Updated on March 27, 12:00 p.m. (GMT+8): Added images.

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The Thirteen Court Guard Squads in Bleach have had a long history — like the manga and anime it’s from.

Bleach, a manga authored by Tite Kubo, is a supernatural shonen action series known for its epic battle scenes and cool characters. The captains of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads are not just some of the series’ most popular character — they are also some of its most powerful.

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As the Soul Society’s main military force, strength is necessary — best exemplified by its long list of powerful captains, each equipped with unique skills to do their job.

But strength is not equal. Despite having the same rank, some captains have stood out as exemplars in Soul Society’s records.

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Here are the 10 strongest captains in Bleach’s long history — some gone, some alive, and some still serving their roles with great distinction.

The 10 strongest captains in Bleach’s history

Spoiler warning: Bleach manga and anime spoilers ahead

Bleach TYBW Gotei 13/Thirteen Court Guard Squads
Credit: Studio Pierrot

This list conspicuously misses the Royal Guard — all of whom are former captains of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads. While we’ve heard stories about how strong each individual member are, everyone but Ichibe Hyosube lacks the screen time to back up their supposed power levels.

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10. Jushiro Ukitake
9. Toshiro Hitsugaya
8. Byakuya Kuchiki 
7. Yoruichi Shihoin
6. Kisuke Urahara 
5. Shunsui Kyoraku 
4. Retsu Unohana
3. Genryusai Shigekuni Yamamoto 
2. Kenpachi Zaraki 
1. Sosuke Aizen

10. Jushiro Ukitake (formerly Squad 13)

Bleach manga Ukitake Jushiro
Credit: Viz Media

Ukitake, despite being hampered by his health, remains one of the Court Guard Squads’ most formidable captains.

Developing a supposedly fatal lung disease at three years old, his parents brought him to an old shrine and prayed to a fallen deity — Mimihagi — who governs stagnation.

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With his debilitating sickness under control, he still manages to be one of the first captains to come out of the Shinigami Academy, as well as becoming a captain respected by many.

Ukitake Jushiro figure from Bleach
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Ukitake is known for his immense Spiritual Pressure, which he has constantly used over centuries to keep himself alive. In Chapter 617, several high-ranking Court Guard captains and lieutenants failed to keep open a gate to the Soul King Palace due to the loss of Ukitake’s Spiritual Pressure.

9. Toshiro Hitsugaya (Squad 10)

Bleach manga Hitsugaya Toshiro
Credit: Viz Media

Hitsugaya isn’t just a captain with the most potential — he’s already one of its most powerful.

The boy wonder’s strength was evident from a young age. Even as an untrained child, he could hear his Soul Slayer’s call, Hyorinmaru. This even caused his Spiritual Pressure to subconsciously leak out, dropping the temperature around him and causing discomfort to his grandmother.

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The child prodigy proceeded to try and become a Soul Reaper at the advice of Rangiku Matsumoto — his future lieutenant — then cleared the Academy in one year, and topped all his classes. He then also became the youngest Soul Reaper to ever attain Bankai and the captain rank.

8. Byakuya Kuchiki (Squad 6)

Bleach manga Kuchiki Byakuya
Credit: Viz Media

Byakuya is beloved now, but he was one of Bleach’s first villains, and backed it up with the attitude and power to match.

Cold on the surface but hot-headed underneath, Byakuya was regarded as an exception even among those of the Four Great Noble families, who often possessed higher-than-average power. Ganju Shiba even called him the strongest leader ever in the Kuchiki clan.

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All that was before Byakuya received a serious upgrade after his near-death at the hands of Askin Naak Le Vaar, thanks to Tenjiro Kirinji’s hot springs that are corrosive to those not powerful enough to withstand its immense healing properties. Tenjiro stated that while he took the most time to heal, owing to his injuries, he also lasted the longest.

7. Yoruichi Shihoin (formerly Squad 2)

Bleach Brave Souls' Shihoin Yoruichi The Past
Credit: Klab

Everybody’s favorite cat is also one of the most powerful captains in Soul Society history.

The Flash Goddess herself remains one of the fastest Soul Reapers to ever live a century into retirement, outpacing both Byakuya and Soi Fon in the Soul Society arc.

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Even without (possibly ever) revealing her Shikai or Bankai, she’s a master hand-to-hand combatant with a unique skill — Shunko. It’s a technique that combines hand-to-hand and Kido, which essentially supercharges her physical attacks with her powerful Spiritual Pressure.

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She even has a final form — her Thunder God Battle Form (Raijin Senkei) that turns her into a human-feline hybrid.

6. Kisuke Urahara (formerly Squad 12)

Bleach Brave Souls' Urahara Kisukse The Past
Credit: Klab

Who you gonna call? Oh, he’s already at the door.

