The shinobi world is full of ninja with unique skill sets. Often times, the Jutsu and techniques of a ninja are inherited directly from their clan as family secrets or Kekkei Genkai. Other assets, however, need to be earned rather than inherited.
For example, knowledge is purely gained through learning and experience. Unless you're part of the Nara clan like Shikaku, Shikamaru, and Shikadai (all of whom are indeed geniuses), chances are you're going to have to make an actual effort to become a smart and strategic ninja. Here are ten Naruto characters who've proven to be geniuses in their own right.
Referred to as "spiky aloe" by Naruto, Zetsu was the most low-key member of the Akatsuki who often went unnoticed. As if the Akatsuki weren't shady enough, Zetsu took it to the next level. No one was every aware of its true intentions and elaborate plan until the end of the series.
Initially acting very loyal to the Akatsuki, Zetsu actually only cared about and had close ties to the final boss of the series, Kaguya. As it turned out, Black Zetsu was created by Kaguya and made it its mission to resurrect its "mother." Basically, Zetsu was the mastermind behind the most destructive events in ninja history, which involved manipulating Madara and setting off the whole Fourth Shinobi War.
Sakura is one of the few Naruto characters who come from a clan that lacks any specialty techniques such as the Uchiha clan's Sharingan or the Yamanaka clan's Mind Transfer Jutsu. For that reason, she did not initially stand out in terms of ninjutsu or physical capabilities.
Instead, Sakura has always excelled greatly in her intelligence. Since her academy days, she was always a little sassy, at the top of her class, and scored well on the written Chunin Exam without cheating like everyone else. It isn't until after she trains under Tsunade that Sakura combines her intelligence and newfound potential to become an excellent medic ninja with monstrous strength.
To become Hokage, a ninja must be both powerful and smart enough to make decisions that will impact the entire Leaf Village. Unlike his son, Naruto, Minato was considered a prodigy ninja who excelled in all aspects of being a ninja, including intelligence.
Minato used his skills and smarts as a prodigy to create special Jutsu such as Naruto's favored Rasengan, which took inspiration from the Tailed Beasts. He also made his own signature kunai knives which enhanced his speed, allowing him to teleport in the midst of battle. And, if his innovation weren't already enough, Minato's quick thinking in sealing the Nine-Tailed Fox into his son is what saved Konohagakure from total destruction.
Despite his laidback nature and how he came across as careless in his initial introduction, Kakashi's genius abilities earned him his elite Jonin title when he was only twelve, the same age Naruto became a genin. After his contributions in the Fourth Shinobi War, he was then appointed to be the Sixth Hokage.
Kakashi's intelligence is often displayed in his ability to calmly assess the situation in battle without making any reckless decisions as someone like Naruto had a bad habit of doing. In addition, he was able to learn on his own how to control both the Sharingan and Mangekyo Sharingan despite not being part of the Uchiha clan.
One of the Legendary Three Ninja alongside Tsunade and Orochimaru, Jiraiya is more than just the creepy old man he appears to be.
After training under the wise Third Hokage, Jiraiya continued the tradition of teaching the Fourth Hokage, who taught the Sixth Hokage, who taught the Seventh Hokage. Although Jiraiya was never Hokage himself, he certainly was qualified to become one and turned down the position when offered. Instead, he opted to become a mentor to Naruto, to whom he passed down special techniques like Rasengan and Sage Mode. Outside of ninja combat, Jiraiya was also the famous author of Kakashi's favorite novel series!
Like Jiraiya, Orochimaru learned from the Third Hokage and became an undeniably powerful ninja. The big difference was that Orochimaru chose a much darker path than his former teammate and teacher.
Following the assassination of the Third Hokage, Orochimaru's evil plan was to lure Sasuke into becoming his new body through manipulation and temptation. In his greed for power and immortality, Orochimaru inevitably became obsessed with science experiments. Though he was defeated before achieving his goals, one good thing came out of all Orochimaru's hard work and experimentation: his beloved child, Mitsuki.
Despite being born into the elite Hyuga clan with powerful Byakugan eyes, Neji had always felt burdened by his lower status within the clan's ranking system. In contrast to his cousin Hinata, who was blessed with a royal status in the clan, Neji was cursed with the role of protecting the main branch at all costs.
Because of that, he trained to become a genius who mastered many techniques beyond his supposed rank. Up until his death in the Fourth Shinobi War, Neji taught himself and utilized extremely complex Hyuga techniques such as the Eight Trigrams: Sixty-Four Palms and Palm Rotation.
Tobirama, better known as the Second Hokage, did not have such a large presence throughout the Naruto series, as he had already died prior to where the story began. However, the legacy of his advanced knowledge still influences the ninja world today.
In his role as the Second Hokage, Tobirama was the one who made the decision to establish the Anbu Black Ops and the Ninja Academy to ensure the safety and preparedness of future generations. He also created many impressive techniques such as the forbidden jutsu that brings people back to life at the control of the user.
Always a hundred steps ahead of his younger brother Sasuke, Itachi pulled off one of the most secretive missions in Konohagakure. He might have killed his entire clan and joined the infamous Akatsuki in the process, but Itachi's true intentions were anything but evil. In fact, only a ninja as smart and dedicated as he would've been able to pull it off.
After learning that his own clan was planning a coup against Konohagakure, Itachi chose to serve as a double agent between the groups to resolve the tension peacefully. When that didn't work, Itachi saw no other choice but to turn against his clan in order to protect his brother and the village. Though it caused him much internal suffering, Itachi kept this secret from everyone, including Sasuke, up until his death.
Unlike the other smart characters on this list, Shikamaru is perhaps the only one whose superior intellect runs in the blood of his family, the Nara clan. With his father, son, and he all exhibiting nearly identical personalities and brains, it's safe to say Shikamaru's brilliance was no accident.
Since the time of the Chunin Exams where he first showcased his tactical mind against several opponents and was the only applicant to advance as a Chunin, Shikamaru always seemed to create an innovative strategy that ensured his victory in battle. After successfully leading allied troops in the Fourth Shinobi War as the chief strategist, Shikamaru went on to become the trusty assistance to Naruto, who in contrast was not the brightest Hokage out there.