It's been years since the original Bleach anime ended, but it then returned in 2022 to cap off the Thousand-Year Blood War Arc that was never covered in the anime's original run.
This sequel series covers the final part of Tite Kubo's iconic manga, bringing the total number of story arcs in Bleach to 18.
Most anime fans have strong feelings about Bleach, which had problems with uneven pacing and too much filler. And yet, when Bleach was firing on all cylinders, it gave us some of the most exciting plot points and character developments of any shonen anime.
Here are my picks for the best Bleach arcs from over the years and what makes each one stand out as a fascinating narrative.
10. Agent of the Shinigami Arc (Eps. 1–20)
Agent of the Shinigami Arc was the very first arc in Bleach, which set up the entire premise and launched us into it head-first.
We're introduced to the concept of Soul Reapers (shinigami) and their role in the afterlife of our modern world. Rukia and Ichigo's relationship is also established and we get to see the seeds of what would make some of the upcoming story arcs so good.
Despite everything it does well, this Bleach arc is a bit too formulaic in how it approaches its story, including the "monster of the week" vibe.
The fights are fun to watch, but there isn't nearly as much at stake here as there would be in later arcs because the overall story is still finding its footing. As such, it's a good arc but far from the best.
9. Arrancar: The Arrival Arc (Eps. 110–131)
After the the Soul Society arcs concluded, Ichigo and his friends weren't exactly on the best of terms with the Gotei 13 captains. However, the arrival of Aizen's agents in the real world was the first time that the two sides aligned together against a common enemy.
Not only are there several stellar fights in Arrancar: The Arrival Arc, it also introduces key figures like Grimmjow who become more important down the road in later arcs.
Why doesn't Arrancar: The Arrival Arc make it higher on this list? Well, simply because it's mostly setup where pieces are moved into place for later developments. It's fun but ultimately slow to develop.
8. Arrancar: Hueco Mundo Sneak Entry Arc (Eps. 132–151)
Directly after Arrancar: The Arrival Arc, we got Arrancar: Hueco Mundo Sneak Entry Arc, which saw the team once again sneaking into a place where they shouldn't be.
It's always a fun concept that promises interesting reveals around every corner, and the fact that this one took place in a demonic setting meant it felt different than the earlier Soul Society: The Sneak Entry Arc.
Arrancar: Hueco Mundo Sneak Entry Arc gave us new information about the source of Hollows, plus it introduced new characters like Nel who kept things fresh as the episodes played out.
The core of this arc was really good. If only the pacing had been slightly better, it would have ranked much higher on this list.
7. Arrancar vs. Shinigami Arc (Eps. 190–205)
After seeing the Soul Reapers as enemies during the Soul Society arcs, it felt a bit strange to suddenly be rooting for them during this fight.
Indeed, you can't deny just how cool the many Gotei 13 captains were when they completely let loose with their powers.
If nothing else, Arrancar vs. Shinigami Arc featured some of the best fight sequences in the entire series. While it did feel a little repetitive at points with battle after battle, it was thrilling and memorable.
6. Soul Society: The Sneak Entry Arc (Eps. 21–41)
Up until this point in Bleach, the concept of Soul Society felt like a distant idea that we couldn't quite place. Ichigo wasn't concerned about Soul Society at all—and neither were we—because it felt like his time as a substitute Soul Reaper was to be temporary.
But then Rukia was taken by Soul Society and Ichigo set out to save her, and that's when we started getting glimpses of his place in the bigger picture of Bleach.
Soul Society: The Sneak Entry Arc massively ramped up the stakes and gave us valuable insight into the structure of Soul Reapers.
5. The Thousand-Year Blood War Arc (Eps. 367–379)
The Bleach anime was canceled back in 2012 (or 2014 in the United States) before it could complete Tite Kubo's full story. Declining book sales and ratings meant that the final arc of Bleach wouldn't get an anime treatment until 2022.
But the returning sequel series—called Bleach: Thousand-Year Blood War—was a triumph. Not only was the animation of stellar quality, but it was great to see the characters back in action after all those years.
Sadly, this arc still suffered from similar problems in Bleach's latter arcs, namely too much character bloat and the lack of a compelling villain following the fall of Aizen. It's far from terrible, but The Thousand-Year Blood War Arc didn't reach the heights of Bleach greatness.
4. Arrancar: Decisive Battle of Karakura Arc (Eps. 213–229)
Arrancar: Decisive Battle of Karakura Arc was a turning point that shifted focus away from Ichigo and allowed the huge number of Bleach side characters to shine in battle against Aizen's invading army.
The resulting Bleach arc is one that didn't rely as heavily on the standard shonen anime trope of the main character achieving greater levels of power to handle increasingly stronger opponents.
Instead, we saw the captains of Soul Society involved in some of the most visually stunning battles in Bleach's entire run. No matter who your favorite Bleach character is, they probably got some love in this arc!
3. Arrancar: The Fierce Fight Arc (Eps. 152–167)
Arrancar: The Fierce Fight Arc was all about rivalries and settling scores. In this one, we were treated to several spectacular fights, including Rukia taking down the Hollow that killed her mentor and Ichigo overcoming Grimmjow's overwhelming power.
Of all the best Bleach arcs, this was the one that struck the best balance between humor, action, and character development.
In Arrancar: The Fierce Fight Arc, nearly everyone in the main cast got a chance to shine and contribute, and the Hueco Mundo characters provided for great comic relief moments.
2. Soul Society: The Rescue Arc (Eps. 42–63)
When Rukia was taken by Soul Society and sentenced to execution, Ichigo set out to rescue her against all odds. The culmination of this rescue mission is the moment when Bleach finally figured out what kind of story it wanted to tell.
The reveal at the end—when Aizen showed himself as the true villain behind everything up to that point—was an incredible twist that successfully set up everything that would come afterwards.
While other Bleach arcs have grander stakes, Ichigo's dedication to protecting Rukia was a defining moment for both of them.
1. Arrancar: Downfall Arc (Eps. 266–316)
The showdown between Ichigo and Aizen is one of the greatest fights in anime history, and that alone makes Arrancar: Downfall Arc stand out. But there's so much more to love here.
Arrancar: Downfall Arc gave us multiple great fights, plus some of the most visually interesting Espada in the series, plus some genuinely emotional exchanges between key characters, plus near-constant twists from Aizen that kept us guessing all the way to the end.
If the conclusion of Arrancar: Downfall Arc was the end of the Bleach series, it would've cemented a solid legacy for the anime.