Zanpakutou are the physical manifestation of a Shinigami's powers, a part of their very soul with their own independent, sentient existence. Much like their owners, each Zanpakutou in Bleach is unique, with their own abilities, characteristics, and personalities. They also have their own names, and through learning what their Zanpakutou are called and communicating with them, Shinigami are able to draw out their powers to their full potential. Thanks to this, Shinigami and their Zanpakutou are more than just master and sword - they are the ultimate partners in battle.
Of course, there are many Zanpakutou-wielding characters in Bleach, and not only Shinigami - you can't forget the Arrancar and Visoreds, too! Amongst these countless individual swords, some have the power to stand out amongst the rest - but which will make our Top 10 Bleach Zanpakutou?
10. Izuru Kira's Wabisuke
- English: The Wretched One
First up we have third division lieutenant Izuru Kira's Zanpakutou, Wabisuke. Much like Izuru's disposition, Wabisuke's powers are characteristically dark. As its name suggests, Wabisuke attacks with the aim to make their opponent quite literally fall to their knees, as though apologising for their wretched misdeeds. To do so, it doubles the weight of anything it strikes. With the command "Raise Your Head", Wabisuke also changes into an angled hook shape, allowing Izuru to use his Zanpakutou as a guillotine and decapitate his enemies.
What makes Wabisuke worthy of a position on this list is the merciless extent of its ability. Not only does it double the weight of anything it touches once - if the target is struck again, the previously doubled weight doubles again, and this ability is limitless. Furthermore, as this cunningly uses their opponents weight against them, Wabisuke and Kira can fell any enemy that they can get close enough to strike.
9. Renji Abarai's Zabimaru
- English: Snake Tail
- Bankai: Hihiou Zabimaru
Next on the list we have Renji Abarai's Zabimaru. Released using the command "Howl", Zabimaru transforms into a jagged six-part blade that can be extended much like a whip, allowing Renji to attack from a significant distance. In Bankai, this Zanpakutou becomes a gigantic skeletal snake with a bright red mane, making it look truly deadly. In this form, Hihiou Zabimaru can shoot incredibly destructive beams from its mouth.
As well as being one of the first we see in Shikai form, Zabimaru is one of the few Zanpakutou we actually see develop in Bleach. When we first meet Renji, he is only able to use Shikai, but we watch him communicate with and train alongside Zabimaru until they achieve Bankai. Also, with its wild appearance, both forms of Zabimaru are just too cool not to be on our list.
8. Genryuusai Shigekuni Yamamoto's Ryuujin Jakka
- English: Flowing Blade-like Flame
Anyone who's seen the Bleach anime can agree that Captain Commander Yamamoto is one badass old man. He's got the most experience and authority in all of Soul Society, but most of all, he's got the most powerful Zanpakutou. A fire type, Ryuujin Jakka inspires fear even in the strongest of Shinigami. As it's release command "Reduce All Creation to Ash" suggests, in Shikai, Ryuujin Jakka has the ability to turn anything in the vicinity into dust. It can also be used to imprison even the strongest enemies in a cage of flames.
So what keeps the all-powerful Captain Commander's Zanpakutou from being higher up on the list? The answer is screen time. With so many powerful captains, lieutenants, and other Shinigami under him, Genryuusai doesn't even have to lift a finger until the fourteenth season of the anime. Although we are told of and see for ourselves some of the destructive power of Ryuujin Jakka, we're left with many unanswered questions.
7. Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez' Pantera
- English: Panther King
Next on our list we have Sexta Espada Grimmjow Jaegerjaquez and his Zanpakutou, Pantera. Unlike Shinigami, when Arrancar release their Zanpakutou using Resurrección, they themselves change into their true forms and become able to use the full extent of their powers. By releasing Pantera using the command "Grind", the Zanpakutou itself disappears and Grimmjow's appearance becomes feline. His already extraordinary strength becomes enhanced, giving even Hollow-masked Ichigo a run for his money in one of the best battles in Bleach.
Pantera makes it into the top ten for the range of abilities it has - unlike other Zanpakutou, which tend to have one element or theme to their powers, Pantera enhances hand-to-hand combat, and has explosives, blades, and sound-based attacks in its arsenal. With Pantera's release we also get to learn about Grimmjow's past, and why he is so hungry for power, allowing us to empathise with the enemy.
6. Gin Ichimaru's Shinsou
- English: God Spear
- Bankai: Kamishini no Yari
Much like Gin Ichimaru's snake-like smile, there is something immediately disconcerting about his Zanpakutou. The first time Gin uses Shinsou in the Bleach anime, it leaves both Ichigo's group and viewers wondering what on earth happened. Its Shikai, released with the phrase "Shoot to kill", allows the blade to extend up to one hundred times its original length at incredible speed, barely giving his target the opportunity to block or evade the attack. In Bankai, this length and speed increases even further - although due to Gin's shady nature, by how much is unclear.
Retaining the form of a traditional Japanese short sword in all of its releases, you could say Shinsou is a grower, not a shower - but Gin certainly knows what he's doing with it. By downplaying its speed and exaggerating its length, he is able to mentally manipulate his enemies. He also hides Shinsou's ability to turn to dust and enter his opponents' body and poison them on command, allowing him to use it as a trump card. With both Shinigami and Zanpakutou not willing to give anything away, this combo is more than deadly, earning them sixth place on our list.
