Bleach does for shinigami what Naruto does for ninjas and One Piece for pirates. It’s a fun Shonen Jump adventure series which has had sixteen anime seasons (so far). Best of all, a new Bleach anime sequel to the original series is on the horizon.
Whether you’re just now getting into the franchise because of the new series, or you’re an older fan who needs a refresher, this article is for you.
Bleach: A Basic History
Bleach is not the first anime or manga series to deal with shinigami, Japan’s (surprisingly not ancient) concept of a death god (aka Soul Reaper). But, with its many story arcs and complex samurai-esque Soul Society, it’s certainly a definitive and trendsetting supernatural series. If there was no Bleach, there might not be a Jujutsu Kaisen.
Between August 2001 and October 2018, Tite Kubo created 74 volumes (or 686 chapters) of the Bleach manga. From 2004 to 2012, these chapters were adapted into 366 Bleach anime episodes (including fillers), divided up into 16 seasons.
You probably noticed the significant gap between the end of the anime series and the completion of the manga, and you’re right. (In fact, the anime was abruptly canceled.) When the Bleach anime returns, it’s expected to explore the final parts of the manga.
Bleach Anime Story Arcs
At a glance, the arcs are:
- The Substitute aka Agent of the Shinigami
- Soul Society (Sneak Entry and Rescue)
- Bount Assault
- Arrancar: Arrival; Hueco Mundo Invasion; and Fierce Fight
- New Captain Shusuke Amagai
- Arrancar continues: Arrancar vs Shinigami; 110 Years Back; and Battle in Karakura
- Zanpakuto: The Alternate Tale
- Arrancar: Deicide
- 13 Court Guards Incursion/ Gotei 13 Invading Army
- The Lost Agent/ Lost Substitute Shinigami
- The Thousand-Year Blood War (coming soon!)
Arcs in Detail
1. The Substitute aka Agent of the Shinigami arc (Episodes 1-20, all of season 1)
You can’t miss this part. Grumpy Karakura Town teen Ichigo can see spirits. He meets shinigami Rukia, and learns about Soul Reapers, the Soul Society, corrupt spirit Hollows, etc. Also, there are some truly goofy, meme worthy comic-relief moments. (Orihime is why Hatsune Miku likes leeks.)
At the end of the arc, Ichigo trains with the oddball, laid-back Urahara; and names his Zanpakuto sword.
2. Soul Society arc
This section is subdivided into two parts:
- The Sneak Entry arc (Episodes 21-41)
- The Rescue arc (Episodes 42-63, season 3)
We get our first look at how the Edo Period-themed afterlife is organized. Ichigo and his allies have to sneak into the walled, Soul Reaper section of the Soul Society. Their goal is to rescue Rukia, who’s scheduled to be executed for giving her powers to a human. Of course, they have to fight their way through a lot of quirky squad captains to do it.
‘Vader is Luke’s father’ kind of spoiler: Captain Aizen fakes his own death as part of a secretive, conspiratorial plot. After his plans are revealed, he escapes into Hueco Mundo, the Hollows’ realm.
3. The Bount arc and Bount Assault arc (Episodes 64-109)
These Bleach filler arcs take up all of seasons 4 and 5. Bounts are vampiric humans who gain immortality by consuming souls. They invade Soul Society.
4. The Arrancar arc
- Arrival (Episodes 110-131)
- Hueco Mundo Invasion (Episodes 132-151)
- The Fierce Fight (Episodes 152-167)
We learn about the Visored, shinigami with Hollow powers. Aizen’s betrayal of the Soul Society continues, as he sends Hollows and Arrancar to attack the Human World. The heroes also have to rescue Orihime.
An increasingly Hollowfied Ichigo has a series of fights with the Arrancar Grimmjow.
5. New Captain Shusuke Amagai arc (Episodes 168-189)
This filler arc interrupts the Arrancar arc to introduce Shusuke Amagai. Amagai replaces Gin Ichimaru, who sided with Aizen’s faction.
