Neji Hyūga is widely regarded as one of the most beloved and popular characters in the Naruto franchise. That's pretty impressive considering that in the manga and anime, outside of the titular character and his arch-nemesis Sasuke, there are dozens of heroes and villains that fans adore.
What stands out with Neji, however, is his stoic nature, his journey from a cynical anti-hero to an optimistic protagonist, and also, the fact that he played one of the biggest roles in the Fourth Shinobi World War. With that in mind, let's look at why Neji's tragic story is one of the property's most powerful to date.
In Neji's early life in Konoha, he was a very calm, disciplined, almost robotic youth. Because of his upbringing, he believed that young ninjas were faced with a predestined fate and they couldn't shirk their duties. In essence, Neji felt like a bitter adult in a teenager's body -- one of very few words. This was due to his father Hizashi's death for the Hyūga clan, which he thought his family forced the man into.
It turns out his dad actually sacrificed his life willingly due to a blood feud with a rival village, all so that Neji, his uncle Hiashi (Hizashi's twin) and Hinata (Hizashi's daughter) could live on in peace. This is what made Neji so resentful towards his own family; but eventually, a fight with Naruto in the ninja exams would open Neji's eyes. After Naruto beat Neji, he told him he was still a genius, showing Neji love, warmth and acceptance.
This began shifting Neji's perspective, as Naruto told him once he stopped worrying about fate, he would unlock his true potential. When Hizashi revealed the truth about Neji's dad right after, he realized he needed to let go of hate to honor his dad's memory. As a result, he became more easy-going, somewhat of a jokester like his teammates (Rock Lee, Tenten) on Team Guy, and garnered even more respect as one of Konoha's most brilliant assets. He often dispensed sage-like advice, showing wisdom beyond his years outside of the battlefield too, and became loving towards Hinata and his clan. This is best embodied by Neji's affinity for watching birds in flight, as they represented the freedom he wanted for himself.
Neji was one of Konoha's best fighters in the academy from a very young age. He was able to master techniques using fire, earth and water, and all of his peers were in awe. His martial arts skills were way beyond those of Naruto, who had to dig deep to beat him by using shadow clones. But when push came to shove, Neji was still considered the pride of Konoha, along with Sasuke in terms of the best soldiers for the future.
What made him stand out was his family's bloodline trait, the Byakugan. This dōjutsu (an ocular ability) granted him special powers such as having a near-360° penetrative field of vision. He did have a blindspot, but worked through this by emitting chakra around the area, which also showed how adept he was at manipulating this natural energy. Eventually, he honed his eyes from being able to see 50 meters away to up to 800 meters.
These abilities combined to make Neji's taijutsu (hand-to-hand combat) one of the franchise's most feared. His speed and precision made him formidable at close range, requiring opponents to keep their distance if they hoped to compete. Even at a distance, though, Neji's Byakugan and lightning-fast reflexes made him difficult to hit. Also, because he could see people's chakra points, he could strike and shut down parts of their body, to lethal effect. This allowed him to limit his opponent from using their own powers as Neji knew the right chakra points to turn off. Neji's most underrated abilities, however, came via his palm techniques, which enabled him to strike multiple objects/opponents from far away, deflect incoming missiles, and act as a walking shockwave.
NEJI'S DEATH & LEGACY
When the Great War came, Neji was a key strategist in the Shinobi Allied Forces that comprised of Konoha and its rival villages. He led from the front, developing plans of attack when it came to taking down the likes of Obito and Madara Uchiha. When the villains brought the Ten Tails monster to life, though, Neji's biggest moment proved to be one of the series' most heartbreaking.
When the beast shot thousands of wooden spikes at the coalition, Naruto tried to shield Hinata, as he was falling in love with her. But Neji, knowing Naruto was the one ninja the army couldn't lose, ended up using his powers to shield Naruto and his cousin. Sadly, Neji's body ended up being impaled by multiple shards of wood, resulting in his death. In his final words, he reminded Naruto to protect all villages, thus inspiring his friend to become the Hokage (leader) of Konoha later on.
The army would later develop a bird formation in battle in Neji's honor. After the war, Neji was buried back home and became one of the most revered ninjas ever. After Naruto and Hinata got married, they often brought their daughter Himawari to his grave to learn about the man she considers her uncle. Neji's biggest legacy was to remind the alliance to sacrifice for each other, and that's why he's remained the gold standard of Naruto characters.