The legacy of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender is immense. To celebrate it as well as the 15th anniversary of the series finale, we’ve ranked every episode of the series.
Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the series premiered in 2005 and would run for three seasons, telling a complete story that offers some of the best world-building in television history. Set in a world divided into four nations — the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads — each nation bears benders who have the ability to control the element from their nation. The Avatar is the only one who can master all four and possesses the ability to maintain balance and peace in the world. The premise only built from there as our young protagonists traveled the world, endured major hardships, developed critical friendships, and experienced the depths of history and personalities the world had to offer.
The series was obviously targeted at a younger demographic but it’s a reminder that true, great storytelling doesn’t have an age restriction. Instead, Avatar: The Last Airbender becomes more potent and visually engaging with age. From Zuko’s redemption to Aang’s pacifism, the character motivations are greater unveiled with the added wisdom, though they’re perfectly relatable for younger audiences too. Similarly, the visual and narrative influences from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, to Studio Ghibli, and the works of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa greater inform our understanding of the director’s vision. The finale of the series, the four-part “Sozin’s Comet” encapsulates all that makes the series ripe for discovery, no matter the age. That said, here’s every episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender ranked.
58. The Great Divide (Season 1, Episode 11)
On a list ranking every episode of one of the greatest television shows of all time, one of them had to be last. “The Great Divide” is divisive and has drawn contested ire from fans. It’s simplistic morals and petty bickering throughout the episode can’t quite reach the heights of Avatar. It’s a fine episode, but others do it better. [Katey Stoetzel]
57. The Fortuneteller (Season 1, Episode 14)
“The Fortuneteller” is preoccupied with controlling the future and each of our three heroes’ responses to that concept. Sokka remains angrily skeptical, Katara becomes obsessed with the seer’s predictions, and Aang becomes preoccupied with what it means for his burgeoning crush on Katara. The legitimacy of their fortunes is played ambiguously, with the biggest precognition being disproved when Aang and Katara have to save the town from a volcano the fortune teller had promised would not erupt with an excellently animated combination of airbending and waterbending. [Quinn Parulis]
56. The Runaway (Season 3, Episode 7)
Toph is a beloved character. That said, not every episode that focuses on her manages to elicit the same feeling of excitement as her debut, “The Blind Bandit.” Regardless, while “The Runaway” errs on being inconsequential, it does allow for Toph and Katara to reach a level of understanding, something that’s been evading them since their introduction. [Allyson Johnson]
55. Bato of the Water Tribe (Season 1, Episode 15)
All three of our main characters are kids that are on a journey away from their families. This episode points out the glaring difference between Aang, Sokka, and Katara when the sibling’s family friend Bato arrives. While the two are catching up with Bato and telling Aang stories of all the good times they’ve had, Aang gets jealous and feels all alone as the only one left of his family. While this episode doesn’t bring out the best in Aang, it does show him that he has a new family that cares about him. [Tyler Carlsen]
54. The Waterbending Scroll (Season 1, Episode 9)
It’s always refreshing how Avatar: The Last Airbender never forgets how young its protagonists are. “The Waterbending Scroll” clearly understands as much, as their main hurdle stems from Katara’s jealousy over Aang’s mastering of water bending. While her decision-making skills are questionable in the episode, they do lead to a significant interaction between her and Zuko, even if it doesn’t do much to further enrich the world. [Allyson Johnson]
53. Avatar Day (Season 2, Episode 5)
It’s not the first time Aang’s taken over by a past Avatar, but “Avatar Day” does mark the first appearance by Avatar Kyoshi. Though Katara and Sokka’s foray into detective work is enjoyable, it’s Kyoshi’s unapologetic confession to killing Chin the Great in order to save her people that makes this episode memorable and showcases the complicated duties of the Avatar. [Katey Stoetzel]
52. The Avatar State (Season 2, Episode 1)
A lot happens in the Season 2 premiere, though it ultimately exists to set up the events for later in the season. From Azula’s introduction to establishing the Earth Kingdom landscape, “The Avatar State” has no shortage of important narrative beats. But more than anything, it’s Aang’s furious trip into the Avatar state that fuels the spiritual journey that reigns as the standout moment. The Avatar state always allows for some of the greatest animations in the series. [Allyson Johnson]
51. Nightmares and Daydreams (Season 3, Episode 9)
One of the things I love most about Avatar is how it treats its “gag” episodes. While some other shows might focus primarily on filler (even The Legend of Korra fell guilty of this in its final season,) episodes like “Nightmares and Daydreams” use the comedy to outline a particularly poignant message and add necessary buildup to major blockbuster show events. It’s no nightmare of an episode, indeed. [Jon Negroni]
