Welcome to the Naruto thread redux! Due to various disagreements, "shipping" woes, and the series ending, the old thread was closed. However, with Shouta's permission, we are going to try this again. Open spoilers beyond this point.
Naruto (ナルト) is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto. It tells the story of Uzumaki Naruto, an adolescent ninja who constantly searches for recognition and dreams to become the Hokage, the ninja in his village who is acknowledged as the leader and the strongest of all. The series is based on a one-shot manga by Kishimoto that was published in the August 1997 issue of Akamaru Jump. When originally creating the Naruto story, Kishimoto looked to other shōnen manga as influences for his work, although he attempted to make his characters as unique as possible. The separation of the characters into different teams was intended to give each group a specific flavor. The series has been running since 1999, and ended serialization very recently. There is a confirmed mini-series - essentially Part 3 - coming this Spring, as well as a movie titled "The Last" that covers the long gap between Chapter 699 and Chapter 700. The series proper, however, is over.
As of September 2014, the manga has over 200 million copies in print, with over 130 million copies in Japan and the remaining 70 million being overseas, making it the third best-selling manga series in history. The manga is also available in 70 countries outside Japan.
Major characters in the series:
Uzumaki Naruto - (うずまきナルト) is a shinobi of Konohagakure, the current reincarnation of Asura, and the eponymous protagonist of the Naruto franchise. He became the third jinchūriki of Kurama on the day of his birth, a fate that caused him to be ostracised and neglected by most of Konoha throughout his childhood. After joining Team Kakashi, Naruto worked hard to gain the village's respect and acknowledgement with the eventual dream of becoming Hokage. In the following years, Naruto became a capable ninja regarded as a hero, both by the villagers and the shinobi world at large. Naruto's goals other than becoming Hokage were saving his friend and fellow teammate Uchiha Sasuke, who succumbed to hatred and darkness, which he eventually accomplished after defeating him in their final battle. Some time after the Fourth Shinobi World War, Naruto achieved his dream and became the Seventh Hokage (七代目火影, Nanadaime Hokage; Literally meaning "Seventh Fire Shadow"), while also marrying Hyūga Hinata and having two children, Uzumaki Boruto (Bolt, in homage to Neji, which means screw) and Uzumaki Himawari.
Uchiha Sasuke - (うちはサスケ) is one of the last surviving members of Konohagakure's Uchiha clan and the current reincarnation of Indra. He became a shinobi so he could someday grow strong enough to exact revenge against his older brother, Itachi, who had slaughtered their entire clan. Initially a member of Konoha's Team 7, Sasuke defected from the village to obtain power from Orochimaru, and later also joined Akatsuki, becoming an international criminal in the process. He later proves instrumental in ending the Fourth Shinobi World War in order to achieve his own goal of revolution, but is finally defeated and redeemed once more by his best friend, Uzumaki Naruto. He is then officially excused of his crimes because of his involvement in dispelling the Infinite Tsukuyomi. Years after the Fourth Shinobi War, he forms his own family with Haruno Sakura.
Haruno Sakura - (春野サクラ) is a kunoichi of Konohagakure. She is appointed as a member of Team Kakashi, but quickly finds herself ill-prepared for the duties of a ninja and the complications of her team-mates' lives. By training under her master, Tsunade, she becomes a strong kunoichi and an excellent medical-nin, capable of facing the challenges of life as a ninja, as well as help and protect her friends and loved ones when they need her. Years after the Fourth Shinobi War, she forms her own family with Sasuke.
Hatake Kakashi - (はたけカカシ) is a shinobi of Konohagakure. He received a Sharingan from his former team-mate, Uchiha Obito, when he was younger, leading him to fame as Copy Ninja Kakashi (コピー忍者のカカシ, Kopī Ninja no Kakashi) and Kakashi of the Sharingan (写輪眼のカカシ, Sharingan no Kakashi). His prodigious talent, skill, and Sharingan prowess have made him one of the village's most capable ninja, and as such, highly recognised throughout the ninja world. He is eventually appointed the leader of Team 7, where he uses his years of experience to train his students to become skilled ninja in their own rights. At some point following the Fourth Shinobi World War, Kakashi takes up office as the Sixth Hokage (六代目火影, Rokudaime Hokage; Literally meaning "Sixth Fire Shadow") before eventually retiring and passing it on to his pupil, Uzumaki Naruto.
