The Hunter Exam arc is the first story arc of the series. The arc spans from chapters 1 to 38 of the manga, episodes 1 to 31 of the 1999 anime adaptation, and episodes 1 to 21 of the 2011 anime adaptation. In this arc, applicants from all over the world attempt the Hunter Exam in order to become Professional Hunters. The main characters of the series are also introduced in this arc.
Gon is first seen at his home of Whale Island, fishing for the Master of the Swamp—a fish that five grown fishermen pulling together couldn't land. Gon made a wager with his aunt Mito that if he could catch the fish, she would allow him to take part in the Hunter Exam. After a week of work, Gon finally succeeds and his aunt signs his application. Gon proceeds to go visit his friend, a grown-up Foxbear named Kon, who Gon had raised since he was a cub. Gon tells Kon that he's going to become a Hunter and that he will do things the animals of the forest won't like. Since Kon is the king of the forest, he can't talk to Gon anymore. Kon walks away from Gon to a gathering of other animals.
Gon returns home and speaks to his aunt. She asks if Gon always knew his father's trade, and also tells him his father left Gon with her when he was still a baby; Gon replies being a Hunter must be an important job that family comes only second and that it's time for him to meet his father. He is then seen preparing to board a ship heading for the Hunter Exam. Everyone in the town comes to say bye and wish him luck. Aunt Mito comes and tells him his father didn't abandon him; she made him give up Gon through the courts. Gon says he knew because she never looks at him when she's lying. He gets on the boat and yells back to her that he will return as a great Hunter.
The first night on the boat, there is a huge storm that tosses about most of the would-be Hunters. After the storm, the ship's drunkard of a Captain walks around to see only three candidates still able to move (one of them, Gon, is running back and forth trying to take care of the sea-sick). Later on, Gon is standing at the front of the boat, predicting they will be hit by another storm, this time three times the size as the previous night. The captain knows he is correct and not guessing, as he sees Ging in Gon and suspects Ging is Gon’s father. He asks and finds that he is correct. The captain shows Gon how to steer the boat, and also announces that the next storm was coming and anyone who wanted to get off should right now.
All but Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio leave. The Captain asks why they all want to be hunters. Gon answers while the other two don't. Leorio asks why they should tell him when he just steers the ship. The Captain replies he screens applicants and it is up to him whether or not they pass. The remaining two tell him. While explaining, Kurapika annoys Leorio to the point they go out into the storm to fight. When a crew member jumps in to stop them he falls overboard and Gon jumps after him, narrowly missing falling into the ocean thanks to Kurapika and Leorio grabbing his ankles in time to pull them both back on board. When they reach land, the captain gives them a hint to head to a lone cedar tree outside of the city to find their navigators. Gon decides to go, and Kurapika decides to tag along. Leorio stays until he finds that there was another trick to weed out the weak. And he runs off to join the other two.
Later they reach a village that seems to be deserted but Gon says he can hear them and so can Kurapika. Then the whole population of the village comes out to start The Mind-Boggling Two Choice Quiz. The leader of the village asks two questions and all they can say is 1 or 2. The man who heard the clue walks in and says he'll go first. She asks him, "Men have taken your mother and your true love captive. Who do you save?" He chooses 1 thinking that's what she wants him to say. She says he may go. Leorio starts yelling because of the preposterous question. Kurapika tells him to be quiet, seeing Gon has heard something. She asks another impossible question, and Leorio attacks her. Kurapika blocks it, stating they passed since silence is the answer. He adds he heard the other man scream, meaning he was killed, but no one knows how.
After a short walk, the trio reach a house and find the two navigators posing as a couple being attacked by a magical beast called a Kiriko. The beast takes off with the lady, followed by Gon and Kurapika, with Leorio staying behind to take care of the man. While chasing after the creature Gon pulls ahead of Kurapika, closes in on the Kiriko, and bashes him in the head. The Kiriko drops the woman, who is caught by Kurapika. The creature still manages to get away from Gon, who continues chasing it. Soon he comes to a clearing where the creature attacks him. Gon merely greets it and asks where the one he hit went to. It is revealed that both the Kiriko and the couple are a family and the ones who would take the three to the Hunter Exam.
The next day, they arrive at a small restaurant. The disguised magical beast orders a specific meal, then the cook sends them to a special room and delivers the meal. The room is actually an elevator that starts to drop. As they make their way down, Kurapika and Leorio try to find out whether Gon is taking the test for the wealth, or for the adventure. He doesn't answer.