50. Imprisoned (Season 1, Episode 6)
Mainly operating as an episode that helps further establish Katara’s sense of right and wrong, “Imprisoned” manages to work due to how early it falls in the series. Not only are we introduced to Haru, who will appear again in the series to demonstrate how much of the world the Gaang touches, it also showcases the negative effects of war. Anyone in the settlement that the episode is based in who is discovered to be earthbenders are sent to a prison rig, a development that immediately sets the tone and stakes of the series. [Carly Johnson]
49. The Northern Air Temple (Season 1, Episode 17)
Sokka bonds with a genius mechanist living in an old Air Temple while Aang bonds with the mechanist’s son Teo, an adept glider. The show’s inclusion of disability representation in this episode with the paraplegic Teo is beautiful as it proves anyone can fly. The final fight to protect the temple from the Fire Nation is a thrilling ride, but ends on an ominous note as the Firebenders discover Sokka and the mechanist’s invention of the war balloon. [Linda Maleh]
48. Return to Omashu (Season 2, Episode 3)
Aang returns to Omashu only to find it a Fire Nation stronghold and his beloved friend and the city’s king Bumi in chains, but the episode’s real draw is the Azula storyline as she recruits old friends Mai and Ty Lee to fight by her side. Thus, the series’ formidable trio of female villains is born and the show is all the better for it. [Linda Maleh]
47. The Desert (Season 2, Episode 11)
Ah, the episode that started the cactus juice meme. The Desert can be a brutal episode for the watcher like it is for the characters themselves. But the reward is invaluable. By putting Team Avatar through their most visceral challenge yet, and letting the immediate absence of Appa sting all the more, we get a deep, complex look at who these characters really are and what informs their respective roles in the group. It’s a gritty, but powerfully important moment with no promise of oasis. [Jon Negroni]
46. The Deserter (Season 1, Episode 16)
Aang’s quest to master the elements hits a speed bump when the gang meets a firebender named Jeong Jeong. Although he is hesitant on being the Avatar’s firebending teacher, he agrees to teach Aang (with a little threat from Avatar Roku). As Aang begins to get the hang of it, he lets his guard down and accidentally burns Katara. The lesson of this episode is very literal — you play with fire, you get burned. This moment will also follow Aang throughout the series as he remains wary of fully embracing the fire element. [Tyler Carlsen]
45. The Painted Lady (Season 3, Episode 3)
Avatar: The Last Airbender excels not only at showing the impact of war in a traditional way but also by exploring each of the different facets of how an armed conflict can impact society. This episode is no exception, while there are not many things moving the main plot forward, we get to explore the environmental impact of war-time mobilization efforts. The village of Jang Hui finds itself polluted because of a nearby military factory that not only hurts its water supply but also uses its medical resources. This part of the conflict is very real, and rarely shown in the media which makes this episode memorable. [Pedro Graterol]
44. The Cave of Two Lovers (Season 2, Episode 2)
This episode has genuinely scary moments as the team and a crew of carefree nomads explore a dark cave system. In addition, it takes that opportunity to provide a lot of development for Aang and Katara’s relationship. They even have their first kiss! However, this episode is truly special because it features one of the most memorable musical elements of the show, which later was enshrined as a meme during the show’s recent TikTok popularity. SECRET TUNNEL!!! SECRET TUNNEL! THROUGH THE MOUNTAIN …[Pedro Graterol]
43. The Swamp (Season 2, Episode 4)
The show has an endlessly rich lore. Every place has a distinctive and meaningful story that ends up adding layers of complexity to the plot. This is perfectly captured by the crew’s adventure in the swamp. Also, we get a first look at Toph, even if we don’t formally meet her yet, as well as meeting a few characters who will make reappearances later in the crucial two-parter “The Day of the Black Sun.” [Pedro Graterol]
42. Jet (Season 1, Episode 10)
“Jet” is an early look at the moral quandaries Avatar would eventually interrogate in more depth. Team Avatar meets Jet, the leader of a group of bandits running raids on Fire Nation encampments. Aang and Katara are taken in by Jet’s Robin Hood routine, but Sokka sees that Jet is too focused on revenge. The result is an episode that shows how far the war has pushed some while showcasing Sokka’s capacity for wisdom. [Travis Hymas]
41. The Headband (Season 3, Episode 2)
Team Avatar gets back to adventuring basics in “The Headband,” giving us a fun Aang-centric episode. Seeing Aang thrive in a modern school system leads to some good laughs — particularly Sokka and Katara playing “Mr. and Mrs. Fire” — and referring to classic films Footloose and Spartacus is a good wink at the older audience. “The Headband” isn’t a detour — the Fire Nation school shows how normalized Sozin’s fascistic rise has become. [Travis Hymas]
40. The Boy in the Iceberg (Season 1, Episode 1)
In the early aughts, American television networks tried to capitalize on the anime craze with their own anime-influenced cartoons. For every gem like Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi, there were duds, such as the incredibly forgettable Looney Toons joint Loonatics Unleashed.
