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Naruto Ninja Ranks

In the anime and manga series Naruto, ninja ranks mark the general skill level of a specific group of ninja. Those characters who are part of Hidden Villages undergo qualifications to be ninja, and gain ranks as they progress in their training.

 Not all ninja in a single rank are of equal skill level, and a ninja of lower rank might very well be more powerful than one of a higher rank. There are also occupations and groups of significant note that a ninja may be a part of. It is important to note that while these occupations and groups that a ninja may distinguish him from normal ninja, these are not his rank: there are only 3 official ranks, plus one subrank underneath the Jonin rank.
Academy Students:

The academy is where would-be ninja start; they are not actually considered ninja until they graduate. Academy students take formal and practical tests of all sorts and are taught the basics. Basic weapon usage, such as kunai and shuriken, is commonly taught. Elementary ninja techniques, though they vary from village to village, are also taught. These include the Transformation Technique, Rope Escape Technique, Body Replacement Technique and the Clone Technique.

Upon graduating, students receive a special band of fabric with a metal bar bearing the symbol of their village (which can be worn in many ways). It is commonly referred to as a "forehead protector" or hitai-ate. Some villages also have an additional test given by the Jonin sensei of each three-man squad to see if they are truly ready to graduate. To ensure that only truly qualified ninja are promoted, only three Genin teams are allowed to pass. The test for determining which three teams may become Genin are administered by each team's respective Jonin commander, and vary depending on the Jonin. Those who fail their test are supposedly sent back to the academy.

What is required for graduation varies from academy to academy. In Konoha, the graduation exam is comprised of some sort of written test, as well as knowledge of basic techniques. The only student ever to become a ninja without being able to use these techniques was Rock Lee. Kirigakure once had a life-or-death duel as its graduation exam, but following an unfortunate incident in which Zabuza Momochi murdered all of the graduating class before he qualified, this practice was suspended in favor of more acceptable methods.
Genin:

Genin are the lowest level of ninja and also the ones that display the most difference in power. When they become Genin, ninja start to do their bit for their village's economy – being sent on missions that the village gets paid for. They are typically sent either on D-rank missions, which are the lowest rank and are almost entirely risk-free jobs of manual labor, or, very rarely, on C-rank missions, which are a cut above that and begin to verge on real "ninja" work – though they generally have a very low possibility of risk to the ninjas involved, especially since their Jonin level sensei often accompanies them. Recently, Konohagakure has been shorthanded in upper-level ninja ever since the attack by Otogakure and Sunagakure, and has been forced to occasionally send Genin on higher-ranked missions.

Genin are put in four-man cells, consisting of three Genin and a Jonin-sensei, in order to learn teamwork and experience true ninja life under the supervision and protection of an elite shinobi. The make-up of these teams is based on the individual skills of the Genin, so that there will remain a balance between the teams. For instance, Naruto Uzumaki, who passed with the lowest grades, was put in a team with Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno, who passed with the highest grades and highest written exam scores, respectively. The teams are usually made up of two boys and one girl, though there are exceptions. It appears that, usually, the four-man cells specialize in certain skills. For instance, Team Kurenai (Kiba Inuzuka, Hinata Hyuga, and Shino Aburame) is specialized in survival and tracking and Team Guy (Neji Hyuga, Rock Lee, and Tenten) is specialized in taijutsu and weapon skills. Complementary skills also seem to influence team selection, as each member of Team Asuma (Choji Akimichi, Shikamaru Nara, and Ino Yamanaka) has a specific skill that supports the other two. Their fathers were also on the same team, and were one of the few exceptions to the regular setup of having one female in the group.
Chunin:

Chunin are ninja who are qualified to watch over and guide other ninja. Chunin have reached a level of maturity that primarily consists of leadership skills and tactical prowess. Some of them, like Iruka Umino, function as teachers and others, like Shikamaru Nara, serve as team leaders in charge of small teams who need to make decisions and utilize the skills of the shinobi under their command to the maximum effect. Chunin are typically sent on C or B-rank missions.

To become a Chunin, a Genin participates in a large examination, known as the "Chunin Exams". The only shown exam is a three-stage exam: the first stage tests their information gathering abilities and decision-making abilities (as well as their overall understanding of the ninja philosophy), the second stage tests their abilities at accomplishing a mission and adhering to guidelines, and the third consists of fights between those who passed the previous two stages, watched by a council which decides who becomes a Chunin and who does not. This is not actually based on who wins, but rather their performance during the fights, an example being Shikamaru who lost his first match but still got promoted. This way, anybody who makes it to the third stage of the Exams has a chance to become Chunin.

In the past, each village held their own Chunin exam. After the 3rd Ninja World War, allied ninja villages agreed to hold the exams together at the selected village that would host the exam. This was done to improve relations between the villages and prevent war between them. Another advantage is that ninja that took the exam might attract clients who are interested in hiring them. Because of the growing number of ninja in each village, the exams are hosted twice every year.

