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Hunter X Hunter: The Hunter Exam Phases Ranked Worst To Best

"Hunter x Hunter" is one of the big-name Shonen Jump titles, included among the ranks of "Naruto," Bleach," and "One Piece." The show follows a group of elite human beings known as hunters who travel the world uncovering treasures, searching for mysteries, and developing their super-human skills and knowledge. Essentially above the law, hunters need no visas to travel and receive no punishment for crimes such as killing, making the profession attractive to various groups of people.

The first arc of the anime follows the protagonist Gon Freecss as he takes on the Hunter Association's exam to earn a hunter license. As the exam takes 20 "Hunter x Hunter" episodes to complete, it's neither straightforward nor easy, and viewers have a lot of opinions on which phase is the best. Using the wealth of opinions available on Reddit, we've put together a very unofficial ranking of the Hunter Exam phases — by all means, have a read and see if you agree with us.

8. Second Phase: Cooking

First up on this list is the second phase of the Hunter Exam, led by the two gourmet hunters Menchi and Buhara. This section of the exam is a bit of a mess for both the examinees and the viewers — some stuck-up foodies come along, demand a roast pig, and then fail every single applicant. This causes an understandable amount of protest from the examinees since none of them are interested in becoming gourmet hunters and don't believe they should be tested on anything related to cooking.

The Hunter Association Chairman Isaac Netero eventually swoops in to clear the situation up and propose a new test, but most of the applicants remain on edge. Thanks to the mess up, we get to see Chairman Netero for the first time and get a little peek into how chaotic the Hunter Association can get, but the phase still lacks in action and excitement.

One difference between the anime and the manga versions of this phase is that in the manga, Menchi asks for a sushi dish. She says it's a dish that comes from the land of Jappon, but only Hanzo — a native of that country — knows what she is talking about. Speaking of Japanese foods, Menchi's name also refers to a Japanese dish called Menchi-katsu, a deep-fried minced meat cutlet. Buhara's name, on the other hand, may just be nonsense but we did notice that it contains the word for stomach — hara — which is a little on the nose.

7. Fifth phase: Fighting Tournament

Next up, we've chosen the final phase of the Hunter Exam — the combat tournament. Some fans find this stage a little anticlimactic because none of the main characters really dominate, and Gon is even unconscious for the drama that goes down. Not to mention the fact that Killua kills a contestant and fails the exam, which can be quite a shock for first-time viewers.

During the tournament, Gon goes up against Hanzo, the Japponese ninja. Like all of the Jappon natives in the show, Hanzo is named after a famous figure in Japanese history — in this case, Hattrori Hanzo, also known as the world's greatest ninja. Another example from later on in the show is Basho, named after world-famous Haiku poet Matsuo Bashō.

While Gon shows off his determination and unbending positivity during the match, his win is only earned when Hanzo surrenders the match to avoid injuring Gon too gravely. When Gon tries to protest against this, Hanzo simply knocks him unconscious, and he stays that way until the exam is over.

The real drama of this phase is when Gittarackur reveals himself as Killua's elder brother and seemingly manipulates him into killing Bodoro. While killing other applicants doesn't always result in disqualification, in Killua's case he interrupts a fight that isn't his and attacks unprovoked and from behind. The suspicious circumstances around the incident cause Gon to chase after Killua to find out what really happened, leading to the second arc of the show

6. Preliminary phase: Finding the Exam Venue

Considering the exploratory nature of the hunter profession, it's not surprising that finding the exam venue is a test in and of itself. Gon, Leorio, and Kurapika all meet by chance on their way to the exam, and their interactions with each other and the captain of the ship help them pass the very first stage.

Another challenge comes in the form of a nonsensical riddle with no right answer. It's one of those classic anime moments where both the problem and the solution are kind of dumb but, according to the world of the show, the characters are special and smart for figuring it all out. It's the sort of thing a viewer without a sense of humor might complain about, but we don't think even the most self-serious anime fan would object to random squawking crow that emerges during this preliminary phase.

The final part of the preliminary exam tests the observational and analytical skills of the contestants to see if they'll come to their own conclusions or simply believe what they are told. A family of shape-shifting Kiriko delivers this challenge. In Japanese, the name Kiriko (凶) uses the characters for tanuki and kitsune, two yōkai that are famed for shape-shifting and playing tricks on humans.

Gon is the star of this challenge, using his animal instincts to identify the identical Kiriko from each other and figure out the ruse. The Kiriko are extremely impressed that he was able to tell them apart, which suggests that doing so is not the standard way to pass this section of the exam, though we don't know how other contestants got through.

5. Killua's second Hunter Exam: badge fight

During the Greed Island arc of the anime, Killua returns for a second attempt at the Hunter Exam with a lot more skill and experience under his belt. The whole affair doesn't last quite long enough to get its own arc this time, though, since Killua cuts through all of the 1,488 other applicants in the first stage of the exam, becoming the only successful candidate for that year. He even mercilessly knocks down Zepile, the antiques trader who helped him and Gon raise money for the Yorknew City auction some time ago.

The whole scene is done within three minutes, but the fans will take any opportunity to watch Killua show off his incredible skills. The fact that he simply knocks out each candidate shows growth in his judgment and restraint and how much he has succeeded in distancing himself from his assassin upbringing. However, we do wonder whether he would still have passed if there had been some death involved. 

Learning not to kill might be a sign of progression for Killua as a character, but hunters are legally allowed to kill, after all. If Hisoka was around, he probably would have killed them all, and maybe even the examiner as well if he chose to protest.

