I agree with the anime not being the best, but I have to say the manga is still very great.
Especially right now in the latest chapters where we finally are beginning to get some answers on questions many have asked before. I won't spoil anything for those who only follow the anime or/and hasn't come that long in the story yet, but Kishimoto really is a great story-teller. Chapter 612 for an example- just WOW!
I have nothing against mainstream shounen. There are some that are good (One Piece and Hunter x Hunter), and there are some that are great but have come to pass (GTO and Fullmetal Alchemist). But I am against Naruto. I'll admit that it was one of my first manga/anime, and sure I liked it as a kid, but now that I've grown up I can see all the faults that really make both the entire manga and anime series stupidly bad. If you liked it though, then note that I am not trying change your preference but am simply trying to give points on what makes it bad.
-FIRST: Length. This is a flaw that even One Piece suffers (that's why I'm not in love with OP), it never ends. It's the cash cow of the anime industry and one of the prime gateway anime to date (bar DBZ). It earns for the anime industry so I cannot really slap it stupid for feeding the industry that I love, but I wouldn't say it's good (quality wise). Naruto's story is stretched (even pre-shippuden). It goes into multiple arcs with varying degrees of quality, which ultimately culminates into a blob of mediocrity.
-NEXT: Characters. I've seen some flat characters before, but this is just ridiculous. There is no development in the series. You'd think after 100 episodes, someone would change. Naruto is still the typical shounen "believe it" character he's always been. Sasuke just went on a slow and sloppy decline from being angsty to being emo. Sakura is still empty in every way. Hinata still likes Mr. "Believe it". And everyone else is one dimensional. There are some characters that really don't need development (Gintoki and Onizuka) but that's because they're already fully developed characters who don't need to change and serve a singular purpose. In Naruto's story, since they start out as kids, steady development into maturity is essential to the story. If you want to see development in shounen, look at Edward Elric from the first adaptation of FMA.
LAST: Handling. How the story progresses is already pre-formulated by its spiritual predecessor Dragon Ball. Special kid, gains power, fights bad guy, wins, trains, fights another even larger bad guy, wins, trains, repeat infinitely until you gain tons of money and worldwide love (also hatred). There is no mold-breaking, in fact, the use of the formula isn't even perfect (One Piece perfected it [not necessarily a good thing though]). The entire thing was crafted to follow a pattern that was already predetermined to be loved. If you want something that does this but took some risks look at Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (an incredibly stupid anime with so much stereotypes in it, yet it manages to transcend all its flaws with some great handling).
I'm sure you have some counter-arguments (you may also think of me as a hipster, I don't mind) but let me finish with this one note. There are two kinds of "bad" in art. The offensively horrible bad, and the mediocre bad. Naruto falls in the latter category. And if I'm being honest, I like the extremely horrible art more. They have more memorability.
I'm not saying that anyone who dislikes Naruto is a hipster, especially if they can give some proper arguments I really agree with you on almost everything but the show has been around for like 10 years now and I know it sounds rather silly but I guess you could say it has had a rather big influence on my life. So maybe I'm not being completely objective about this matter.
The only difference between Naruto and OP and DBZ imo is that the villains in Naruto are introduced quite early into the storyline. Like Akatsuki and Orochimaru and you know kind of where the story is going (it's gotten quite out of hand now though). Whereas DBZ just randomly spawns aliens into the storyline. And in OP the makers can decide how many Islands they pass through untill Luffy becomes pirate king.
Regarding character development I completely agree. One would think that the dramatic events that occur in the Naruto world would have somewhat of an impact on the characters. But I think because the target audience also includes kids they're trying to send some messages across like never give up and always stay optimistic. But this ofcourse is no excuse for flat characters.
Thank you. I've finally had a nice discussion with a Naruto fan. And I'm with you on this one. Compared to OP or DBZ, Naruto (at least pre-shipuden) sets up it's villains quite well. I can't say that they were better villains (a majority of shounen villain has illogical motives) but the story set them up really well.
And if it's personal reasons that you're attached to Naruto, then I have no complaints on that. Like whatever you may like. I'm actually happy I found someone who could acknowledge faults yet still hold his own.