The shinobi world of "Naruto" is a land of both foreign and familiar, full of powerful warriors wielding physical and magical abilities, grounded in both martial arts and Japanese spiritual beliefs. The Uchiha clan's Tsukuyomi, Amaterasu, and Susanoo are named after sibling Shinto deities; the hand signs are rooted in Buddhism; and the idea of chakra, life energy the shinobi tap into to gain superpowers, comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. It makes sense, then, that the strongest shinobi are godlike. Yet manga artist Masashi Kishimoto also made his superheroes actual, well-drawn humans. They're all plagued by inner demons both physical and mental. They all struggle with commitments to family, friends, love, and duty. It's that paradigm where we find ourselves relating to people who can walk on water and jump tree to tree without falling. So the ability to elevate their power to the point where they can train hard enough to conjure, say, a 10-story super body out of pure energy or shoot electric dragons out of their fists seems somehow feasible. Shinobi exist in hidden villages funded by lucrative mercenary jobs, but it's still just a job. Kids go to ninja academy, but it's still just school. Every fight scene between these shinobi becomes an epic battle full of surprise attacks and counterattacks. It's a fun world to live in, and the best battles are when the most powerful shinobi go toe-to-toe. Yet, the most powerful being in "Naruto" isn't even a shinobi. Kaguya Otsutsuki orchestrated everything, from dispersing chakra powers to manipulating Madara into ushering forth her power.
39;re so low on the list.
Her son is the Six Paths sage. But since she's really a celestial, not a shinobi, she's not on the list. So sorry goddess Kaguya, you don't make the list. To be a Kage, you have to be one of the most powerful shinobi in your hidden village. The Five Kage are Gaara the Kazekage, Onoki the Tsuchikage, A the Raikage, Mei the Mizukage, and Tsunade. Each is able to change the dynamic of any battle. Granted, they all have weaknesses, which is why they're so low on the list. Don't let that fool you, though - their strengths are legendary. Gaara's power originally came from the One-Tailed Shukaku, and he can form sand into any shape, make it hard enough to crush people, or provide him with a rock-solid shield. Onoki is a master of Particle Style, allowing him to fly and turn people or objects into dust. A wields lightning, combining unbeaten speed with wrestling-style physical blows.
There's Mei, who can shoot acid mist and spew lava. Might Guy, like his protégé Rock Lee, is kind of a geek, bringing comic relief during awkward interactions with his fellow shinobi. When it comes to jutsu, his rivalry with Kakashi is one-sided, since Kakashi is a jutsu master. Guy Sensei is a taijutsu specialist, a physical fighter in a world of magic. But through focus and hard work, Guy is the greatest taijutsu fighter in the land. He does have one trick that makes him superhuman - the ability to open the Eight Inner Gates of chakra. As he unlocks each, he becomes faster and more powerful. Plus, with open gates, he can launch attacks similar to jutsu solely from the power and speed of his punches and kicks. Once he's opened the eighth and final gate, Guy is literally on fire, powerful and fast enough to strike blows at Madara - which is especially important since Madara is able to absorb jutsu. In fact, of all the shinobi, Guy is one of the few who impresses the villainous character.
While not as versatile as other shinobi, Guy can hang with anybody using just his body. When taijutsu is the only answer, he is unmatched. The Fifth Hokage is first and foremost a medical ninja, possibly the most skilled since his grandfather, Hashirama Senju. Yet while her healing abilities are world-renowned, her physical strength is insane since she can focus her chakra into every punch or kick. Just a single flick from her finger sends Naruto flying. Her skills are so legendary, in fact, that Orochimaru tries to recruit her to heal him despite having the amazingly capable Kabuto at his side. Sure, Tsunade doesn't use as many attack jutsu, but she can focus her chakra to deliver a blow that breaks Madara's "indestructible" Susanoo. And during that very battle, she uses her mitotic regeneration, which makes her cells heal and regenerate themselves instantaneously. The true might of her power is shown in the siege of the Six Paths of Pain, when she uses her healing chakra and her summoned slug, Katsuyu, to essentially heal the Leaf villagers all at once (albeit, at great personal cost). Later, even after being cut in half, she still uses her considerable power to save other defeated Kage nearby. He's known as Kakashi the Copy Ninja, the one who knows a thousand jutsu. He's also the leader of Team 7, and the Sixth Hokage. Whatever you call him, Kakashi is one of the strongest shinobi throughout "Naruto," fitting into the legendary teacher-student lineage that goes all the way back to the Second Hokage, Tobirama Senju.