Gon's Hunter Exam begins with him getting targeted by Tonpa, the Rookie Crusher. Tonpa first introduces himself as a friend trying to help Gon. Tonpa then introduces some of the other regulars, Such as Bourbon, the snake charmer, Todo, the wrestler, The Amori Brothers, Cherry, and Geretta, the huntsman. While doing the introductions they hear a bloodcurdling scream, and they look to see a man missing his arms, courtesy of Hisoka, the magician, who maimed him simply because he bumped into him. Tonpa fills the others in on Hisoka, recalling that last year Hisoka was assessed by most as a favorite to pass and become certified. however, Hisoka was determined to have failed the exam when he injured a proctor.
Realizing Hisoka was permitted to try again for his license, those listening question whether someone as wicked as Hisoka should be allowed to become a Hunter. Tonpa shrugs and suggests that the Hunter Association is morally unbiased. Since the examiners are newly drafted every year, Hisoka's slate would effectively be wiped clean, disregarding the fact that he had earned the prejudice of a previous administrator. Tonpa then offers Gon and the other two some juice. Gon, being the first to taste it, spits it back out saying it tastes funny, leading Kurapika and Leorio to dump theirs on the ground. Afterwards Tonpa makes a hasty apology.
Satotz, the first examiner, begins the 287th Hunter Exam with an extremely long run down a tunnel. A kid on a skateboard ends up next to Gon, and he asks how old Gon is. Discovering that he and Gon are the same age, he decides to run too and jumps off his board. The kid introduces himself as Killua. Gon looks behind to see Leorio heavily fatigued and on the verge of dropping out of the exam. Gon and Killua pause to wait for Leorio, who then gets his second wind and runs past. After running for 80km, they come to a set of stairs and start climbing, while Satotz starts to pick up the pace.
At this point, many applicants have failed the exam, due to sheer exhaustion or succumbing to extreme mental strain. Kurapika notices that Leorio was able to continue the stair-master challenge by going topless. He decides he should follow Leorio's example and removes some of his outer garments, possibly storing them in his shoulder-bag.
As the two-run, Kurapika brings up an earlier remark that Leorio made about wanting to become a Hunter for the sake of getting rich, stating that he doesn't believe Leorio's motives to be so worldly. Leorio reaffirms that he is doing it for money, but then reveals that he lost a dear friend because of his inability to pay for the medical bills. Now, he wants to become a doctor to heal the sick for free, but he lacks the funds needed to pay for medical school. Therefore, he sees a Hunter License as a sponsorship opportunity for his cause.
Leorio, in turn, asks Kurapika why he desires to become a Hunter. Kurapika recounts how his entire clan (the Kurta) were massacred by an organization of thieves known as the Phantom Troupe. Kurapika wishes to track down the Troupe and confront them to avenge his brethren, but he lacks ties to the criminal network known as the underworld in order to pursue them. He seeks to obtain a Hunter License in order to gain clearance into Mafia operations to become an inside man. Leorio remarks to take such a path may force Kurapika to become the very darkness that he detests, but Kurapika agrees that while that may be the case, he will do what it takes to carry out his mission, and he only worries that his resolve may falter when the time comes.
Meanwhile, the top of the stairs is in sight! Gon and Killua race to see who will be the first to meet Satotz outside. When they reach the finish line, Satotz states that they both crossed over simultaneously. Most of the other applicants make it to the crest of the hill, at which point Satotz addresses all those who have come so far. Satotz announces that he will continue to lead the group through the rest of the phase, but warns that the next part is extra dangerous, as they will be passing through the Milsy Wetlands (a.k.a. Swindler's Swamp), a zone renown for endemic magical beasts who prey on humans. The entire party consents to go on.
As they attempt to follow Satotz, a thick fog envelops the participants. A number of examinees are consumed by the various species of magical beasts. Additionally, some of the applicants who appear to resent Hisoka band together and endeavor to murder him. Hisoka kills every single member of the belligerent faction gracefully and in an instant. This brief battle triggers Hisoka's bloodlust, causing him to declare that he will serve as an examiner to see who is worthy to carry on in the exam. Leorio and Gon, though afraid, confront Hisoka, and while they are easily defeated by Hisoka's superior combat skills, the latter proclaims that they have passed his judgment (and would be a waste to kill, as they have potential). Leorio is unconscious, so Hisoka carries him to the next phase, while Gon meets up with Kurapika.
The Second Phase of the exam takes place in the Visca Forest Preserve, where the examinees meet Gourmet Hunters (and proctors) Menchi and Buhara. Buhara's test is to find the world's most dangerous pig and bring it back to him so he can eat it. Gon and his friends complete the task easily along with 70 other applicants. However, Menchi, the second examiner, baffles the examinees when she tells them to make sushi, a traditional dish from Jappon, as none of them knows what sushi is. Menchi overreacts because of an examinee making them all fail as a result, no one passes, which requires the Chairman Netero to intervene. The test is taken to Split Mountain where examinees hunt for Spider Eagle eggs. At the end of this stage, there are 42 applicants left.