By combining the best aspects of anime and American animation, Avatar changed the game with its premiere episode, “The Boy in the Iceberg.” Instead of capturing a few elements of the Japanese art form, the pilot episode fully embraces East Asian art and culture with its Studio Ghibli-inspired character and creature designs, inventive worldbuilding, and thrilling martial arts sequences. Not only does the pilot episode introduce us to Team Avatar and their nemesis Prince Zuko, but it makes the case that Avatar is an incredible work of art. [Phylecia Miller]
39. Winter Solstice, Part 1: The Spirit World (Season 1, Episode 7)
This episode marks the first real experience Aang has with the Spirit World. As the Avatar, Aang is the bridge between the Spirit World and the physical world. When an angry spirit begins terrorizing a small town, Aang and his friends agree to help stop these attacks and get to the bottom of the problem. The reason for the spirit’s destruction ends up being the fire nation’s burning of the nearby forest and the effect that had on the Spirit World. This is one of the many very real and topical plot lines that made this show so loved by fans of all ages. [Tyler Carlsen]
38. The Avatar Returns (Season 1, Episode 2)
Producing a successful second episode is tough for any television series. For one thing, the episode must capture the tone and style of the pilot as it raises the stakes for the core characters. Fortunately for the Nickelodeon series, Episode 2 “The Avatar Returns” manages to nail everything that makes “The Boy in the Iceberg” a crowd pleaser and more. Though the episode gives viewers a glimpse into the Fire Nation’s cruelty through Aang and Prince Zuko’s first showdown, it also maintains the series’ humor and childlike wonder. That balancing act is hard to accomplish, especially for a show marketed to children and teens, but “The Avatar Returns” pulls it off. [Phylecia Miller]
37. The King of Omashu (Season 1, Episode 5)
“The King of Omashu” is one of the early episodes that expand the world of Avatar by introducing one of the most fun supporting characters, King Bumi. The early episodes often dealt with Aang’s journey of maturing into the Avatar and in this episode, Bumi’s challenges are an opportunity to showcase some fun action set pieces as well as the first master earthbender in the series. Most importantly, it is also the first appearance of the fan-favorite Cabbage Merchant. [Jose Cordova]
36. The Ember Island Players (Season 3, Episode 17)
Recap episodes and clip shows hardly seem necessary but “The Ember Island Players” does well to wring some character development out of the format. This episode is an opportunity for Aang and the crew to reflect by watching a clichéd version of their journey that prods at their insecurities, poising them to conquer those insecurities in the subsequent four-part series finale. For Zuko enthusiasts, his conversation with Toph about the guilt he has regarding his uncle Iroh is a particular highlight. [Jose Cordova]
35. The Waterbending Master (Season 1, Episode 18)
Avatar provides plenty of great fight sequences, but “The Waterbending Master” proves that Katara is a formidable waterbender, if not one of the greatest. In this episode, Katara faces off against Pakku, a chauvinistic waterbending master, who refuses to train her due to the North Pole’s long standing traditions. Yet, instead of backing down, Katara takes on the fighter in an epic waterbender v. waterbender showdown. This episode highlights how sexist customs can hurt everyone, even stubborn old men like Pakku. Katara may have lost the battle against the master, but her refusal to accept tradition earns her the respect of the Northern Water tribe.[Phylecia Miller]
34. Bitter Work (Season 2, Episode 9)
As the Avatar, Aang must learn all the elements. While water was simple for him to master, earth was a much bigger challenge than he expected. Toph proves to be exactly the kind of teacher that Aang needs to master this element and is unwilling to go easy on him or let him fail. Although he doesn’t see it that way most of the episode, he becomes the powerful earthbender that he had to be. Alongside Aang’s struggle we also get Zuko struggling to learn lightning redirection from Iroh as well as Sokka struggling to get out of a crack in the ground. [Tyler Carlsen]
33. The Awakening (Season 3, Episode 1)
Season 3 of Avatar is an exercise in maturing, something that we see demonstrated not just for our main heroes but down to the side characters they reunite with throughout their journey through the Fire Nation. Fittingly, the season opens with Aang awakening and sporting both a grave wound and an uncharacteristically full head of hair following their defeat at the end of the previous season. This leads to Aang experiencing both impatient anger as well as humbling insecurity, something mirrored by Zuko’s heroic welcome home to the Fire Nation as the person who slew the Avatar. But that return came at the cost of his uncle’s belief in him. It is a sobering start to the season and one that sets the tone for further self-examinations and changes to come. [Quinn Parulis]
