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- Naruto - The Way of the Apartment Manager by Elizabeth Culmer - [ Note: The FFNET version seems to be a few chapters behind the version posted in the author's memories, so you may want to check both. ] - Read the first page of this story. Read it. No matter what other reservations I might have had about this story, about the OCs or the storyline or the focus (or lack of) on my favorite characters, the first half a page hooked me on this story and I didn't look back once. One of the best things about the story is the writing, which is professional-quality good, the kind that's so smooth and clean that I'm not even reading individual words, I'm just taking this steady, cool stream of narration that's so soothing to read. The second thing that's great about this story is the top-notch characterization and, oh my god, the plot. You wouldn't think a story about an original character, paired up with another original character and a younger, still-genin (he wants to be a Chuunin so he can be a full-fledged teacher) Umino Iruka would be so interesting, but the author weaves a story that's on par with the manga itself. Seriously.

Each character has their moments, each of them are so beautifully developed while still moving the plot forward. The author doesn't just stop to dump character scenes on the reader, she weaves everything into the motion of the fic, so it's constantly moving, even when they're just training together. They're each so fascinating, each of them are likable for their own reasons, each of them sparkles, each of them has their flaws. What the author did with these three characters is made them individuals, gave them reasons why they're not perfect, why they're struggling in their own ways, why they're not really special ninja, why they're still so very special in their own ways. It sort of sounds cliche when I try to write it up like this, but trust me, reading about the three characters training together or when they're going through the various stages of the Chuunin exam, everything is gorgeous.

This doesn't even really begin to cover that the author has created two characters that I honest-to-god would not have minded seeing in the original manga, because they're just that well-created. And I normally don't dislike OCs, but I sort of itch at them. These were brilliant. Yukiko, the main character, is a perfect choice for the narration of this fic--it starts with her having a six year old Naruto dumped into her apartment complex and the scenes with their early interaction is brilliant, the sense of heartache and hope and everything that manga contained was just breath-takingly well done. Then you toss in Iruka characterization that's utterly, utterly fabulous, that's complex and layered, but so utterly, utterly Iruka, too. He's not just standing around doing nothing, he's working and you see his strengths and weaknesses, but he's not super powered-up, either.

*squeaks* And then! And then! OMG, Kakashi. Kakashi (who is already Jounin by this point, of course--though, I think he should actually be younger than he is here, he's only a year older than Iruka, rather than about Yukiko's age) keeps popping up in the story and every time he does, the author makes me squee and burble in happiness because it's Kakashi. The author just absolutely nails the characters' voices--her Naruto shines every time he opens his mouth, her Iruka sparkles in that way he has, her Kakashi just makes me melt into a giant pile of glee because he's clever and weird and eccentric and brilliant and terribly talented and even his body language is perfect. Perfect. It, uh, didn't hurt that Kakashi interacts in little ways with each of the characters, so my little fangirl heart was dancing with glee over certain scenes. XD And did I mention her Naruto is one of the best I've ever read? Seriously. And if that's not enough, you also get background OCs for the fights (because it's set before the current timeline, so there needs to be several characters that would be older than the current crop of rookies) that are honest-to-god interesting, feeling like they could have stepped straight out of the manga, too.

Then you come to the fight scenes. There are fight scenes. With actual intensity, a ton of thought going into the workings of the ninjutsu, but not being like a fic-pausing lesson in the author's theories, she weaves it all into the fight itself, so you learn a lot, you get to see a lot of really cool and creative tricks, even as you're watching this kick-ass, genuinely interesting fight. There're fight scenes for individuals and fight scenes for the main group and it all works with the characters' strengths and weaknesses and shows insights into the characters and the whole thing makes me wriggle around with glee.

