For some reason, I never bothered to make a list about the Naruto characters I liked. Part of that was laziness, because for the most part, there were only a small number of characters I disliked in Kishimoto’s story. Most were likable and Kishimoto had a knack for making those he focused on relatable and/or sympathetic.
Following is a list of the top characters I liked from most to least. I have a surprise concerning two of them.
Naruto: Tbqh, I only feel the need to list Naruto first because he was the first favorite character for this series and as the titular character he deserves as much respect. I really like Part 1 Naruto and feel that Hokage Naruto holds promise (but the latter was not really showcased in the canon proper). I will reserve a post to discuss how I feel about this character fully.
Tsunade: She quickly became my absolute favorite in the arc she was introduced. While the Search for Tsunade arc is widely and understandably considered one of the weaker arcs — if not the weakest — from Part 1, I initially liked what I saw from her character. The part the really sold me was how she quickly warmed up to Naruto, pushed him, and eventually felt the need to protect him with her life.
Tsunade did not have one of the harshest pasts shown in the manga be any metric, but hers was somewhat more relatable to me. She was a woman with flaws. She was brash and she had a smoldering anger. When I think about it, I probably see some of myself in her, albeit I’ve never had problems with gambling or alcohol.
Part of me feared that Tsunade would die as Hokage, seeing the fate of her predecessors, but even worse would be seeing her fail. I am pretty much disappointed in her as a fighter and I think more could have been done with her medical ninjutsu. As Hokage, she had a mixed legacy.
Objectively speaking, I could not place Tsunade above third place as far as Hokage go. The Senju brothers take the top two spots by my rankings. Most of that is from their work to build the village and establish order and precedents to the shinobi world.
In several respects though, Tsunade did all right. She was tasked with rebuilding the village that had been attacked during the Chunnin exams and inherited many of the problems from her predecessors. Her best moves concerned reaching out to Sunagakure — although its shinobi had quickly conspired with Orochimaru — and tacking on Akatsuki. Her belief in Naruto, once the thing that really sold her character to me, became a double-edged sword. It looked irresponsible at times in the realistic sense, but it was wholly necessary in the context of the story.
Part of me is glad that she survived to the end of the manga proper. But I wish she hooked up with A (or Mei). For real.
Chiyo: When I finally got around to reading the Rescue Gaara Arc, she quickly became my second favorite character. Imho, she was written better than Tsunade and one of the best-written characters in Naruto, but I like the latter more still.
I didn’t think much of Chiyo when I first saw her, but she proved to be helpful and knowledgeable for Team Kakashi. She was a bereaved mother and she was grandmother to Sasori, a member of Akatsuki. That gave her eventual fight against him extra weight. What made me like Chiyo was the combination of her feistiness, the exposition she brought (to Gaara’s history, to the term “jinchuriki,” and the history of the Narutoverse), her fighting prowess, and her ability to sympathize with Naruto and Sakura, as well as Gaara in some respects. She even gave up her life so that Gaara could begin anew. I generally hate resurrections in stories, but this one was forgivable.
Hashirama: I liked the specter of this dude even before he received full development. (I even adopted a screen name to honor him.) When he finally got a mini arc during the war, I fell in love again. The most compelling part of the war arc(s) really was the talk Shodai had with Sasuke. Hashirama did his best to understand the Uchiha teen and talk to him. I even loved the relationship Hashirama built with Madara and that made the latter even more relatable.
I like the type of demeanor Shodai Hokage had. Some people have said that Hashirama is the Goku to Tobirama’s Vegeta. It matches well with the type of power he had and I liked the dynamic between the two Senju brothers. Hashirama was a man of honor and while his hidden village plans were [unfairly] criticized, it was the best set of ideas put forward by anyone in the manga regarding peace.
Jiraiya: I also think Jiraiya was one of the best-written characters in the manga. The story became more interesting with Jiraiya in it.
For starters, he quickly built a rapport with Naruto and took over his training for a while. The first stages of that were never boring for me and he quickly brought out the best in his young apprentice. The immediate progress Naruto made under Jiraiya’s tutelage was remarkable.
Secondly, I had always appreciated Jiraiya’s fighting style and jutsu catalog. The contract with the toads supplemented much of what he did, but toads — especially Gamabunta — were an added benefit. Sage mode might have changed Jiraiya’s appearance in a way he hated, but the mode itself suited him quite well. His fight against three paths of Pain was well-done and Jiraiya’s subsequent death was really heartfelt.
