On Thursday, the official Naruto website posted the results for Naruto99, its first popularity poll in the last 11 years. Although Sakura Haruno, the punching bag within the Naruto fandom, didn’t win Naruto99, she surprised both the creator and fans alike by getting more than double Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha’s votes combined.
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Typically, popularity polls for shonen manga series help creators figure out which characters to feature more prominently and gauge which character’s untimely demise will hit fans the hardest. The last time Naruto held a popularity poll was when the series was still in publication back in 2011.
However, aside from allowing Naruto fans from around the world to vote for their favorite anime characters, the winner of Naruto99 will receive their own special one-shot (standalone) manga chapter written by creator Masashi Kishimoto, according to the official Naruto website. In layman’s terms, the most-voted characters in Naruto99 are characters the Naruto fandom likely wants to read more about.
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From December 17, 2022, to January 31, 2023, Naruto99 garnered an estimated 4.6 million online votes. The winner of the popularity contest was ultimately Minato Namikaze, the Fourth Hokage (ninja president) and protag Naruto Uzumaki’s father. But we’re not here to talk about the “yellow flash.” We’re here to talk about how Ms. Haruno, who’s often been ragged on for being the worst character in the series, came through in the poll. According to the official Naruto website, Itachi Uchiha barely managed to preserve his second-place spot after Sakura’s “last-minute, meteoric rise through the rankings.”
Here are the top ten most popular Naruto characters in ascending order:
- Minato Namikaze (792,257 votes)
- Itachi Uchiha (505,014 votes)
- Sakura Haruno (489,619 votes)
- Shisui Uchiha (279,062 votes)
- Kakashi Hatake (212,403 votes)
- Naruto Uzumaki (182,911 votes)
- Sakumo Hatake (170,940 votes)
- Sasuke Uchiha (170,665 votes)
- Madara Uchiha (144,947 votes)
- Hinata Hyuga (144,484 votes)
Kishimoto was really proud of Sakura in spite of how poorly he wrote her
The reason Sakura is considered by many within the Naruto fandom to be a “useless” character is a fault on Kishimoto’s part for his terrible track record for writing women. Usually, whenever Kishimoto introduces a strong female character in Naruto, he inevitably shackles whatever agency that could be explored in their characters by tying it to the men in their lives. For example, Kurenai Yuhi went from being a powerful illusionist ninja to being a stay-at-home housewife with zero-to-no screen time from Naruto to Naruto Shippuden, its sequel series. Basically, every female character in Naruto suffered the same fate by the end of Shippuden, which was disappointing to see.
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During a 2014 Q&A with magazine Weekly Shonen Jump, Kishimoto admitted to being “no good with female characters” when discussing the time his editor brought up the idea of making Naruto, Sakura, and Sasuke’s relationship a love triangle at the start of the series. When asked why he thought Sakura and Rock Lee resonated with fans in a 2006 interview with Shonen Jump, Kishimoto said it was because they were “easy to empathize with” because “they represent human weaknesses.” Rock Lee is one of the few Naruto characters who can’t use ninjutsu. Sakura, in Kishimoto’s view, was “physically weaker than the others” because she was a girl.
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While Kishimoto would inevitably do better by Sakura by making her one of the strongest characters in Naruto Shippuden, it’s hard not to feel like he revereted back to writing her as an afterthought, having her sole purpose for existing be helping Sasuke “restore his clan” by having his daughter, Sarada. Knowing all this, I couldn’t help but guffaw at Kishimoto congratulating Sakura’s high placement in the Naruto99 poll.
“I was shocked to see Minato at the top for all regions, and the fact that Sakura is so beloved by many people around the world made me proud as a writer,” Kishimoto wrote.
Ultimately, I believe Sakura dodged a bullet by not winning the Naruto99 poll. While her stark victory over her fellow Team Seven teammates is a sweet victory to bask in, the last thing the Naruto community needs is a poorly-written one-shot about the Leaf Village’s most powerful female ninja. Believe it.