Good characters are the backbone of any successful manga or anime – while an interesting plot may be able to draw people in, it’s the characters that will keep readers coming back for more.
And there’s no denying that the three biggest shounen anime of the decade – Naruto, Bleach and One Piece owe at least some of their worldwide success to their stellar cast of characters.
No doubt everyone’s got their favourite character in each of the ‘Big 3’, but how well do they stack up against each other?
- Protagonist / Hero
Uzumaki Naruto (Naruto)
Kurosaki Ichigo (Bleach)
Shounen heroes usually follow a formulaic approach – they’re simply, ordinary guys from humble beginnings who all seem to be oblivious to girls’ attentions and have huge appetites.
They aren’t the smartest guys around but they all possess bucket-loads of determination or charisma that allow them to collect friends or allies by the millions, beat up the baddies and always save the day.
While the three above all possess at least one or two of these characteristics, they each have uniquely distinct personalities and idiosyncracies that have made them so beloved to fans all over the world. For example, who can forget Luffy and his beloved meat or Naruto’s obsession with ramen?
Likeability: Ichigo, Luffy and Naruto are all guys that you’d love to have as your best friend. They’re fun to hang out with, a little (hilariously) dumb in their own way and most importantly, loyal to a fault.
However, Luffy from One Piece just edges it slightly for me because of his carefree, almost childlike personality and infectious enthusiasm in pursuing his dream of becoming the Pirate King.
Character development: Sadly, Kubo has never been the greatest at developing his characters and rather disappointingly, Ichigo has remained stagnant for much of Bleach despite his numerous struggles coming to terms with his Quincy and Hollow identities.
Both Naruto and Luffy have undergone some significant changes after their respective timeskips (Naruto after training with Jiraiya, Luffy after Ace’s death); showing greater maturity in terms of their thinking and outlook of life.
Naruto just wins out here for his awe-inspiring transformation throughout the course of the manga: we witness his growth from a childish genin who nobody thought would ever amount to anything to a key hero in the Fourth Great Ninja War and finally, a great leader and Hokage of the Hidden Leaf Village.
Powers: As the main characters, all 3 of them have been blessed with interesting powers and attacks in their own right (Naruto with his Rasengan, Ichigo with his Hollow Bankai and Luffy with his Gomu Gomu no Mi), so I’m going to call it a tie.