A third thing I liked about Jiraiya was his moral compass. He had a deep and abiding loyalty to Konohagakure and that informed many of his actions.
I have a few knocks on his character, but they are more an issue with storytelling. For one thing, I am tired of the perverted old man trope…but without that here, there is no “Ero Sennin” moniker or Icha Icha novels, examples of good small humor in the story. Secondly, there was retroactive continuity involved in making Jiraiya Naruto’s godfather; there was no excuse for having no contact with Naruto until the boy turned 12/13. Third, Jiraiya’s care for the Ame orphans was a mixed bag with far-reaching consequences. His services to Kohona were unavailable for three years — during a war!
Minato: His legacy preceded him. I think what I liked most about Minato was his mystery.
When I say pictures like these:
Dude looks sexy as hell and epic AF.
I also realized that Minato must of have been Naruto’s father after seeing the famous portrait.
That, too increased my interest in this character.
Kishimoto increased the hype by showing Minato in Kakashi Gaiden. Minato was cool, calm, and collected and it looked like he never chose a favorite among his students. He was there for all of them.
After a few moments seen in Jiraiya’s flashbacks, we got even more hype when Minato’s chakra appeared in Naruto’s mind. He was again cool, calm, and collected. This was still the case when we finally got to see Minato in action on the night Naruto was born. I got to read that entire flashback in bulk and thought it harkened back to the early days of the manga. That was a good thing.
Still, I wanted to know more about Minato and respected him. However, he was a big disappointment in the war after his dramatic entry. I hated, hated, hated what was done with him, but in some respects his humanization caused me to like to him more.
Haku and Zabuza: These two were never really villains, although Zabuza did some terrible things in days past and was working to take over the Mist.
What draws me to Zabuza are his design, his fighting style, and most importantly, his relationship with Haku. Inuendo aside, it was a gentle and abiding relationship between two males and one of the healthier ones portrayed in the manga. Zabuza successfully gave off a menacing aura when he first appeared, but he truly cared for the young boy he came across years ago and his tears are what made the Land of Waves Arc leave a lasting impression. That and his last charge to get revenge on Gato.
Kiba: I didn’t like him at first, but warmed up to him when it became apparent how much he cared for his teammates, especially Hinata and his canine companion, Akamaru. It also helped to see Kiba with his hood down, but then again, I like the wild appearance Kiba initially had.
Anyway, I loved the type of focus he received near the end of Part 1. He fight against Sakon/Ukon was pretty good, but that would sadly be the last time he received quality attention. I hated how Kiba would be kind of embarrassed with each subsequent appearance, especially during the Kage Summit Arc.
Hinata: She was immediately sympathetic. Although Hinata was born into the main branch of the Hyuuga, she was a real underdog. Her father saw her as a big disappointment and even expressed to her sensei, Kurenai, that he wouldn’t care if Hinata died on a mission. Hinata’s younger sister, Hanabi was considered better. Her first cousin Neji was better and a genius who picked up on main branch techniques on his own. He also belittled her and tried to kill her during the preliminary Chuunin exam battles. That pushed Naruto to verbally defend her and later talk to her.
I liked how Hinata looked up to Naruto and believed in him before it was fashionable. So yes, I was somewhat of a NaruHina fan, albeit a very quiet one. That was trumped but my desire to see improvements in Hinata’s resolve and fighting.
Shikaku: When we first saw Shikamaru’s father, he was whipped, but respectful. That is one thing I liked about him.
His speech to Shikamaru after the failed attempt to rescue Sasuke sealed the deal.
What again drew me to this character was seeing him during the Immortals Arc. He still had the edge over his son, so the message was well received. And after Pain’s attack, it was apparent how Shikaku was held in high regard. Although the display of his intellect was limited to that of his mangaka, I still bought that Shikaku was one of the most brilliant characters in the manga.
Chouza: Not quite an “older Chouji,” Chouza appealed to me because of his mental toughness, assertiveness, placidity, and comfort in his own skin. I also like his design.
Lee: His is also a highly sympathetic character. He is like the normal human among monsters. He only used taijutsu and I like hand-to-hand combat. Lee earned everything with his own strength and that strength was still pretty phenomenal in its own right.
Everyone who ever had a friend, peer, or older sibling who was better at something has an idea how Lee felt about Neji. Lee couldn’t use chakra and he wanted to somehow beat Neji. I kinda rooted for this although I knew it could never happen.
