The recent announcement that Bleach was coming back to TV to adapt the manga’s final arc came as something of a surprise, even to longtime fans. Given that it was the rare Shonen Jump franchise anime to be canceled while its source manga was still running, fans considered that, at best, there’d be a movie or a limited series.
While details on the anime revival are still shrouded in mystery, it gives fans an ample chance to discuss the series all over again. To help with that, we’ve definitively ranked every one of the 16 arcs of the anime from worst to best for your handy reference.
One note before we dive in: while it’s technically all one giant arc, the Arrancar Saga is interrupted by other arcs often enough that we’ll be following the Bleach fan Wiki’s lead and treating each section of it as five distinct arcs, and ranking them accordingly.
With that bit of housekeeping out of the way, let’s pop our Gikons and dive right in!
In theory, this anime-only arc should be interesting: it’s got intrigue with Gin Ichimaru’s replacement, Shūsuke Amagai, and has Ichigo and Rukia wind up in a drama involving Soul Society Princess Rurichiyo Kasumiōji. But while its overall brunt is interesting, it never quite hangs together nor becomes what truly great anime filler (like we’ll see later on this list) should always be: an absorbing dive into the characters as they face a wholly new situation.
Again, this has incredible promise. The notion of the zanpakutō spirits being incited to rebellion by a nefarious agent like Muramasa is exciting and many of the individual battles, like Rukia against her seldom-used blade’s spirit, Sode no Shirayuki, is really inspired. But again, it just feels like a detour on the road to the final showdown with Aizen. Fun but inessential.
Traveling back in time 110 years ago to see the intertwined past of Sōsuke Aizen and Kisuke Urahara should be awesome. But, again, it just feels like marking time. Although, the final fight is cool and, at eight episodes, it’s well-paced.
While anything would be a downer after a round of filler plus the awesome final fight between Ichigo and Grimmjow, this is the textbook definition of “jogging in place.” While seeing Nel’s real form is really cool and Byakuya and Miyuri showing up changes the stakes, Orihime gets recaptured at the end, which is true to the manga but, nevertheless, kind of annoying.
Credit this arc for having a high concept: rather than risk Aizen and his troops being able to affect the real Karakura Town in his quest to make the Ōken, the Gotei 13 instead move the real town to the Soul Society and throw up a fake one in its stead. In theory, that means there’s no holding back. In practice, it’s like watching a bunch of really sterile Power Rangers fights.
It’s almost unfair to call this an arc, as really, it’s several mini-arcs strung together. Still, it can’t be ignored that this is where it all started and, while the show has growing pains in these early episodes, there’s still a lot to like including Ichigo’s cathartic fight with Grand Fisher, and Rukia and Ichigo meeting for the first time. Even Don Kanonji and Ichigo’s silly friends, Keigo and Mizuiro, are fun in small doses. Plus, more than any other arc, this is pure urban fantasy and it’s a good fit for Bleach.
The first anime-only arc, this is better than the sum of its parts. The Bount are a really intriguing concept and Jin Kariya is a charismatic anime villain up there with the best of them. Plus, this arc gives us the comedy trio of Ririn, Kurōdo and Noba and they’re pretty great.
This one is even better than the Bount arc because, once they’re in Soul Society, the Bount’s abilities are amplified a hundredfold and it all ends with a fantastic fight between Ichigo and Kariya. Great stuff.
The final anime-only arc, this has another really intriguing high concept — wherein Soul Society is invaded by cloned copies of the Gotei 13 — and leads to some really intriguing fights. Plus, the final reveal of who’s behind it all is really something. Honestly, if this was ever remade as a movie, it’d be a cool one.
The (until recently) final arc of the series, this is probably the most downbeat. Given that Ichigo sacrificed all his powers in the process of defeating Aizen, this not only skips forward 17 months but honestly, emotionally deals with the toll that that loss has on him and also (in truncated fashion) deals with Ichigo gaining Fullbring powers. While the show’s abrupt cancellation kind of dampens things, it’s still an interesting way to go out.
This is where the battle against Aizen really gets cooking and there’s a lot of cool twists and turns here. From the first arrival of the Arrancar in the World of the Living to Ichigo’s first fight with Grimmjow to the introduction of the Visored, there are a lot of firsts here. But none will top the reveal that Ichigo’s goofy dad, Isshin, is a former Soul Reaper Captain.
This arc is really fun not only because of the comedy stylings of Nel, Dondochakka and Pesche but also because it provides a lot of growth — both to Uryū’s arc of regaining his confidence and Chad finally coming into his own. But even better is…
Newly released on Blu-Ray by Viz Media, this arc contains one of the best fights in the series: Ichigo’s final confrontation with Grimmjow, which is the stuff we watch anime for. It’s thrilling, bloody and full of emotion and meaning. And just when it seems things couldn’t get crazier, the arrival of Nnoitra makes things even wilder.
The second arc of the series, this has a lot of cool moments, both fun — like everything with Ganju, his beloved pet boar Bonnie and his domineering sister Kūkaku — and awesome, like Ichigo’s first terrifying fight with Kenpachi, Uryū’s confrontation with Kurotsuchi, and the reveal of Rukia’s most haunting memory. It’s the first introduction to how Soul Society works and really opens up the scope of the world.
If this arc only gave us Ichigo and Aizen’s final, apocalyptic confrontation, that would’ve been enough. It’s an epic battle full of constantly rising stakes, one surprise move after another and, eventually, the heartbreaking decision Ichigo has to make about his powers. But this one also has revelations about Aizen’s past with Ichimaru and Ichigo clashing with Ulquiorra. But it’s still not the best Bleach arc ever. No, that would be…
Yes, really. Even though it’s early in the life of the series, this arc showcases Bleach at its absolute best: the stunning score by Shiro Sagisu, incredible swordplay and fight animation and wonderful character development. The one-two punch of Ichigo storming in to stop Rukia’s execution in his new Bankai form and Rukia being flooded with relief that someone cared enough is a punch for the ages, while Ichigo’s confrontation with Byakuya and Aizen’s betrayal is the stuff of ages. Hopefully, the sequel to 2018’s live-action Bleach movie can do this justice.
The Bleach anime had 16 arcs in total. Here's every single one of them, ranked from worst to best.