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 also leave the organisation, as Kakashi did for unknown reasons to return to the regular forces. 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 otherwise only act on Danzō Shimura's orders.
There are apparently no true ranks within the ANBU, unlike within the regular forces. 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 porcelain mask to conceal their identities. Konoha ANBU predominantly wear animal-styled masks with some opting for more menacing looking creatures, Kiri ANBU wear masks with slits for eye-holes and the village's symbol printed on it; these may or may not have patterns on them as well. Suna ANBU seem to wear pieces of cloth to cover the lower-halves of their faces leaving only their eyes visible. In the anime, Suna-nin were depicted wearing porcelain masks as well, modelled to resemble oni. They also have standard uniforms which for Konoha ANBU consist of black clothing and grey chest armour, 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 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. Root members also have a seal located on their tongue. This seal prevents a member from speaking about Danzō and Root. This was to ensure that, if a member ever left or got captured, information regarding Root would not be leaked. During Pain's invasion of Konoha, Danzō instructed Root not to assist in the defence of the village.
Kirigakure also has their own special branch of ANBU, known as the hunter-nin. They solely hunt down missing-nin and kill them, then retrieve the head as proof, while disposing the rest of the corpse on the spot to not leave behind any information for the enemies. Due to their duties, they are codenamed as the "Undertaker Squad". 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.
In the Naruto Shippūden 3: Inheritors of the Will of Fire, one of the ANBU is seen carrying a pigeon under his cloak, as a meaning of communication.
- In Naruto: Clash of Ninja Revolution 2, the storyline was based on the ANBU.
- The members of "Root" seemingly do not have the traditional ANBU tattoos branded on their shoulders.