Hyuga Hinata- (日向ヒナタ) is a member of Konohagakure's Hyūga clan. Being of a meek disposition, Hinata's lack of self-confidence reflected in her skills — traits that caused her father to deem that she was not suited for her position as the clan's heiress. From observation of Uzumaki Naruto, Hinata finds both an example to follow to be more assertive, and a person to love. In her membership with Team Kurenai, she seeks to become strong enough to change herself, if even a little at a time. Eventually, she marries Naruto and has two children with him, Boruto and Himawari.
Hyuga Neji - (日向ネジ) was a member of Konohagakure's Hyūga clan. Though a prodigy even by the Hyūga's standards, Neji was a member of the clan's Branch House; no matter how skilled he became, he would always be in service to the Hyūga's Main House, a fact that convinced him fate was predetermined. After experiencing Naruto's refusal to be limited by such an ideology, Neji realised his fate was what he chose it to be, and as a member of Team Gai, sought the strength necessary to make the future he wanted for his family and friends. His death in the Fourth Shinobi World War deeply affected his peers, prompting Naruto to name his son in homage to Neji.
Umino Iruka - (うみのイルカ) is a chūnin of Konohagakure who serves primarily as an instructor at the Academy. When Naruto was ostracized by the village due to his status as a jinchuuriki and his nature as a prankster, Iruka was the only one to acknowledge and empathize with Naruto. The two of them would often bond over ramen - which Iruka would usually pay for - and shared a brotherly relationship. Naruto notes at several times during the series that Iruka's acknowledgement and friendship saved him from succumbing to hatred.
The Sage of the Six Paths - (大筒木ハゴロモ, Ōtsutsuki Hagoromo), known to the world at large as the Sage of the Six Paths (六道仙人, Rikudō Sennin), was a legendary god-like figure who founded Ninshū which led to the creation of the ninja world. He was the son of Princess Ōtsutsuki Kaguya and, alongside his brother, the first humans born with the same powerful chakra, inherited from their mother. Both he and his brother defeated their mother, having become the terrifying Ten-Tails, in battle and sealed the powerful beast within him, thus making Hagoromo the first jinchūriki. He helped both Naruto and Sasuke in their final battle, granting them abilities well beyond their normal means, which ultimately allowed the two of them to emerge victorious.
Jiraiya - (自来也) was one of Konohagakure's legendary Sannin. He was known as the Toad Sage (蝦蟇仙人, Gama Sennin) because of his special affinity for toads. Famed as a hermit and pervert of stupendous skill, Jiraiya travelled the world in search of knowledge that would help his friends, the various novels he wrote, and, posthumously, the world in its entirety - knowledge that would be passed on to his godson and final student, Naruto.
Namikaze Minato - (波風ミナト) was the Fourth Hokage (四代目火影, Yondaime Hokage; Literally meaning "Fourth Fire Shadow") of Konohagakure. He was famous in life for his speed, leading to the moniker of Konoha's Yellow Flash (木ノ葉の黄色い閃光, Konoha no Kiiroi Senkō; English TV "Yellow Flash of the Leaf"). He died during the Nine-Tails' attack on Konoha, sacrificing his life to seal a part of the Nine-Tails into his newborn son, Uzumaki Naruto.
Note that this list is heavily truncated, and has been limited to characters who influenced Naruto's life most directly. Otherwise, we'd be here all day! Naruto is a series full of interesting and unique characters.
Keep it civil. Don't start shit over stupid shit. Maybe we can stay open this time.
On that note, the anime is just now entering into the final story arc. For manga readers who want more Naruto, I would highly recommend giving the anime a shot. Gai vs. Madara is coming up very soon.