32. The Serpent’s Pass (Season 2, Episode 12)
Aang working through his anger over losing Appa in the desert makes up the emotional core of this episode, and it contains plenty of classic Avatar adventures as the group escorts a family of refugees through a dangerous path to Ba Sing Se. Yet nothing beats Sokka reuniting with Suki, his love interest and badass Kyoshi Warrior. A fan-favorite, Suki’s return to the show is nothing short of a delight. Bonus best moment — Toph breaking out her rich girl privilege to cut through the bureaucracy and snag tickets for the ferry. [Linda Maleh]
31. The Warriors of Kyoshi (Season 1, Episode 4)
“The Warriors of Kyoshi” is one of the early examples of the careful mix of elements that would define the series. There are lessons for our characters to learn, fun gags, and dynamic high-stakes action. One of the most engaging aspects of the series is the evolution of the core characters. Sokka’s journey from immature blowhard to confident leader really kicks off in this episode after he’s humbled by Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors in their first appearance. Lastly, “The Warriors of Kyoshi” is also the source of one of the best reaction gifs of all time. [Jose Cordova]
30. The Earth King (Season 2, Episode 18)
Much of “The Earth King” is spent exploring one of Season 2’s most eccentric characters — the Earth King himself. But aside from the dramatic plotting of Team Avatar trying to win the king over to their side with pesky evidence, the true highlight of this episode is its thunderous opening sequence, in which Team Avatar lays absolute waste to Ba Sing Se’s royal defenses. As expected, the animation and choreography for this spectacular raid is dazzling on its own. But thematically it drives home how overwhelmingly powerful Team Avatar has become at this point in the series, but also, ultimately raw strength just isn’t enough. To win the day, and thus the world by the end of the show itself, the gang has to use their heads, too. [Jon Negroni]
29.The Library (Season 2, Episode 10)
“The Library” allows Team Avatar to seek out more information on how to defeat the Fire Nation while simultaneously enriching the world. Sokka discovering the upcoming eclipse which will critically weaken fire benders is an enormous plot development, giving the group a major objective. Beyond the plot development, the episode excels due to the infrastructure of the spirit library itself and the professor that runs it, Wan Shi Tong. The spirit of knowledge, whose name translates to “He Who Knows Ten Thousand Things,” is a fascinating, complex character. He’s a villain who highlights how even those in the series who seek to protect knowledge fall victim to elitism, xenophobia, and destruction. [Allyson Johnson]
28. The Beach (Season 3, Episode 5)
“The Beach” is an odd little episode where our merry band of Fire Nation teenagers go on vacation, during which they crash a party and diagnose each other on the beach. This episode provides a different insight into the group, especially for Mai and Ty Lee, who’s upbringings were less than ideal. “The Beach” acts as the turning point in Zuko’s redemptive journey when he admits to Mai, Ty Lee, and Azula that he’s confused why regaining his honor in the Fire Nation doesn’t feel great, and admits he’s angry at himself, though he doesn’t understand quite yet why he is. [Katey Stoetzel]
27. The Southern Air Temple (Season 1, Episode 3)
Momo joins the crew but first there’s genocide to contend with. “The Southern Air Temple” proves early the show was willing to handle darker themes. It’s the first time Aang faces the truth that he’s the last airbender and solidifies Aang, Katara, Sokka, Appa, and Momo as the Gaang. Seeds are planted for a more complicated Zuko than we saw in the first two episodes. The episode also expands the Avatar’s mythology by introducing the Avatar statue room. By episode’s end, the entire world knows of the Avatar’s return. [Katey Stoetzel]
26. The Chase (Season 2, Episode 8)
While many Avatar episodes showcase the tensions that arise between the big personalities of Team Avatar, “The Chase” takes this to the limit. Relentlessly chased by Azula (and a trailing Zuko), the gang gets burnt out. Katara and the newly joined Toph clash in a way that avoids the trope of pitting women against each other. This conflict serves as a way to address the extreme end of Toph’s independence through a chance encounter with Iroh. Their reconciliation is really the moment the team assembles — just in time for a stellar group brawl between them, Azula, and Zuko with Iroh. [Travis Hymas]
25. City of Walls and Secrets (Season 2, Episode 14)
Avatar distinguishes the Nations that make up its world through color, something that is abundantly clear each season but most notable in Season 2. In “City of Walls and Secrets,” we see how the greens of the world have become overgrown, indicative of the inner sickness of the city Ba Sing Se, controlled by the Dai Li.
