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Prince/Fire Lord Zuko (祖寇)

Voiced by: Dante Basco (teenager), Elijah Runcorn (child) (English)Click to see other languages , Bruce Davison (The Legend of Korra)

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"I don't need luck. I don't want it. I've always had to struggle and fight, and that's made me strong. It's made me who I am."
Click here  to see him in his Season 1 garb.
Even as the prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko has always struggled in life, particularly in matching his prodigy sister Azula and getting his father's acknowledgment. This came to a head when Ozai punished him for a perceived slight by horrifically burning his face and sending him into exile, refusing to let him return until he had captured the Avatar. (This was intended as a Snipe Hunt, since Aang had been missing for a century.) Determined to prove his worth to his father, Zuko hunted Aang across the world for the first season while trying to find his own destiny.

Despite being an antagonist at the beginning, he serves as the Deuteragonist, making him just as important as the good guys on Team Avatar.


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    A-F 
  • The Ace: Definitely not at the beginning of the series, but by the time the show ends and the comics roll around, Zuko is a master swordsman, experienced with throwing knives and knifeplay, skilled at hand-to-hand combat, one of the greatest natural physical talents in the franchise, a master firebender, a skilled tactician, an expert at infiltration, and a competent public speaker and leader. And if the battle in the first installment of comics is anything to go by, capable military strategist also goes on the list.
    • In terms of Firebending prowess, he was initially Overshadowed by Awesome compared to his family but later on proved to be a late bloomer, capable of matching Azula blow-for-blow even in her more lucid moments and mastering many advanced techniques such as flight and Lightning Redirection. In Smoke & Shadow he even creates dragon-fire, something no other (human) Firebender has been shown to be capable of. By the end of the series, he is easily one of the five greatest firebenders in the world, and that is a list that includes the Fire Lord and a couple of former Fire Nation generals.
    • Also, Zuko's actions in undoing the damage of the past and working with Aang to guide the world in a new era left behind a legacy all of his preceding Firelords can only dream of, and ironically did a much better job of sharing the Fire Nation's wealth and development with the rest of the world than the war ever did.
  • All Work vs. All Play: Upon joining Team Avatar, this contrast is noticeable. He is the All Work to Aang and Sokka's All Play.
  • Amazon Chaser: Zuko prefers that Mai show more of emotions, especially anger. In "Boiling Rock Part 2", he was quite prideful when she informed a guard that she didn't need protection.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Zuko has limited social ability, an obsessive personality ("I must capture the Avatar to restore my honor!"), suffers flashbacks under certain conditions, and has trouble controlling his emotions. Again, as with Azula, a lot of these issues could stem from childhood trauma. But even before the abuse became really nasty, he showed social anxiety and naïveté, and was emotionally dependent on his mother. (Then again, given that his only potential playmates were Azula and her lackeys, social anxiety is to be expected.)
  • Ambiguously Evil: Zuko is the first antagonist, but is given enough sympathy points throughout the first season that it is more than a bit hazy on which side of the fence he'll wind up. After trying to be evil, he decides it's not for him.
  • Antagonistic Offspring: During "The Search", Zuko realizes that the way he treated his father after the war isn't any different from the way his father treated him before.
  • Anti-Hero: Dark and misunderstood, Zuko operates under the sole motive of regaining his lost honor, and not always admirably so. Although he turns himself around in the end. Since then, he fully plays the anti-hero role straight—he is impatient, uptight, and he thinks ideals should be forgone when facing the big threat.
  • Anti-Villain: An early episode contrasts him with Zhao, who only wants to find the Avatar to bring himself glory while Zuko was only even there to complete a mission so his father will love him.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Averted. Despite having an evil father and an example of The Sociopath for his sister, he's a White Sheep. The fact that he averts this is one of the main reasons he's The Exile at the start of the series. He's still a jerk at his angriest and has shades of Royal Brat with his sense of entitlement until his Character Development.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: More "angry" then "arrogant", but in Season 1 especially he's a screaming, whirling tempest of raw power sans any ability to control his emotions.
  • Assassin Outclassin': Survives six attempts on his life within his first year as Fire Lord. In all except one attempt, it's heavily implied that he killed the assassin first.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Zuko had to reclaim the throne by defeating his sister in Agni Kai. Additionally, this was key to fulfilling his destiny.
