Title: Naruto ナルト
Mangaka: Masashi Kishimoto 岸本 斉史
US Publisher: VIZ Media
Level: Upper Middle and High School
How Essential Is It?: Must Have (in high school)
Curricular Connections?: N/A
Reader’s Advisory Tags: action, adventure, ninjas, school
Anime: Available through Crunchyroll
Content Warnings: Some crude humor and nudity, violence.
Naruto is probably a familiar title to any school librarian. It provokes a lot of questions: What is it? Why do kids like it? Why would a ninja wear orange? Are those headbands uncomfortable?
So, Naruto is a manga that ran for fifteen years in Shonen Jump about a young ninja named Uzumaki Naruto. Naruto’s driving ambition is to be the best possible ninja, while also dealing with the fact that he has a fox demon sealed inside of him. Naruto is teamed up with two other ninja students, Sakura and Sasuke, and assigned to a sensei (teacher) Kakashi. The 72-volume manga follows the team as they juggle various trials and tribulations.
Kids like it because of the constant action and the various themes. Shōnen manga such as Naruto has a breakneck pace, and cliffhangers are par for the course. The stakes are constantly raised as the series progresses, as personal struggles and issues come to a head. Masculine identifying students really enjoy Naruto’s crass humor and straightforward attitude. He wants to be the best, lead his people, and master the tempestuous beast within him. It’s the perfect allegory for being a teenager.
I don’t know why a ninja would wear orange. I’ve read three volumes of this manga, and none of them explain it.
And the headbands, in my experience trying one on years ago, are very uncomfortable.
So, a few things about Naruto. The first is this: I really don’t care for it, personally. In complete honesty, most shōnen battle manga has never been something I liked. I’ve tried multiple times over the years to read or watch this story, and I just can’t get into it. Part of it is that the first female character you encounter, Sakura, spends much of the early part of the story being defined by her attraction to Sasuke.
From my understanding, Sakura does become more complex over the course of the series, but it’s always been a bit of a turn-off for me. So much of her character has been entrenched in her romantic prospects. She even rejects her closest friend because they are love rivals for Sasuke.
I have to say this manga is appropriate for upper middle and high school. It’s a popular title and has themes that students relate to and can talk about. There’s nothing sexually explicit or inappropriate in the first view volumes. There are crude jokes and toilet humor, which is why I would hesitate to make it available in elementary schools. There is incidental nudity played for laughs in later volumes, and the violence does ramp up, so you might want to assess if this is a right fit for your middle school library on your own.
All of Naruto and its sequel, Boruto, are available on the Shonen Jump app from VIZ.