When Masashi Kishimoto was originally creating the Naruto series, he looked to other shōnen manga for influences while attempting to make his characters as unique as possible. Kishimoto cites Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball series as one of these influences, noting that Goku, the protagonist of Dragon Ball, was a key factor when creating Naruto Uzumaki due to his energetic and mischievous personality. To complement Naruto, Kishimoto worked on creating a rival that was a "cool genius", as he believed this was "the archetypal rival character". After reviewing different manga for ideas, he ultimately developed Sasuke Uchiha. When creating the primary heroine, Kishimoto admitted, "I don't have a definite image of what a heroine should be". He eventually created Sakura, emphasizing "her energy and flirtatious spirit" as her primary characteristics. These three characters would be the mold for the other three main Naruto teams.
The separation of the characters into different teams was intended to give each group a specific flavor. Kishimoto wished for each team member to be "extreme", having a high amount of aptitude in one given attribute, yet talentless in another. This approach was used to make each team perform best when individual members worked together to overcome their weaknesses. Having watched tokusatsu dramas as a child, Kishimoto wished for his teams to be different from the superhero teams in these dramas, dismissing the value of a team in which all the teammates were "strong to the point of perfection". Kishimoto notes that the different roles the characters assume is similar to many role-playing games, and "each character stands out better that way".
Kishimoto inserted villains into the story to counteract the lead characters' moral values. He stated that this focus on illustrating the difference in values is central to his creation of villains to the point that, "I don't really think about them in combat". The villains' physical appearances were also embellished in order to differentiate them from other characters, making it easier for a reader to follow the story and identify the villains, even in heated battle scenes. Kishimoto noted that making the villains "flamboyant" with a "showy costume" is "one of my guiding principles", as well as making them "more memorable".
When drawing the characters, Kishimoto consistently follows a five-step process: concept and rough sketch, drafting, inking, shading, and coloring. These steps are followed when he is drawing the manga and making the color illustrations that commonly adorn the cover of tankōbon, the cover of the Weekly Shōnen Jump, or other media, but the toolkit he utilizes occasionally changes. For instance, he used an airbrush for one illustration for a Weekly Shōnen Jump cover, but decided not to use it for future drawings largely due to the cleanup required.
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