Believe it or not – Avatar: The Last Airbender turned 15 years old this year! It seems like just yesterday when we followed Aang and the gang on their adventure. Since then, there haven’t been many animated series that have aged as well as this one.
However, we’re not here today to bask in good memories. Instead, Alfred & I will be going on an adventure of our very own: To find out, once and for all, who are the best characters in ATLA and what makes them so awesome. Let’s get kickin’!
Disclaimer: The following list contains spoilers for the animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.
#1. Uncle Iroh
Uncle Iroh is easily everyone’s top pick (or top three, at least!) This retired Fire Nation general, former crown prince of the Fire Nation, and White Lotus Grandmaster had a complicated past to say the least. But our first introduction to him was as a wise mentor to his nephew, Zuko.
Zuko’s growth has always been heavily influenced by Iroh; every good choice he makes has Iroh’s mark on it. However, you don’t gain wisdom without going through pain. In Iroh’s case, his triumphs, mistakes, and lessons echo throughout the series, affecting not only the characters but also the viewers. Even a decade later, long-time fans still look up his advice when they need it the most. – Alfred
Zuko probably has one of the best character growth in the history of animation, and this is why he’s number two on our list. Zuko is introduced as the hot-headed antagonist hellbent on looking for Aang even at the cost of his crew. However, as the show goes on, we discover that his true nature was fair and kind before his father destroyed those parts of him.
With a multitude of crossroads laid in front of him, and the heavy weight of each choice he has to make, Zuko suffers some missteps along the way but eventually becomes a person that embodies the good that was in him all along. The only reason why he’s number two, is because he wouldn’t be the man he is without Uncle Iroh. – Alfred
Among all the girl power icons, Katara is the OG. She may have been pegged as the “mother friend” of the group at first, but that’s not all there is to her. She’s also passionate, brave, and a leader. She shows time and time again that she’s not afraid to fight for her ideals and loved ones, stemming from taking over the roles of her mother and tribe leader at a young age.
However, her best moments in the series were not the perfect ones, but the ones where she showed vulnerability. When faced with the choice to kill or spare the person who murdered her mother, she chose to stick to her principles. That complexity in her character places her high on our list. – Nathalie
On the other end of the Zuko anger spectrum, lies the happy-go-lucky Aang. He’s adventurous and immature for a 100-year-old, treating every dire situation with a sense of humor. However, with his lightheartedness comes a heavy burden of being the Avatar and the last Airbender alive.
Besides being a great main character, what puts him on our list is how he’s morally good throughout the series. Uncompromising in sacrificing his beliefs, he refuses to kill the Fire Lord even if it’s to win the war. It is also seen when he struggled to gain control of the Avatar spirit, choosing Katara over power. – Alfred
“Protection and power are overrated. I think you are very wise to choose happiness and love.”Iroh
People tend to discredit Sokka when it comes to growth because he’s the comedic relief, but they forget that he held his own in a group of benders. That’s no easy feat! On top of that, he’s the Slytherclaw and unsuspecting brains of the group: Always resourceful, strategic, curious, intelligent, and most importantly, a feminist (!)
His goal was always to make his father proud, and some of his best moments revolve around that. From leading the Southern Water Tribe as a teenager, to eventually initiating the invasion on the day of The Black Sun. In all of the above, he showed that he could make the right decisions in desperate times, something not many characters in this series can do. – Nathalie
Even though Fire Lord Ozai was poised to be the main antagonist, it was his daughter Azula who left the most villainous impression in the end. Right from the beginning, she was introduced as someone with no shred of good in her; able to outsmart, manipulate, and mercilessly overpower her foes – even if they were her own kin.
While she seemed like an irredeemably evil (and kind of crazy) person for most of the show, we do get to see her most vulnerable moments towards the end. We were all surprised when she mused about being a normal teenager, and shocked when she was betrayed by her only friends, leading into a paranoia-fuelled spiral when she achieved her goal with nobody by her side. Now, that’s pretty good writing. – Nathalie
#7. The Cabbage Merchant (Really!)
Really, I can’t imagine the show without the cabbage merchant. He has more luck (or bad luck in his case) in encountering Aang than the whole Fire nation combined. A travelling merchant with only one product, he is constantly unlucky in selling it. Instead, he’s more often plagued by many problems wherever Aang and the gang show up.
He eventually meets the playwright of the Ember Island Players who describes the cabbage merchant as “a surprisingly knowledgeable merchant of cabbage”. He recounts all his encounters with Aang to the playwright and it became the greatest recap episode ever. – Alfred
Special mention: Toph
Between the two of us, we just couldn’t decide where to place everybody’s favourite, Toph Bei Fong. Skills-wise, she’s the strongest Earth-bender in the entire show, using Earth-bending to sense vibrations in order to see, but also developed Metal-bending when everyone thought it was impossible.
But besides those triumphs, her character is one of the most underdeveloped. She may have grown from a solo act to a team player – thanks to a tea-drinking session with Iroh – but she never got the closure she needed with her parents, which is a major stumbling block for her character. But with all that’s said and done, we can both agree: We still want to be as cool as her. – Alfred & Nathalie
Who’s your favourite character from Avatar: The Last Airbender? Do you have any favourites from the sequels or comics? Let us know who and why in the comments below!
And if you made it through this list without watching ATLA, now’s the best time to get caught up. All three seasons are streaming now on Netflix Malaysia. Tell them we sent you!