The vibrant greenery seen surrounding the houses in the upper ring that promotes life and abundance is striking in comparison to the inner chambers of the green-lit room with Long Feng, which, in comparison, casts a sickly, clinical glow. All is not what it seems as the group must stay within the city walls as they await their audience with the King. They’ll come to realize that the prosperity of the exterior doesn’t match the poisoned underbelly. It’s yet another example of how Avatar so often visualizes the greater, thematic material of the series, enriching an already expansive world. [Carly Johnson]
24. The Drill (Season 2, Episode 13)
The team finally makes it to Ba Sing Se only to face one of their most dire situations yet — a giant drill that the Fire Nation has constructed to take down the great city’s walls. It’s an epic battle sequence as Sokka comes up with a plan to take down the drill from the inside, proving once again that you don’t have to be a bender to be a valuable member of the team. Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee try to stop them. The stakes are high and the clock is ticking. It’s also the first time the phrase “Team Avatar” makes its appearance.[Linda Maleh]
23. The Storm (Season 1, Episode 12)
”The Storm” finally reveals how Aang ended up in the iceberg and how Zuko got his scar. What makes this episode so iconic is how Zuko and Aang’s flashbacks parallel each other and connect to the present-day episode plot. The layers are peeled back for both Zuko and Aang, making each character more complicated than originally thought. While Aang starts the show as the typical Chosen One, and Zuko the obvious villain, “The Storm” reminds us that both characters are just kids who were given their roles by adults who didn’t quite understand them. The parallel storytelling places Aang and Zuko on more even ground, planting the seeds for their eventual team up. The episode also features the first time Iroh bends lightning and shows us our first glimpse of Zuko’s sister, Azula. [Katey Stoetzel]
22. Winter Solstice Part 2: Avatar Roku (Season 1, Episode 8)
An episode defined by its set up, “Avatar Roku” both paves the way for what will become the series-long plot as well as fleshing out Zuko’s backstory and motivations. The design and rules of the Spirit World are always noteworthy. The episode allows for both an insightful conversation between Aang and Roku, one that’s vibrant and awash with orange and red hues. The action too is notable, featuring an intense, visually cool fight sequence when Roku helps them escape. The episode is greater in hindsight when we realize how early the seeds were planted, establishing the stakes they’re up against. It’s instrumental in setting the Gaang on their journey, now equipped with knowledge of Sozin’s Comet and the timeline they’re on to save the world. [Carly Johnson]
21. Appa’s Lost Days (Season 2, Episode 16)
It is easy to see the Studio Ghibli influences, particularly its penchant for animal-centric stories, in “Appa’s Lost Days.” Instead of focusing on Aang or his friends, the episode highlights everyone’s favorite flying bison, Appa. During Appa’s harrowing journey, the furry beast does everything he can to reunite with Aang in Ba Sing Se. This episode is a delight because we see everything through the flying bison’s perspective. From escaping cruel Fire Nation circus handlers to a fighting wild boar-q-pine to bonding with a nomadic Guru, Appa’s journey takes many twists and turns. Yet, no matter what life throws at the flying bison, positive or negative, the episode demonstrates that his bond with the Avatar is unbreakable. [Phylecia Miller]
20. The Blue Spirit (Season 1, Episode 13)
While it took until Season 3 for Zuko to mount his true redemption arc, there were hints of his general goodness since the very start. “The Blue Spirit” is particularly noteworthy, as Aang has been forced to seek help after Katara and Sokka fall ill and is captured by Zhao in the process, only to be rescued by Zuko/The Blue Spirit. The episode establishes a devastating link between Aang and Zuko, with the former inquiring as to whether the two might’ve been able to be friends in another lifetime following his rescue. The episode ends on a shocking note, deviating from expectations, with the visuals and dialogue delivering nods to everything from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Cowboy Bebop. Beyond all that though is the design of the Blue Spirit, from the dual broadswords to the mask itself, creating a formidable, mysterious figure. [Allyson Johnson]
19. The Boiling Rock Part 1 (Season 3, Episode 14)
Sokka and Zuko make for a fearsome, hilarious pair in The Boiling Rock Part 1 as they embark on a plan to rescue Sokka’s father from a Fire Nation prison encampment. The prison itself is a daunting fixture, presenting a sense of imminent danger while the two infiltrate that’s demonstrative of the considerable world-building the show has managed.
While Part 2 takes on a more action-forward narrative, Part 1 both reestablishes Suki’s relationship with Sokka and her athleticism while also highlighting Sokka’s growth as a leader and tactician. He’s grown a lot, even just in the few episodes since The Day of the Black Sun, and we witness the proof as he works his way to get him, Zuko, and Suki to safety. It also gives us the iconic “that’s rough buddy” line from Zuko when Sokka tells him about his first girlfriend, which may be one of Dante Basco’s best deliveries. [Allyson Johnson]
18. Sokka’s Master (Season 3, Episode 4)
Throughout the series, many of the characters discover their true potential with their given element. Sokka, being one of the few non-benders in the main group, never got one of these moments in the first two seasons. In this episode, Sokka finds something that he can master so that he is contributing to the group as much as the benders. Even though he can master the sword, the group also relies on Sokka for his humor and leadership which is more valuable to them than his inability to bend. We also get some of the most intricate fight choreography between Sokka and Piandao that is Sokka’s defining moment in the series. [Tyler Carlsen]
17. Lake Laogai (Season 2, Episode 17)
One of the reasons Season 2 of Avatar drew in so many new fans of the show when it did has to do with the word of mouth garnered by this season’s final chunk of episodes, and “Lake Laogai” certainly represents a turning point. Not just in the complex plot lines coming to a head with the gang finally pushing through to a fated, blissful reunion, but in the animation and fight choreography practically exploding off the screen.
