Twelve years before the events at the focus of the series, the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox attacked Konohagakure. Powerful enough to raise tsunamis and flatten mountains with a swish of one of its tails, it raised chaos and slaughtered many people, until the leader of the Leaf Village – the Fourth Hokage – sacrificed his own life to seal the demon inside Naruto when he was a newborn. The Fourth Hokage, who was celebrated as a hero for sealing the demon fox away, wanted Naruto to be respected in a similar light by being the containment vessel for the demon fox.
The Leaf Village, however, shunned him, regarding Naruto as if he were the demon fox itself and mistreated him throughout most of his childhood. A decree made by the Third Hokage forbade anyone to discuss or mention the attack of the demon fox to anyone, even their own children. However, this did not stop them from treating him like an outcast and as a result he grew up an orphan without friends, family, or acknowledgment. He could not force people to befriend him, so he sought acknowledgment and attention the only way he knew – through pranks and mischief.
However, that soon changed after Naruto graduated from the Ninja Academy by using his Shadow Clone Technique, a technique from a forbidden scroll that he was tricked into stealing, to save his teacher, Iruka Umino, from the renegade ninja Mizuki. That encounter gave Naruto two insights: that he was the container of the demon fox, and that there was someone besides the Third Hokage who actually cared for and acknowledged him. His graduation from the academy opened a gateway to the events and people that would change and define his world, including his way of the ninja for the rest of his life.
The main story follows Naruto and his friends' personal growth and development as ninja, and emphasizes their interactions with each other and the influence of their backgrounds on their personalities. Naruto finds two friends and comrades in Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno, two fellow young ninja who are assigned with him to form a three-person team under an experienced sensei named Kakashi Hatake. Naruto also confides in other characters that he meets throughout the series as well. They learn new abilities, get to know each other and other villagers better, and experience a coming-of-age journey as Naruto dreams of becoming the Hokage of the Leaf Village.
Throughout all of the Naruto plot, strong emphasis on character development changes the plot, with very few things happening because of chance. At first, emphasis is placed on Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura, who are the members of Team 7. However, other characters are developed, such as Kakashi, Tsunade, and Jiraiya, as well as Naruto's peers in the other teams and villages. Several major villains come into play as well, the first being Zabuza Momochi, a missing-nin from Kirigakure, and his partner, Haku. Later, in the Chunin Exams arc, Orochimaru is introduced as an S-Class missing-nin at the top of Konoha's most wanted list. During this arc, three ninjas known as the Sand Siblings are introduced. These siblings are from Sunagakure and include Temari, Kankuro and Gaara. Later still, a mysterious organization called Akatsuki begins to pursue Naruto for the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox inside him.
In the original one shot of "Naruto," Naruto Uzumaki is the son of a powerful fox demon, whose spirit was sealed away by nine powerful warriors. Only one person, the current chief of the village of the demon fox spirits on Mt. Oinari with a large resemblance to the Third Hokage from the current series, survived, and he took on the duty of raising Naruto. Naruto, however, is mischievous and a trouble maker, pulling multiple pranks on others with each passing day. The village chief, angry, sends Naruto on special training to the human world to find a human friend he can trust, otherwise he would not be welcome to the village any longer.
While in the human world, Naruto meets the artist Kuroda, who trusted no one after his father's death, struggling to finish an important painting. After Kuroda's assistant, Takashi, is killed and the painting is stolen, Naruto is framed and arrested. Kuroda, however, sympathizes with Naruto enough to legally take all punishments that would have been given to Naruto. Naruto, attempting to repay Kuroda, searches for Takashi's murderer, eventually finding out that Matsushima, who hired Kuroda to make the painting, and his body guard plotted the whole affair and framed Naruto. Naruto defeats both of them with ease, and the two get arrested, with no one believing their stories about Naruto's abilities. Although Naruto befriends Kuroda, however, Kuroda is too busy to follow Naruto to Mt. Oinari, and thus Naruto leaves to continue his quest.
The original Naruto had a significant theming on friendship and trust. At the beginning of the story, neither Naruto or Kuroda trusted anyone, but by the end both befriended and trusted each other. Despite its high results in the reader poll after getting released, Kishimoto thought "[the] art stinks and the story's a mess!" Kishimoto also revealed that he was originally working on Karakuri for the Hop Step Award when, unsatisfied by the rough drafts, decided to work on something different instead, which later formed into Naruto.
Noticeably, in the original Naruto, scrolls and stickers are used for the lesser jutsu, rather than using hand signs to initiate jutsu.
When an interviewer asked Kishimoto if he had any message for his Anglophone audience, Kishimoto said "I feel sometimes that Naruto is too Japanese, with all the chakra and hand signs, but as you read it you'll find that it's fun."