NARUTO: Nearing The End of a Manga Era

With the beloved series coming to an end within the next year, WhatCulture! explore its origins, the many characters and how the franchise has expanded to trading cards, action figures and the successful anime.

Martyn Warren


First published in Japan back in 1999, manga artist and author Masashi Kishimoto created a brand new manga series for Shonen Jump (a Japanese equivalent to Marvel and DC) that even today is considered to be one of the most popular comic books in recent years. With the beloved Naruto series coming to an end within the next year and the current chapters and volumes setting up what could be an amazing ending for fans, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to explore its origins, the many characters that the author has made and how the franchise has expanded to trading cards, action figures and the successful anime.

After studying at an art college and winning an award from Shonen Jump, Kishimoto made his first version of the character in 1997 as a short story before setting his head down and working on the final version of the series. Growing up playing Dragon Quest and reading the Dragon Ball manga, the young author was inspired by the artwork and stories from Akira Toriyama with his recognizable character art and quirky stories. The author was so influenced by Toriyama, he even based the main character of Naruto on Goku, the protagonist from the Dragon Ball manga. Since the rise of Naruto becoming the worldʼs most popular ninja comic book, Kishimoto continues to work closely with his team on the drawings and scripts and designed a special costume for Lars Alexandersson in Tekken 6, who even featured as a playable character in the video game Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm 2.

The narrative structure of Naruto is mainly split in two, with the first half of the series focusing on the title character as a twelve year old, rebellious ninja and the second half of the story taking place nearly three years later.

Set in a fictional world of five great nations filled with ninjas, the opening shows a giant demon nine-tailed fox destroying a village and the leader sacrificing his life to seal the monster into a newborn baby named Naruto. After that, the story starts with the young and loud-mouthed Naruto as he goes through many tests, learns new techniques and goes on dangerous adventures in order to complete his dream of becoming his villageʼs Hokage (leader) and to become respected among the villagers after being neglected for having the demon fox within him. Most of these stories focus on Naruto and his two team mates, the revengeful Sasuke and the love-struck Sakura, as they encounter new protagonists and antagonists during their training to become fully-fledged ninjas.

But while we focus on Naruto, the author also focuses on Sasuke as he tries to become stronger in order to kill his older brother, Itachi, after he killed everyone in his family except for him. By the end of the first half, he manages to escape from the village in order to join forces with the main antagonist so that he can become stronger.

The second half of the series takes place nearly three years after the events of the first half and it starts with Naruto returning to his village after training with Jiraiya, a legendary sage. Finding out that an organization with some of the most dangerous ninjas are taking the tailed demons out of the people whom they were sealed inside them, Naruto and many of the recurring and new characters set out to take them down and find out what they are planning to do with the monsters.

Sasukeʼs story to exact revenge on his brother is equally focussed on, as he teams up with three other ninjas who are related to the villain that he was trained under to track down Itachi and to also find the whereabouts of the Akutski.

Currently, the story is now taking place in its finally, which is the Fourth Great Ninja War between all the nations uniting for the first time and the remaining members of the Akutski and the resurrected warriors of the past that they brought back to life. But many fans are expecting a final battle between Sasuke and Naruto, since he has become a major villain after the death of his brother and Naruto managing to control the full power of the ninetailed fox demon sealed inside him.

Since the success of the manga, it has become a massive franchise after being adapted into a long-running anime series that is still being made to this day and has spawned action figures, trading cards, a clothing range and video games.

The series is available to buy in volumes at many book shops and can be read online on specialist websites. Alternatively, you can view the animated series on Disney XD and on DVD.

And to finally round up this article, I present the top five of my personal favorite story lines and my five best characters for those who may already have read the manga and for those who are still interested to know. Please feel free to comment below for your own opinion on the series!

Five Best Story Arcs

1. Invasion of Pain

(SPOILER ALERT!) – After the tragic and emotional death of Jiraiya in the hands of Pain, Naruto sets out to train to be able to use the same sage powers that Jiraiya was known to use. But Pain invades his village and demolishes it, only to have a big fight with Naruto so that he can gain the nine-tailed fox inside him. It is this fight where fans got to see the protagonist become the most serious he has ever been portrayed throughout the series.

2. Kazekage Rescue

When Naruto and Jiraiya return to the village after nearly three years of training as well as seeing most of our favorite characters again, they must set out to save Gaara (a villainturned-hero) from the Akutski before they take his one-tailed demon out of him. But this arc gets to see the girly Sakura facing off against Sasori, one of the members of the Akutski and the most surprisingly disturbing in terms of his techniques.

3. Shinobi World War

This is the series current and most likely the last story arc within the series, which is building up to be a massive and exciting ending. Not also that, but we are seeing many different ninjas and warriors who were previously seen or making their debut in such an action-packed way that it could be pulled off. Who knows, we might even get some of the biggest questions answered by the end of the year (hopefully)!


4. Land of Waves

Going back to the first half of the series, this introduced one of the fansʼ favorite villains and saw the then young characters going up against a dark and murderous swordsman, seeing their teacher using all of his skills in an attempt to take him down. We also get to see Sasuke and Naruto starting to become rivals and friends, which would then slowly lead to a dark end to their friendship.

5. Sasuke Retrieval

After the main villain in the first half tried to destroy Narutoʼs village, Sasuke is convinced to go to him anyway in order to become stronger and sees Naruto and some of his fellow ninja comrades going after him to try and bring him back to the village. However, after Naruto tries to fight Sasuke in order for him to come back, only to fail and deciding to become stronger so that he can someday bring him home as promised to Sakura.


Five Favorite Characters

1. Naruto

No surprise here, really. Seeing him become a young, loudmouthed ninja to become a grown-up and determined character, the character of Naruto has matured so much during his struggles and obstacles that fans have grown up with.

2. Kakashi

Narutoʼs teacher and a secretive character, Kakashi is known to be the coolest character in the series for always hiding his face under a cloth and having a sharingan that we get to see in a backstory written to fill between the two halves of the story that gets to see how he became a young, arrogant teenager to how he became this cool, relaxed teacher.

3. Sasori

Not also is he the first major villain to be seen in a fight, but he has also been the most iconic from the Akutski for using puppets made up of human bodies. He is so dark that he managed to turn his leader from his old village and his parents into puppets, as well as experimenting on himself to become an immortal being.

4. Gaara

Being one of the few villain-turned-hero characters within the series, Gaara was seen as being the opposite of Naruto in terms of having a tailed demon inside him and loving to kill innocent people. But after Naruto managed to beat him in battle for the first time, he returns to help find Sasuke when he leaves the village and has since then been seen as a protagonist.

5. Rock Lee

While he briefly appears in the second half of the story, Rock Lee was one of the major characters from the first half for being the only ninja that can only use one type of technique and becomes heavily injured by Gaara, we see him struggle to come to terms that he might not be able to fight again, going through a tough stage in his personal story to become a ninja once again.