Naruto is a show that many anime fans are very familiar with. One of the most popular and beloved shonen anime of all time, Naruto and Naruto Shippuden paved the way for a new generation of viewers to enjoy the stories of Konoha as its Jinchuriki ended up on a quest to save the entire shinobi world from annihilation… and his best friend from himself.
So, it’s a given that one of the best parts of the best episodes of the long-running series would be the likable characters, and Naruto definitely doesn’t falter in that aspect. From the eponymous protagonist himself to his long line of friends and enemies — Naruto is full to the brim with some of the greatest characters of any fictional medium, with their stories propelled forward through both individual narrative arcs and the overarching story. That being said, some characters in Naruto do enjoy better character development and stories as compared to others, so how are the main characters ranked just by their arcs?
Updated on June 30th, 2021 by Amanda Bruce: Part of the reason the Naruto main characters go through some intense character development is because of the time range in the franchise. Through Naruto and Naruto Shippuden, the audience is able to see the teen years of the titular character and his friends as they go to war for their world. Large numbers of flashbacks and filler episodes in the anime mean that the adult characters are also more fully fleshed out than they might have been in the original manga series. Of course, it’s still true that some of the Naruto main characters get more screen time devoted to them than others, which leads to more stories and more character development.
15 Sakura Haruno
Most fans could easily predict that Sakura would be near the very bottom of Naruto characters ranked according to their arc, which is a shame since this character definitely had a ton of potential. From hints at her propensity for genjutsu and her desire to be a better shinobi, there were a lot of moments that made the audience believe she would get quite a bit of character development.
However, with the increased focus on other characters — especially Naruto and Sasuke — Sakura and her character arc ended up fading into obscurity in order to make way for other people and their stories.
14 Ino Yaminaka
Ino is very much a supporting character. Unlike Sakura and Sasuke, she’s not often part of Naruto’s main storyline. That means the audience isn’t always privy to her potential character development.
When the series begins, however, she’s very much seen as someone who is shallow and more concerned with her appearance than her skills. While she does continue to put a lot of stock in her appearance, she also cares deeply for the people around her, and she commits to not only learning her family’s mind control jutsu, but also mastering medical ninja skills. Ino slowly becomes someone that everyone can count on, even if she does remain very insecure.
13 Neji Hyuga
Neji takes his role as a shinobi in training very seriously. He doesn’t initially think it’s fair that his cousin Hinata gets so much attention for her part in the main Hyuga family when she appears to be significantly less skilled than him.
Neji’s biggest moment of character development occurs following the Chunin Exams. Though he nearly kills his cousin during their one-on-one match, he comes to understand just how wrong his actions were. Neji becomes one of Hinata’s biggest supporters and a much better team player as the result of his talk with Hinata’s father. By the events in the episodes of Naruto Shippuden, he’s willing to sacrifice himself to save her.
12 Hashirama Senju
While Hashirama is not one of the Naruto main characters, a lot of his impact is seen throughout the anime. The first Hokage is easily one of the more likable people on the entire show, with his will for justice and fairness ending up being a salient feature of his character that governed pretty much all of his actions as an individual.
While the manner of his passing is something that has been a fairly massive plot hole in Naruto, the rest of his character is written rather seamlessly and ends up forming the perfect half of a story with his eternal rival.
11 Obito Uchiha
For the longest time, Obito was easily a fascinating antagonist, and fans couldn’t wait until they finally uncovered the backstory of Kakashi’s friend… only to realize just how horrible it really was.
There’s absolutely no solid reason as to why Obito betrayed the Leaf Village and ended up formulating such a diabolical plan, in the first place. The motivation that he loved Rin and didn’t want to live in a world without her still doesn’t explain the anger he held towards his friend… especially since he’d already realized that it wasn’t Kakashi’s fault that she’d passed away.
10 Madara Uchiha
Even in death, Madara didn’t stop thinking about his plans, which is a testament to just how diabolical and stubborn this member of the Uchiha really is.
Madara is a fascinating character who shows just how trivial ambition and hatred really can be. He could’ve easily been the final antagonist of Naruto — and a rather compelling one indeed — but Kishimoto simply had to shoehorn Kaguya in order to drive the stakes even higher. It’s a move that ultimately backfired since Madara could’ve easily been the most imposing challenge faced by Naruto and Sasuke instead.
Casually cruel and believing himself better than any other students at the Chunin Exams, Gaara has an attitude that’s initially shared by his siblings when they compete. It doesn’t take more than a fight with Naruto for Gaara to begin to shift and grow.