His knowledge of jutsu is legendary.
And Kakashi himself begins "Naruto" as the sensei for our titular hero, as well as Sasuke and Sakura. He invented the lightning jutsu called Chidori, he wields a Mangekyo Sharingan, and he learns the dimension-tearing Kamui. Between his natural ability and his Sharingan, Kakashi can learn almost any jutsu simply by watching it. Kakashi fights with an intensity that makes every battle dynamite, but he also shows his mental toughness when he endures Itachi's torturous Tsukuyomi without going insane. Regardless of the intensity of the battle, Kakashi is always able to assess the situation calmly. Kakashi's knowledge, quick-thinking, and level head lead him to be named Hokage twice, the second time sticking due to his role in the Fourth Shinobi War. The Third Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi, had retired before "Naruto" began. Then Lord Fourth died fighting the Nine-Tails, and old man Sarutobi had to come out of retirement. His knowledge of jutsu is legendary. It's said that he knows every jutsu in Konoha, due in part to his legendarily studious nature. In "Naruto," all the most powerful shinobi become senseis, so it would make sense a society that respects teachers would have the most knowledgeable professor at its helm. In battle, we see him defeat Orochimaru and the reanimated First and Second Hokages, with the First being arguably the most powerful shinobi ever, Hashirama Senju. Of course, Sarutobi's win over Orochimaru is a pyrrhic victory at best, since Sarutobi has to use the Reaper Death Seal, and he admits that his advanced age has weakened him to the point where he has to settle for only taking Orochimaru's arms.
Still, few if any other shinobi would've been able to defeat Orochimaru, Hashirama Senju, and Tobirama Senju at the same time. Kabuto is a shinobi whose most powerful form is a gift from another great shinobi. Kabuto himself, however, is a skilled medical ninja and longtime spy whose power lies in deception and his precise scalpel hands. As Orochimaru's right-hand man, Kabuto learned at the feet of a true master, albeit a twisted one. Kabuto's cold pragmatism is frightening, a product of his childhood as an orphan and his subsequent work as a spy, not to mention his tutelage under the heartless Orochimaru. After Orochimaru's death, Kabuto takes some of the snake master's cells and uses them to turn into a ruthless serpent-like - a Snake Sage. His ability to control battlefields of reanimated shinobi (a jutsu he learned from Orochimaru) is the cornerstone of Tobi's Fourth Shinobi War. Itachi unveils the Izanami, an inescapable time warp. Kabuto ends his career as a monster, but it's undeniable that this boy from humble beginnings becomes one of the most powerful shinobi the world has ever seen.
39;s a worthy opponent.
Danzo, despite being a Leaf Village elder, could also be seen as one of the Leaf Village's greatest enemies. For starters, he doesn't believe in the pacifist approach to diplomacy espoused by many of the Hokages, frequently trying to undermine them. He's almost as ruthless as Orochimaru, stealing Uchiha's Sharingan eyes to implant them in his arms for his secret weapon, the time-bending Izanagi. Danzo is also powerful enough to almost defeat Sasuke, even though Sasuke is fresh off besting Orochimaru and the Eight-Tales. He can control Shisui Uchiha's special Sharingan eye and even launch a sealing jutsu that almost captures Sasuke and Tobi. As a leader, Danzo is powerful enough to run a shadow organization within the Hidden Leaf village without anybody being able to shut it down, much less control it. His pride and war-hungry drive eventually leads to his undoing, especially after his disgraceful flight from the Five Kage Summit. As a man who has all but set himself against everybody within and without his village, though, Danzo's a worthy opponent. Jiraiya starts off as the goof to Orochimaru's cool, talented young shinobi. However, his recklessness leads him to accidentally transport himself to Mount Myoboku, the toad kingdom, where he undergoes strenuous training, reemerging as the Toad Sage. Jiraiya's power lands him and his two equally legendary teammates, Orochimaru and Tsunade, with the title of the Legendary Three Sannin. During this period he trains young Nagato, who eventually becomes Pain. He becomes Minato's sensei, the eventual Fourth Hokage.