I realize that this is probably the longest rec I've ever written, but this fic knocked me on my ass and I had, had to get all of this out of my system. This was more for my own sake, my own desire to burble happily about what impressed me than it was to get people to read, because I probably would have come up with something shorter for just that. But, yeah. I missed this kind of fic. The kind that I agreed with and really got the feel and atmosphere of the manga, the kind that felt like it actually vibed with the series, the kind that actually had beautiful, clean writing that I dearly wish I could emulate. Just... wow, this story was awesome. I sincerely hope the author sticks around in the Naruto fandom. (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - Lessons by Elizabeth Culmer - *melts into a giant PILE OF GOO* Oh, this was another breath-taking fic about Iruka, the kind that really illuminates his character, is such a rich and layered fic with background that easily could have come straight out of the manga itself, the kind that's heart-tugging in all the right ways. The Iruka characterization, as he goes from an angry child (perhaps that's not the best way to put it, though) to a more complicated, tempered adult (who is so beautifully Iruka), is brilliant. The movement of this fic is fluid and gorgeous, the way these amazing details are woven in, the beautiful characterization of Iruka's aunt or his Jounin-sensei teacher, the way it all fits... oh, I'm so in love. Beautiful, must-read Iruka fic. ♥ (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - Memoirs of a Family by Hiasobi - Jesus, this fic made me want to cry. Because it touched on how pretty much every character in the series has their own pain and loneliness and solitude, that they all hurt, without going overboard about it. In each little glimpse, in only a flash of imagery, the author shows a moment in several different characters' lives, how their pasts lead them to the current point, where they're going in the future, how they keep trudging forward, even when they're (emotionally) wounded. The subtleness of this fic was breath-taking, the pure emotion, so intense that it was practically a physical thing, the brilliant insight for each character, even in only a handful of lines every chapter, all of it created a gorgeous fic. I wanted to cry for Naruto, my heart hurt for Kakashi, I wanted to wrap Hinata in a hug, I wanted to make Neji's life better, I wanted to sympathize with Sakura, I wanted to heal his world for Sasuke, all of this done in such a way that it was exactly what the author intended and absolutely doing justice to the series. I wish I could write a better rec, that I had some special sort of insight into this fic, because it was so beautifully done. Just... go read it. *___* (...I'm not going to count any pairings/warnings.)

- Naruto - Ichiraku by Hiasobi - Oh, man, Hiasobi's fics are all kinds of awesome, even when she's writing about something as simple as a piece from the POV of the Ichiraku's owner about his store and Naruto. It's lovely, because it fits with the series, why Naruto likes the place so much, why it's not something you really think about in canon, because it doesn't make them (the owner or his family) omgsospecial because they were omgsoimportant to Naruto, but because they were fair. The writing is elegant as always, bringing the story to life in my mind's eye, painting a lovely picture, and capturing the feel of the series. *__* (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - Be by Hiasobi - As I've mentioned before, the author really does write an outstanding Hinata. She's not a character I seek out very often, but when a stellar writer comes along, I happily read, because... the balance between her sadness at not being strong enough for the Hyuuga clan and her refusal to give in is struck so well in this author's writing. The way her life sucks, but she's not bitter about it, that she still finds the strength to keep trying to be strong, even as they're continually pushing her out, keeping her from the people she cares about, even as the person who was supposed to be her friend hates her. It's all so very Hinata. (No real warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - Ripple Effect by rayemars - Argh! I had about three paragraphs of a review written out for this fic and somewhere along the line, when porting my list of recs back and forth between this computer and the laptop, I seem to have erased or lost them! Which means I have to start all over again, oy. *rolls up sleeves* Okay. I am of mixed feelings when it comes to this fic. There are things that the author did that are pretty awesome. There are things that the author did that distract the hell out of me. The fic is good, it achieves far more than it doesn't achieve, which sort of makes the flaws stand out more to me. For one thing, the -chan usage in the fic is massively distracting to me, with pretty much every dramatic scene in the story, I can rarely fully let myself be immersed because I'm constantly being jarred by Sakura calling her friends Ino-chan or Hinata-chan or Anko-chan when they should have either long outgrown the -chan honorific or would never have used it at all. I also am not sure how onboard I am with the whole "Naruto's used too much of the Kyuubi's chakra and it's taking over him, so he's not allowed to use it anymore and now Sakura is hatching a plan to fix him and take the chakra out." idea. Just... it's not badly done, but I'm not sure I want to read about a Naruto without Kyuubi's role in his life.

