Naruto hit a high point during the exciting and consequential Chunin Exam arc and the battle for the Hidden Leaf Village that followed, but there was much more to come in the Search for Tsunade. The third Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi, was gone and the village needed a new one at once. Jiraiya the toad sage refused the role, but he did offer to find someone else.
The Search for Tsunade storyline was fairly short compared to the Chunin Exams and the Sasuke Retrieval arc that followed, but it introduced several key players in Naruto, and also gave Naruto his best-ever jutsu. He was growing rapidly as a ninja, and just in time. Naruto had more enemies than ever, and five major plot points in this story arc show how high the stakes would become.
When The Akatsuki Organization Was Introduced
Orochimaru and his Sound ninja failed to destroy the Hidden Leaf Village, but the dust barely settled when two new intruders set foot in the battle-weary region. They were looking for Naruto Uzumaki, soon revealing themselves as Itachi Uchiha, the clan slayer, and Kisame Hoshigaki, a shark-like brute with a peculiar sword.
These two characters put the Akatsuki organization on the stage, and their insidious arrival would be echoed by Deidara and Sasori ambushing Gaara in the Hidden Sand Village two years later in Naruto Shippuden. The Akatuski organization was here to stay, and not even the Leaf Village's best jonin, including Kakashi Hatake, could stop them.
When Sasuke Failed To Kill Itachi Uchiha
Naruto was already on the road with Jiraiya, but Itachi and Kisame tracked them down with astonishing speed. Soon enough, Itachi used a genjutsu to split the travelers up, and he and Kisame cornered Naruto in his motel room. That was when Sasuke arrived, firing up a Chidori and aiming it right at his murderous brother.
Unfortunately, Sasuke was acting in a blind rage and was not ready to face Itachi like this. He was quickly beaten down with simple taijutsu, and Itachi's Mangekyo Sharingan mentally tortured Sasuke for good measure. Sasuke's hate still wasn't strong enough and he ended up in the hospital, vowing to get stronger by any means necessary. Soon enough, this would prompt him to abandon the Hidden Leaf Village and consort with Orochimaru.
When Naruto Learned The Rasengan Technique
Naruto made sure his time with Jiraiya was constructive. It was time to learn a new jutsu, and the instructor had just the thing for a brute-force fighter like Naruto: the Rasengan, a hardened sphere of rapidly rotating chakra. Naruto was blown away when Jiraiya demonstrated it on a third party and got to work learning to use this technique for himself.
Despite how simple the Rasengan's technique is -- rotation, force, and control -- it was tough going. Naruto wore himself to the bone trying to master it, and even Tsunade, who was aware of Naruto's training, was astonished when they sparred and Naruto used a rough version of the Rasengan in the fight. He was clearly gifted, and his sheer tenacity allowed him to master this A-ranked jutsu just in time for the fight with Orochimaru and Kabuto Yakushi.
When Tsunade Met Naruto Uzumaki
Although this Naruto arc was called Search for Tsunade, she wasn't terribly difficult to find. Jiraiya just had to track which casinos and gambling halls she had visited, and sure enough, Naruto's party came face to face with Tsunade's own. She scorned the idealistic Naruto, rejecting his dream to become Hokage and refusing to take the title for herself. He refused to back down though, defending his dream and urging Tsunade to believe in the title of Hokage.
This meeting dived deeper into Tsunade's painful backstory when she lost her brother Nawaki and her lover Dan, who had also aspired to become Hokage. The quest has the potential to end badly, and Tsunade wanted nothing to do with it. But this ideological battle only spurred Naruto on, and soon enough, Tsunade would be convinced to see things his way. She simply can't say no to this starry-eyed dreamer.
When Tsunade Accepted The Title Of Hokage
Tsunade, Naruto and Jiraiya battled with Orochimaru and Kabuto not long after that. This climax proved two things to Tsunade: that the Hidden Leaf Village has powerful enemies, and that Naruto has the guts and strength to realize his dream of becoming Hokage. And if a rambunctious 12-year-old boy has the stuff to become a great leader someday, then Tsunade certainly does too. She resolved to live up to Dan's and Nawaki's dream at last.
She accepted the request to become the Leaf Village's fifth Hokage, giving it a true leader and defender once again. Tsunade would go on to represent her village well in Naruto's later story arcs, such as when the five Kage united against Madara Uchiha and the Akatsuki. But her illustrious Hokage career started right here, in the Search for Tsunade story arc. It sure beats losing all her savings playing dice.