Like Naruto, Gaara grew up with everyone around him being afraid of him. Unlike Naruto, Gaara also grew up being treated as a weapon by his people. His experiences made him angry and unable to control the tailed beast inside of him. Fighting Naruto, or more accurately, Naruto extending his hand in friendship instead of outright fighting him, helped Gaara to accept himself and begin developing real friendships.
Pervy Sage might not have made the greatest impression during the early goings in Naruto, but it’s his enduring appeal and charming personality that ultimately turned him into one of the highlights of the Naruto main characters.
The bond he makes with the Nine-Tails Jinchuriki is a beautiful one indeed… making it all the more heartbreaking to see Naruto’s reaction when he’s informed of Jiraiya’s passing at the hands of Pain.
7 Minato Namizake
Like Hashirama, Minato has a huge presence throughout the show despite not being around much. Naruto’s father was an enigma for the longest time… making the reveal of the Fourth Hokage as his father all the more satisfying, as a result.
The fact that this reveal happened in the middle of the Pain fight when Naruto had lost all control made this moment all the more heartwarming, with the subsequent fleshing out of Minato’s character further proving as to why he’s probably the best out of all four Hokages… at the time, at least.
6 Konohamaru Sarutobi
Konohamaru is one of the few recurring characters introduced to the audience as a child. He’s immature, obsessed with getting his grandfather’s attention, and a little selfish. Initially seeing Naruto as a rival, Konohamaru makes it his mission to “attack” him every chance he gets.
Konohamaru’s growth begins when his grandfather’s life is on the line to defend the village. Still a young boy, Konohamaru steps up to help other villagers evacuate. He also begins to train in earnest when his grandfather is killed by Orochimaru. Konohamaru grows up to be a committed shinobi trusted with training Naruto’s own son.
5 Shikamaru Nara
Everybody’s favorite slacker, Shikamaru has no interest in responsibility or hard work when the series begins. It’s a shame because he also happens to be the smartest person in the franchise.
As informs a change in most of the characters in the series, Shikamaru experiences real tragedy when he first loses his sensei, and later, his father. The heavy losses and the reality of going to war make Shikamaru change his outlook on life. He throws himself into his work and becomes an advisor to the Hokage. During the events of the war, he’s still a teenager, but he’s Lady Tsunade’s right hand when it comes to strategy.
4 Kakashi Hatake
If this examined the Naruto characters ranked according to their cool factor, Kakashi would be at the top. He’s one of Naruto’s best teachers, and becomes a big influence on the title character. Kakashi is an extremely important character whose motivations and story remain hidden for a long time… making their reveals all the more captivating as a result.
From the extremely sad story of his father to the tragic tale of his squad — Kakashi had it rough from an early age, making his redemption arc all the more satisfying to witness in Naruto.
3 Sasuke Uchiha
Of course, it would be impossible to rank the character arcs of the main players of Naruto and not mention the teenager who succumbs to an everlasting need for attaining power and almost loses himself in the process… only to regain his senses as the series progresses.
Sasuke is one of the best characters on the show, showing a rather human side to his darker nature that made quite a lot of people sympathize with him.
2 Naruto Uzumaki
Amongst the Naruto main characters, the titular character is also one of the most compelling. For viewers, it’s almost like Naruto grew up as they did… quite literally! Initially coming off as a complete buffoon who couldn’t apply his mind for even the simplest of things, Naruto’s growth into a mature, sensible, and extremely powerful ninja is the perfect arc for people who’ve stuck with the Shinobi since his less-than-flattering roots.
Watching him rise to the occasion every single time and becoming the Hokage is easily the most satisfying part of the entire series.
1 Itachi Uchiha
There’s really one particular character that deserves being named the character with the best arc. For the longest time, there was no denying that Itachi was the absolute lowest of the low when it came to ranking antagonists in the world of Naruto. Sasuke’s thirst for vengeance came after Itachi’s horrible act when he killed the entire clan and left Sasuke as the sole survivor. Sasuke’s need to gain power was the result of wanting to best Itachi and kill him.
However, after his death, the truth about Itachi is revealed — he was actually a double agent for Konoha who had to eliminate the clan since they were planning to riot and kill hundreds of innocents. The selflessness and moral code needed to complete such a task was immense, but Itachi rose up to the occasion… while simultaneously becoming one of the greatest characters in Naruto.
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