6. More Arrancar
- Arrancar vs Shinigami (Episodes 190-205)
- 110 Years Back (Episodes 206-212)
- Battle in Karakura (Episodes 213-229)
The fight between the Soul Society shinigami and Aizen’s Arrancar army continues. Season 11 is a flashback which reveals a lot of background. We also get a lot of Hiyori’s fiery temper as she deals with then-captain and Hollow researcher Urahara.
Back in the present, a fake Karakura Town created by the Soul Reapers becomes a battleground.
7. Zanpakuto: The Alternate Tale or Rebellion arc (Episodes 230-265)
Another filler story. The Zanpakuto spirits rebel. And it’s up to Ichigo to stop them.
8. Arrancar: Deicide arc, or Invasion of Soul Society (Episodes 266-310)
The Arrancar war reaches its conclusion. Ichimaru pulls a heel-face turn against Aizen. In the end, Ichigo’s superpowered, final form beats Aizen’s monstrous evolution. But afterward, Ichigo’s power fades away.
9. 13 Court Guards Incursion/ Gotei 13 Invading Army arc (Episodes 311-342)
More Bleach filler episodes. Soul Reapers are disappearing. Ichigo investigates the conspiracy.
10. The Lost Agent/ Lost Substitute Shinigami arc (Episodes 343-366)
This is the last part of the anime (until the revival of the series in 2021). In season 16, Ichigo is struggling to recover his powers. The arc features Kugo Ginjo, who seems helpful. But his true intentions are unclear. In the not-quite-final episode, Ichigo doesn’t say goodbye to Rukia for not the last time.
Manga Conclusion and Season 17
- The Thousand-Year Blood War arc
When the anime returns, it will adapt this arc of the manga. Hopefully, there shouldn’t be too much filler, since the manga is complete. (Filler often happens because the anime moves faster than the manga.) The story can be summarized something like this:
The Hollow-murdering, reaper-hating Quincy are back, after hiding in the shadows. The Wandenreich, a hidden ‘invisible empire,’ declares war on the Soul Society. Of course, there will be plenty of fights and battles.
More than 200 chapters remain after the end of the anime which could be adapted. This includes a mini-arc, the flashback story Everything but the Rain.
Bleach Filler Guide
Filler isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s not canon. You can eliminate most Bleach filler episodes by avoiding seasons 4, 5, 9, 13, and 15 entirely. Note: Crunchyroll confusingly counts episodes 317 through 366 as one long ‘season 15.’ The filler starts at 311 and ends with 341.
However, a complete Bleach filler episode list would also include episodes 33; 50; 147-149; 204-205; 213-214; 287; 298-299; 303-305; and 355.
In addition, there are also Bleach anime films. Like many anime films, these are not based on manga canon, and could be considered filler:
- Bleach: Memories of Nobody (2006)
- Bleach: The DiamondDust Rebellion (2007)
- Bleach: Fade to Black (2008)
- Bleach: Hell Verse (2010)
Tite Kubo’s manga series Burn the Witch, and its 2020 anime adaptation, takes place in the Bleach universe. But has no direct effect on the series.
There are too many Bleach anime characters to list them all, but some good ones to remember would include:
- Ichigo Kurosaki: a human teen and powerful Soul Reaper
- Rukia Kuchiki: the tsundere Soul Reaper who helps Ichigo
- Orihime Inoue: the seemingly naïve schoolgirl who develops spiritual power; sometimes acts as Ichigo’s conscience
- Uryu Ishida: a Quincy and rival/ ally of Ichigo. He’ll be important in future episodes
- Byakuya Kuchiki: Rukia’s obnoxiously aristocratic older brother and one of the main antagonists of the Rescue arc
- Sosuke Aizen: the main antagonist. A former squad captain who rebels against the system
- Kisuke Urahara: the deceptively laid-back shop owner who trains Ichigo and others