Kisuke Urahara is always prepared — if you have plans, he seems to already have ten countermeasures in place. Highly intelligent, he has an intimate knowledge of basically everything related to Soul Society — and even invented some of them himself.

He was arguably the most important player in taking down Sosuke Aizen, and is one of the most complete masters of the various Soul Reaper arts — including hand-to-hand combat, Kido, and Shunpo. He’s so fast he even managed to trick the perceptive Aizen by swapping into a fake body, and could keep up with Yoruichi.

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It’s part of what makes him so scary, and he doesn’t lack in raw power as well. His Shikai and Bankais are both versatile weapons that can change the face of any battle, also thanks to Urahara’s ingenuity and adaptability.

5. Shunsui Kyoraku (Squad 1, Captain Commander of the Thirteen Court Guard Squads)

Bleach Anime TYBW Kyoraku Shunsui
Credit: Studio Pierrot

He’s got his eye on you.

Shunsui Kyoraku might be missing an eye, but there are reasons why he was chosen as the next Captain Commander after Genryusai Shigekuni Yamamoto’s demise.

He’s not afraid to bend the rules, for one — exemplified by his fight against the Espada Coyote Starrk, where his backstabs and obfuscation earned him a crucial win.

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As one of the oldest captains currently alive, his Bankai is an abstract doozy that’s so wide-reaching and powerful, he was advised by good friend Ukitake not to use it or risk hurting his own allies.

4. Retsu Unohana (formerly Squad 4)

Bleach Unohana Retsu
Credit: Shueisha, Tite Kubo

In sickness and in health, your life is in her hands.

A patient seeing Retsu Unohana might be happy, since they could be the beneficiary of her unparalleled healing skills. A healthy person facing her down would probably be dead in seconds.

The first Kenpachi could cut down enemies in so many different ways with her peerless swordsmanship — the reason behind her old name Yachiru (meaning eight thousand styles.)

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She believes in her strength so much that she thinks only one person is stronger than her — somebody that will appear later in the list.

3. Genryusai Shigekuni Yamamoto (formerly Squad 1)

Bleach Brave Souls Genryuusai Shigekuni Yamamoto
Credit: Klab

How do you stay at the top for two millennia? By being Genryusai Shigekuni Yamamoto.

Yamamoto, who was Captain Commander of the 13 Court Guard Squads for over 2,000 years, exudes poise and strength. His Soul Slayer, Ryujin Jakka, is the oldest and most powerful fire-type blade, with such widespread offensive power that can literally burn Soul Society down if used for too long.

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Perhaps the best indication of his power was just how much the series’ villains tried to avoid taking him in a head-on fight. Aizen noted that he would still lose in a straight-on battle with Yamamoto and thus sealed Ryujin Jakka, while Yhwach tricked the old man into exhausting his power before swooping in for the final blow.

2. Kenpachi Zaraki (Squad 11)

Bleach manga Zaraki Kenpachi
Credit: Viz Media

The 11th Kenpachi is Soul Society’s most dangerous savant.

Kenpachi Zaraki represents limitless martial potential. He’s the strongest Soul Reaper in terms of how powerfully you can swing a sword — evidenced by his numerous battles in the anime and manga.

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After his training with Unohana, he no longer subconsciously represses his power, instead wielding the full power of his Soul Slayer. Even before that, he took down Espada Five, Nnoitra Gilga, simply by using two hands instead of one. He also ended Kugo Ginjo with one swing of the sword, bisecting the Fullbringer in an immense feat of strength.

But he’s poor at everything else. He’s one of the few Soul Reapers, let alone captains, who cannot use Shunpo and has no knowledge in Kido since he never attended the Academy.

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Still, his raw Spiritual Power is truly monstrous. He’s an endless well of power that can swing a sword really hard — and that’s enough to make him perhaps the strongest current captain in the 13 Court Guard Squads.

1. Sosuke Aizen (formerly Squad 5)

Bleach Brave Souls Aizen Sosuke
Credit: Klab

Sosuke Aizen was perhaps the perfect archetype of a captain — until his betrayal of the 13 Court Guard Squads finally came to light.

He’s mastered everything a Soul Reaper can learn. He’s caught swords with his bare hands, injured captains with a single swing of his blade, called forth the most difficult of Kido spells, and was a genius of the highest order — and that was before he fused with the Hogyoku.

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After his fusion, he’s functionally immortal, which explains why he’s kept imprisoned instead of executed.

But what makes Aizen perhaps the most powerful captain to ever don the white robe is Kyoka Suigetsu, with the power of complete hypnosis. It’s mesmerizing enough to dupe even a godlike being that could see every future.

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And that’s just his Shikai. This means that somehow, there’s an even greater power out there for Aizen — one that nobody knows about, just the way he likes it.

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