I have been a long time lurker, since about 10 years ago. While I realised the flaws of the manga early on such as lack of characterisation and plot development, I still enjoyed watching episodes here and there and reading threads discussing the progress of the manga. Some of the things I enjoyed was the macro development and continuity of the arcs, and of course, the development of the friendship and presumed relationship between Naruto and Sakura.
That being said, I have been looking for an epic manga series to read. Despite its flaws, Naruto stands out overall. I have already caught up with Hunter X Hunter, however, the long hiatuses leads me to find something else to read. Would it be a good idea to plod through Naruto, despite the horrendous ending? As long time fans of the manga, would you have read it, now knowing what happens in the end?
A teeny tiny bit late to this! Naruto once had the potential of being one of the best stories ever. If I knew it would deteriorate into the mess of a cash cow it is today, I don't think I would have laid a finger on it. Not only was the story thrown into the gutter, but the characters strayed off their previous growth & development and power ups got ridiculous. (just downright silly and funny to look at... )
The thing is though, the more attached you are to something after spending multiple years following & investing, the more it hurts to see it diminish into a joke. I remember being initially introduced to early manga pages of Naruto back in 2002-03 by friends, and was very interested in the story and unique designs but didn't think that much of it. It wasn't until the Anime premiered in 2005 that I fell in love with it. Again, the English VA's played a great deal in my enjoyment of the series and they fit each character perfectly!
That said, Part 1 was wonderfully great, Part 2 was rocky to start but peaked perfectly up to the Pain Arc. Up to Volume 48 is where I'd put a a finish line, because beyond that it only goes downhill, hard. I only wish Kishimoto could've kept on his original track and not have been misguided by battered fans, biased editors, and persuasions from the studio. Only thing left nowadays is to hope for a better doujin ending. Or maybe someone out there in 10-20 years will try to rewrite the story after the Pain Arc with tech and programs getting exceedingly easier to work with. Who knows, one can only dream!