Many of the most popular shonen franchises have a tournament-driven storyline, and for good reason. Well-written tournament arcs allow the best fighters in a series to face off against one another in an orderly fashion and compare their strengths, which is also an excellent opportunity for forming or resolving rivalries and displaying new moves and techniques.
The legendary Chunin Exam sequence in Naruto and the UA Sports Festival in My Hero Academia are two notable examples. Both tournament arcs feature free-for-all battles, single-elimination brackets, personal drama, character development, and the introduction of numerous new characters and abilities. One of these beloved competitions, however, takes it to the next level more than the other.
Naruto and the Konoha 11's Entire World Changed After Taking the Chunin Exam
Naruto's Chunin Exam takes the form of a three-phase trial, with two different tournaments taking place in the second and third parts. First there's the written exam, followed by the remaining genin fighting a team-based free-for-all in the Forest of Death. Then there are two single-elimination tournaments, one in the forest's central tower and another in a combat arena.
The Chunin Exam changed everything for protagonist Naruto Uzumaki and most Konoha 11 members (plus Sasuke Uchiha), most of all in its tournament-style parts. Team 7 became stronger and more cohesive, with Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke fighting for survival in the Forest of Death and protecting each other. Before this tournament, Sakura was like a hanger-on who just provided commentary. Naruto, meanwhile, really grew as a clever, self-sufficient genin who pushed himself to get stronger, then faced the likes of Kiba Inuzuka and Neji Hyuga in single combat and won.
The Chunin Exam's tournament-style battles often had personal stakes for the genin involved, starting with Sakura facing her friend and rival Ino Yamanaka as a true equal for the first time. Meanwhile, the meek Hinata Hyuga finally learned to stand up for herself after Naruto shouted some encouraging words, a major turning point for her character. Rock Lee pushed himself far past his limit to face the mighty then-villain Gaara of the Sand, demonstrating his fanatical resolve and determination to live up to Might Guy's expectations. Even Shikamaru Nara was encouraged to actually fight and put himself on the map as a combat-ready brainiac genin.
The UA Festival Competition and Battle of Quirks in My Hero Academia
My Hero Academia's primary tournament arc, the UA Sports Festival, was an excellent opportunity to showcase many new Quirks and show how certain combinations could work. The competition became more personal in the single-elimination tournament, where the top 16 students faced one another in single combat. Most matches were quick, but the more substantial ones provided deep personal and Quirk developments for protagonist Izuku Midoriya and two of his classmates, his friend Ochaco Uraraka and his secondary rival Shoto Todoroki.
Midoriya's match against Hitoshi Shinso foreshadowed One For All's true nature and its previous users, while a fan-favorite match against Todoroki involved Midoriya verbally breaking down his opponent's mental barriers regarding his Quirk's fire half. Uraraka toughened herself up after losing to Katsuki Bakugo, which inspired her to train with Gunhead and become a close-range specialist. Like Naruto's Chunin Exam, MHA's tournament ended somewhat inconclusively since the overall winner, Bakugo, felt like he had gained nothing from the experience.
Chunin Exam In Naruto Is Superior Than MHA's Sports Festival
Naruto and MHA's shonen tournaments both added new characters and abilities to their respective stories and featured some iconic anime fights. The Chunin Exam is the better tournament overall, though, as it simply does more of what made the UA Sports Festival arc great. More characters had their abilities and development deepened, including Naruto, Sakura, Ino, Rock Lee, Gaara, Hinata and Neji. Sakura and Hinata in particular experienced substantial glow-ups in Naruto Shippuden, a change that traces directly back to their experiences in the Chunin Exam.
Naruto's Chunin Exam also had far more tension than My Hero Academia's Sports Festival because the villains -- mainly Orochimaru and his followers -- were part of it and had their own plans. Orochimaru even placed a curse mark on Sasuke that planted the seeds of the latter's fall into villainy, and had no concept of sportsmanship or healthy rivalries. The Chunin Exam was meant to be challenging but fair, but true villains arrived with far higher and deadlier stakes.
Orochimaru's involvement in the Chunin Exam kept Naruto fans uneasy because it remained unclear what exactly he would do next. The answers were revealed when this tournament smoothly transitioned to the "Konoha Crush" arc, an all-out war for the Hidden Leaf Village's very survival.