Naruto and Naruto Shippuden have some of the best music of any anime, period.
Composed by Toshio Masuda and Yasuharu Takanashi, not many anime series have music as emotional and fitting and consistently good as what we got in both halves of Naruto.
I still listen to these tracks to this day, and not just when I'm feeling nostalgic. They're plain good listening.
What counts as a "best song"?
To me, it's any song that's so well-composed that it would be received well and appreciated by someone who'd never seen Naruto, but also brings out the most emotion in me knowing the context of the song as it was used in Naruto.
Since Naruto and Naruto Shippuden use completely separate soundtracks, I'll list the Top 10 for both series independently.
Note: Minor spoilers in this article; it's hard to talk about the music without referencing scenes!
And if you don't own them already, consider buying the soundtracks so you can listen to them whenever you want, however you want:
Top 10 Songs in the Naruto OST
1. "Naruto's Theme"
The theme song that started it all way back in 2002. A pretty fitting setup for the entire series with its tribal drum backings overlaid with shamisen, shakuhachi, and electric guitar. It's anachronistic but flavorful, which perfectly represents the tone that Naruto exhibits all throughout.
2. "Sadness and Sorrow" / "Grief and Sorrow"
One of the best "sad" tracks in any form of media, whether that's anime, video games, film, or TV. Just look at how many covers there are on YouTube to get a glimpse of how many people this song has affected.
The "Grief and Sorrow" variant is even sadder, played during the funeral of one of the most important characters in the original Naruto series.
3. "Orochimaru Fight"
The otherworldly feel of this track is absolutely insane, and it's made even more awesome when you consider the context of its debut: Orochimaru's first attack in the Forest of Death. It's the first time we're forced to reconsider the character and wonder just who the heck is this guy?
4. "Sasuke's Theme"
Industrial, maverick, with a touch of Western twang to highlight the wildness that brews beneath—a perfect summation of Sasuke's character and his lone wolf ways, wrapped up in a cool and mysterious exterior. The evolution of this theme in Naruto Shippuden is also an interesting listen.
5. "Beautiful Green Wild Beast"
The first time Rock Lee removes his self-imposed limits and busts out his true abilities? One of the most badass moments in any anime series, and so memorable too. Jaw drops and fist pumps!
6. "Naruto's Daily Life"
One thing I love in the original Naruto is that it didn't take itself too seriously. All of the serious moments were punctuated with moments of levity, often times devolving into downright silly antics. This song is a perfect representation of all that.
As one of the strongest female characters in the series, it's fitting that Temari gets such a badass track. The Eastern flavor is just too good to pass up. It's unfortunate that she never quite amounted to anything more than a minor side character.
There are lots of "assessing the situation" type scenes in the original Naruto, and this is what plays every time. I love it because you just know that some big realization or "Eureka!" moment is waiting around the corner—the kinds of moments that made Naruto so mentally stimulating.
9. "Heavy Violence"
Every once in a while, something big happens in Naruto—and in the face of overwhelming opposition, is there a better track? It adeptly captures feelings of danger, caution, and the need to do something about the threat even though the odds are stacked against you.
10. "Strong and Strike"
The iconic "reversal of fortune" track. Some character is beat down and overwhelmed and left hopeless, but they still have the will to survive and carry on. It's everything that the original Naruto stood for, and it's no wonder that this track is one of the most popular and most memorable from the series.
Top 10 Songs in the Naruto Shippuden OST
1. "Early Summer Rain" / "Mountain Haze"
Ethereal, melancholic, with a touch of hope. That balance of sadness and yearning for something better is the undercurrent that carries Naruto Shippuden ever onward. There's just something magical about this track, and it's my absolute favorite song in any anime soundtrack. No contest.
2. "Man of the World"
Regret. It oozes from every note in this track, and you can't help but feel sympathetic. The worst villains in Naruto Shippuden always had backstories and motives that were rooted in character, but it was the music—tracks like this one—that really made you come to understand their point of view.
3. "Heaven Shaking Event"
If "Strong and Strike" was the reversal-of-fortune track for the original Naruto, then this would be its Naruto Shippuden counterpart. But more than just evoking the will to survive, this track is about the will to overcome those who want to keep you down.
I didn't think it was possible to compose a track sadder than "Sadness and Sorrow," but somehow Toshio Masuda pulled it off. Whereas the former is a sadness rooted in grief, this one is a sadness of isolation and hopelessness. Oh, now I'm getting sad...
This track isn't played too often, but when it comes on, it's extremely cathartic—because it's basically the victory theme of Naruto Shippuden. Victory is always hard to come by in the Naruto universe, which is why the occasional win always tastes so sweet.
Name a more iconic anime villain organization than Akatsuki. I'll wait. There really isn't much more that can be said about the greatness of this song and how perfectly it captures the dark, ominous, and almost otherworldly qualities of Akatsuki.
To be honest, I didn't like the theme song for Naruto Shippuden when I first started watching it. Coming from the original Naruto series, it just didn't feel like Naruto to me—a bit too orchestrated, if that makes sense. But after a while, it grew on me, and it's clear that this track has beautiful layers.
Every so often, we get a denouement in Naruto Shippuden that offers bittersweet closure—and this is the perfect track for those moments. "It's been a long and weary journey, but we made it."
9. "Emergence of Talents"
This track oozes with tension, and I just love it. When someone has something up their sleeve and you don't quite know what it is and you're waiting with bated breath to see what it might be? Yeah, this is the track for that.
10. "The Hidden Will to Fight"
There's something deeply primal about this track—maybe it's the drums, maybe it's the chanting—that fits so well with the title. Just listen to it.
Isn't It Time for a Naruto Rewatch?
Just listening to these tracks brings back so many memories and awesome moments from the series.
If asked to pick my favorite moment of all time, I don't think I could do it—but I will say that the Chuunin Exam arc is a solid contender for the best stretch of Naruto episodes. That storyline was just so mind-bending and engaging in so many ways for me.