The episode is a particularly stellar showcase for Toph, who makes mincemeat out of the Dai Li during the final confrontation, but it’s the unexpected (and unclear?) character death toward the end that sets the tension for the rest of the season. No one is safe. And that’s not even mentioning the intense crossroads for Zuko and Iroh, finally coming to terms with what kind of person Ozai’s heir is going to be. It’s an essential episode for so many reasons and more, and a true testament to what’s possible when it comes to compact storytelling. [Jon Negroni]
16. The Western Air Temple (Season 3, Episode 12)
Despite the relative, initial calm of the episode due to the previous being the all-out battle of “The Day of the Black Sun Part 1 and 2,” “The Western Air Temple” moves the dial forward in a drastic fashion. Zuko has already confronted himself and his past sins, and now he’s presented himself to Team Avatar to further make amends, no matter their severe reservations. Not only does the episode solidify Zuko’s position in the group — no matter Katara’s continued reservations by episode’s end — and his ability to teach Aang fire bending, but it also offers a mature exploration of healing from trauma and the selfless act of forgiveness. The design of the Western Air Temple is also superb, inspired by the roofs of Bhutanese monasteries such as Tibetan architecture. [Allyson Johnson]
15. The Guru (Season 2, Episode 19)
While there are many deeply emotional themes and moments in this series, this episode has one of the most memorable. Aang discovers that to master the Avatar State and be able to use it anytime he needs to he must master all his spiritual chakras. With the help of a guru, he is guided through this process that makes Aang reconcile with everything that he has been keeping inside. He deals with topics like guilt, shame, love, loss, and fear and the show presents them in such a relatable way that even as a child watching this, I could understand Aang’s emotional journey through this and why he stopped where he did. The imagery of the giant celestial Aang in the Avatar State was one of the most beautiful and haunting parts of this season. [Tyler Carlsen]
14. The Puppetmaster (Season 3, Episode 8)
“The Puppetmaster” is perhaps the darkest episode of Avatar. The series always depicted bending as neither inherently good nor bad but as an extension of the bender’s character and personality. “The Puppetmaster” features one of the most memorable villains in the entire series and introduces a fascinating and terrifying bending technique — bloodbending. Hama is clearly a villain but her traumatic backstory almost makes her an empathetic character despite the dark place she’s ended up in. Maybe the scariest thing about her is the way she’s instantly recognizable as a possible dark future for Katara after they bond in the first half of the episode. The final showdown between Katara and Hama deploys the series’ signature animation to bring to life some of the most harrowing scenes of the entire series and results in one of the most impactful episodes of the show. [Jose Cordova]
13. The Boiling Rock, Part 2 (Season 3, Episode 15)
Prison break episodes of TV have a set of expectations baked into them at a conceptual level — the formation of a plan, new members butting their ways into said plan, someone getting caught and forced to talk, and last minute adjustments when everything seems to have gone wrong. “Boiling Rock Pt. 2” has the benefit of getting most of those out of the way in its first half, leading an episode of nonstop payoff.
By the end of the episode, characters reunite when Sokka finally finds his father and Zuko is forced to confront his abandonment of Mai, allegiances shift as Azula finally goes too far for Ty Lee and Mai, and Sokka capping it all off with his amazing response to Toph asking upon their return at the end of the episode if they found any meat with “the best meat of all, the meat of friendship and fatherhood.” The highlight of the episode comes in the final sequence where our heroes escape on the gondolas suspended over the volcanic lake and are confronted by our resident psychopath, Azula, a fight scene of swordplay and firebending that is some of the finest animation in the show. [Quinn Parulis]
12. The Southern Raiders (Season 3, Episode 16)
As the last serious episode before the series finale, “The Southern Raiders” has the job of setting the stage. The episode decides to do this through pairing Zuko with Katara as he offers her a chance at closure regarding the death of her mother. While this pairing is quite popular, it’s a particularly important one to allow Katara to deal with her darker impulses and for Zuko to make some sort of amends in the way he knows how.
Frankly, Katara goes to some dark places as she tries violence to process her grief and trauma — including bloodbending, a horrifying skill. Interspersed between this are some excellent action set pieces, from Zuko driving off Azula and airships to Katara holding a rainstorm in place in a rage. Mercy ultimately wins out as Aang hoped, but Zuko reminds him he’II have the same conflict with Ozai — a fitting hand off to the finale. [Travis Hymas]
11. The Siege of the North, Part 1 (Season 1, Episode 19)
The Book 1 two-part finale takes the series to the epic heights that it would eventually become known for, and Part 1 does its job in setting up the upcoming Part 2 showdown between Aang and the Fire Nation in the fight for the North Pole. The episode starts idyllically — Katara has mastered water bending, Sokka has found a new girl to crush on, but when falling soot announces the arrival of Fire Nation ships things get serious fast.
