Bleach‘s Soul Society Captains rank among the series’ most recognizable characters, naturally inviting readers to ask which Captain ranks above the others in terms of strength. Bleach is known for its amazing fight scenes, creative character and weapon designs, and complex and intricate plots. While the series ended several years ago, the anime is receiving its long-awaited proper ending by adapting the manga’s final arc: Bleach: The Thousand-Year Blood War.
This list ranks not just current Captains of the Soul Society’s 13 Court Guard Squads, but also characters who are known to fight at Captain-level power, or who were once Captains but stepped down at some point. While raw power and strength obviously play a role in these rankings, cunning and intelligence are also major factors when it comes to who the strongest Soul Reaper Captain actually is. After all, Bleach‘s Bankai abilities can be extremely complicated, and it takes a talented mind to master them.
10 Yoruichi Shihoin – Captain of Squad 2
Yoruichi is one of the most popular characters in all of Bleach, and is a key ally for Ichigo. Once the Captain of Squad 2, as well as the head of the Soul Society’s covert ops division, she ultimately decided to leave to live discreetly in the world of humans alongside Urahara and his band of refugees. Yoruichi possesses the unique ability to turn into a cat–great for spy work, but not so helpful in a fight. Yoruichi makes up for her lack of power with clever tricks; she’s known to carry things like razor-sharp wire for setting traps. She’s a master at hand-to-hand combat and has access to some powerful transformations, such as her Shunko Raijin Senkei, which takes its name from a Japanese god of thunder. Unlike most other Captain-level fighters, her Zanpakuto has never been shown in its released state, rendering her capabilities with Shikai and Bankai unknown.
9 Kisuke Urahara – Captain of Squad 12
Urahara is a highly intelligent character who was the President of the Soul Reaper Research and Development Institute, and he hides incredible strength and speed behind his goofy demeanor. Urahara was also once the captain of Squad 12, the same research division Mayuri Kurotsuchi now leads. While Urahara isn’t really one to fight, that doesn’t mean his abilities should be underestimated. Urahara keeps his Zanpakuto disguised as a walking cane, meaning he’s able to strike at a moment’s notice. The Zanpakuto, Benihime, is able to manipulate energy for powerful attacks and defensive maneuvers.
Aside from his swordsmanship, Urahara is also a master of Kido techniques, incantations that can disable opponents and is quite proficient at unarmed combat as well. It should come as no surprise that Urahara’s greatest asset is his intelligence, though, as it often allows him to form strategies and plans that can annihilate unsuspecting foes.
8 Tōshirō Hitsugaya – Captain of Squad 10
Hitsugaya is the leader of Bleach’s Squad 10 and the youngest Captain in the Soul Society. Hitsugaya was so talented that, according to series creator Tite Kubo, he achieved the Bankai level before even becoming a Soul Reaper–an incredible achievement,as it normally takes decades. Like most Captains, he’s a master of swordplay, with his Zanpakuto, Hyorinmaru, able to control and manipulate ice in its Shikai and Bankai states. With but a slash, Hitsugaya can manifest a dragon made of ice, capable of repelling attacks and overpowering foes. His signature move is to condense ice into wings for his Bankai, which allows him to hover and fly about during battle, and he’s able to draw moisture from the air to regenerate them from damage.
7 Mayuri Kurotsuchi – Captain of Squad 12
Mayuri is both the Captain of the 12th Division and the President of the Research and Development Institute, taking the post after Urahara was exiled to the human world. Mayuri is an incredibly intimidating and intelligent man, but he’s far from a good guy. Known for his preference for unethical experiments, his Zanpakuto, Ashisogi Jizo, is one of the deadliest ones around, as the weapon (which he modified) secretes a poison that can shut down a person’s nervous system upon contact. In fact, Mayuri’s abilities frequently change as he tampers with his weapon often, making him difficult to predict. He’s also modified his own body to be able to turn into a liquid to avoid death, while his left hand can be launched like a grappling hook. These abilities ensured him a ranking among Bleach‘s most powerful, even if he’s not all that popular.
6 Shinji Hirako – Captain of Squad 5
Shinji Hirako is the current (and former) Captain of the 5th Division, and the former leader of Bleach’s mysterious Visored. As a Visored, Shinji possesses both the power of a hollow and a Soul Reaper, a unique combination only a handful of characters possess. Shinji’s Zanpakuto, Sakanade, has the ability to confuse opponents through the use of a pink mist. Anyone who inhales this mist will see things inverted, making right left and so on. This innately trips up opponents for obvious reasons, often giving Shinji a chance to finish a battle quickly. While Shinji has a Bankai, he’s never used it on screen, so its abilities remain unknown. Shinji can also transform into a Hollow, donning a white mask and giving him access to Hollow abilities, such as their Cero energy attack, although this transformation only lasts for three minutes.
