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Avatar: The Last Airbender is a TV show set in an Asian-inspired world where some people can control one of the four elements–earth, water, fire, or air–through a series of movements based on martial arts. Only one person, however, can control all four elements–the Avatar. The Avatar serves as an important figure who maintains balance in the world, and acts as a bridge between humans and the spirit world. Importantly, the Avatar also reincarnates, meaning each new Avatar has access to their previous lives’ wisdom when seeking to solve political conflicts.
The show spawned a franchise that includes an ongoing series of comics, a sequel TV show with its own comic series, and, most recently, a YA book duology about the teenage years of one of the most popular Avatars, Avatar Kyoshi. So where do you start? The original Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best place, but you could potentially also start with The Legend of Korra TV show or even the Kyoshi novels. Our guide explains your options.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (A:TLA) TV Series
Four nations representing the four elements–water, earth, fire, and air–have long lived in harmony. One hundred years ago, however, the Fire Nation started a war to conquer the world. One person–the Avatar–can control all four elements and has the power to end the fighting. However, the Avatar disappeared one hundred years ago. The series opens with two children from the Water Tribe, Katara and Sokka, finding the boy Avatar, an Airbender named Aang. They journey across the world, trying to find Aang teachers who can help him master all the elements so he can defeat the Fire Lord once and for all. Each “book” or season focuses on Aang mastering a new element as he prepares to face Fire Lord Ozai. The show is the best place to begin your Avatar journey!
The comics mostly take place after the events of the A:TLA show, though some take place during the show timeline itself. They will contain spoilers if you have not yet finished watching all three seasons! The comics are ongoing.
Set immediately after the events of the show, this comic trilogy focuses on the Harmony Restoration Movement, an attempt to remove all Fire Nation individuals from the colonies in the Earth Kingdom. Tensions rise, however, when the Fire Nation citizens argue that the Earth Kingdom is the only home they have ever known.
The comics have largely explored the timeline after the end of A:TLA, but this one takes fans back to the events of the original show. The anthology contains 26 short stories set during the continuity of the show.
This anthology collects short stories that take place during the A:TLA series, as well as after. Read after finishing Imbalance.
The Legend of Korra TV Series
The Legend of Korra takes place 70 years after the events of A:TLA and features Korra as the Avatar after Aang. Each “book” or season focuses on a new challenge as Korra faces an Equalist uprising of nonbenders, learns more about the Spirit World, and tries to reestablish the Air Nomads. You do not need to have seen A:TLA to enjoy Korra, but many original characters make reappearances–a fun extra for fans of the original series.
Set a couple hundred years before the events of A:TLA, the Kyoshi novels are written by YA novelist F. C. Yee with Michael Dante DiMartino, who worked on the original show. They follow fan-favorite Avatar Kyoshi, an Earthbender who does not initially realize she is the Avatar, as her friend Yun has been incorrectly identified as the Avatar instead. When one of her mentors betrays her, Kyoshi goes on the run, allying herself with criminals and attempting to master all four elements in secret, so she can take revenge. You don’t need to have seen the shows to understand and enjoy the books.