On the other hand, this fic does so many things right. The characterization is solid, the dialogue sparkles, and it has some of my favorite dynamics very present and well-done. Sasuke and Naruto's relationship is done extremely well here, which comes out through the dialogue (the way they snark and snarl at each other really fits with the characters I know, it's actually interesting to me and keeps me entertained when I'm not really that SasuNaru focused as a Naruto fangirl) and in the way things aren't easy for either of them and the way they spar against each other. They fight, Naruto doesn't really let Sasuke forget that he was a dumbass to leave Konoha for Orochimaru, but neither does he drag it around their relationship constantly. Naruto is Naruto here. And Sasuke's betrayal of the village isn't forgotten, it's hard to be back when everyone looks at him with contempt now (and yet it's not over the line, it feels like this is how it would go if Sasuke came back), nor are the flashbacks of some of the things he endured/did under Orochimaru's care softened. Sasuke participated in some really awful things.

The other thing that totally sent me over the moon was the relationship between Lee and Sakura, which also just sparkled. They're not completely wrapped up in each other, but they do love each other very much and their feelings for each other don't waver, not even in the face of everything Sakura is going to go through with Sasuke back in the village and Naruto going through some bad stuff (given that he keeps slipping and using the Kyuubi's chakra at times). They're fun here and I always sit up a little straighter and beam whenever they have a scene together, because it's not all schmoopy love and smoochy faces, but it's still Lee and Sakura. I love Lee's characterization, honestly, because he's a wonderful blend of Lee and being more mature that a lot of people would expect of him. The whole relationship is wonderfully mature and I would rec this fic just for that.

Which brings me to the final point, I think, the other thing that I really appreciate about this story. For all that I'm wary of where the story is going with Naruto, it's a personal quirk, not one with the story, because it's actually doing it very, very well. The author also has a destination in mind for her story and each scene moves it forward a little and doesn't forget the things it needs to remember. What I mean by that is that Orochimaru isn't forgotten when Sasuke escapes, it isn't forgotten that Konoha is a village full of ninja on the brink of war again. There's plot here and it's the kind that feels like a natural extention of where the storyline might be going rather than throwing in an entirely new plot element. Which doesn't seem like it's all that interesting, but I don't find a lot of fics like that, honestly, that don't just create an entirely new plot, but instead work with what the series has given the readers and still makes it interesting and feeling like it could slide into the Naruto universe itself.

So, overall, I do have reservations about this story, I think the writing could be tightened up in a lot of places, a few things reworked, but all the necessary things are there and very strong. The author had me reading SasuNaru or Sasuke/Naruto/Sakura interaction scenes and not losing my interesting, which is rare. The author has a real flair for the sparkle of a fic, that certain element that makes it snap, rather than making my eyes glaze over with boredom. The LeeSaku relationship is fabulous and I would rec it just for that. And, hell, the author got me to read fifteen chapters (where I stopped when I wrote this rec) of a REALLY LONG fic and I have no trouble bailing on a fic that isn't working for me. Whatever reservations I have, I still think this is one of the more interesting fics in the fandom, period. (Romance isn't really the point/focus. It's gen more than anything. The SasuNaru isn't official, but there's enough interaction and if you squint and tilt your head and want to see it as romance... it's enough that I'll count it. LeeSaku is definitely romantic, though.)