Later on, during the timeframe of "Naruto," his reputation is such that nobody dares challenge him, even the team of Kisame and Itachi, arguably the strongest of all Akatsuki duos. Yet perhaps his greatest power lies in the first book he wrote, which gives Naruto his name and inspires Naruto and Nagato to find another route for peace. Jiraiya even teaches the slow-learning Naruto the extremely complicated Rasengan, strengthens him during the time jump before "Shippuden," and inspires him forever. As a writer and teacher his impact is unmatched. Jiraiya is also named Fifth Hokage based solely on his strength, a title he defers to Tsunade, preferring to go on solo missions. He even fights a valiant battle against the Six Pains in Toad Sage mode. Before he dies, he manages to relay important information to the Leaf Village that helps them fight Nagato/Pain. If there's an exception to the idea that powerful shinobi are given gifts from more powerful beings or colleagues, it's Orochimaru. His power comes from his inquisitiveness, his natural talent, and an absolutely ruthless drive for power. Also, maybe a little from his relationship with snakes. Orochimaru, Jiraiya, and Tsunade are echoed almost directly in Sasuke, Naruto, and Sakura, respectively.
A mad scientist with the skills of a legendary shinobi?
Orochimaru's falling out with Jiraiya sticks with the Toad Sage forever, but it had been warranted - Orochimaru had been experimenting with people from Konoha to learn forbidden jutsu. Orochimaru eventually takes his experiments far beyond what most others could do, figuring out how to give evolutionary curse marks and elevating reanimation jutsu to new heights. He can also switch into other bodies, achieving an immortality he'd long desired. He's unbeatable until his student Sasuke uses his Sharingan and his intimate knowledge of Orochimaru's abilities to kill the Sannin. Orochimaru created his own hidden shinobi village, and he even fought Naruto in four-tailed shroud mode to a standstill by using his own monstrous jutsu. A mad scientist with the skills of a legendary shinobi? You almost have to respect the maniac. Few surprises in "Naruto" are as huge as the revelation that the man behind the mask running the Akatsuki is Obito Uchiha, Kakashi's fallen comrade, from whom Kakashi received his Sharingan eye. Admittedly, it's hard to have predicted that considering how Obito is depicted in the flashbacks as the weakest member of Minato Namikaze's team. Yet here he is, almost as powerful as Madara, even briefly taking the name of Madara because it turns out that he is, in fact, partly Madara. A theme throughout "Naruto" is that our loyalty to those who care for and train us can make us blind to the evilness of our actions. No matter how much of Obito's power comes from himself, from Madara, or from Black Zetsu, he wields that power effectively. Eventually Obito is a Jinchuriki host to the Ten-Tails, can wield the next-level Truth-seeking Balls, and even gives Kakashi his own Sharingan and chakra AFTER he dies.
Since almost no great shinobi became powerful without gifts from more powerful beings, we can forgive how much he got from Madara. He's only down at 6th because if it weren't for Madara revivating him and giving him so much power, Obito would have died as a child. Pain at first plays the leader of the Akatsuki, and for good reason. When we finally see his full power unleashed, he flattens the Hidden Leaf village with a single jutsu. The Six Paths of Pain he controls also tear through a good portion of the villagers. Yet, Pain is really a collection of bodies controlled remotely by the once-weak Nagato. Nagato's Rinnegan gives him Godlike powers over life, death, and chakra, leading him to proclaim himself a god several times. He kills Jiraiya, his first sensei, one of the strongest shinobi in Konoha. When Naruto returns in Sage mode, that and an uncontrolled Nine-Tails cloak have to combine to stop Pain and the moon-sized boulder he's trying to bring down. Pain wins against Toad Sage Naruto, and would have killed him if it weren't for the Nine-Tails. There are only two reasons Pain isn't even higher on this list.