The highlights of the episode are Iroh telling Zuko that he’s like a son to him, and Katara and Zuko going head-to-head in a struggle that shows off each bender’s peak skills. As Aang enters the spirit world, and the importance of the moon to the water benders is established, the episode ends on a truly chilling note — Zuko carrying an unconscious Aang through the frozen wasteland with nowhere to go. Now that’s how you kick-off a finale! [Linda Maleh]
10. The Day of Black Sun, Part 1: The Invasion (Season 3, Episode 10)
Despite being aimed at young audiences, Avatar: The Last Airbender is effectively able to capture stories of war, without being overwhelming and without simplifying the stakes. The first part of this attack on the Fire Nation is a perfect example of this. The character interactions, especially with the arrival of old allies, perfectly construct a sense of excitement about the risky endeavor, with a realistic sense of concern and gravity. Furthermore, as the attack unfolds, the clear distinction between the land stage and the naval stage allows for all the bending to shine. Moreover, in addition to everyone getting more outfits, Sokka’s leadership and growth are on full display, and that is always awesome to see. [Pedro Graterol]
9. The Blind Bandit (Season 2, Episode 6)
It’s almost impossible to believe that the original concept for Aang’s earthbending master was a tall muscular boy. Toph makes a strong impression the instant she appears in the ring in “The Blind Bandit.” Earth Rumble VI is a perfect introduction for one of the greatest characters in Avatar history. The pro-wrestling inspired battles are full of the type of goofy energy which is one of the key strengths of the series and there’s a delightful cameo from WWE legend Mick Foley as The Boulder.
The animation that illustrates how Toph’s earthbending allows her to “see” and fight is visually striking and the way she mops the floor with the rest of the competitors cements her right away as the strongest earthbender seen on the show. Despite all of that, Toph is shown dealing with issues just like the rest of the kids. Her vulnerability has nothing to do with her disability but with finding where she fits in the world just like everyone else. Toph serves as a fantastic foil for Aang and an ideal teacher and is deservedly one of the most popular characters in the franchise and it all begins in “The Blind Bandit.” [Jose Cordova]
8. The Tales of Ba Sing Se (Season 2, Episode 15)
Being entirely honest, “The Tales of Ba Sing Se” stands out primarily because of “The Tale of Iroh.” Seeing Zuko’s kind uncle spending the day helping the citizens of a city he once was ordered to conquer on his way to grieve the son he couldn’t help is beautiful even before it inadvertently became a tribute to Iroh’s voice actor, Mako.
However, the other stories in “Tales” are also great vignettes into the personalities of the cast. Zuko’s date with a local girl betrays his desire for connection; meanwhile, Katara and Toph bond while dealing with actual mean girls. Aang overestimates his abilities and gets in over his head as Momo has an adventure trying to find his best bud, Appa. Sokka … well, Sokka has a rap battle somehow. When else could the team sneak a rap battle in? Notably, a majority of the writing for “Tales” came from various crew members on the series rather than the normal writing team, reflecting the love everyone who worked on Avatar really had for it. That’s what is truly special about “The Tales of Ba Sing Se.” It’s an episode designed to just spend a day with the characters we’ve grown to love. [Travis Hymas]
7. The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse (Season 3, Episode 11)
The most pivotal moment of “Day of the Black Sun: Part 2” comes at the very end when, with no clear escape in sight, the Gaang must retreat. It’s a major loss for Team Avatar, as they leave behind all of the adults who’d joined them in their fight, something that the show treats with the necessary level of weight. What alleviates some of the pain of the loss though is Zuko’s story, which in turn demonstrates a moment of strength and triumph.
Finally seeing his father for the abusive, vengeful, and cruel man that he is, he disavows him, condemns him for his past abuse, and tells him he’s joining the Avatar to defeat him. Zuko’s decision to challenge his father both on his treatment of him and also his beliefs is a major, defining moment for the character, proving to be the final, greatest shift as his redemption arc closes, now fully a hero. Avatar: The Last Airbender has a great mastery of moving the plot forward through both action and character development, and “Day of the Black Sun: Part 2” delivered one of the most potent moments in Zuko’s demonstrating his ability to heal from past wounds — emotional, and physical. [Carly Johnson]
6. The Firebending Masters (Season 3, Episode 13)
“The Firebending Masters” is the culmination of the journey of Aang and Zuko’s parallel journeys from mortal enemies (at least on Zuko’s end) to friends who rely on and learn from each other how to accept all parts of themselves equally. This for Zuko means learning to firebend without it being fueled by hate, and for Aang to get over his fear of the uncontrollable nature of firebending.
There are some beautiful scenes in this episode, but it peaks when Aang and Zuko perform an ancient dance in front of the last two living dragons, learning in the process that the source of firebending is energy and life, the feeling of “the sun, but inside of you.” This episode recalibrates the endgame of the series, where all the pieces finally align in a way that feels natural for Aang and Zuko’s stories to unite as a team and find a middle ground between each other without compromising who they are inside. In a show that thrives at character growth, “The Firebending Masters” stands tall as the payoff for two of its most important and beloved characters. [Quinn Parulis]
5. The Crossroads of Destiny (Season 2, Episode 20)
How do you tie off an unparalleled run of episodes marking the peak of a show that was already stellar? You introduce the first genuine WTF moment of the series and establish this season as, unequivocally, the Empire Strikes Back of animated television (an admitted direct inspiration for the showrunners, to be clear). Up to this point, we’ve watched Team Avatar scrape by wins in every respect, slowly watching Aang further utilize his earthbending to be more resolute and unwavering in achieving his goals.