- Naruto - Forgiven by Lazuli - This was an interesting Kakashi fic, with the way it drew parallels in ways that I don't see done very often. You frequently see the parallels drawn between Jiraiya/Orochimaru/Tsunade and Naruto/Sasuke/Sakura, but Kakashi/Obito/Rin is trickier because they're not exactly the same. But they're not entirely different either and this fic does a really good job of showing how there are aspects of the past reflected in the future, the way his students sometimes remind Kakashi of the past, of the course his life has taken, sometimes drawing them deliberately, sometimes letting the reader pick them up on their own. And it's a solid version of kid!Kakashi, which I don't see nearly often enough, which would have been enough to win me over all on its own. ^_~ (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - It Takes a Village by Aishuu - This is seriously one of the best Naruto fics I've read in ages, possibly in the entire fandom. Every single one of these scenes was perfectly crafted, not a word was wasted, and every single one revealed something about a character that most people would never realize, each insight was brilliant. Every single one of them showed exactly how difficult and harsh it is to be raised in a ninja village without anyone ever realizing it at all. I liked the first two very much, Aishuu did so very well with Sasuke and Neji, but by the time I hit drabble number three, the Chouji one... that was when I felt like I'd had the rug pulled out from underneath me because the insight into his character was painfully brilliant. Just... this is a must read, I cannot say anything further than that. (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - Rules of the Game by sna - So, just the other day, I was bitching about the lack of fic with interaction between Kakashi and Jiraiya, and while this isn't exactly what I was originally thinking of, it was indeed great fun. Because Jiraiya is so Jiraiya with Yondaime's team of little brats, totally being himself while he ostensibly teaches them a ninja lesson and cuteness with Team Yondaime, but the highlight is really the ending when Yondaime comes back, because it reminds me, dude, there's not enough Jiraiya and Yondaime interaction either! I so totally want more. Plus, yes, this fic was cute and fun and happy. Naruto needs more of those. ^_~ (No warnings/pairings, maybe a little hinting of Team Yondaime pairings.)

- Naruto - Skin Deep by link no miko - I have to say that I'm not sure I entirely agree with the portrayal of Ino in this fic, I think there's a friendliness to her (that originally caused her to befriend Sakura when they were children, one must remember that Sakura broke the friendship for a stupid reason, not Ino), but I look past that in this instance because a) different people and different perspectives almost never equal "right" or "wrong", each take is interesting for its own weight and b) the rest of the fic has this incredibly punch to it about why Team Ten isn't special and, yet, they are. Because there's a sense of a completely whole to this team that none of the other, flashier teams really give off, because they compliment each other in ways the other teams don't. My fingers really itched to highlight, copy, and paste about half of this fic as a quote, because there are some really wonderful lines that get straight to the heart of Team 10, both their weakness and their strengths and the things that are both. This is one of those fics that I recommend that everyone should read, even if these characters aren't your favorite, because it's just so... Naruto in the way it looks at Ino, Shikamaru, Chouji, and Asuma, the way it makes them special in their own right without making them SPECIAL. I loved this. (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - Dreams of a World by lingching - [Note: Some spoilers for the Kakashi Gaiden worked into this fic.] So, I've been bitching about the lack of interaction between Jiraiya and Kakashi, right? Which seems like an obvious thing to me because of their connection through Yondaime, but almost no one indulges me. Now, admittedly, this fic is a little rough around the edges and could use a little polishing, but it certainly got the spirit of the characters down and there were several points that I either squeed or cooed from the images that hit all the right notes with me. From their first introduction to the way Jiraiya wouldn't treat him as fragile after Sakumo's death to the way they fought and were such brats together to the rather bittersweet ending note that felt very much like it could have been Jiraiya. The fic was totally worth reading for the conversation in the tree after Kakashi's first kill and, omg, the Yondaime cameo was just as wonderful. This was definitely a fun fic to read. ♥ (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - mythology by lacewood - Tsunade and Tenten aren't two characters that you could immediately think of connections between, even with the theme of Who would take us to be women?, but, damn, this fic is just... it's perfect. The way it makes so much sense to use this spin, the way it adds in a dash of what life/purpose for kunoichi in Konoha must be like, the way legends can sometimes strike a certain person in a certain way and affect their lives. And, man, I also loved, loved the imagery of this, too. *__* (No warnings/pairings.)

