|This is the article on the story arc. If you are looking for the article on the kind of exams, head to Chūnin Exams.|
The Chūnin Exams arc was included in Part I of the series, and comprised chapters 34 to 114 of the manga and episodes 20 to 67 of the Naruto anime. It introduced many of the secondary characters of the series and the first major villain, Orochimaru, and set up the main plot for the rest of the series, with Naruto obtaining a cursed seal from Orochimaru. This arc is preceded by the Land of Waves Arc and is followed by the Invasion of Konoha Arc.
The Chūnin Exam
Team 7 returned to Konoha to continue with their lives as regular genin. One day, whilst playing with Konohamaru, Udon, and Moegi, Naruto met three genin from Sunagakure, Gaara, Kankurō, and Temari, and learned that they were in Konoha to participate in the Chūnin Selection Exams. Meanwhile, Kakashi, Asuma and Kurenai all volunteered their teams for the exam as well. Naruto was thrilled at the possibility of becoming a chūnin.
The first part of the exam (proctored by Ibiki Morino) was written, but it was not a test of knowledge as much as a test of information-gathering and willpower. The first nine questions were supposed to be obtained by cheating, where the genin must use any techniques to find out the correct answer without being caught. Naruto, who did not realise this, went into a traumatic state in which he felt that he would cause his entire team to be eliminated, as he did not know the answer to any of the questions. Sasuke realised that he, too, did not know the answers, but immediately activated his Sharingan to copy someone else's answers. Sakura, as a testament to her incredible intellect, answered all of the questions quickly (a feat which the examiner later said could not be accomplished at genin level). The last question was a do or die question: if one didn't answer, one's entire team failed the Chūnin Exams, but if one answered incorrectly, one would remain a genin forever. Naruto showed that he was not a quitter when he exclaimed that he didn't care if he stayed a genin forever, and that, even if that came to pass, he would still become Hokage. The genin who chose to answer the question all passed the first part of the Chūnin Exams — including Naruto, who didn't answer a single question on the written part of the exam.
The second part of the exam (proctored by Anko Mitarashi) was a survival exam in the Forty-Fourth Training Ground, also known as "The Forest of Death". During this part, Naruto found himself in a desperate situation against Orochimaru, an S-rank missing-nin from Konoha so powerful that the Third Hokage later mentioned that there was nobody in Konoha that could fight him equally. It turned out that Orochimaru used to be one of the Third Hokage's pupils, also known as the Sannin. Naruto and Sasuke's reactions to the situation were a complete reversal of what had happened in the Land of Waves mission — Sasuke was frozen with fear while Naruto fought on fearlessly, at one point stopping Orochimaru's huge summoned snake in its tracks on his own (with the help of some demon fox chakra), and muttering to Sasuke, in a moment of glorious retribution that marked another milestone in their rivalry, "You're not hurt, are you… scaredy-cat?" Naruto eventually snapped Sasuke out of his panic. However, Orochimaru used the Five Elements Seal on Naruto, disrupting the flow of the demon fox's chakra, as well as Naruto's own.
However, Orochimaru was too much for Sasuke as well. In the end, Orochimaru put a Cursed Seal of Heaven onto Sasuke's neck, saying that Sasuke would eventually come to him for the power he needed to kill his brother, Itachi Uchiha. Orochimaru then left, sending his three genin, Team Dosu from Otogakure, to go after Sasuke.
While both Naruto and Sasuke were unconscious from the fight against Orochimaru, Sakura had to take care of them. It was there that Sakura's personality reached a turning point. As Kin Tsuchi of Team Dosu trapped her by roughly holding her by her hair, Sakura realised how pathetic her behaviour was, always criticising others, when she was the one who hadn't improved at all. She reflected on herself, thinking how she was always telling Naruto that she was better than him, when he had been the one who was consistently improving, and telling Sasuke she loved him when she couldn't even muster up enough strength to protect him as a team-mate, before she symbolically freed herself by cutting off her long hair with a kunai, which she had initially kept long because it had been rumoured that Sasuke liked girls with long hair. She also decided to fight against the Oto genin, and resolved to no longer be dependent on her team-mates. At this point, Team 10 arrived on the scene. Rock Lee fought the Oto ninja and used the Front Lotus on Dosu, who was saved by Zaku but admitted that the Lotus still almost killed him. Dosu Kinuta, the leader of Team Dosu, mentioned that Neji could "see through them", but before Neji could attack, an awakened Sasuke intervened.
