One of the first shows I ever watched on Netflix was Avatar: The Last Airbender. Streaming TV series were still relatively new then, and my brother and I instantly became absorbed in this one. (We’d just finished Lost and were looking to fill that void). With the show’s recent rerelease on Netflix, I’ve found myself settling deep into the comfort of rewatching.
Avatar: The Last Airbender has so many engaging components. The elemental magic system and well-developed history of past Avatars immediately hooked me in. I think the magic of the characters charms me the most though. The characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender are really memorable. Rewatching the show now has made me realize they’re even funnier than I remembered. Made up entirely of people of color, the main cast of characters engage in some great banter together and character growth. Even side characters get developed storylines and reappear throughout the show’s three seasons. Who doesn’t love the hilarious misadventures of the Cabbage Merchant?
Avatar: The Last Airbender holds such a nostalgic place in my heart. Watching these captivating characters traipse across a fantasy landscape trying to save the world makes my day a little brighter. It’s got the lovable teen crew feels of Stranger Things paired with Miyazaki level world-building. Zuko even pulls off a change of heart as epic as Steve’s in Stranger Things. If you can’t get enough of the Avatar characters, pick your favorite character and find your next YA book to read!
If Your Favorite Character is Katara, Read:
A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow
Love Katara and her waterbending prowess? Dive in to some siren mythology with Morrow’s A Song Below Water. Set in Portland, Oregon, this contemporary YA fantasy follows the adventures of two Black teenage girls, Tavia and Effie. Katara treats her friends like family, and Tavia and Effie’s friendship is much the same. While Effie grapples with past trauma, Tavia tries to keep her siren identity a secret in a world that stigmatizes sirens. Just as Katara stands up to the Northern Water Tribe for women’s rights to waterbend, Tavia uses her siren voice to speak out against injustice.
If Your Favorite Character is Aang, Read:
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Vol. 1 by Hayao Miyazaki
If you’re looking for a protagonist as epic as Aang, look no further than Nausicaä. One thousand years have passed since the destruction of civilization. Toxic jungles thick with predators and poisonous spores cover much of Earth’s wasteland. Nausicaä, princess of a small kingdom by the sea, lives sheltered from the toxic jungles in the Valley of the Wind. When conflicts from warring nations begin seeping into her valley, Nausicaä pulls an Aang and hops on her air glider to act as peacekeeper. Nausicaä’s courage, empathy, and burgeoning inner strength shape her into an Avatar figure of her world. If you’ve seen the Studio Ghibli rendition of this comic series, I highly recommend going back to read it too. The book’s even better than the movie (as is always the case).
If Your Favorite Character is Sokka, Read:
This Place: 150 Years Retold by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, Brandon Mitchell, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, David A. Robertson, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Jen Storm, Richard Van Camp, Katherena Vermette, Chelsea Vowel & Illustrated by Tara Audibert, Kyle Charles, GMB Chomichuk, Natasha Donovan, Scott B. Henderson, Ryan Howe, Andrew Lodwick, Jen Storm, colour by Scott A. Ford, Donovan Yaciuk
In another post, a Rioter discusses Alaskan native Ruth Dan’s perspective on how Avatar incorporates Inuit culture into its world, specifically in its portrayal of the Water Tribes. Sokka brings some pretty impeccably timed comic relief into the Avatar saga, but he also displays true courage and ingenuity as a Water Tribe warrior. If you’d like to read stories that feature Inuit history and culture, check out This Place: 150 Years Retold. Featuring ten stories by Indigenous authors, this graphic novel anthology spans genres in a Canada post-Western colonization. One of the stories, Peggy, by Cree author David A. Robertson, spotlights the best sniper of WWI. If there’s one thing Sokka really excels at besides finding cactus juice in the desert, it’s his boomerang aim.
If Your Favorite Character is Toph, Read:
The Rise of Kyoshi by F.C. Lee & Michael Dante DiMartino
If you’re a fan of Toph’s strength of character and prodigious earthbending skills, check out The Rise of Kyoshi. With stories of her Kyoshi Warriors and Dai Li society threaded throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender, this previous Avatar has always fascinated me. The show Legend of Korra gives a captivating look into the future of the Avatar world; The Kyoshi Novels on the other hand, provide an exciting window into the past, one before the destruction of the Air Nomads or the imperialism of the Fire Nation. With a bisexual romance subplot and the fantastic character development of Avatar: The Last Airbender, one can only hope this series will make it to Netflix too.
If Your Favorite Character is Zuko, Read:
The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
Initially, I had a hard time picking a title to pair with Zuko. Zuko’s such a complex character, often at war with himself and his conflicting loyalties. When we meet him in season one, he appears intent on hunting down the Avatar and regaining his former glory with the Fire Nation. However, as we get to know Zuko, we learn of his past trauma, namely the loss of his mother. Zuko has been dealt countless difficult hands in life, reminiscent of Matt from The Boy in the Black Suit. As Matt also tries to cope with the loss of his mother, he finds work at a funeral home. Surrounded by other grieving families, Matt takes some comfort in realizing that he’s not alone in how he feels. Just as Zuko develops a love interest that helps him find hope amidst heartache, Matt meets a remarkable girl who helps him on his path to healing.
If Your Favorite Character is Azula, Read:
And I Darken by Kiersten White
Well, along with being pretty evil through and through, Azula is one strong and confident female antagonist. She doesn’t let anyone stand in her way on her rise to power. Like Azula, Princess Lada of Wallachia is vengeful and ruthless and possesses much of that same sense of self-assurance. After her father abandons her and her younger brother to the courts of the Ottoman Empire, Lada begins plotting her revenge and eventual reclaiming of her throne. In the vein of Azula, this protagonist has no qualms with letting her dark side show on her path to power.
If Your Favorite Character is Uncle Iroh, Read:
Hungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love Edited by Caroline Tung Richmond & Elsie Chapman
I can’t create a list featuring the characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender without including Uncle Iroh (he’s one of my favorite characters after all). Throughout the show, Uncle Iroh provides a steady source of wisdom and humor as heartwarming as a calming cup of jasmine tea. Uncle Iroh holds family and good food above all else (his priorities are definitely aligned with mine). Hungry Hearts, a collection of short stories, focuses on food and family as central themes. Grief and love also interweave throughout many of these tales, something Uncle Iroh carries with him at all times after the loss of his son.
The characters of Avatar: The Last Airbender have left an impact on me long after I finished the show. Their stories exemplify standing up for what’s right and finding courage in the darkest of circumstances. They navigate complex issues, from grappling with grief and personal resentment to finding redemption and renewed hope. And even when the going gets tough, they don’t forget to find things to laugh about. I hope these stories will keep you feeling connected to the characters of Avatar after you finish rewatching the show!