• Viz (2002–ongoing)
• Shueisha (Weekly Shônen Jump, 1999–ongoing)
• Shônen, Ninja, Fantasy, Action
• 13+ (graphic violence)
The manga that made ninja cool again. In a vaguely feudal Japanese world where throwing stars coexist with motorboats and video cameras, clans of ninja (dressed in casual survival gear) hold the position of elite special ops forces. Twelve-year-old orphan Naruto, the trash-talking class clown of his ninja school, wants to become the most powerful ninja to prove himself to his peers (“Why am I always so different? I hate not fitting in!”). Teamed up with his classmates Sakura (the unusually well-written love interest) and Sasuke (the rival), he struggles to work with them and pass his exams, eventually becoming embroiled in vast intrigues involving competing clans and powerful rogue ninja. But Naruto’s greatest strength is also his darkest secret, for a mighty demon is bound in his body, waiting to break free. To American readers, Naruto’s Japaneseness is certainly part of its appeal (Naruto is named after the spiral-shaped fish cakes often served with his favorite food, ramen), but in fact the manga has a Western feel, from its talky (but amazing) fight scenes and detailed art to the superhero-like position the ninja hold in their world. (The main difference from American superheroes is that, like most manga heroes, the ninjas in Naruto are basically ordinary kids who owe their powers to hard work, and the helpful diagrams that explain the ninjutsu might leave fans feeling that they, too, can use chakra to summon giant frogs and snakes, or split into multiple selves.) The characters are well defined, and the artwork is excellent, depicting Naruto’s world with incredible detail and imagination. Like Naruto’s personality, the story swings from self-consciously cool to weepy and melodramatic (even corny at times), but always takes its subject matter completely seriously. This irony-free, earnest spirit (as opposed to the more obviously over-the-top style of, say, One Piece) makes it a perfect manga for older children and teenagers … an all-absorbing, internally consistent world of self-sacrifice, heroism, and drama. The English edition has minor censorship, including partial nudity (Naruto’s “ninja centerfold” illusion) and whenever Naruto flips somebody off.