The cursed seal on Sasuke had by now started to take effect, and, in a state of insanity and murderous intent, Sasuke defeated Zaku Abumi of Team Dosu, going as far as to dislocate his shoulders for no other reason than to cause him pain. Before he could do any more damage to anyone else, however, Sakura hugged Sasuke, crying and begging him to stop, allowing Sasuke to regain control of the Seal. Dosu left with his team-mates, wondering why Orochimaru had sent him to kill Sasuke if he had known that Sasuke would have the cursed seal. Team 7 still managed to make it past the second stage by defeating Team Oboro of Amegakure, with a little help from Kabuto Yakushi, a fellow ninja from Konoha.
Seven teams managed to pass, which was more than twice as many as had been expected. To cut down the prevailing genin from the second exam, a preliminary round was staged before the third and final stage of the Chūnin Exams. The twenty-one people — or twenty, after Kabuto withdrew — were to be matched up with each other, in a fight that lasted until somebody gave in or was unable to continue fighting. The proctor of the third exam, Hayate Gekkō, did reserve the right to step in and stop the fight when he felt that there was a clear winner. Sakura at first attempted to tell the examiners that the cursed seal that Orochimaru had placed on Sasuke was seriously debilitating him, but Sasuke stopped her, and told her to mind her own business. At that point, Naruto stepped in to stand up for Sakura, but was swiftly silenced by Sasuke, who acknowledged Naruto by declaring that he was one of the people he wanted to fight. Later on, Naruto would return the sentiment.
The first matchup was Sasuke Uchiha against a member of Kabuto's team, Yoroi Akadō. Before the fight started, Kakashi warned Sasuke that, if his cursed seal got out of control, he would have to intervene and stop the match to control the seal; this barred Sasuke from using any technique, as the seal responded to flows of chakra. The match started with Yoroi stealing Sasuke's chakra with his chakra absorption. The match seemed hopeless for Sasuke, until he heard Naruto's taunts. Next to him was Rock Lee, which gave Sasuke an idea. He used the Lion Combo, a partial copy of Rock Lee's Front Lotus, which had been captured by Sasuke's Sharingan. Yoroi was knocked unconscious, and Sasuke advanced to the next round. After the fight, Kakashi took Sasuke away to seal the cursed seal.
Up next were Zaku Abumi and Shino Aburame of Konohagakure's Team 8. Zaku apparently only had one functional arm, but he bet that he could win regardless. Elsewhere, the cursed seal was sealed by Kakashi, but then Orochimaru showed up for Sasuke, asserting that all the genin he currently had at his command were disposable. As Kakashi readied his Lightning Cutter, Shino commanded a multitude of insects to attack Zaku from behind, leaving the one-armed Zaku unable to defend himself with his unidirectional technique. Zaku then revealed he could use both arms, but it was too late. The insects had blocked the tubes in Zaku's arms, bulding up the chakra he was trying to use and making the arms explode, thus ending the fight. Orochimaru left, saying that Sasuke would be his someday.
The match with Misumi Tsurugi against Kankurō of Sunagakure's Sand Siblings began. Misumi quickly used Soft Physique Modification to restrain Kankurō and threatened to snap his neck, until it was revealed that the Kankurō Misumi was fighting was just a puppet. The real Kankurō was disguised, controlling the puppet with the Puppet Technique. He used the puppet, Crow, to crush Misumi's bones, defeating him.
The fourth match, Sakura versus Ino of Konohagakure's Team 10, was particularly meaningful, as the two were rivals. The match dragged on for a very long time, since they seemed to be quite on par, until Ino tried to possess Sakura's body to force her to forfeit the match; however, Sakura's will expelled Ino from her mind. Exhausted and out of chakra, they both went for a final attack, hitting each other at the exact same time and rendering each other unconscious. Hayate declared that neither of them would move on to the next round.
