"Dude, we're ninjas! We graduated from Ninja Tech!"
Naruto is probably the most popular anime/manga about ninjas ever created by a man who was once attacked by monkeys.
The story follows the adventures of Uzumaki Naruto1, a boy ninja fresh out of Hidden Leaf Village's Ninja Academy on his quest to (with a little help from his friends) become the most powerful ninja ever, to gain the respect of his village, and to tame the nine-tailed fox demon trapped in his belly button. Typical teenage woes, to be sure. If one is looking to describe the story to a newbie with a sound bite, it can be usefully if inaccurately summed up as Harry Potter with ninjas instead of wizards and witches. But... y'know, ninjas are way cooler than wizards, right?2
The world of Naruto is extremely dense and detailed in just that way that breeds rabid fans. The audience is treated to long, involved discourses on ninja technique and technology, the political situation of Naruto's fractured version of Japan, the life story of practically every major and minor character, and the complex emotional and ethical reality of what it means to be a shinobi. In short, it's easy to geek out on.
Do not get involved with Naruto if you're the type of fan who needs all action all the time. Naruto certainly has its share of jaw-dropping fighting, but it usually comes as the payoff after several episodes over which the fight and/or encounter is drawn out. The first story arc, as an example, stretches over nineteen episodes during which there are two major battle encounters with the primary villain, Zabuza. This does not mean that Zabuza fight only occurs in two episodes; both battles rage across multiple episodes. The series clearly draws a lot of inspiration from the "standing around talking about what style of fighting we're using to kill each other" school of martial arts films. It also makes very heavy use of flashback and digression into past events, and most episodes begin with a recap of what happened in the previous episode. None of this, however, can accurately be described as boring.
The thrill of Naruto is that almost everything about it is engaging, from the beautiful and innovative animation to the raging video-game-like soundtrack, to the fact that you realize by the time someone lies dying that you actually care about the characters and what happens to them. These are the hallmarks of good storytelling, and it must be remembered that the series is meant to be watched at a rate of one episode per week, not several at a time. The expert use of the cliff hanger plays a huge part in the addiction potential here.
Naruto, the anime, debuted on TV Tokyo on October 3, 2002 and has since run through several story arcs stretched over more than 122 episodes to date. On February 15, 2004, ShoPro announced that they had acquired the english-language licensing rights to Naruto, and Cartoon Network added Naruto to its Toonami lineup with the premiere scheduled for spring/summer 2005. ShoPro's acquisition led to the cessation of fansubbing by many groups who had been active translating the series up until then, but at least two groups have stated they will continue their subtitling. It is likely that the American version will be heavily edited for time and content, and the quality of the english translation and voiceover is by no means guaranteed to be high.
A Naruto animated feature-length movie titled (translated from the Japanese) "It's the Yukihime's (Snow Princess') Ninja Arts Book!" premiered in Japan on August 21, 2004. As of this writing there are no plans to release it in the United States.
Naruto was created as a manga by Kishimoto Masahi who continues to serialize it in Shonen Jump. The anime is directed by Date Hayato, who is also known for directing the Saiyuki series.
There are currently at least five video games based on Naruto. Three are for GameCube, Naruto: Gekitou Ninja Taisen (Naruto: Intense Fighting! Great Ninja War!), Gekitou Ninja Taisen 2 (the sequel, which also appears to be available for GBA SP and is UNBELIEVEABLY FUN) and yet another sequel, Gekitou Ninja Taisen 3. The third and fourth are for Playstation 2 and bear the titles Naruto: Narultimate Hero and Naruto: Narultimate Hero 2. These games are, of course, available only in Japan and via import.
There's a Naruto card game, too, but I'm not getting into that crap.
1. In typical manga/anime fashion, his name is ripe for puns within puns. Apparently "uzumaki" translates to "spiral" or "whirlpool" in english, while "naruto" is the name for a certain type of spiral-shaped fish cake in some types of ramen. Naruto himself happens to love ramen in the way that only a super-powered boy ninja can.
2. Cooler how? Well, consider this: the lovable and fun children you are watching in Naruto are being trained to be expert masters of assassination, espionage and torture who are totally unconcerned with their own deaths. Their major exams not only require cheating, but failure (and having your ass kicked by the proctor) results from being caught multiple times. Sakura may be cute to look at, but she can gut you like a fish ten ways in ten seconds.
Sources: http://www.narutofan.com, http://www.narutoguide.com, watching nineteen episodes in three days