- xxxHOLiC/Naruto - untitled by cynic_in_charge - xxxHOLiC and Naruto should not cross this well, but the author keeps the spirit of these two characters, Yuuko and Tsunade, so wonderfully in-tune with themselves and uses the connection of gambling to bring them together and makes it work. Not only is it fun to see them drinking and gambling against together, but the story, like both HOLiC and Naruto have a tendency to do, takes a turn for the serious at some point and then rips your heart out. The Tsunade POV for this story works brilliantly and the ending is just... all kinds of fabulous. (No warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - How to File Form 39-B by the Hoyden - ....did I never rec this? *facepalm* Shame on me! Because I love her Naruto fic with such intensity. ♥ I just... I have no idea which part of this fic that I enjoyed most. Because you've got the stellar interaction between Kakashi and Iruka, you've got a pitch-perfect Iruka just after being betrayed by Mizuki and getting used to being around Naruto, you've got an adorable Naruto who comes across perfectly in text form, loud and obnoxious, but not overly hyper, and then you've got the bored Jounin milling around to add that extra dash of fun, but there's also Kakashi who is so insane and doing it on purpose that I just crack the hell up and twirl around in glee and then--...well, yes, you see the problem I have. ^_~ It's just... it's clever and the writing is so teeth-achingly perfect and sharp and the dynamic between Naruto and Iruka just floored me because it was so damned perfect, because it was everything that these fabulous characters should have written for them, filled with details and perfectly described small gestures of hands and, god, dialogue that works so damned well. And a really lovely, stellar, believable dynamic between Kakashi and Iruka (seriously, the word play they have going on, the way they got drunk together or the way Kakashi keeps teasing him or the way Iruka knows a lot more than one would expect him to, the way every character in this fic is special just because they're themselves, not because they're special-special, but because that's the way they make me feel) and, god, I swear, I felt like I was going to cry from the tension or sweetness or whatever when Iruka realized that he was wrong about Kakashi's motivations/perspective about Naruto and went to apologize after the Chuunin nominations and that conversation was just....

There are so many things I wanted to comment about, with more than just run-on sentences, but I kind of wrote this while I was reading, because I got so wound up by it that I had to do it immediately, because every few screens there was a scene that I just absolutely had to squee over. Because the pacing of this fic was just fabulous, one of those stories that really does build up the tension between them, builds an actual relationship, it doesn't come out of nowhere or they're not just dropped into the middle of it. Because it's one of those stories that's complete, not just a snippet or a piece of what I wanted for them, because the sense of satsifaction by the time they finally sleep together is wonderful. And! There are running gags! That are actually funny! And Naruto isn't forgotten, not really, and, oh, god, KakaIru where they're being all cutely flirty and the interaction just sparkles and the characterization is flat-out awesome and, and, and--!! And, just, oh, god, I'm ending this rec now before it becomes even more apparent that my brain has dribbled out my ears. Because this whole story... oh, just... yes. Yes. One of those stories that I would happily point out to even non-KakaIru fans. ♥ (Kakashi/Iruka, but worth reading for the Iruka - Naruto interaction, too.)

- Naruto - Of power, respect and friendship by Aishuu - Every once in awhile, I read a Naruto fic that makes me feel like the wind has been knocked from my lungs because it just nails the characterization or because it presents something with such a powerful impact, I'm left to sort of stare at the screen for a moment while I process it. There is something about this fic, about the way Naruto and Sasuke both see each other, what they believe deep down, how entwined they are in each other, something about it that is so damned perfect for these two that I felt like I was going to heave a breathy sigh by the time I was done. And, yes, I know that I'm being all fawning and such, but there was something about this fic that made me entirely willing to throw that away. ^_~ I just... I want to comment on one or two in particular, but it's the last five or six of these thing just hit me one after the next and reminded me of everything about this series that I fell in love with. The reason I rarely read fic about these two is because canon is so complex and well-done that I don't need more unless it's perfect, too. This utterly did justice to them. (This is amazing reflection of canon. Whatever you see there, you will likely see in this fic.)