4. Third phase: Trick Tower

After the mess with gourmet hunters, the examinees are allowed a night's rest on a blimp on their way to the third phase of the exam. When they arrive, the blimp drops them on top of a hugely tall tower and the next challenge begins. There are pluses and minuses to this phase of the exam. The teamwork (or lack thereof) between Gon, Killua, Kurapika, Leorio, and Tonpa can be entertaining, but there's also a discernable lack of action.

For example, the contest between the main characters and the inmates of the Trick Tower prison seems like an obvious opportunity for forces of mindless brutality going up against quick and cunning style combat — instead, we get a battle to see who can burn a candle for the longest. The most shocking part of this phase is when Killua kills Johness the Dissector by ripping his heart from his chest. The audience has already seen Killua kill by this point, but his friends haven't. Gon barely bats an eyelid since he already knows that Killua comes from a family of assassins and nothing seems to faze him anyway, but Leorio is clearly freaked out by the ordeal.

This phase ends on a much lighter note, though, when Gon turns the last challenge on its head and makes sure all of his friends pass to the next stage. There are two possible routes for the group to choose from — a long and difficult route that allows all five examinees to enter, or a short and easy route that only allows three. Gon cheats the test by simply choosing the long route and then destroying the wall to gain access to the short route.

3. First phase: Endless Run

The first phase of the Hunter Exam is a fan favorite largely due to the mustachioed examiner Satotz. He's a dapper fellow with a nice suit, a nice mustache, seemingly no mouth, and a very quirky style of running. Without any explanation, he simply challenges the applicants to follow after him and begins a very, very, very long run through an exceedingly lengthy tunnel. Another reason behind the popularity of this phase is Killua's introduction to the show. He starts the run by coasting along his skateboard but decides to run properly when his boyish competitive spirit is ignited by Gon. The two run ahead of all the other applicants and, according to Satotz, end up crossing the finish line at the exact same time.

Meanwhile, Kurapika and Leorio develop their friendship by discussing their motivations for taking the exam. This topic already came up on the ship where they first met, but now the two trust each other enough to come clean and be honest. There's also a second stage to Satotz's challenge — to continue to follow him through the Swindler's Swamp where dangerous man-faced apes appear as humans to try and trick their prey. When a group of applicants decide to take on Hisoka and stop him from taking the exam again, he mercilessly kills each one in front of Kurapika and Leorio — yet another reason for this phase's popularity.

2. Fourth phase: Zevil Island

By the fourth stage of the exam, there are 24 candidates left in play. This stage is often seen as the main test in the exam since everyone has the time and space to play to their own strengths and have a fair shot at passing. The group is taken to Zevil Island, where they are pitted against each other in a kind of battle royale that starts with each candidate drawing a badge number belonging to a different applicant.

Of course, Gon ends up with Hisoka as his target and has to spend hours hiding, tailing, and scheming to try and get a badge from him. Unfortunately, Hisoka is currently leagues ahead of Gon in just about every way and Gon isn't able to do much more than pique his interest. Luckily, this is enough to stop Hisoka from killing him, and even let him keep his badge. Poor Gon is embarrassed by the whole experience and vows to return the badge when he's strong enough to finally take on Hisoka as an equal.

This relationship, or rivalry, is rife with creepiness and dangerous undertones, making it both loved and hated by fans. Anime viewers tend to have a thing for liking the evil guys, and anime itself has a thing for making the evil guys cool or relatable, but it's entirely possible that Hisoka crosses far too many lines that are better left uncrossed.

1. Secret phase: Mastering Nen

Although it seems like the Hunter Exam ends when Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio receive their hunter licenses, some candidates actually still have one test left to pass. The real power of a hunter is not the license they carry, but their mastery of a certain secret art — Nen. Not unlike chakra in "Naruto," Nen abilities are developed by the user and fueled by their own life force. The Japanese character for Nen has multiple meanings, including idea, thought, and feeling. While it is necessary for every hunter to be a Nen-user, the existence of Nen is not publicly known and not everyone is capable of mastering it, so it's a secret phase of the exam.

Killua and Gon end up learning Nen from a man named Wing who they meet in Heavens Arena, where they begin to develop their skills in order to catch up to Hisoka and challenge him in battle. Although Killua doesn't pass the Hunter Exam, he is still permitted to learn Nen alongside Gon, though neither of them know at the time that Wing is associated with the exam board.

Kurapika learns Nen from a random guy he meets in the woods and develops a much more extreme set of abilities than his friends. To take on the killers of his clan, he creates vows and limitations for his powers that increase their strength and dangers involved in using them. Meanwhile, Leorio focuses on his medical education and only learns the very basics of Nen.

Nen is one of the most interesting elements of the "Hunter x Hunter" world, and the main focus of pretty much every arc that comes after the initial Hunter Exam, so it's both surprising and exciting to learn about it more than 30 episodes into the show.

Honorable mention: A Game at Midnight

It's not technically a phase in the exam, but a fan favorite moment of the Hunter Exam arc is the game between Gon, Killua, and the Hunter Association Chairman Netero. If they win, he agrees to give them hunter licenses straight away — all they have to do is take a ball from him.

The differences in personality between the two boys is highlighted here when Gon faces the challenge with delight and persistence, while Killua gets frustrated and gives up. When it becomes clear that taking the ball isn't a plausible goal, Gon decides to aim for something a little easier — forcing Netero to at least use both hands to defend himself. Killua decides to excuse himself instead and kills two argumentative candidates on his way back to vent his frustration.

The game provides viewers with a chance to see the kind of power and skill top hunters really have. We know that Hisoka is powerful too, but since he just kills pretty much everyone he fights in a split-second, we don't see a lot of his skill at this stage in the show.