There are few franchises in manga and anime that have managed to become as big as Naruto has. Beloved by fans all over the globe, this series about a loud, plucky failure of a ninja becoming the greatest hero the world has ever known is popular for good reason. Naruto is incredibly entertaining, with incredible powers, visceral fights and great characters, but also incredibly inspiring due to the underdog nature of its main character.
For everything the series did right, Naruto still made a few mistakes along the way. While they weren’t enough to make the series take a hit to its popularity, as can be seen with it being a part of the “Big Three”, these issues still held it back from being as great as it could have been.
The Supporting Cast Problem
One of the best parts of Naruto was its wide cast of characters. While the series started out with relatively few characters of note, by the end of the Chunin Exams, the core supporting cast had not only been introduced, but their dynamics with Team 7 were deepend as well. This was further elaborated on during the Sasuke Retrieval Arc, where Naruto, along with Shikamaru, Choji, Kiba, and Neji were all given opportunities to grow, with Neji redeemed by the arc’s conclusion. At that moment in time, it really did seem like the series was going to continue developing its supporting cast, but that changed almost immediately.
From the start of the “Shippuden” era, the supporting cast started getting less time to develop, with most of the focus being on Naruto and, to a lesser extent, Sasuke. Shikamaru got a decent amount of development after the death of Asuma, but that was really the only time he ever had a chance in the spotlight. Neither Choji and Ino’s reactions and emotions towards their sensei’s death were explored in the series until a convenient moment during the beginning of the 4th Shinobi World War arc. Even Rock Lee, who had some of the best feats and moments from the first half of the series had barely any screen time by comparison during all of Shippuden. When Neji and other characters died towards the end, while sad the moments felt rather unearned due to their lack of development in the series prior to their deaths.
The biggest disappointment when it comes to this would actually be the fan-favorite character, Kakashi Hatake. From the beginning of the series, it was clearly established that Team 7’s leader, Kakashi, was one of the most dangerous shinobi in the world. Famous for his immense skill level and prowess, there wasn’t a single character that didn’t recognize, respect, or fear him. While it made sense that his character would be presented that way at the start of the series due to the audience’s perspective being the same as that of a young fledgling Naruto, by the end of the series it felt like very little had happened for Kakashi to deserve that same level of hype, even though he became Hokage at the end. Even compared to other Kage, Kakashi looks and feels significantly weaker by comparison.Kakashi, like most other characters in Naruto, began to irrelevant due to the series’ constantly adding new elements to the power scaling and lack of focus on his character. Kakashi only had one major fight in the original Naruto series, which was his bout with Zabuza at the beginning. Ironically, their rematch during the war was one of the three major fights Kakashi had. One of the other ones would be his fight with Obito, which was brilliantly done. However, as great as the fight itself was, its ending was not. Unfortunately, at this point, Obito was too big a threat for Kakashi to finish off as Naruto needed to redeem him. As such, even though Kakshi was his rival, Naruto was the one who actually “beat” him, diminishing the weight of Kakashi’s past.
Sure he was there during the fights against Madara and Kaguya, but in both those situations his contributions, while important, felt rather minor compared to those of Naruto and Sasuke. In an effort to make the two main characters stand out and be stronger, Naruto unfortunately made every other character look weak and feel rather pointless in a fight.
The Sakura Problem
Much like Kakashi, Sakura also suffers from being relegated to the sidelines when developing her character. The problem is that unlike Kakashi, who is a very charismatic and charming character who is established early on as an elite shinobi, Sakura’s not as lucky when it comes to her characterization. From the very beginning of the series, it became a running joke that Sakura was useless, and for good reason. She rarely made any real contributions to fights, whether it was through actual combat or through strategy, with her personality being rather entitled and bratty.By the end of the first half, Sakura starts learning Medical Ninjutsu, following a similar path to her teammates by learning under one of the Sannin. While her mastery over this proves itself useful multiple times throughout the series, for whatever Sakura always feels useless and unnecessary. While she put up an incredible fight against Sasori, being integral to his defeat, in the very next arc she is knocked out with one hit by an enraged Naruto who is being taken over by the Nine-Tailed Fox. Interestingly enough, her being knocked out or incapacitated after one hit happens multiple times after this, too.
The biggest issue with Sakura is, unfortunately, her personality. It would be one thing if she just needed to be stronger, but for her very core character to be flawed in such a way that makes her unlikable to a lot of the audience is something that is much harder to fix. It didn’t matter how much stronger she got because she was still an uninteresting character. Her motivation for seemingly the entire series was her one-sided crush on Sasuke, who actually tried murdering her on multiple occasions. She also treated Naruto overly cruel pre-time skip, acting superior to him while contributing way less than he did. Overall, she’s a female character that defines the trope of being there only for an unnecessary romantic subplot.
The Boruto Problem
If there is one thing about Naruto that most anime fans can agree on, it’s that the ending of the 4th Shinobi World War arc didn’t make a lot of sense and felt random. Specifically, this was the inclusion of Kaguya and the Otsutsuki, along with the Ashura and Indra reincarnation element. While the series did manage to handle it rather well, compared to everything in the story leading up to that moment, the introduction of these elements felt rather shoe-horned.
For the entire series, Madara had been set up as the final villain. There were multiple moments, as early as the first episode of Shippuden that hinted towards that character appearing in some way by the end of the series. This was further supported by how Obito continued operating as Madara and the fact that the vast majority of events in the series were actually planned by the villainous Uchiha. The Akatsuki, Pain’s Rinnegan, reviving the Ten-Tails, even his own death and resurrection were all a part of Madara’s grand plan.
This made Kaguya’s introduction both disappointing and detrimental to both Madara’s characterization and development as well as the series’ overall narrative. Over time, it became rather obvious that the inclusion of the Otsutsuki was primarily done in order to create a plot for the sequel, Boruto. While it should be stated that Boruto’s manga is quite popular with many fans enjoying the story and Otsutsuki characters, this all came at the cost of a cohesive narrative and well-crafted narrative in Naruto.
In no way is Naruto a bad series. It’s loved and remembered for many reasons, including its story and characters, meaning that as glaring as these issues might be for some, they thankfully weren’t enough to kill the franchise. This list isn’t meant to criticize as much as it is trying to show just how much better Naruto could have been if handled a little differently.