Bleach stands as one of the most celebrated shonen action series of the 2000s, and its return later this year should remind old fans why they loved it while introducing a new generation to the series. Bleach is beloved for its memorable characters and stylish settings are a factor, but most of all, Bleach's best quality is its combat system.
It's true that Bleach often lacks the clever mind-bending ninja battles of Naruto or the Super Saiyan forms of Dragon Ball, but it doesn't need such things. Bleach carefully balances many diverse but fair combat styles into one, where each distinct fighting style seamlessly blends into the next.
Draw Your Sword
Sword fights are a timeless, classic, instantly recognizable style of combat, and Bleach delivers plenty of thrilling clashes of blades. Most Soul Reapers carry zanpakuto, soul-cutting swords. These zanpakuto can activate special modes that alter their shape and grant their wielders new powers, adding more distinct flavors to the characters' fighting styles, similar to how Naruto uses jutsu and One Piece uses devil fruits. Many of the early zanpakuto battles pit Ichigo and friends against monstrous Hollows, giving the series a "monster hunting" appeal that fans of D.Gray-Man and Demon Slayer can appreciate.
Shikai mode will unlock the first stage of a zanpakuto's true power, requiring a command phrase and the zanpakuto's name. Renji Abarai was the first character to this, declaring "Roar, Zabimaru!" in the anime's English dub to awaken his sword's powers. Many other characters start using shikai in the Soul Society arc, but there's an even more powerful mode only a select few can use: bankai mode.
Captain Byakuya Kuchiki, Captain Kaname Tosen, Captain Mayuri Kurotsuchi and Captain Sajin Komamura are all bankai users. Each bankai is enormously powerful but somewhat risky to use, and such powers dominate any battle scene. Byakuya's bankai can swarm the entire battlefield with blizzards of pink petal-blades, while Sajin's resembles a colossal samurai and Kaname's envelops the battlefield in a sensory deprivation zone.
Monster Hunting, Kido & Bows
The zanpakuto combat system goes a long way, but Bleach has more to offer. Soul Reapers can also use kido, or magic spells, that are activated with poetic incantations (a clear parallel to jutsu). Such spells can easily complement a Soul Reaper's swordplay, from restraining the opponent with magical bindings or barriers to fireballs, lightning bolts and far more. Early on, Rukia Kuchiki used many kido spells, and Captain Sosuke Aizen, Kisuke Urahara and Tessai are also noted kido users.
As a bonus, Bleach's combat system includes physical arts. Bare-handed combat is most commonly featured where Yoruichi Shihoin and Captain Soi Fon are concerned. Flash steps allow Soul Reapers to move in the blink of an eye, taking their enemies by surprise, though the Arrancars can sometimes use a similar art called the sonido. Bleach characters aren't just fast -- they're blindingly fast, a trait that quickly sets this shonen series apart from its peers.
Bleach's combat system also makes room for a rival to the Soul Reaper way: the Quincy tribe. These spiritually aware beings are masters of the bow, firing destructive arrows to slay Hollows while also using equipment and special techniques (such as spirit gloves) to boost their power further. Uryu Ishida demonstrated the Quincy way first, and then many more Quincy arrived later. The Sternritter can use bows and arrows along with many unique effects, from spreading fear to conjuring items out of thin air with the power of imagination alone.
All these different techniques and layers of complexity kept Bleach's action compelling from start to finish. It's one of the best shonen combat systems ever, and writers looking for inspiration for their own combat systems would do well to study its example.