5. Sousuke Aizen's Kyouka Suigetsu
- English: Mirror Flower, Water Moon
Not all Zanpakutou are created equal, and Kyouka Suigetsu is the perfect example of how they can be just as twisted as their Shinigami. Just like the former fifth division captain Sousuke Aizen, all is not as it seems with Kyouka Suigetsu. Although everyone who has seen its Shikai is convinced that it has a regular power like the rest of them, in fact that is nothing but a delusion - its actual power is "Complete Hypnosis." Kyouka Suigetsu manipulates its enemies so that they only see what Sousuke wants them to see, giving him complete control of any situation.
What makes Kyouka Suigetsu stand out from the other Zanpakutou on this list is that it does not depend on physical but sensory attacks. It is also one of the most terrifying Zanpakutou, as its powers seem to have no time limit, having affected the Visored for over one hundred years. Furthermore, even if Sousuke's opponents realise that they're being tricked, they can't do anything about it. It is impossible to escape Kyouka Suigetsu's illusions once they have started - making this the most fitting weapon for Bleach's ultimate antagonist.
4. Byakuya Kuchiki's Senbonzakura
- English: Thousand Cherry Blossoms
- Bankai: Senbonzakura Kageyoshi
Next we have a Zanpakutou as beautiful and deadly as the Shinigami that wields it: Senbonzakura. When its Shikai is activated with the command "Scatter", Senbonzakura breaks down into a thousand tiny blades, which Byakuya then controls with the remaining hilt. In Bankai, Senbonzakura's destructive power multiplies exponentially, with the amount of near-invisible blades becoming countless and nigh on inescapable. What's more, unlike in Shikai, Byakuya does not need to physically control Senbonzakura Kageyoshi - although doing so does increase attack speed.
All in all, Senbonzakura is an elegant weapon and mesmerizing to watch in action. Seeing Byakuya fight with his released Zanpakutou is exciting not only because you know you're in for some amazing action, but also because it shows a different side to Byakuya. It lets viewers know that although he is cold and proud, he is also able to be passionate and go all-out in battle. With its cherry-blossom image, Senbonzakura also perfectly suits Byakuya, who is fixated on tradition.
3. Toushirou Hitsugaya's Hyourinmaru
- English: Ice Ring
- Bankai: Daiguren Hyourinmaru
Toushirou Hitsugaya may be small, but his strength is anything but. Not only is he a captain, but his Zanpakutou Hyourinmaru is said to be the strongest ice-type in Soul Society. Hyourinmaru's Shikai, which is released using the command "Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens", allows Toushirou to control water and ice, creating fierce-looking dragons from the tip of his blade. In Bankai form, a dragon of ice wraps itself around Toushirou's body, giving him frozen wings and claws. Even if shattered, Daiguren Hyourinmaru can easy regenerate itself.
As if that wasn't cool enough, Hyourinmaru's power is so intense that even just releasing its Shikai can change the weather, creating great storms. But what really makes it worthy of such a high position in this top ten list is its potential. Toushirou admits in the series that his powers are still somewhat underdeveloped, explaining the reason for the ice flowers that signal the lifespan of his Bankai. He is already incredibly strong, but once Toushirou has fully mastered Hyourinmaru's abilities he will no doubt become a true force to be reckoned with.
2. Rukia Kuchiki's Sode no Shirayuki
- English: Sleeved White Snow
Next up and taking the number-two spot is another ice type and Bleach's best girl Rukia Kuchiki's Zanpakutou, Sode no Shirayuki. When released using the Shikai command, "Dance", the entire length of Rukia's sword turns as white as snow, matching the colour of her spiritual energy. The tsuba also changes shape, becoming snowflake-like, and from the pommel flows a white ribbon. Due to this appearance, Sode no Shirayuki is said to be one of the most beautiful in all of Soul Society.
But it's not just its appearance that makes this Zanpakutou so popular - Sode no Shirayuki is also incredibly powerful. Following its Shikai command, it has three "dances": "First Dance, White Moon", "Next Dance, White Ripple", and "Third Dance, White Sword". Each of these dances showcase a different ice-based technique, each more powerful than the last. With Rukia's emotional backstory, watching her and Sode no Shirayuki working together to become stronger is enough to melt even the most icy of hearts.
1. Ichigo Kurosaki's Zangetsu
- English: Slaying Moon
- Bankai: Tensa Zangetsu
It might seem a little too obvious to have the protagonist's weapon at number one, but be assured it's for good reason. From the moment Ichigo wraps his hand around his Zanpakutous hilt, it's clear to the viewer that Zangetsu is something special. Not only is the shape of its original sword form unique, but it's also bursting with overwhelming strength. However, Zangetsu earns the number one spot not just for sheer power or its cool appearance(s), but for the complexity of its character.
Unlike most Shinigami, Ichigo has an amalgamation of Shinigami and Hollow powers - something which is reflected in the way Zangetsu appears in Ichigo's inner world. We see first see him as "Old Man Zangetsu" and "Hollow Ichigo", then the younger-looking "Tensa Zangetsu", the evolved "Hollow Ichigo", and even as a combination of the latter two. Thanks to this character development, Zangetsu also gets the most screentime of all the Zanpakutou, making us as viewers feel closer to him, and root for him throughout the series.
It's been awhile since the Bleach anime ended, but these Zanpakutou and their Shinigami are sure to stay vivid in our memories (and hopefully more anime seasons in future!). So which is your favourite Zanpakutou? If you were a Shinigami, Arrancar or a Visored, what would your Zanpakutou be like? Let us know in the comments below!