The fifth match was Tenten of Konohagakure's Team Guy against Temari of Sunagakure's Sand Siblings. The match was over quickly, as all the projectile weapons used by Tenten were completely countered by the Wind Release techniques used by Temari, who won without taking as much as a single scratch. Rock Lee jumped down to avenge Temari's treatment of Tenten, but Might Guy stopped what would have turned into a fight.
The sixth match, Shikamaru Nara of Konohagakure's Team 10 against Kin Tsuchi, was next, with Shikamaru aware that he was at a disadvantage, since Kin had seen him use his Shadow Imitation Technique in the Forest of Death without showing her own fighting style. Kin started by dodging the Shadow Imitation Technique and throwing senbon with and without bells, using strings to ring the bells from unexpected positions to divert Shikamaru's attention and attack him from behind. Shikamaru, however, managed to join her shadow with his, using the shadows of the strings she was holding. With Kin matching Shikamaru's movements, each drew a shuriken and flung it at the other. When it came time for them to duck, Shikamaru ducked successfully, but Kin, having previously retreated, banged her head against the wall and knocked herself out, which turned out to be the true goal of Shikamaru's battle strategy. Shikamaru emerged as the winner.
Naruto, still impaired by the Five Elements Seal, was matched up with Kiba of Konohagakure's Team 8 in the seventh match. The fight went poorly for Naruto at first, especially after Kiba's ninken, Akamaru, joined the fight and transformed into Kiba with the Beast Human Clone technique. Naruto made a comeback by transforming in a layered fashion into Akamaru and then Kiba, so that, when Kiba attacked Naruto, the second Transformation (as Kiba) gave way to the first (as Akamaru), leading Kiba to attack Akamaru (still affected by Beast Human Clone). Kiba then focused on attacking intensively to keep Naruto from counter-attacking, until Naruto accidentally broke wind, which stunned Kiba, whose sense of smell was magnified a thousand times at the time. Naruto then beat Kiba by using shadow clones to perform a new technique, the Naruto Uzumaki Combo.
The eighth match brought a family rivalry to the forefront, as Hinata and Neji of the Hyūga clan battled. Kiba, being borne away on a stretcher, urged Hinata to forfeit. At first, Neji assaulted Hinata psychologically, using her fears to convince her that she had no possibility of winning. However, after being inspired by Naruto's courage, Hinata decided to fight to prove that she could be brave as well. They both fought using the Hyūga Gentle Fist style and the Byakugan, a kekkei genkai which Kakashi asserted to surpass the Sharingan. While they initially seemed to the observers to be equally matched, Neji managed to interrupt Hinata's chakra flow in her arms, disabling her ability to use Gentle Fist. Hinata still tried to go on, and it was only the exam proctor’s intervention that stopped Neji from killing her. Hinata's bravery still managed to inspire Naruto, as he vowed to battle and win against Neji in the third exam.
The ninth match pitted Lee against Gaara of Sunagakure's Sand Siblings. At first, none of Rock Lee's taijutsu attacks managed to penetrate or circumvent Gaara's Shield of Sand, until Lee removed the weights he was wearing on his legs. The boost of speed was such that Gaara's sand couldnt follow Lee's movements, and Gaara was hit for the first time in his life. Lee then used his Front Lotus on Gaara, but in the end it was revealed that it had been a sand clone. Having no other way to end the match, and with Guy's permission, Lee then opened five of the inner chakra gates, the result being that Lee's strength was multiplied immensely for a short time, but also severely injured him. He then proceeded to continously beat Gaara with his Reverse Lotus. However, as Gaara fell to the ground, he dispersed his sand gourd as a cushion to break his fall. Gaara then used his Sand Binding Coffin to crush Rock Lee's left arm and leg. Might Guy jumped down to prevent Gaara from killing Lee, and regretted having taught Lee how to open the inner gates after learning from the medical ninja that Lee could no longer be a ninja due to his intense injuries. Gaara won the match.
