The 11 Best Naruto Arcs, Ranked

No matter how you place these Naruto stories, you can't go wrong if you watch them all.

by J.R. Waugh
Best Story Arcs in Naruto
Image: Pierrot

Naruto and Naruto Shippuden are among the most iconic anime of all time, so it’s no wonder why people debate over the best ranked story arcs. The most popular ones are often a combination of intense battles along with cerebral strategy and potent emotional developments.

Some of the best story arcs in Naruto aren’t even in the moments where the action is cranked to 11. Some of them are when the characters have poignant moments where they come to terms with their past or awaken as leaders and powerful ninjas in their own right.

Best Naruto Arcs, Ranked

For concision and removing nonessential content, filler arcs will not be counted, and this will not include the Boruto series since that is still ongoing and will receive a separate list.  The list goes as follows:

11.  Konoha Crush

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As part of a nefarious plot by Sunagakure (Village Hidden in the Sand) and Otogakure (Sound) against Konoha (Leaves), Orochimaru plots to use this as an attempt for a joint attack on the village responsible for diverting funds and missions to itself.  His machinations were largely for his reasons, however, as he used this to act on a personal vendetta against the village’s 3rd Hokage, which he achieved. 

Also featured here is the first large-scale confrontation between Naruto and a rampaging Tailed-Beast, Shukaku, left to run amok by a completely unhinged Gaara.  The results of this arc leave a ripple effect but lead to healing ties between Konoha and Sunagakure over time.

10.  Search for Tsunade

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There’s a variety of important developments that take place in this arc, such as the introduction of Kisame and Itachi; finding the new Hokage, Tsunade, after the death of the 3rd Hokage; Naruto learning the iconic Rasengan; and the confrontation of the Sannin, 3 shinobi originally trained by none other than the 3rd Hokage himself, Hiruzen Sarutobi. 

The arc features some great moments like Naruto defeating Kabuto in single combat, Sasuke confronting Itachi, and one of the many Jutsu Naruto would develop and adopt as his signature techniques.

9. The Five Kage Summit

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This arc introduces us to the other Kage: champions and leaders of other villages that didn’t receive much focus before in Naruto. It combines several subplots and the main story more elegantly than many others. Naruto pleads to the Kage for mercy to Sasuke, while Sasuke and his team set out to interfere with the meeting. On top of all of that, this is when the most ambitious saga, the Fourth Shinobi World War, would have its opening shots with Obito appearing to challenge the five nations.

8.  Kazekage Rescue Mission

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In the first major arc of Shippuden, Naruto returns to Konoha with a slew of new abilities and a greater mastery of his particular skill set as a ninja.  While still not having fully realized his potential, he’s demonstrated his worth as a defender of Konohagakure and has prepared himself against the existential threat to him and other Jinchuriki posed by the villainous syndicate, Akatsuki

Akatsuki ends up targeting Gaara, who is the new Kazekage, and in their efforts, they nearly accomplish their mission, with some excellent turns by Sasori and Deidara.  Particularly great moments include Sakura proving to be a heavy-hitting asset against Sasori, and Naruto saving Gaara’s life, bonding them even more deeply.

7.  The Land of Waves

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The first major arc in Naruto sees Team 7 having to learn teamwork, displays Naruto’s rivalry with Sasuke resulting in productive output where they push each other’s limits, and some incredible fight scenes as well as numerous brushes with death for the entire team.  They meet their first truly dangerous opponents, Zabuza Momochi and Haku, and take on their first truly difficult mission as genin.

Related: All Yu Yu Hakusho Arcs in Order

Kakashi, a fan favorite, got to demonstrate his deadly abilities as the Copy Ninja of Konoha, and we got to see the first instance of how creator Kishimoto could quickly shift even the most dastardly, menacing foes into sympathetic ones with changes as subtle as revealing their full faces, with some surprisingly tender moments.  It was also here that Naruto first unleashed a fraction of his latent power.

6.  The Chunin Exams

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The strongest point of the Chunin Exams was that Naruto’s supporting cast got a good degree of focus, and their particular talents were put on display.  We got to see Shikamaru’s gifts for a strategy on display like never before, being the first of many. Sakura took on a greater role, wanting to step out from her teammates’ shadows.

Entirely new characters were introduced, such as the memorable Rock Lee, the Hyuga family, and shinobi from the Village Hidden in the Sand, Sunagakure.  We got to see Kishimoto’s creative display of ninja prowess, and a dramatic shift of Team 7’s status quo, with Sasuke, finally bearing proper witness to Naruto’s vast potential for raw power and tenacity.

5.  Fourth Shinobi World War: Climax

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While there’s a lot that goes on in this particularly huge Naruto arc, which on occasion might drag on, the biggest highlights include the climactic confrontation between Kakashi and Obito, as well as the fights against Madara Uchiha and the Ten-Tailed Beast. 