5 Byakuya Kuchiki – Captain of Squad 6
Rukia’s adoptive brother, Byakuya, is also the first Captain to be fought in Bleach. As the Captain of Squad 6, Byakuya is highly skilled in techniques like Kido and swordsmanship. His Zanpakuto, Senbonzakura, causes the blade of his sword to split into thousands of tiny cherry blossom-like blades, which can slice an enemy to pieces before they move. His Bankai takes this even further, creating a hallway of enormous blades which shatter into countless cherry blossoms, which he can control at will. Byakuya’s favorite technique, however, doesn’t make use of his sword. Instead, Byakuya uses a combination of the Flash Step technique with a particular chi-inspired martials arts strike, cutting off the flow of spiritual enemy through an opponent’s body and rendering them helpless.
4 Jūshiro Ukitake – Captain of Squad 13
Ukitake is the Captain of Squad 13 for the majority of Bleach and is one of the oldest and most experienced Soul Reapers active. Ukitake suffers from a debilitating illness that causes him to cough up blood, so he often avoids confrontations when possible, but that doesn’t mean he can’t handle them when he needs to. He wields an enormous level of spiritual power as a result of his lifetime of experience, which he can channel almost endlessly into attacks. Ukitake’s Zanpakuto is unique in that it’s made up of two blades joined together and joined by a chain when in its unleashed Shikai state. This allows him to capture the energy fired at him and redirect it back at his opponent even stronger. Ukitake’s Bankai has not been shown on screen to date, leaving its abilities unknown. Despite this, Ukitake still deserves a high ranking, as he and Captain Kyoraku were able to stand against powerful opponents together, even in his weakened state.
3 Kenpachi Zaraki – Captain of Squad 11
Kenpachi Zaraki is the leader of Squad 11, and one of the most unusual Soul Reapers in the entire series. Zaraki craves challenges, so he does things like wear an eyepatch that suppresses spiritual power or attach bells to his hair to make fights more difficult (and thus more fun) for himself. He also goes through most of the series without ever learning the name or unleashed states of his Zanpakuto–a blade that he took off a dead Soul Reaper, rather than one that was forged for him specifically. Zaraki took the Captaincy of Squad 11 by force, defeating the former Captain and earning himself the title “Kenpachi,” given to the strongest Captain in the Soul Society. For Zaraki, it’s all about raw power and talent–he’ll do anything to be the strongest.
2 Shunsui Kyōraku – Captain of Squad 1
Shunsui Kyōraku is both the captain of Bleach’s 1st Division and the Head Captain of Soul Society as of The Thousand-Year Blood War. Like Ukitake, he’s one of the oldest and most experienced active Soul Reaper Captains, and his Zanpakuto is similar in that it’s also made up of two blades. His appearance is like that of a classic samurai, and he has the skills with a blade to match. An easygoing guy by nature, Kyōraku would prefer not to fight if he can help it, but he ends fights that come to him quickly. His Zanpakuto, Katen Kyokotsu, has the ability to force the rules of children’s games to be followed by his opponent. It may not sound like much, but many a foe has disregarded it at their own peril. His Bankai ability generates an aura of despair, causing depression among all those affected, so Kyōraku only uses it as a last resort, when no allies are around. It causes the enemy to share wounds with him, making them take damage from their own strikes, and which ultimately culminates in the opponent being beheaded.
1 Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto – Founder
Genryūsai Shigekuni Yamamoto was the founder of the 13 Court Guard Squads, with the intention of using them to fight against the Quincy during the first great war 1,000 years ago. Yamamoto, As the Head Captain of Bleach’s 13 Court Guard Squads for all that time, he’s undoubtedly the oldest and most powerful Soul Reaper. Yamamoto’s Zanpakuto, Ryujin Jakka, is arguably the most powerful in Bleach, with multiple levels of Bankai available to it. A fire type Zanpakuto, the heat of his final Bankai at full power could burn up the entire Soul Society if his battle went on for too long, which it nearly did when he fought the Wandenreich head-on. While Yamamoto ultimately lost to Yhwach and died, he was given the chance to prove his abilities really lived up to the reputation before he went out.
While ranking anime characters is always going to be somewhat subjective, this list has attempted to take into account the diversity of powers in Bleach. All of Bleach‘s Captains and Captain-tier fighters are insanely powerful characters by any criteria, and new feats may be shown in Bleach: The Thousand-Year Blood War that could alter these rankings.