The last match was Chōji Akimichi of Konohagakure's Team 10 versus Dosu Kinuta. Chōji was reluctant to battle, instead wanting to forfeit, but tried after being promised food by his sensei, Asuma Sarutobi, if he won. Chōji entered the battle with prior knowledge of Dosu's sound-based attacks, and quickly used Human Bullet Tank to plug his ears from the Oto ninja's attacks; however, Dosu overcame this by transmitting his sound through the water in Chōji's body, thus defeating him.
After the preliminary match-ups, there was a one-month period in which the remaining genin could prepare themselves. Various dignitaries were also invited to watch the main matches. During this month, Naruto met Jiraiya, another Sannin, for the first time. Jiraiya agreed to be his sensei, and was the one who taught him most of the advanced techniques he learned during that time.
Under Jiraiya, Naruto improved his chakra control by practising walking on water, learned how to call upon the demon fox's energy at will after Jiraiya used Five Elements Unseal to cancel Orochimaru's Five Elements Seal, and how to use the Summoning Technique to call the giant toad, Gamabunta, to his aid, but was so exhausted after completing his training that Gamabunta carried him to the hospital.
Also, during the month of training, Dosu, who was trying to sneak up on and kill Gaara, was ripped to shreds by him. Hayate was murdered by Baki, the jōnin of the Sand Siblings, after he overheard Baki talking with Kabuto about their plans to invade Konoha. Gaara also attempted to assassinate Lee in the hospital on the day before the finals, but was stopped by Naruto and Shikamaru. Gaara revealed his past, which led to Naruto's realising that they had similar histories of prejudice, before Guy stepped in and forced Gaara to leave.
Due to the fact that Hayate Gekkō was murdered during the one month break, Genma Shiranui became the proctor for the final exam. The first match was Naruto against Neji. Naruto's fight with Neji in the first match of the finals was a very dramatic one. During the fight, Neji lectured Naruto much as he had done with Hinata during the preliminaries, telling Naruto that failures remained failures and that this could not change. Naruto eventually won the battle through a combination of the demon fox's power sealed within him and sheer belief in victory. In the process, he changed Neji's outlook on life, and inspired him to create his own fate, thus forming another important bond. Naruto was able to make Neji understand that destiny could be changed, and they became good friends from that point on.
The second match, which featured Sasuke versus Gaara, was moved to be the last, as Sasuke hadn't arrived yet. Normally he would have been disqualified on the spot, but his match had been highly anticipated — in fact, some of the crowd commented they had mostly come just to see him fight, forcing the Third Hokage to give in to the Kazekage's request to postpone the match.
The third match, which featured Shino versus Kankurō, was given to Shino on default, since Kankurō forfeited to "keep his techniques a secret" before the invasion was launched.
The fourth match was Temari versus Shikamaru. Both Temari and Shikamaru were excellent strategists, but Shikamaru was better. Although it appeared throughout the match that Shikamaru was using pointless attacks, he was actually five steps ahead, and managed to skilfully manipulate Temari into a position where he could attack from behind, using the tunnel which Naruto had dug during his match with Neji to stealthily extend his Shadow Imitation Technique. This took control over Temari's body, and forced her to imitate every one of Shikamaru's movements. Although Shikamaru could have won, he quit instead, saying that he was too low on chakra. His real reason for quitting, however, seems to be because he is incredibly lazy and saw no point in winning, which would only lead to having to fight in further matches. He also didn't want to hurt a girl.
Gaara versus Sasuke came around again. This was the battle that the crowd had been looking forward to. Sasuke arrived right on time as the match was about to begin (in the anime, Sasuke arrived late, but the waiting time was extended again because of the importance of the match). Sasuke demonstrated that his speed had vastly increased, to the point where the sand guarding Gaara could not keep up. Sasuke also demonstrated Chidori, a technique he had learned from Kakashi and Kakashi's only original technique, to injure Gaara. Before the match could finish, however, a smoke bomb was set off in the Kages' box. Kabuto, who was actually working for Orochimaru, used the genjutsu to put almost everybody in the crowd to sleep, and the Invasion of Konoha commenced.