it was adapted into an anime series in 2002. Even though the manga series wrapped up in 2014, the anime adaptation is still ongoing.
Masashi Kishimoto did an incredible job of “world building” in the series, which includes creating many compelling characters. It was hard to whittle it down to just five of them, but these are the five that I felt were the strongest. In full disclosure, I have to say that at the time I compiled this list, I had only seen up to Episode 270 of the Naruto Shippuden television anime series.
Tsunade is one of the three legendary Sannin and is renowned for her skills in medical ninjutsu and for her brute strength. Tsunade suffered the painful losses of her younger brother Nawaki and her lover Dan during the Secong Shinobi World War. With these losses, she developed haemophobia and left the village with Dan’s niece, Shizune, as her apprentice. Tsunade had developed a gambling habit and became disillusioned. After the death of her mentor, the Third Hokage, Jiraiya and Naruto undertake a mission to track down Tsunade and bring her back to the village so she can assume the position of the Fifth Hokage. Tsunade wants nothing to do with it at first, but after meeting and getting to know Naruto, she reluctantly takes the position.
When I first met Tsunade in the anime, I wasn’t entirely sure I liked her at first. But as I learned her backstory, I became intrigued by her. The thing that really started to get me interested in her was the fact that while Tsunade may be strong physically, she had weakness in her heart. As the series progressed, she gradually learned how to overcome her weaknesses and became the leader that the Hidden Leaf Village needed. She’s also come to love the village and the people in it, and is determined to protect them at all costs.
Kakashi is the “copy ninja,” due to having a Sharingan eye that allows him to learn and copy many of the jutsu that other ninja use. He usually has a stoic demeanor, but he does care about his friends and students. Kakashi also has a pack of ninja dogs that he’s able to summon to help him out when it’s needed.
When Kakashi first appears in the series, he’s just become the teacher for Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura. He seems detached at first, but as the audience starts to get to know him better, it becomes apparent why Kakashi acts the way he does. Kakashi has an incredible backstory to him, and it’s amazing just how much he truly ties in with many of the plot threads that have developed over the course of the series. And as the series goes on, Kakashi becomes less detached to the people around him, and this makes him an even more likable character. I also think that part of Kakashi’s appeal is the fact that he wears a mask all of the time, so there’s the mystique of wanting to know what he looks like underneath it.
Gaara is a ninja from the Village Hidden in the Sand, who starts out as the host for Shukaku, the One-Tail beast. Because of being the host for this creature, he was feared by the village and no one seemed to love him. From an early age, Gaara came to only rely on his own strength, which made him come across as rather psychotic. While participating in the Chunin Exam in the Hidden Leaf Village, he fought against Naruto, another host for a tailed beast. Naruto beats Gaara and teaches him to believe in his friends. After this defeat, Gaara began emulating Naruto’s method and his village begins to see that Gaara isn’t the monster they thought he was.
When I first saw Gaara in the anime, I never imagined that he would ever ranked among my favorite characters. But Kishimoto did a great job of making Gaara seem like an evil and psychotic character, and then introducing a backstory with quite an emotional punch. I believe that this helped to make Gaara a more sympathetic character. After fighting with Naruto, Gaara resolves to become a better person, and he does. Gaara’s hard work pays off in the end when he receives a great honor from his village. Of all the characters that appear in Naruto, I think Gaara is one of the characters that went through some drastic changes during their character growth and development. I also find it interesting just how many parallels there are between Gaara and Naruto.
Shikamaru may be lazy by nature, but he actually has quite the intellect that helps him to come up with strategies for missions. Shikamaru also enjoys putting his intellect to work by playing shogi, and he uses the game as a way to illustrate his strategies. He usually doesn’t like having responsibility thrust onto him, thinking that it’s “such a pain.” But as the series progresses, Shikamaru is forced to start having a different mindset after experiencing the death of his teacher.
I was impressed enough with Gaara’s evolution as a character, but Shikamaru’s changes are even more remarkable. When Shikamaru was first introduced, it didn’t seem as if he’d go much of anywhere. Surprisingly, he ends up being the first in his group to be promoted to Chunin. While Shikamaru took on the additional responsibilities that came with the promotion, he would always do them with complaints. But with the death of his teacher later in the series, Shikamaru has a serious wake up call. After avenging his teacher’s death, Shikamaru starts being responsible and takes on tasks without complaints. He also becomes a good source of support for Naruto when he later has to deal with the death of someone very important to him. Shikamaru matures into an incredible young man and becomes such an awesome character.
Naruto is the main character of the series, and he has the Nine-Tailed Fox demon sealed inside him. He was shunned by his village due to their fear of the demon, but Naruto didn’t know about the fox demon being inside of him until someone taunts him with it in the first episode of the series. Naruto always acted out to get attention, and kept declaring that he would become Hokage someday.
As the series has progressed, Naruto has gone from the kid who could hardly do ninjutsu at all to a young man who has started to understand how to harness the fox demon’s chakra and use it. And over time, the villagers began to understand that Naruto wasn’t someone to fear. He became a hero after he saved the village when it was attacked by Pain from the Akatsuki.
Naruto may have started out as an untalented klutz, but he always had a heart of gold and tried to do most things with good intentions. From the very beginning, Kishimoto made Naruto an extremely sympathetic character, which made it easy to care about him. And with Naruto’s backstory and its ties to Iruka being the focus of the first episode, it became easy to get into the series right away.
This list represents my personal opinion, and it is not meant to be a definitive list. Which characters would be in your personal top five? Let us know in the comments.