Staff editor Amanda Sanchez contributed to this story.

This narrative is written by Amanda Sanchez.

I was six years old when I discovered anime.

I was watching Cartoon Network and then Adult Swim came on, and in came a young boy in an orange jumpsuit running around his village.  From that moment on, anime has become a part of my life and I’m so happy I stayed watching.

Sunday, October 10 marks Naruto Uzumaki’s birthday. Naruto is from the hit anime “Naruto,” an anime which premiered in 2002. The anime — Japanese word for “animation” — is based on the manga “Naruto,” illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto, which was published in September 1999.

“Naruto” has provided the blueprint to animes, set the bar for genres and is many fans’ first introduction to anime.

The Tale of Naruto Uzumaki

The Naruto franchise has grossed more than $10 billion since it was created, according to How Choo. It is the 11th highest grossing anime franchise of all time.

“Naruto” has two series: “Naruto” — or “Naruto Shonen Jump” —  and “Naruto Shippuden.” The first series has 220 episodes while the latter has 500 episodes. Each are about 20 minutes long.

For Maria Sanchez, she said “Naruto” was one of the Toonami shows she’d fight to stay up to watch until 4 a.m.

Now, at 21 years old, not much has changed.

*Disclaimer: Maria is Amanda’s sister.

“My sister and I have even gone as far to introduce our cousins into the exciting world of anime,” Sanchez told Slice of Culture. “Of course, Naruto being the first one we told them to learn about. Now, we have successfully influenced another generation into passing on the ninja way.” 

“Naruto” follows the story of Naruto Uzumaki, a young boy — who is an orphan — who was ostracized from his village. Despite the prejudice, Naruto led with positivity in hope that one day he’d be recognized by his peers and the village, especially his frenemy, Sasuke Uchiha. 

But as you continue through the 720-episode journey, the story becomes more complicated. In “Naruto Shippuden,” the story grows up with a 16-year-old Naruto as more unfolds between life, death and friendship.

Like Sanchez, Volvicson Joseph told Slice of Culture he’d watch anime from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. when he was young. “Naruto” was one of the shows he’d stay up just to watch.

“[Naruto] means everything to me because some of the topics within the show I could relate to,” Joseph said. “Without it anime wouldn’t be as big as it is nowadays.”

You’ve — probably — seen Naruto’s story on TikToks.

“The tale of Naruto Uzumaki” is a popular audio used on the social media app.

The voice is from character Jiraiya, who was Naruto’s mentor. Along with being a sannin — a title only three prestigious ninja held — Jiraiya was also a writer. In “Naruto Shippuden,” Jiraiya reveals his novel called “The Tale of Naruto Uzumaki.”

“One of the best parts of Naruto is the character growth that its leading man underwent. He went from a childish troublemaker to one of the most well-rounded characters in Shonen,” Anthony Mazzuca wrote on CBR.

“He had flaws that he had to overcome and had reasons for acting as he had at the start of the series…,” Mazzuca added. “Everything was an uphill struggle, which made him ascending the top feel so good for fans.”

This narrative is written by Adrienne J. Romero.

I didn’t start watching “Naruto” until 2017, and I wish I started sooner.

I finally finished the saga in 2020 during the pandemic. After watching a dozen animes prior, it’s fair to say, “Naruto” is in my top 10. 

For Quadee James, she started watching anime in May 2020 and the first show on her list was “Naruto.”

She said her sister had started to watch it — and was actively learning Japanese — so James joined in.

I love Naruto, believe it!” James said. “His willpower and determination is inspiring. At such a young age he faced trials and tribulations and prevailed in every way.”

“Believe it!” or in Japanese, “dattebayo” is Naruto’s signature line, especially when he’s facing a problem.

Naruto’s Growth

But “Naruto” couldn’t have been possible without its predecessors.

“Hunter X Hunter” (1998) and “Dragon Ball Z” (1989) have been dubbed as inspirations for the successful franchise, which are evident in a number of parts in the show.

And now, of modern anime, “Jujutsu Kaisen” almost nearly reflects “Naruto”’s algorithm. 

“Jujutsu Kaisen” nearly mimics Naruto’s formula. (Pinterest photo)

Jujutsu Kaisen is a series that pays a lot of homage to older shounen legends like Bleach, Yu Yu Hakusho or Naruto,” a Reddit user wrote.

In “Naruto,” there’s a group of three with a leader, or sensei, which is Japanese for teacher. Naruto is outgoing, loud and positive. Sasuke is — initially — gloomy, hateful and shows few emotions. Sakura Haruno, the sole girl of the group, is in love with Sasuke and doesn’t show her true potential until towards the end of “Naruto Shippuden.”

In “Jujutsu Kaisen,” which premiered Oct. 3, 2020 — exactly 18 years after “Naruto” — there’s a group of three with a leader. Yuji Itadori is bubbly, friendly and positive. Megumi Fushiguro is — initially — quiet, stoic and shows few emotions. Nobara Kugisaki is confident, unshaken and her potential is shown almost immediately.

Many fans of both anime argue that “Jujutsu Kaisen” is “Naruto,” but improved.

“It has taken classic shounen tropes but made it their own,” Gabriel Aniel told Slice of Culture. “Instead of having their main character constantly state what his goals are, we see this main character emotionally developing and maturing in a way where he is discovering what his goals are despite the knowledge that he will die in the near future.”

“There are actually so many reasons why I feel like Jujutsu has done it better and that’s why this is my current favorite,” he added. “Quite literally taking what my former favorite anime did, but making it better.” 

Bonds And Struggles For Anime Fans

Aniel, 23, started watching anime in 2005 when he was seven years old. He stayed up late one night and found Toonami, which used to come on after Cartoon Network. 

“Anime was just wildly different from other American animation,” Aniel said. “The art style, storytelling and just general writing always resonated more with me than any other show.”

But loving anime wasn’t always welcomed.

This narrative is written by Amanda Sanchez.

It wasn’t understood ten years ago. 

When asking Joseph if he was ever made fun of for watching anime, he responded: “Hell yes.”

“Even my sister and cousins thought I was a weirdo for watching anime,” he added. “They never gave it a chance until it became mainstream, which kind of pisses me off but it makes me happy to see so many people are watching anime and enjoying it like I have.”

Now it’s mainstream, hitting pop culture, hip-hop, commercials, athletes making anime references and even children’s clothing is anime related now. 

The global anime market size was valued at $23.56 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $25.46 billion in 2021, according to Grand View Research.

UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is the most renowned athlete for his anime references. 

Adesanya is considered one of the top fighters in the UFC, and MMA as a sport in general. He only has one loss out of his 22 professional fights.

When you ask someone “What does anime mean to you?” it’s more than the animation and storylines, it’s the emotion that the characters emote and how the voice actors portray the characters.

“I hope those who were bullied have found a friend group or community they can be around and happily engage in conversations and activities involving their favorite animes,” Aniel said.

Naruto’s story continues in “Boruto: Naruto Next Generations” where he’s between 32 to 33 years old with his son, Boruto, and daughter, Himawari.

Naruto’s story — which is a shounen anime, or action-filled plot show — is just one of thousands of genres in the anime realm.

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