Upon reaching Chunin level, ninjas can wear an identifying tactical vest that holds ninjutsu scrolls. This vest is not mandatory; instead, some opt for more elaborate clothing like capes and robes.
Jonin:

Jonin are generally highly-experienced ninja with great individual skill who serve as military captains. They are often sent on A-rank missions, and experienced Jonin may even be sent on S-rank missions (which are considered to be the greatest difficulty). They may also carry out these missions alone. They are sometimes assigned as sensei for three-person teams of Genin. It is as of yet unknown what one has to undergo to become one, although it is mentioned in the Naruto Anime Profiles databook that Jonin are appointed, however there was also a mention of a Jonin exam in the Kurama filler arc. It is known that most Jonin are generally able to use at least two types of elemental jutsu.
Tokubetsu Jonin:

Tokubetsu Jonin are ninja who, rather than all-around Jonin training, have Jonin-level ability in a single area or skill, much like warrant officers of real-world militaries. They are elite specialists in their areas and are often assigned as subordinates to regular Jonin when their services are needed.

One example of a Tokubetsu Jonin would be Ibiki Morino. This character's unique ability to completely understand the workings of the human mind makes him a Jonin-level interrogation expert. Ebisu is another Tokubetsu Jonin that specializes as an elite teacher of young pre-Genin ninja.
Kage:

Those who have achieved the title of Kage are the leaders of the five most powerful Hidden Villages and generally the most powerful ninja in their respective villages. There may be exceptions, however; for example, a ninja may be the most powerful at the time of being installed as Kage, but he will age and a more youthful ninja may become more powerful.

A Kage may retire and give the title to someone else; the title, once granted, is held permanently. This creates a case where there are two Kage at the same time, with only one of them actually active -- as was with the Fourth Hokage and the Third Hokage, where the latter had given up the title to the former, only to come out of retirement when the former died.
Other Designations
Apprentices:

Though not an official rank, an apprentice is someone who is taught by a ninja of greater ability. This can include those not in the academy yet (or otherwise not in an academy) being taught basic ninja skills by someone who volunteers to teach them, such as Naruto Uzumaki's informal training of Konohamaru, Udon, and Moegi as their Genin leader in the very early episodes of Naruto (as well as the pre-Chunin exams). Ebisu's training of Konohamaru in the early episodes also falls under this category, though his training is significantly more specialized.

Alternatively, a ninja of even higher rank can also take apprentices for the teaching of much more advanced ninja skills, such as each member of the Legendary Sannin training one member of Team 7; those being Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru training Naruto Uzumaki, Sakura Haruno, and Sasuke Uchiha, respectively.
S-Class:

 

S-class ninja have gained power far beyond an average Jonin and earned a legendary status. This title is merely a description rather than an actual rank; the ninja's official rank with a village will usually still be Jonin. However, it can sometimes be lower, or they can have no rank at all. The allegiances of these ninja range from being part of the village's own ninja to being wandering ninja who are still loyal to their village, like Jiraiya. Some ninja of this level tend to leave their villages behind to seek their own ambitions, thus becoming missing-nin. The ninja organization Akatsuki is composed of eight S-class missing-nin. Ninja of this class are often noted in the Bingo book, a list of notable enemy ninja marked for assassination that each ninja village provides for its Jonin and ANBU squad members. Most ninja, even high-level ones, choose to flee rather than face someone of the S-class.

Ninja of the S-class are often highly revered, and usually signified by nicknames allies or enemies give them. One group of ninja who have gained this special status are the Legendary Three Ninja (Densetsu no Sannin) of Konoha: Jiraiya the "Toad Hermit" ("Gama Sennin"), Orochimaru, and Tsunade the "Legendary Sucker" ("Densetsu no Kamo", a reference to her poor gambling skills) and "That Slug Woman" (Chiyo's name for her, a reference to her ability to summon Katsuyu). Most Kage also tend to be at this level.
Medical-nin:

Medic-nin are ninja who specialize in medical treatment especially using medical jutsu. Becoming a medic-nin requires a great level of intelligence and excellent chakra control, since medic-nin use chakra to heal injuries. Aside from their medical training, their combat training consists mainly of taijutsu skills, with emphasis placed on evading enemy attacks. This is because the death of the medic-nin could result in the death of the team. On dangerous missions, a medic-nin will usually be sent along with the team, to increase the survival rate of that team.

Tsunade, one of the Legendary Sannin, is the greatest medic-nin of Konoha. Shizune, her assistant, is also a medic-nin, as is Sakura, Tsunade's apprentice. Kabuto Yakushi is a medic-nin in the service of Orochimaru. Chiyo was a medic-nin, but she uses her expertise to kill rather than heal. Tsunade and Sakura also use their medical training to create great strength, making them both formidable fighters and capable healers. Rin, in Kakashi Gaiden, was also a medic-nin. Ino Yamanaka is able to use medical jutsu, explained in the filler arcs as becoming a second apprentice to Tsunade (though taught mainly by Sakura, much to her frustration) and thus she is more likely a combat lifesaver and not a fully educated medical ninja.
Courier-nin:

During the filler arc of the anime, Courier-nin are ninja that deliver packages from one point to another. They take on extremely dangerous delivery jobs that others will not, these jobs can even be life threatening in nature. They use smoke to communicate with each other over long distances, and are a very determined group of ninjas, taking the "postal motto" to new heights. When asked their name, they will use their designation number. When Naruto encountered a courier ninja he first made the mistake of confusing him with an ordinary postman, after learning who he was and what he was doing, he started referring him as an "amazing postman".
Cooking-nin:

During the filler arc of the anime, Cooking-nins (Ryouri-ninja or Ryounins) are ninja who were originally intended to cook for other ninjas in their squad. The theory was that ninja who ate well would also perform well. This idea backfired as ninjas ate too much of the food with "too much flavor", making them too slow to be able to complete their missions effectively. They appear in the filler episode ransoming Ayame for Ichiraku Ramen's demon recipe which is actually only something used to remove bitterness.
Missing-nin:

Missing-nin are ninja who have abandoned their Hidden Village, and as such can include ninja of every rank. These ninja are considered traitors and are hunted down because of the secrets they may hold. Other Hidden Villages would be interested in purchasing this information because it could be useful in gaining an upper hand in battle or obtaining a bloodline limit unique to a village. Villages create special units of hunter-nin to take care of this problem, although it's unlikely that every missing-nin has a team of hunter-nin sent after them. Some of the missing-nin from the series are Orochimaru, Kabuto Yakushi, all Akatsuki members, Sasuke Uchiha, and Zabuza Momochi (now deceased).
Organizations
ANBU:

The ANBU is actually short for Ansatsu Senjutsu Tokushu Butai. The name is a play on words, as in English acronyms like SWAT, where the two kanji used to abbreviate the group's full name constitute an actual word on their own. The ANBU wear porcelain animal masks, in order to distinguish themselves from normal shinobi and to conceal their identities. They also have standard uniforms consisting of black and grey armor, arm guards, and a signature spiral tattoo on their arms. Certain ANBU wear black cowls over their standard uniforms, and squad leaders may wear white cowls.

ANBU protect the village from exceptional threats, conduct high-risk missions into enemy countries, and deal with extremely strong (S-Rank) ninja. They are also responsible for carrying out assassinations and missions requiring specially trained ninja. Unique for most characters in Naruto, all ANBU carry Ninjaken, which are usually strapped to their backs, and they all know the layout of the human body in detail. ANBU is an organization that serves under the direct command of their Kage. Kakashi Hatake was a former captain and Itachi Uchiha became an ANBU captain at age 13. Ibiki Morino, the proctor of the first Chūnin exam, is the head of the Konoha ANBU Torture and Interrogation Squad. Zabuza Momochi and Raiga Kurosuki were once part of Kirigakure's ANBU.
Hunter-nin:

Hunter-nin are a special team within each Hidden Village given the specific duty of hunting down missing-nin. They kill their target, taking the head as proof, and then completely dispose of the body by using various methods, such as cremation or the summoning of wild carrion crows to devour the corpse. This is done in order to make sure the village secrets which a ninja's body holds -- such as chakra types, herbs eaten, ninjutsu, and kekkei genkai -- will not be revealed to outsiders. Hunter-nin are also supposed to destroy the corpse at the very spot the body is lying; it is not to be moved after it is dead. Hunter-nin are also taught about how the human body works and how to kill people easily. Early in the series, Haku poses as a hunter-nin as a ruse to rescue the supposedly killed Zabuza Momochi. Real hunter-nin have only been alluded to, and so far have not been seen in the world of Naruto, though it is possible they actually exist as part of the ranks of ANBU; canon is unclear on the differences between the two groups. They are at least ANBU-trained, as mentioned by Kakashi during his short explanation of the group.
Root:

Konoha ANBU are usually under the direct command of the Hokage, but several years before the events in the first part of Naruto, there was once an ANBU Training Department known as "Root", which was created and directly controlled by Danzo. Since Danzo is a war hawk, and opposed the Third Hokage, Root was disbanded. However, many members remained loyal to Root; at least two (aside from Danzo) are known, one of them being Sai, who is placed in Naruto Uzumaki's team in the second part of Naruto.

It has been revealed that Danzo and Root may be planning to destroy Konoha as it is today, seeking collaboration with Orochimaru. Sai's true mission was to infiltrate Orochimaru's ranks to kill Sasuke Uchiha, a "step" ahead of Orochimaru should he attack Danzo and his group after destroying Konoha; however, Sai deviated from the plan after seeing Naruto's bond with Sasuke, and the need to protect that bond.

Konoha Military Police:

The Konoha Military Police Force, or Military Police for short, is a unique organization in Konoha, though other villages may have similar organizations. The Military Police previously consisted of mostly Uchiha clan members (the Uchiha being its founders); however, now that Sasuke and Itachi are the only surviving clan members, this is no longer the case. The Military Police are in charge of law enforcement within the village, and their jurisdiction is virtually unlimited except in matters that are under the Hokage's direct control. They also respect ANBU's own investigative system and inner-organization discipline. Their symbol is the Uchiha crest because the Uchiha family founded the organization.


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