- Naruto - Between the Lines by Zooie - I have such affection for this fic because of the Kakashi POV that's loopy and weird and a little insane, but not so far over the top that Kakashi becomes a parody of himself or goes out of the bounds of what's actually a very serious character. For all that the author apparently struggled with this story for some months, there's a certain natural flow to the characterization/narration that utterly charmed me while he looks around his apartment or watches Iruka behaving oddly and it's not that he doesn't get what's going on so much as he doesn't think in entirely the same patterns, but he's still brilliant Kakashi. It's a balance between the two that the author utterly pulls off and makes this one of the better fics I've read recently. Plus, omg, the details and a fantastic Iruka--who apparently has to get drunk to work up the nerve to go apologize to Kakashi after the Chuunin exames and it works so damn well in this fic--and it's just a really good, fun, smooth read. (Gen fic, though, it may be of interest to KakaIru fans, despite that there is no romance here.)

- Harry Potter/Naruto - A Matter of Perspective - A Total Write-Off - Birds of a Feather - Echoes of Self - The Future of Fate/A Servant's Love - Unstoppable meets Unbreakable by muffytaj - [Note: I'm probably getting the order for these fics entirely wrong, but I don't think it matters too much what order you read them in.] I was in the middle of a conversation with aki_omoi and we were exchanging links and somehow one or the other of us stumbled over this series of Harry Potter/Naruto crossovers fics that are brilliant beyond the telling of them. I started out with "Unstoppable meets Unbreakable", where Gai interacts with Snape and I was stunned by the perfect, brilliant hilarity of it. You'd think it'd be a weird mix or that it would fall a little flat or just something, but, no, it was perfect. It fit and the meshing of the two world was somehow utterly seamless. The connections with each scene make beautiful sense, they're not just random match-ups, there's a reason for them, the writing and dialogue and characterization are brilliant, and, god, Hagrid with Kyuubi in "A Matter of Perspective", asdlfkjadlfjkalsdjf, beautiful. But they're all beautiful in their own way, really. ♥ (No real warnings/pairings.)

- Naruto - 20 pieces of crack facts about Jiraiya by rhole and intravox - Despite the short length of this one, it was hitting #11 and #12 that got me to think, yes, this is what I wanted from a set of Jiraiya "facts", because they epitomize the depth of the character and the harshness underneath the silliness that Jiraiya surround himself with often times. It's not hammered into the readers' head, it might not even have been going through the authors' heads while writing this, but it something that I picked up on because it's something I crave. Also #16 and #17 made me wibble painfully as well, but, again, I'm like that. I thought these were really, solidly GOOD. (No real warnings/pairings, not enough to count.)

- Naruto - untitled by Mina Lightstar - I don't usually read beyond my usual set pairings, but... well, it's Mina and it's Kiba and Hinata (who are adorably cute) and it's more gen than anything and it was short enough that I wasn't making a huge commitment. And I'm really glad I read, Mina manages to capture both characters really well even with such a short piece here, something about them hitting just the right notes and being so cute without being too cotton candy fluffy for my tastes. It's simple and sweet, but that's what made it so good. ♥ (Not Kiba/Hinata, it's more gen than anything, but.)

- Naruto - Smoke and Snow by marmaladecat - I must have missed this the first time, but aki_omoi pointed it out the other night and I settled down to read. It was... one of the biggest draws for me was the atmosphere of the fic, the way the imagery and prose worked in the way the author intended, so it was like there was this blanket of quiet around a smaller, intimate circle of noise, like footsteps on snow on a cold winter day. This is in addition to quiet, subtle characterization that fits with the tone of the fic beautifully well, it's serious without being depressing, it's almost... thoughtful, but with just a sprinkling of the harshness for the Naruto characters' lives. The imagery the author used is lovely, even while they're just standing in front of the obelisk to remember the dead. I really liked that no metaphor was lingered on for too long or overused to beat it into the readers' heads, there was something like a mercurial quality here, but the flow from one point to the next was lovely. It was a very, very good read, I thought. (Not Kakashi/Iruka, it's more gen than anything, but.)

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