There was once a time when Naruto was a loud-mouthed, wide-eyed ninja fighting to prove to the Leaf Villagers that he would one day become Hokage. During that time, he made many friends and allies as he searched for his former teammate, the rogue Leaf ninja Sasuke Uchiha. The boy battled many villains and became the hero of the Great Ninja War, all before engaging in an all-out battle with Sasuke to bring him back to the Leaf Village. Their rivalry throughout the series is a bond that transcends time, shared by many pairs of rivals across the anime’s historical lore. Whereas Naruto was outgoing and exuberant, Sasuke was cold and calculated, an excellent and exciting symbol of the clash between light and the dark.
Then Naruto grew up to become Hokage and had a son, who now has his own ninja adventures in the spinoff series Boruto. Set in a time after the last Great Ninja War, Boruto has made tons of friends and competed with plenty of fellow ninjas, but up until now, he never had an actual rival that mirrored that same clash his father once had with Sasuke.
At least, that was the case until Kawaki stepped into the picture.
Who is Kawaki in Boruto?
In the first episode of Boruto, an adult Kawaki appears in a flash-forward scene where he and an adult Boruto face off in the ruins of the Leaf Village. The two fight in a fashion similar to their predecessors Sasuke and Naruto, but the scene abruptly ends before we get to see its conclusion. Nevertheless, it’s a powerful scene reminiscent of the storied ninja history of light versus dark and an omen of things to come.
After that intense encounter, we don’t see Kawaki again until his arc finally begins in episode 188. After he’s found unconscious by Boruto and Konohamaru’s team, Kawaki becomes irritated and attacks the ninjas relentlessly, convinced that they are enemies. After he’s finally defeated, Kawaki is taken back to the Leaf village and put under Naruto’s protective watch.
Afterward, we begin to understand a whole lot more about Kawaki. During his childhood, he was initially raised by his birth father, a rough man who suffered from alcoholism and beat him constantly for no reason. Kawaki’s dad then sold the boy to another man named Jigen for a large amount of money, never once thinking twice about who he was dealing with.
Once Jigen had Kawaki in his custody, he took the boy to the Kara, an underground scientific organization that alters their bodies with a technology called Scientific Tools. After trapping Kawaki in Kara’s underground hideout, he experimented on the boy’s body, intending to use it as a vessel to eventually reincarnate his soul. However, the only way that could happen is if Kawaki is given a Karma⏤a unique mark that grants Kawaki otherworldly abilities⏤that would allow Jigen’s essence to take over Kawaki’s body and be reborn. Later on, Jigen beats and torments Kawaki until the boy becomes proficient with the Karma’s power. Jigen then intimidates Kawaki into becoming his subordinate, leaving the young man paranoid and hostile.
However, Kawaki manages to escape from Jigen⏤defeating a few of Kara’s robotic minions along the way⏤after getting thrown from a crashing airship near the border of the Land of Fire before he’s discovered by Konohamaru’s Team 7. It’s where he finds out for the first time that Boruto also carried the mark of Karma.
After being placed into Naruto’s custody, Kawaki sees a different side of the word “family.” Though he remained hostile and distrustful, Kawaki slowly began to bond with the Uzumaki family and even began to study ninjutsu under Naruto. During this time together, Kawaki developed an affection for Naruto as the Hokage became a kind and positive parental figure in Kawaki’s life. However, Kawaki’s previously hardened life made a deep impression on him, one that he may not be able to get over any time soon.
Despite his bonds with the Uzumaki family, Kawaki can still be found at odds with Boruto, even though they seem to be in a good place…for now. But just like Sasuke before him, Kawaki’s past trauma has filled him with lots of anger and resentment, which always seems poised to boil over at any minute. As of yet, we don’t exactly know what tips Kawaki over the edge to lead him to become Boruto’s enemy in the future, but whatever is, we can definitely see that it’s been years in the making.