Naruto: The Chunin Exams Arc, Explained

A tournament arc filled with breathtaking fights, clever world building, and character development, the Chunin Exams Arc was a highlight of Part I.


  • The Chunin Exams Arc in Naruto not only introduced new characters and villages, but also set the stage for future storylines and character growth.
  • Despite author reluctance, the tournament arc was pivotal in making Naruto a massive success by delivering thrilling fights and world expansion.
  • This classic arc showcased intelligent fights, character development, and memorable moments, leaving a lasting impact on the Naruto series as a whole.

Tournament arcs are a staple of battle shonen anime and manga, with notable examples such as Yu Yu Hakusho’s Dark Tournament Arc, or Dragon Ball’s multiple World Martial Arts Tournament Arcs having defined this narrative format at first. Among Shonen Jump’s “Big Three,” it is perhaps only the now acclaimed Chunin Exams Arc from Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto, which was able to exploit this formula to its fullest potential.

Featuring some of the most electrifying fights and character moments from Part I of Naruto, alongside crucial world building elements, the Chunin Exams Arc was pivotal in setting up later story arcs before the time skip. It introduced the Hidden Sand, Hidden Grass, and Hidden Sound Villages — Sunagakure, Kusagakure, and Otogakure — most of the supporting cast from Konohagakure, as well as the sinister threat posed by Gaara, and later, Orochimaru, whose actions here would have a massive impact on the ending of Part I.

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The Story Behind The Chunin Exams


Recently it has been said that Masashi Kishimoto did not want to write a tournament arc so early on in his newly launched manga, but he was pressured into doing so by the editors at Weekly Shonen Jump. Originally, he intended to focus more on Team 7, as they encountered other shinobi while traveling on missions. Although this would have felt more like an adventure manga in the style of early Dragon Ball, the new direction the story took during the Chunin Exams was an opportunity to introduce a host of fresh characters, who would go on to play a huge role in the series later on.

In hindsight, the insistence of Kishimoto’s editors seems to have paid off, as the arc helped Naruto’s popularity skyrocket. From this perspective, it could even be said that the series may not have been as successful if not for the well-timed placement of the Chunin Exams Arc immediately after the Prologue — Land of Waves Arc, which was decidedly slower and more in line with what Kishimoto initially intended. The heightened stakes and pacing of the Chunin Exams were a drastic change that built up momentum for the first real narrative crescendo in the series, which would come during the subsequent Konoha Crush Arc.

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Expanding The Scale Of The Shinobi World


Spanning chapters 34-115 of the manga and episodes 20-67 of the anime, the Chunin Exams Arc wasted no time in getting its feet off the ground, as it quickly introduced the Three Sand Siblings, Team 8, Team 10, Kabuto Yakushi, and shinobi from Otogakure. With this, the earlier confines of Naruto’s ninja world opened up considerably. The Chunin Exams Arc was also one of the first demonstrations of the wide range of ninjutsu techniques practiced by shinobi from Konohagakure as well as other hidden villages.

From varied nature transformations, to the introduction of Yin Release, Sealing Techniques, Cursed Seals, the Byakugan, along with Strong Fist and Gentle Fist taijutsu, this arc laid down the foundations of the power system that the rest of the story would expand on. Spreading all this out across the Chunin Exams’ four phases also gave more time for the exposition to have breathing room, without overwhelming readers.

Classic Battle Shonen Fare At Its Best


Character development was critical to the overarching themes of this arc, but where it truly came to the fore was during the many fight sequences which delved into character backstories while establishing new rivalries and bonds. That being said, the First Phase of the Chunin Exams was actually a written test proctored by Konohagakure’s interrogation specialist, Ibiki Morino. What is impressive about this segment, is how it explored different uses for each shinobi’s skill sets beyond the realm of combat, and also built up enough tension to stick a twist ending that reflected the series’ theme of perseverance.

