Bleach centers around Ichigo Kurosaki, a relatable and good-hearted protagonist. But none of the plot would have been possible without Rukia Kuchiki, who launched the entire series with her fateful meeting with Ichigo one night in Karakura Town. Rukia is more than a plot device, though; she has had a rocky life where tragedy and triumph can be found in equal measure.
Rukia was born in the impoverished region of the Rukongai district in the Soul Society, and she lived as a street urchin when her big sister Hisana abandoned her and ran off. Later, though, Rukia would grow up to become a powerful Soul Reaper in her own right, and a handful of life-changing scenes made her into the character she is now.
1. Byakuya Adopts Rukia Into The Kuchiki Family
Rukia was a nobody when she lived on the streets, as was her sister. Hisana ended up meeting Byakuya Kuchiki, the scion of the noble Kuchiki family, and married him. She later died of an illness, and upon Hisana's last request, Byakuya found and formally adopted Rukia into the Kuchiki household, which transformed Rukia's life.
However, Rukia's role in this was largely passive, and her new foster brother was rather cold and distant with her since he was more concerned with the law, decorum and grieving for his lost wife. On the plus side, Rukia would never go hungry again, and the Kuchiki family provided an on-ramp for Rukia to begin training as a Soul Reaper (and she certainly had the talent to qualify). This was where Rukia Kuchiki's rise to prominence began.
2. Rukia Meets Ichigo Kurosaki
The meeting between Rukia and the human Ichigo Kurosaki seemed like random chance, but secretly, it was all due to Captain Aizen's machinations. Rukia was hunting a Hollow called Fishbone-D when she ran into Ichigo, and Fishbone-D's sheer power made Rukia desperate.
Injured and backed into a corner, she granted her Soul Reaper powers to Ichigo, turning him into a substitute Soul Reaper at the cost of Rukia's own powers. Rukia became trapped in an isekai-esque situation, living as a seemingly ordinary human girl while training Ichigo every day. This would have vast consequences for both of them, including Rukia's arrest and detainment for the crime of giving her powers to a human. This situation also made it clear that Rukia was less important than the law and decorum in Byakuya's eyes, a fact that saddened Rukia but didn't surprise her.
3. Rukia Forgives Herself For Kaien's Death
This scene took place during Rukia's desperate battle against the 9th Espada, Aaroniero Arurruerie, who had assumed the fallen Kaien Shiba's likeness and memories in combat. Earlier on, Rukia had already apologized to Kukaku Shiba, Kaien's sister, and earned her forgiveness. But Rukia hadn't yet forgiven herself, and this weight on her mind slowed her down.
Then, when Aaroniero pushed Rukia to the brink, Rukia recalled one afternoon's training session, when Kaien had taught Rukia that the "heart" described the immortal, indestructible bond between two people. Such a bond can outlive either party, and Rukia forgave herself at last. Kaien never hated her for killing him, since he had been possessed by a deadly Hollow anyway, and he lived on in Rukia's heart. So, Rukia absolved herself of guilt and struck Aaroniero down, at last ready to move on without regrets.
2. Rukia Achieves Bankai At Last
This scene was significant in more ways than one. Sometime after Sosuke Aizen's defeat, the mighty Wandenreich rose to power, the Quincy empire that waged war on the Soul Reapers. Already, Sternritter As Nodt had defeated Byakuya in combat, but before long, Rukia faced him in a rematch -- striking even against the Sternritter.
Once As Nodt regained the upper hand, Byakuya arrived and encouraged Rukia to use her secret weapon: her brand-new bankai, Hakka no Togame. With it, Rukia joined the ranks of the Soul Reaper elite by becoming a proper bankai user, defeating As Nodt with one strike. What's more, Rukia fully earned Byakuya's admiration and support at last and was reduced to tears by Byakuya's encouraging, kind words. All Rukia ever wanted was for Byakuya to be a real big brother to her, and now, with her bankai in hand, she had become his true equal once and for all.
1. Rukia Starts Her Own Family
Once the Wandenreich was defeated, peace returned to the land, and the main characters of Bleach made sure to savor it. Ichigo and Orihime eventually married and settled down, and over in the Soul Society, Rukia had similar ideas. She became a Soul Reaper Captain and then a mother after she married her childhood friend Renji Abarai and had a young daughter with him, named Ichika.
One peaceful afternoon, Rukia and Renji visited the Kurosaki household in their gigai bodies and Rukia caught up with her human friends while her young daughter ran about (and met Ichigo's own son, Kazui). Rukia had grown up in a broken household, to put it mildly, and it had taken her time to become a true member of the Kuchiki family. But now, Rukia had a loving family of her own, and she found true happiness both in her noble Soul Reaper duties and as a proud wife and mother. She couldn't ask for anything more.