I'd had a vague impression before i started watching it that Naruto was kind of like Dragon Ball Z. After watching most of the "good" parts of the first Naruto series (i.e. the non-filler bits) my feeling is that Naruto is the Merry Gentry to Dragon Ball Z's Anita Blake. (Speaking of the relevant series, not the individual characters.)
The comparison isn't perfect of course, but both Dragon Ball Z and Anita Blake were the codifiers of their respective genres (martial arts shonen manga and paranormal romance,) at least that's certainly the way it seems to a relative outsider. Certainly Anne Rice and others were doing vampire stories before Laurell K Hamilton, and i'm sure there were other martial arts manga before Akira Toriyama got started, however Dragon Ball Z and Anita Blake were the ones to "hit it big" and spawn a whole slew of imitators.
There's one other big similarity between them, they both featured something akin to a Lensman Arms Race. Every plot arc (either a book or some or all of a season) introduces some new enemy more powerful than anything the heroes have faced before (usually _much_ more so) and by the end of that plot arc the heroes have gained or refined even stronger powers in order to defeat them. Which means that the next plot arc needs an even stronger enemy for them to fight...
The heroes start to look like characters from a Monty Haul campaign and the series starts to suffer from Plot Leveling. It also seems pretty likely that in both cases the authors had no idea how things were going to end up when they got started and before long were just making things up as they went along.
Naruto and Merry Gentry were both created after the codifiers of their respective genres and were heavily influenced by them. (For the few who may not be aware and didn't read the links above, Anita Blake and Merry Gentry are both written by the same author, while the creator of Naruto has specifically cited Akira Toriyama and Dragon Ball as one of his influences.) This meant that both got the benefit of knowing where their predecessors had ended up, meaning that the universe and story could be designed to accommodate that kind of plot and some of the more obvious pitfalls could be avoided. Both adopted a setting where combat could be expected, along with the regular arrival of new enemies to combat with, and the gaining of new magical powers could be expected and "reasonably" explained. And both feature heroes who are shown right from the beginning to have the potential to be more powerful than almost everyone else, rather than trying to shoehorn it in later. And the Merry Gentry series starts out with an excuse as to why the main character will be having a lot of sex, rather than er, trying to shoehorn it in later, so to speak :)
From what i understand the Merry Gentry series fell into the same rut as Anita Blake after the first several books, but that may very well because they are both by the same person, and avoiding the pitfalls of the genre does not mean one will necessarily avoid the personal pitfalls of the author. Naruto on the other hand is still doing a pretty good job of keeping things relatively sane after about 130 episodes (assuming one is willing to discount filler episodes of course, a problem that i understand is only going to get much worse from here on out until the next series.)