Subsequently, what followed is perhaps one of the most memorable sequences in early Naruto, with the Second Phase in the Forest of Death, proctored by Anko Mitarashi. This was the ideal setting for Orochimaru’s proper debut, and he did not disappoint, striking terror into the minds of viewers while leaving even Sasuke frozen in fear. At the same time, it also showcased Naruto’s growth as a ninja, as he saved Sasuke’s life in this instance, marking a major milestone in their burgeoning rivalry.

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On coming to his senses, Sasuke and Orochimaru duked it out in the series’ most impressive ninjutsu slug fest at the time, before the all important appearance of the Cursed Seal of Heaven. Struggling to cope with its effect on his body, Sasuke was out of commission for a while. In the end, after defeating a team of Otogakure ninja, Team 7 just about managed to qualify for the next stage, concluding an exhilarating mini-arc of sorts, whose impact would be felt long into Part II.

Onward To The Preliminaries And Finals


Not much needs to be explained about the Chunin Exam Preliminaries, as they took the best aspects of the tournament arc format, and infused riveting match-ups with character drama. Sasuke’s Lion Combo finisher to bypass the issue of his Cursed Seal against Yoroi Akado, got the Preliminaries off to a rolling start. Next, Sakura and Ino’s match was a rare moment of development for two of the series’ most prominent kunoichi, where the emotional narrative of the fight outweighed the action it underscored.

The following two match ups contrasted Shikamaru’s intelligence in winning his battle, with Naruto’s flatulence clinching his fight against Kiba. After this, the fight between Hinata and Neji Hyuga was crucial in setting up Neji’s later battle in the Finals, while also giving more depth to Hinata’s character, as she was inspired by Naruto to overcome her inhibitions and truly believe in herself.

However, it is no secret that Rock Lee versus Gaara is the fight that defined this phase, and perhaps even the entire arc. Lee’s passion, drive, and ambition pushed him to surpass his own limits and bring down the veil on Gaara’s seeming invincibility, hinting at the latter’s deteriorating mental stability and intense blood lust. Despite Gaara’s pyrrhic victory, Lee stirred so many hearts that he was undoubtedly the showstopper of the Preliminaries, and a huge reason why the Chunin Exams Arc is so fondly remembered.

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During the one-month break before the Finals, there were a lot of major events spanning Naruto meeting and training with Jiraiya, to the murder of Hayate Gekko and exploration of Gaara’s background. When the Finals eventually commenced, they did so with a bang, through Naruto’s fight against Neji. This battle was a turning point for both characters, as it was Naruto’s first real victory, coupled with Neji’s realization of the flaws in his outlook on destiny. While Shikamaru and Temari’s match had some clever moments, everyone was really waiting for Sasuke’s postponed face off against Gaara.

When Kakashi and Sasuke finally arrived at the arena, it was an entrance worthy of the anticipation that had led up to it. Sasuke took the opportunity to show off his improved speed and taijutsu, along with his new and most potent weapon — Chidori. Unfortunately, when he actually unleashed it and injured Gaara for only the second time in his life, Kabuto and the shinobi from Sunagakure took their chance to commence the Konoha Crush, bringing the arc to a close.

Why Was The Chunin Exams Arc So Important?


In short, the Chunin Exams condensed much of the world building and character development of Kishimoto’s original plan for the series, into an action-packed spectacle that capitalized on one of his main strengths — writing gripping and intelligent fights. Moreover, it established the series’ power system in greater depth, and even set up plot threads, such as Sasuke’s Cursed Seal of Heaven and his relationship with Orochimaru, which would become more important at the end of Part I.

Lastly, it also set up the Konoha Crush, whose aftermath would trigger most of the remaining plot points to conclude Part I. While the arc is not without its fair share of faults, it exemplifies how a series can take off by doing tournament arcs the right way, and its impact continues to be felt in contemporary shonen manga even today.

Naruto is available to stream on Crunchyroll.



Release Date

October 2, 2002




Masashi Kishimoto

Number of Episodes


Streaming Service(s)

, Hulu
, Netflix

Watch on Amazon

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