A Game at Midnight
The 42 remaining applicants board the Selection Committee's airship, where it is revealed that their next phase of the exam will begin at 8:00 a.m. the next day. As everyone rests up for tomorrow, Gon and Killua encounter Netero who challenges them to a game; if they win, he'd issue their licenses on the spot. All they have to do is take away a ball from Netero. Killua eagerly goes first but fails. Gon then takes his turn to take the ball but he also fails. Time passes and when it seems Gon and Killua have tried every possible tactic, Netero suggests they attack together. Though they come seemingly close to it at one point, Netero rockets in between them at lightning speed and takes the ball. Killua calls it quits and ends up killing two applicants in his frustration; Gon, however, decides to play until he forces Netero to use his right hand. When he succeeds in doing so, Gon collapses in exhaustion where he is.
In the morning, the airship arrives at the top of Trick Tower. The 40 applicants are informed that the objective of stage 3 is to get down from the tower alive within 72 hours. The group is forced to team up with Tonpa. The first serious test is to win 3 out of 5 matches against tower prisoners. Tonpa takes the first match with a hardened-looking criminal, and promptly gives up.
Gon faces the next prisoner, a serial bomber by the name of Sedokan, in a match to see who's candle can burn the longest. Kurapika engages in a death match with the next opponent, Majtani, but refuses to kill him after seeing red (literally) and knocking the criminal unconscious. Majtani feigns unconsciousness in an attempt to run out the clock. Leorio and the leader of the prisoners bet on whether he's faking. Leorio holds the man above a long drop, and Majtani wakes up. He concedes the match to Kurapika, but the group loses a large chunk of their time because of the bet. Leorio goes next. His opponent is Leroute, an attractive woman. He loses ten hours in a bet. He then loses the rest of their betting hours to her.
Killua then faces Johness the Dissector, a man responsible for the murder of at least 146 people with his bare hands. Killua rips out his heart, explaining afterward that Johness is an amateur and he is a pro. The last test to get out of the tower has two paths: one is too long and the other will only allow three of the five to enter. Leorio and Tonpa start fighting to see who will stay when Gon thinks outside the box. They choose the longer path, destroy the wall between the paths with axes provided so they could fight, and all five make it out.
The Fourth Phase is a manhunt on Zevil Island, wherein the 25 remaining competitors being required to target and acquire their prey's plate. Gon draws Hisoka, and spends much of his time strategizing. He manages to get Hisoka's plate, but is attacked in the process by Geretta and paralyzed with a neurotoxin. Hisoka then kills Geretta, but gives Gon back his plate and then his own. Gon recovers in three days and comes across Leorio and Kurapika; he eventually helps Leorio to acquire his target's badge.
The Final Phase was a tournament with each of the participants. After being selected by the judges as being the most exceptional applicants, Hanzo and Gon face off first. Gon is outmatched when it comes to combat, but his unwillingness to submit causes Hanzo to forfeit the battle—making Gon the first applicant to pass the 287th Hunter Exam. Hanzo knocks Gon out and he doesn't awake until the exam has ended. Satotz fills in the details and explains to Gon that only two people didn't pass the exam—Bodoro and Killua. It is revealed that Gittarackur is actually an alias for Killua's older brother, Illumi. Killua was manipulated into murdering another contestant and subsequently failed the exam. Gon, enraged, confronts Illumi and gets Killua's address. Gon, Kurapika, and Leorio all then depart to Killua's home on Kukuroo Mountain.
- Killua Zoldyck vs. Johness
- Hisoka vs. Togari
- Gon Freecss vs. Hanzo
- Kurapika vs. Hisoka
- Hanzo vs. Pokkle
- Hisoka vs. Bodoro
- Among the "hidden treasures" shown in the first "opening/intro" during and exclusively in the 2011 anime series adaptation of this arc there is a golden mask with a red gemstone encrusted in the forehead area, very similar and most likely a reference to the Stone Masks artifacts featured in Hirohiko Araki's JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part I: Phantom Blood and Part II: Battle Tendency, more especially the one modified by Kars that can be combined with the Red Stone of Aja. The reference is reinforced with a cloud/flock of bats that fly "from" the mask, an allusion to the mask's power to turn humans into vampires.
|N/A||Hunter Exam arc||Zoldyck Family arc|
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|N/A||Episodes (1999 series)||→|
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|N/A||Episodes (2011 series)||→|
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