Through sheer force of wit, the heroes prevail, despite incredibly fearsome foes with some utterly insane abilities (Kakashi’s answer to Obito’s evasion is particularly clever) – and we get to see an incredible fight put up by Might Guy against Madara, unleashing the full potential of the Eight Inner Gates, nearly killing the legend himself.  Finally, we see a reunion of Team 7 in this, coming up to the end of the series, and it’s wonderful.

4.  Sasuke Recovery Mission

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While the characters have certainly had their lives threatened in numerous instances, this story was the first instance in which key characters came dangerously close to dying in single combat with some ruthless shinobi, the Sound Four.  In an ill-fated attempt to stop Sasuke from joining up with Orochimaru and abandoning Konoha, Shikamaru assembles a crack team of fellow young shinobi.  They triumph over their foes in numerous deadly close calls, while Sasuke ponders the rift that’s growing between himself and his comrades, namely Naruto, who is proving to develop at a much greater rate than Sasuke.

Humiliated by his earlier defeat by Itachi, Sasuke learned that the way he could awaken his Mangekyo Sharingan eyes was to kill his best friend, who he alleged was Naruto in this case.  His motivation is dark, and it results in Naruto’s most harrowing challenge yet, a fight for his life while also trying to spare the life of his rival. It results in Sasuke leaving Konoha with the intention of never coming back, setting in motion the events of Shippuden.  It was, for many characters including Naruto and Shikamaru, perhaps their greatest failure, from which they would take years to fully bounce back.

3.  Fated Battle Between Brothers

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This arc single-handedly wins itself a top spot in this list for its use of spectacular visuals while also outlining the fascinating and tragic backstory of the Uchiha clan.  Sasuke, Naruto’s longtime ultimate rival, confronts his brother, Itachi, in a fight where they put on display both of their incredible talents for powerful offensive Ninjutsu and deadly illusive Genjutsu. 

It also produces some of the most iconic still shots in any anime and is quite the nail-biter in terms of violent intensity.  The arc ultimately concludes with Sasuke achieving one of his fundamental personal missions, but it begs the question, was this pursuit in vain?

2. Akatsuki Suppression Mission

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This story, while not having the highest stakes in the series, nevertheless encapsulated two central characters and fully displayed their strengths and tactics.  On one hand, Naruto surpasses his limits in an even greater fashion than before, unlocking new potential with his chakra while facing a new, deadly foe in Kakuzu.  On the other, Shikamaru Nara, who has emerged as a dark horse as a prodigiously talented shinobi and leader, wrestles with the loss of his leader and mentor, Asuma Sarutobi, and encounters more or less of a coming of age in the process when fighting his opponent, the cruel Hidan.

Both of their opponents are Akatsuki with wildly varying temperaments – Kakuzu’s being a more measured persona, while Hidan is manic, confident to a fault in his apparent immortality.  While it’s neat to see Naruto learn a new, devastating variation on his signature Rasengan, all eyes were glued to Shikamaru the moment he broke down in front of his father while attempting to cope with the loss of Asuma, slain by Hidan. 

Shikamaru’s brilliant combat prowess made for an incredible viewing experience, seeing him consistently outwit his targets, and encounter a solemn catharsis when he achieves the victory he sets out for.  This foreshadows his later role as Naruto’s right-hand man and future leader of Konoha and is a ferocious display of emotion and action.

1. Pain’s Assault Arc

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There could be no other choice for the top spot.  This was the emotional culmination of Naruto’s original journey from being an outcast, the class clown, into his home’s ultimate savior, bringing Konoha back from absolute, merciless ruin at the hands of Pain, the most powerful adversary he’d faced to this day.  In this story, we see Naruto avenge the loss of his mentor, Jiraiya, confront his demons in a literal and figurative sense, as well as encounter his concealed past. 

Naruto wrestles with the truth behind why his father sealed Kurama inside of him, seemingly dooming him to a fate of forever being pursued and a social pariah. He comes out of this empowered for the first time after meeting someone who, from the very beginning, had undying faith in him.

Naruto’s arrival home after winning produces excited cheers, and the moment Pain pushes him too far by trying to cut down a loved one, seeing him almost lose himself entirely was hard to watch.  It’s an emotional, heartwrenching portrayal of the protagonist embracing who he is, and when he is carried on the shoulders of the village that once rejected him, there’s not a dry eye in the house.

- This article was updated on October 27th, 2023

About The Author

J.R. is a Staff Writer with AOTF and has been covering gaming and entertainment in the industry since 2022. Along with a B.A. in History from the University of Cincinnati, he has studied at the University of Birmingham, UK, and part of his M.A. at the University of Waterloo. You'll find J.R. particularly at home writing about the hottest manga and anime. He is highly passionate about horror, strategy, and RPGs, and anything about Star Trek or LOTR. When not ranting about fan theories or writing guides, J.R. is streaming his favorite RPGs and other forgotten gems.