So it’s heartbreaking to watch Zuko commit to the basest form of firebending in that respect, setting his betrayal as something as inevitable as it is frustrating. It’s also quite fitting to cap off Season 2 with a cautionary tale that elevates this supposed kids’ story. The kingdom that has withstood a foreign invasion for over 100 years ultimately succumbs to a fascist coup, aided and abetted by the corrupt politicians within. It’s a startling, but altogether convincing metaphor that properly gets across how fragile and fleeting a peaceful society might seem, especially when the warnings were there, all along. [Jon Negroni]
4. Zuko Alone (Season 2, Episode 7)
One of the best episodes of the series interestingly doesn’t even feature Aang and Co. This Season 2 standalone chapter focuses entirely on Zuko in a satisfying deep dive into the character’s backstory, as well as being a pivotal entry in Zuko’s multi-season redemption arc. Zuko may prefer to play the brooding stranger, but when he arrives in an Earth Bending Kingdom town and becomes entangled with a local family, he can’t help but step up and come to their aid when they’re in trouble.
Meanwhile, in flashbacks Zuko’s twisted family dynamics are laid out, including his mom’s disappearance, his sister Azula’s callousness, and his father’s disdain. In one heart wrenching episode, Zuko’s character is laid bare, his immense amount of heart beneath the layers of angst and pain revealed. It all culminates in Zuko claiming his identity as a prince of the Fire Nation, even with all the hurt it’s caused him. It sets the stage perfectly for Zuko’s reunion with his Uncle Iroh the following episode, and puts him on an undeniable, even if winding, path to finding his true place in the world. [Linda Maleh]
3. The Siege of the North, Part 2 (Season 1, Episode 20)
If there is one thing Avatar does best is that it delivers spectacular season finales, and “The Siege of The North Part 2” is no different. Throughout the first season, Aang learns that his duty as the Avatar is to restore the balance between the four nations and bridge the gap between the mortal and spirit worlds. Yet, it is not until “The Siege of The North Part 2” that Aang puts everything he learned so far into action. Aang’s journey from a goofy kid to a spiritual leader is on full display as he uses the Avatar State and the power of the Ocean Spirit to prevent General Zhao’s army from destroying the Northern Water Tribe.
Though Zhao’s fatal battle against Aang may make for a rollicking good time (the kid transforms into a freakin’ kaiju), the episode’s emotional core belongs to Princess Yue. Her sacrifice to the Moon Spirit may give Team Avatar the upper hand against the Fire Nation’s attack, however, the royal’s offering comes with a high cost. Like a page straight out of a mythological tale, Yue gives up her mortal form to become the next Moon Spirit. It is a bittersweet end to an already fantastic first season. [Phylecia Miller]
2. The Avatar and the Fire Lord (Season 3, Episode 6)
In “The Avatar and the Firelord,” corruption and greed break friendships. The life and death of Avatar Roku is revealed through flashbacks in parallel tellings, one by the spirit of Roku, and the other by Sozin’s journals read by Zuko. The beginning of Season 3 also marks a tough journey of revelation for Zuko. Trapped by the promise of acceptance, he’s back in the Fire Nation as the Crown Prince.
But as it’s revealed in this episode, the struggle between good and evil resides in Zuko, represented by his two bloodlines of Sozin and Roku. As Zuko seeks answers to questions he shouldn’t be asking, Aang learns that even the evilest of people deserve a chance to make the right choice. This episode continues a pattern of clever foiling between Aang and Zuko. It’s also the origin for Avatar Roku’s line “Some friendships are so strong they can even transcend lifetimes,” a sentiment that exists in every character, and carries through to The Legend of Korra. [Katey Stoetzel]
1. Sozin’s Comet 1-4 (Season 3, Episodes 18-21)
The animation is stunning, from the ominous orange hue of the sky caused by Sozin’s comet to the dazzling lights of the final Agni-Kai between Zuko and Azula. However, what stands out the most is the story. The four-part series finale carefully crafts deeply effective narrative conclusions for each of the characters, deliberately showcasing their growth in all of their skillsets. New bending techniques are at full display, but so are their maturity, strength, and perseverance that they have earned. Sokka and Toph overcome their stubbornness and work together to take down full-on airships, for example, and, most notably, Aang sticks to his convictions by defeating Ozai without executing him. This is all more striking when you realize that they are just kids and it’s especially compelling when you notice that the seeds for that growth are planted all throughout the show.
Avatar: The Last Airbender was more than just adventures and recurring gags. The series and its worldbuilding grappled with complex themes while refusing to speak down to the target audience. In its finale, the show delivers the answer to its most pressing question: Can hope still have a place in a troubled world? It can, and with willpower, friendship, and dedication, that hope can make the world a better place. [Pedro Graterol]
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