When Japanese artist Masashi Kishimoto began his work on Naruto and published a one-shot of the story in 1997, the manga community was still considered a niche interest. By the time Kishimoto debuted a second version in 1999, it didn’t take long for Naruto to become one of the most popular and best-selling manga properties in the world. Over the years, the series has spawned multiple pop culture properties, including anime series, novels, video games, movies, books and more.
EW sat down with the acclaimed creator to talk about his thoughts on Naruto’s success, and what’s next for the characters of one of manga’s most popular series. Plus, view some exclusive content below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Naruto has had a massive impact on the manga community. From your perspective, how have you seen this genre shift and evolve in your time associated with it?
MASASHI KISHIMOTO: Manga was already starting to trickle outside Japan when my series started. So I don’t know that I can take credit for the spread [of manga]. During the series, manga exploded, and I must say that part of what made Naruto successful was the globalization of manga, and the fact that all over the world, fans can enjoy and read manga even though the reading order is different than what people are used to. Originally, manga was this little niche industry, only appreciated by fans even in Japan. Now most laypeople are aware.
What are you most proud of when you think back on your work? Did you ever think Naruto would be as big a success as it was?
I was actually able to work on Naruto and bring it to a successful conclusion. Not in terms of a commercial success, but to complete the story I had envisioned. That is one of the things I’m most proud of. And I had absolutely no idea that it would ever be a success, much less a success of the level of what it is now.
What was the most challenging moment or experience of working on Naruto?
In terms of the storyline, the plot itself, I’d say the most challenging moment was the character Pain. It was very important for me to show Naruto is capable of forgiving anyone, even his enemy. But I didn’t want to do that in a battle scene. I wanted Naruto to convince Pain verbally, that Pain should change his ways and they could reconcile. That was the first time I introduced that concept in the series, and it was very difficult to draw. In terms of my personal life, something outside of the direct storyline, that was the time I actually hurt my back. I wasn’t able to take time off, and I had to sit through the pain. But because I couldn’t sit for long periods, my art became very rough in terms of the style because I couldn’t sit and focus on the work because of the pain.
What do you think is next for the manga community and what projects would you specifically like to see come to life?
Not only has manga expanded globally, but manga style has expanded. Especially with the development of high quality digital tools, the artistic side of manga has become much easier. I think that there’ll be a whole new class of artists from all over the world emerging that may have been previously discouraged and now with these digital tools, they’ll be able to create works and create what looks like manga but have a totally different perspective since their views are different from those from Japan. I think that will help expand the manga field through their new stories and new perspectives, and I really look forward to seeing the results of some of their works.
With Naruto complete, what’s ahead for you? Do you have other projects you want to tackle, or are you looking forward to taking a bit of a break?
I definitely think that some of the overarching themes in Naruto are not defined by any one particular culture. I think everyone, no matter where they live and what they look like, will come up against obstacles and have to overcome them. And that theme in Naruto is something people can relate to. [Now that Naruto is complete] I plan to go to Hawaii, first of all. And I do have an idea in mind for my next project. Unfortunately, I can’t really talk about it yet. I definitely also want to get some quality time with my kids.