The Anbu (暗部; English TV "Anbu Black Ops"; Literally meaning "Dark Side"), short for Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai (暗殺戦術特殊部隊; Literally meaning "Special Assassination and Tactical Squad"), take orders directly from the Kage, performing special high-level missions, such as assassinations and torture. The Anbu usually work in teams formed to the requirements of the mission, ensuring maximum success. The shinobi in the Anbu are hand-picked by the Kage, chosen for their individual capabilities and special skills. Age, gender, background, or previous rank bear no weight in this decision. Members can be relieved from the Anbu by the Hokage and reassigned elsewhere, in Kakashi's case, he was reassigned by Hiruzen Sarutobi from the Anbu to the regular forces as a jōnin leader. They wear their mask even in their own village, for their identity as an Anbu agent is to be known only by the Kage and village elders, with the exception of Konohagakure's "Root" Anbu members who, unless ordered to, will only act on Danzō Shimura's orders.
There are apparently no true ranks within the Anbu, unlike within the regular forces. In Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie, Sai told Naruto that Root members have their own ranking system different from the usual ninja, after the latter was complaining that he had no parents that would recommend him of being jōnin. Team leadership and hierarchy seem to be based on merit and experience. The leaders of the teams are called squad leaders (分隊長, Buntaichō), a position held in high regard.
Most Anbu predominately wear some kind of mask to conceal their identities. Konoha Anbu predominantly wear animal-styled porcelain masks, with some opting for more menacing looking creatures. In the anime, Anbu from Hoshigakure is seen using similar masks. Kiri Anbu wear masks with slits for eye-holes and the village's symbol printed on the forehead; these may or may not have patterns on them as well. Suna Anbu seem to wear pieces of cloth that resemble turbans to cover the lower-halves of their faces leaving only their eyes visible. In the anime, similar pieces of cloth were worn by shinobi from Takigakure. In the anime, Suna-nin were depicted wearing porcelain masks as well, modelled to resemble oni. Similar masks were worn by a regiment of Anbu from the Land of Wood known as the Prajñā Group.
They also have standard uniforms which, for Konoha Anbu, consist of black clothing, a grey flak jacket, metal arm guards and gloves, ninja sandals with spikes for travelling into mountainous regions, three ninja pouches on their back-waist and a signature spiral tattoo on their shoulder. Some Konoha Anbu wear black cloaks over their standard uniforms, and squad leaders may wear white cloaks. Most of them carry a sword, which is usually strapped to their backs.
Konoha Anbu are under direct control of the Hokage, and therefore, cannot be arrested by the regular police forces without a warrant. They protect the village from exceptional threats, conduct high-risk missions into enemy territory, and deal with extremely strong ninja. They are also responsible for carrying out assassinations, tracking, surveillance, and missions requiring specially trained ninja. Some Anbu serve as interrogators that probe the minds of enemy ninja to learn information valuable to the village. If an Anbu is mortally wounded in battle, they are required to destroy their bodies to prevent any information from getting into enemy hands.
In Konohagakure, there exists a special branch of the Anbu known as the Root. It was created, and led by Danzō, who sends its members on more underhanded missions that he believes will benefit Konoha. Root members are trained to abandon all forms of emotion in order to follow Danzō's orders unquestioningly, for example, when he instructed them not to assist the village during the invasion of Pain and the only dissension that was voiced was for Danzō's benefit. Root members also have a seal located on the back of their tongues; this seal prevents a member from speaking about Danzō or Root. This was to ensure that, if a member ever left or got captured, information regarding the organisation would not be leaked. The separate existence of Root appears to be honoured by the Third Hokage, as he stated that he cannot directly interfere with the affairs of Root as part of an agreement with Danzō. Eventually, however, due losing his trust in Danzō after he convinced Itachi to go through with the Uchiha Clan Downfall, Root was officially disbanded.
Kirigakure also has their own special branch of Anbu, known as the "hunter-nin". As hunter-nin, their sole purpose was to hunt down missing-nin from the village and kill them, then retrieve the head as proof, while disposing the rest of the corpse on the spot so as to not leave behind any information for their enemies. Due to their duties, they are codenamed as the "Corpse Processing Team (死体処理班, Shitai Shori Han)". Knowing themselves just how much valuable information a shinobi's corpse can hold for enemy nations, if they are severely wounded or on the verge of death, they will take measures to destroy their bodies using specialised techniques.
Anbu training involves detailed studying of the human body, hence, they have a vast knowledge of human anatomy. Several of the techniques in any Anbu arsenal, such as the Temporary Paralysis Technique, which can be used on animals as well, and the Time Reversal Technique take advantage of this knowledge.
In Naruto Shippūden the Movie: The Will of Fire, an Anbu is seen carrying a pigeon under his cloak as a means of communication.
- In Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2, the storyline was based on the Anbu.