There aren't many other words in the Bleach universe that drum up as much anticipation as when a character utters: "Ban... kai!"
It's what Soul Reapers say when they activate their Zanpakuto's most powerful form (excluding the mythical Shukai, which transcends even the Bankai), which grants the Soul Reaper a new set of unique abilities.
Bankai abilities range from destructive sword-based attacks to unique techniques that can put targets in an illusory trance, and some Bankai abilities are so powerful that they can alter reality itself.
However, the Bankai form is rare as only Captain-level Soul Reapers are capable of achieving their Bankai release. That said, whenever Bankai is used, you know it's going to be an epic scene for sure.
Of all the Bankai users we've seen in Bleach, here are my picks for the greatest Bankai abilities and why they're better than the rest.
11. Hihio Zabimaru (Renji Abarai)
In Shikai form, Renji's Zabimaru is just a segmented blade that can significantly extend its length and cut down opponents from afar.
But in Bankai form, Zabimaru turns into a massive snake-like skeletal figure that coils, surges, and rushes to crush opponents.
Not only does it inflict damage with its rampaging body and vicious skull, Hihio Zabimaru can also fire blasts of spiritual energy. However, it consumes large chunks of Renji's stamina to do so.
10. Ryumon Hozukimaru (Ikkaku Madarame)
The Bankai form of Ryumon Hozukimaru is an insanely large weapon. Like its Shikai form (a three-section staff), it consists of three huge parts connected by a heavy chain: a monk spade, a guandao, and a broad axe head with a handle on its blunt side.
Just like its appearance, its powers and abilities are also unusual. It gets stronger as the fight goes on, with the dragon crest on the center part turning red, which indicates it's ready for a deadly attack.
9. Jakuho Raikoben (Soifon)
The Shikai form of Soifon's Suzumebachi is perfect for assassination missions, as she can eliminate any target by hitting them twice in the same spot. But her Bankai is quite the opposite.
Jakuho Raikoben takes the form of a golden RPG launcher, which is—as expected—pretty powerful. It produces massive explosions, enough to break the barrier created by Ushoda to trap in Baraggan.
And if her target survives the initial explosion, she can reload it whenever she wants and fire another round!
Generally speaking, though, Soifon prefers the more subtle version of her Shikai, so she rarely uses Jakuho Raikoben.
8. Koko Gonryo Rikyu (Chojiro Sasakibe)
Abilities that involve lightning and thunder are often flashy and tumultuous, leading to all kinds of cool effects—and that's why I'm including Sasakibe's Koko Gonryo Rikyu.
Koko Gonryo Rikyu gives its user control over the powers of destructive lightning, which we saw in one of Yamamoto's flashbacks with Sasakibe and in another when used by Driscoll Berci against Yamamoto.
While it doesn't show up in many scenes throughout Bleach, it's so satisfyingly showy that it leaves a memorable mark.
7. Kokujo Tengen Myo'o (Sajin Komamura)
Captain Komamura's Kokujo Tengen Myo'o is such an awesome ability for battle. It summons a giant samurai that imitates his movements, adding that much more force to his every swing.
His Bankai's samurai avatar sports an all-black suit of armor and wields a massive sword that makes it an intimidating force to go up against.
6. Konjiki Ashisogi Jizo (Mayuri Kurotsuchi)
Konjiki Ashisogi Jizo takes the form of a gigantic larva-like entity with the head and arms of a baby. It's actually quite fitting as Mayuri's Bankai, given that Mayuri himself is extremely creepy.
Mayuri's Bankai possesses the ability to create lethal poisons, which are emitted through its mouth. These lethal poisons immediately affect targets upon release (in gas form) or upon contact (otherwise).
Note that Mayuri is a mad scientist type character, so he's able to change a poison's composition on the fly, making his Bankai that much deadlier—it's nearly impossible to create antidotes or develop immunities.
5. Minazuki (Retsu Unohana)
Captain Unohana's Minazuki in Shikai form presents as a large, one-eyed manta ray-like creature that's often used for transportation, whether to attend to her comrades or transport them to safety.
Minazuki's Bankai form is almost the complete opposite: whereas the Shikai form aids in healing, the Bankai form excels at killing.
When activating her Bankai, Unohana slides her hand into the edge of her Zanpakuto, liquefying the blade into a thick, blood-like substance. The surrounding area then fills with blood, which she can control and use in both offensive and defensive ways.
The Bankai form of Minazuki is actually the perfect fit for her as a person, as it's later revealed that she used to be a bloodthirsty warrior.
4. Daiguren Hyorinmaru (Toshiro Hitsugaya)
Captain Toshiro's Hyorinmaru is the strongest ice-type Zanpakuto in Soul Society, and his Bankai release is called Daiguren Hyorinmaru.
When activated, he gains wings of ice that make him significantly more mobile, along with an icy armguard that covers his right arm (to hold his blades) and a claw-like ice boots that cover his feet.
While his Bankai is active, Toshiro also gains several powerful ice-based attacks that are even better than his already-powerful Shikai abilities.
3. Senbonzakura Kageyoshi (Byakuya Kuchiki)
When Senbonzakura Kageyoshi is activated, his blade turns into a thousand shards that are reminiscent of cherry blossom petals, and these shards can attack multiple opponents in a large area or deliver a concentrated attack on a single target.
The blades that swirl around Byakuya serve as his shields: no one can enter without being violently cut by the moving petals.
Byakuya's Bankai is insanely strong for both offense and defense. Plus, the beautiful animation of this Bankai makes it that much cooler.
2. Tensa Zangetsu (Ichigo Kurosaki)
Ichigo's Zangetsu is one of the most complex Zanpakuto in Bleach. For starters, it's always in its Shikai form. On top of that, his Zanpakuto actually has two Zangetsu spirits, which complicates things.
When Bankai is activated, Tensa Zangetsu turns his large cleaver-like blade into a slimmer black sword and grants Ichigo heightened abilities and attributes, including greater strength and speed. He can also fire more destructive Getsuga Tensho blasts.
During Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War, Ichigo's Zanpakuto was irreparably broken in its Bankai form, so he needed Oetsu Nimaiya (the original creator of Zanpakuto) to reforge him a new one—and that gave us a deep exploration of why Ichigo is a special character in Bleach.
1. Zanka no Tachi (Captain Yamamoto)
Captain Genryusai Shigekuni Yamamoto is the Captain-Commander of the Gotei 13, who wields a truly powerful Zanpakuto: The Ryujin Jakka. The Shikai form alone is comparatively overpowered, able to incinerate anything and everything to ash.
In its Bankai form, known as Zanka no Tachi, his Zanpakuto takes on the appearance of an old, scorched katana—and yet, it's so powerful that its existence alone can destroy the whole of Soul Society.
It emits heat that's so intense that it even rendered Captain Toshiro's Hyorinmaru helpless, and the heat is so powerful that it can fill nearly every corner of Soul Society.
On top of that, Captain Yamamoto gains more abilities, and the most badass of them is Higashi: Kyokujitsujin. It concentrates all the flames created by the Ryujin Jakka to the tip of the blade, then releases that energy on hit, obliterating whatever it hit into nothing.