Throughout the 700 extensive chapters of the manga series Naruto, fans were given the opportunity to watch the fox boy’s steady rise from zero to hero. Legends aren’t manufactured overnight. Like an intricate monument, Masashi Kishimoto slowly built upwards from the foundation he laid back in 2000. Every piece that made its way into the structure was gracefully designed in respect to that foundation, up to final brick being placed in November 2014. The reason Naruto, the character, resonates so much with his audience is due to the intense attachment we fostered through the slow culmination of his development.
Despite his straightforwardness, Uzumaki Naruto faces a vast amount of complex real-world problems, allowing most fans to latch on to some facet of his ample character. For me, it was his dogged determination and solid-as-steel creed to never go back on his word that moved me in a way that few things do. To this very day, I’ve never had a real-life role model — people are far too disappointing for that. But Naruto is someone I can endorse unconditionally. As a tribute to the orange hero of the Hidden Leaf, here are the five scenes that linger in my mental space at all times. As a note to the uninitiated, manga panels are read from left to right.
5. Naruto Struggles with Jiraiya’s Death
Jiraiya’s valiant fall to Pain unearths a rare side of Naruto — one that’s been hidden or, perhaps, nonexistent until that fateful moment. We’ve seen Naruto cry before. We’ve seen him struggle and plead. But we’ve never seen him broken. Coping with the sudden, unexpected death of his mentor/father figure ignites an intense heat of pain and understanding inside Naruto: a young boy who came from nothing and finally found something, only to watch that something be swept away as quickly as a tide in the ocean.
The loss of Jiraiya provides our hero with a brief glimpse into Sasuke’s piercing turmoil. Having been alone his entire life, Naruto never experienced the pain of loss… the pain of a bond being severed, forfeit in the rift between the worlds of the living and the deceased. Well, now he knows.
4. Sasuke vs. Itachi Finale
Blood is thicker than water. Sasuke vs. Itachi has been an inevitability from the moment the former was introduced at the very beginning of the manga. At the time, the reader is left in the dark, only being told that Sasuke’s tale would be one of revenge; little did we know that his omen would pit Konoha’s final Uchiha against his elder brother, a rogue who mercilessly erased their entire clan — the one man Sasuke adored more than any other.
The beauty of this panel stems from its multifaceted nature. As a child, Itachi was often too busy to play with his younger brother. Habitually, he would tap Sasuke on the forehead with two fingers, then gently ask for forgiveness. This very action occurs in Uchiha Itachi’s last moment among the living. The reviled sibling reaches out for Sasuke one final time, letting out a smile as he dies from sickness and fatigue. A crimson trail of blood slowly streams down the two fingerprints he leaves on his brother’s terrified face. Once the truth is uncovered — the truth of Itachi Uchiha, the loving brother who sacrificed everything for the sake of his brother and his home, Sasuke would never see the world in the same light.
3. Naruto vs. Sasuke 3
Despite being the shortest and least discussed battle between the duo, this confrontation displays the dramatic evolutions Naruto and Sasuke have been through and, additionally, sets the table for what’s follow. The tables have turned — Naruto, the calm and collected hero, finally seems to have the upper hand on the erratic, desolate Sasuke. Naruto, a boy once perceived as a heavy burden to the people of his village, is finally acknowledged as a hero by the entirety of the Hidden Leaf; Sasuke, once perceived as a genius amongst his peers, is seen as a mistake.
This reversal of roles reiterates one of Naruto’s core beliefs: There are no shortcuts on the road to becoming Hokage. Through resistance, conviction, and determination, Uzumaki Naruto braves the dangerous path, leading him to his goal. Taking words to heart, never letting go of them, learning to cherish those words… that’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.
2. They’re probably… … Not OK.
It’s rare for a character to utterly subvert my expectations — Madara did exactly that to the tenth degree. Uchiha Madara, the only shinobi capable of dancing toe-to-toe with the first Hokage, is revived to change the tide of an entire war. Rumors of the old generation remain with the modern shinobi, but are they anything more than just that? Madara puts those doubts to rest — immediately. Relentlessly, he confronts the five current Kage by himself, leaving them in utter shambles. For the strongest Uchiha, they were nothing more than children.
While the battle’s conclusion may have occurred off panel, the tactic Kishimoto employed to deliver the verdict is nothing short of sublime. (Fun Fact: The lady in the bottom left corner of the left page? Split in two.) Madara’s tone, coupled with the sinister visual aftermath sets the stage for his twisted antagonism that would soon follow.
1. Naruto Returns (vs. Pain)
This heavily layered panel captures so many different sides of Naruto’s multifaceted character that it may be hard to recognize them all within a single glance: despair over the loss of his mentor; rage building from the destruction of his hometown; strength in his capacity to protect the Hokage by himself; confidence in his ability to win against an opponent leagues above anyone he’s faced up until today.
Structurally, Naruto is a two act manga: Part One covers Naruto’s time as a child; Part Two spans his journey as a young adult. Personally, I split it into three acts: Naruto as a child; Naruto as a young adult; and Naruto as a hero. This moment sets off the third act. No shot captures the essence of Uzumaki Naruto better than this one.
Kishimoto, Masashi. “My Eyes…!!” Naruto v43 #393 (Aug. 2008), Weekly Shōnen Jump.
Kishimoto, Masashi. “What’s Left Behind” Naruto v44 #405 (Nov. 2008), Weekly Shōnen Jump.
Kishimoto, Masashi. “Naruto Returns!!” Naruto v46 #430 (May. 2009), Weekly Shōnen Jump.
Kishimoto, Masashi. “Team Seven Reunion!!” Naruto v52 #484 (Aug. 2010), Weekly Shōnen Jump.
Kishimoto, Masashi. “Obito and Madara” Naruto v63 #601 (Dec. 2012), Weekly Shōnen Jump.
Manga Stream (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2017, from http://mangastream.com/
Manga Reader. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2017, from http://www.mangareader.net/