The results of Lee’s fight against Gaara were heartbreaking, but Lee somehow beat the odds of recovery. I wanted to see more of Lee, but sadly, the last real attention he got was in the last arc of Part 1. It also sucks that Gai got some of the showcase Lee should have gotten.
Gai: Having said the above, I still appreciate Gai. His story is pretty much the same as Lee’s but we got to see Gai win just about every fight he was in. He impressed me when he intervened during Itachi and Kisame’s unannounced appearance and again when he defeated Kisame shortly before the war. I have some issues with his fights in the war, but his performance was still impressive as well.
I also liked Gai’s energy. He often shouted about youth. Gai was a needed character to sometimes lighten the mood.
Gaara: I didn’t like Gaara at first, but he had an awesome backstory — before one big War-Arc retcon.
I started to like Gaara more after he was defeated by Naruto. This is when Gaara gained a new perspective on life and this would carry over to his tenure as Kazekage.
Gaara really shined in Part 2. He was one of the bright spots of the latter parts of the manga. He became more sympathetic as we learned more about jinchuriki. He showed that he was brilliant and mature beyond his years during the shortened Kage Summit. And he showed what an excellent fighter he still was during the war. Nidaime Mizukage brought the best out of Gaara, so kudos to the former for that.
Mifune: The first part of the Kage Summit was good imo and Mifune’s assessment of the Five Great Shinobi villages was a big reason why. After that, the fight against Edo Hanzo was a favorite of mine. I like good representation of sword fighting, too.
Temari: Although I hate looking back at what she did (and try to do) to Tenten, I liked Temari since the Rescue Sasuke Arc. She was brilliant, blunt, and just awesome. I wish I saw more of her.
Kurama: I’m mixed on this one. I appreciated the specter of an angry bijuu in Part 1, but he threatened to destroy Naruto. He became a softy by the end of the manga, a mark against him…but I liked the rapport he and Naruto were starting to build.
Hiruzen: This is a nostalgia pick, mostly. Hiruzen was a good man and one that many villagers, especially Naruto, looked upon with reverence. Hiruzen’s first years as Hokage were highly successful. Konoha won all wars it entered into. He oversaw a period of prosperity and the greatest period of peace.
However, Hiruzen made a series of decisions that hurt his village. The worst was letting Danzo have free rein because it overlapped with Hiruzen’s failure to kill Orochimaru, Big Mistake #2.
That said, Hiruzen is a character who illustrates a very important point: Sometimes good people do horrible things.
Iruka: He was the first adult to openly acknowledge Naruto and thus one of his most important teachers. Also a nostalgia pick.
Yahiko: I liked this kid’s moxy. He was the natural-born leader who inspired Nagato. Because of Yahiko, Nagato and Konan were able to survive as long as they did and gain tutoring under Jiraiya.
When seeing the flashbacks, Yahiko was also sympathetic. He expressed the before unspoken anger villagers in smaller nations had to have felt. He also appeared to believe in his own cause. I also liked how he turned down Obito when first approached by him.
Kushina: Um, yeah. If I will be honest again, Naruto really belongs near hear with his mom. Maybe I would put Naruto ahead of Iruka. Hokage Naruto is near Jiraiya.
Anyway, I notice the care Kishimoto took in portraying Kushina. She is/was beautiful, emotional, and energetic. She gave some much-needed exposition to Naruto that allowed him to finally accept being a jinchuriki and final make the next step in harnessing Kurama’s power. The chakra chains were also impressive. That’s pretty much it.
Honorable mentions would go to: Kurenai, Asuma, Genma, Anko, Ibiki, Inoichi, Chouji (although I like adult Chouji considerably more for some strange reason), Tobirama, Mei, A, Kirabi, A’s Dad, Onoki, Nidaime Mizukage, Muu, Kankuro, Sasori, Kakuzu, Hanzo, Samui, Mabui, Dodai and numerous fodder. Most of these characters received too little focus in the manga or were introduced fairly late to the party.
Tenten and Shino are extreme cases. Part of me feels pain over how Tenten was ignored, and how her matchup with Temari went. Shino is an awesome fighter, but he was woefully ignored and his bugs have always creeped me out.
I like seeing that any the above listed characters are appreciated.
Those who aren’t mentioned here are those I forgot, in neutral territory or, of course, on the dislike list.