  • The Atoner: After his Heel–Face Turn, he tries to make up for two and a half seasons of jerkassery and, most importantly, betraying his uncle. It's fair to say he succeeded fantastically, managing to win round every member of the Gaang as well as have a large hand in saving the world.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Now that his father can no longer firebend, Zuko's firebending is more formidable than ever, no longer driven by anger.
  • Awesome by Analysis: One trait he picked up from Iroh is augmenting his bending with techniques and philosophies from other disciplines to help make up for a lack of direct bending talent, reflecting and training between every fight. He begins using more flexible forms to keep up with Aang in book one; he studies the waterbending style of energy redirection both to protect from lightning and to generally conserve his own effort in fights; and he begins using firm stances and waiting for the right opportunity to attack like earthbenders do. When he learns the original source and philosophy behind firebending, which meshes much more evenly with his own temperament than anger ever did, he goes from being a Weak, but Skilled fighter to arguably one of the strongest firebenders in the world, as proven by the finale where he's able to withstand the full brunt of Azula's furious attack, striking a counterblow that knocks her flat and leaves her gasping for breath without breaking a sweat.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: When he's made Fire Lord at the end of the series.
  • Bad Boss: Orders his men to sail directly into a storm during "The Storm." Subverted at the end of the episode, however, when he forgoes continuing his pursuit of Aang in order to ensure the safety of his crew.
  • Bad Liar: He hesitates and stutters when he lies. Subverted in "The Waterbending Master", when he lies to Zhao's face about the dao swords on the wall being decorative rather than Zuko's personal weapons. Zhao still isn't fooled.
  • Bald of Evil: At first, before he cuts off his ponytail and starts to grow his hair out normally.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk: Despite being a master firebender and swordsman, Zuko is also highly competent in unarmed combat. He's been shown disarming Aang of his staff, throwing people over his shoulders, diverting weapons, pinning people, escaping from Combustion Man's hold, unbalancing people with sweep kicks, and general hand-to-hand moves.
  • Bash Brothers: With everyone except Toph, at one point or another. Despite his complete lack of social skills, Zuko is quite good at working with others in combat situations.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In the beginning of Book 3, he finally gets to go home, where he's welcomed as a triumphant hero to an adoring nation, his father praises him, and he gets the girl (Mai). None of this makes Zuko happy enough not to hate himself for agreeing to betray the man who stood by him for the last three years and saw him as another son, and destroy the tenuous amity he'd been building with the Gaang - very possibly the first people his age who have ever been friendly to him
  • Because Destiny Says So: A double subversion; Zuko believed it was his destiny to prove he's worthy to the throne by capturing the Avatar, but his uncle asks him if it is his destiny, or something that was forced on him. He does become Crown Prince upon return to the Fire Nation, but it felt empty, and he decided to sacrifice his right to the throne because he doesn't want to be a part of the Fire Nation's path towards conquest, fear and destruction. Then, he discovers that he has to be the one to take the throne after the Fire Lord falls. At the end of the day, his destiny always was to take the throne, but as the Fire Nation's salvation.
  • Being Evil Sucks: A big part of Zuko's arc in Season 3 is learning this. He's had everything he's wanted since the series' beginning, but to get it, he had to betray his Uncle, the only person who'd shown him unconditional love during his exile, and his very own nature. Tellingly, he finds himself in a mirror of the circumstances which got him banished in the first place; he sits in on a war meeting where he hears a horrifying plan that he knows is wrong, but he doesn't object to it. The shame of that moment is what finally pushes him to make his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Being Good Sucks: There's the time he got half his face burned off for speaking against a general's bloodthirsty strategy, then he risked losing his pursuit of the Avatar to save his uncle, then he went incognito and saved a bunch of villagers who turned on him the moment they found out his true identity, then he got physically sick after he let Appa go (which contradicted with his sole mission for three years), then he tried to fulfill his original mission and in turn betrayed his uncle, and then he abandoned his family, his girlfriend and the life he thought he wanted to go help the Avatar.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Particularly in the first season, seems to be any reference to his banishment, from anyone other than Iroh. He destroyed Zhao in an Agni Kai when Zhao mocked his scar and taunted him about not being able to go home. He also challenged Lieutenant Jee, who unknowingly hit a sore spot when he called Zuko out for his lack of respect... exactly what Ozai said before burning him.
    • Also taking shots at his scar or even the very mention of it makes him extremely angry.
  • The Berserker: At first, Zuko fuels his Firebending with his anger and resorts to Attack! Attack! Attack! as his only strategy. Later on, when he's calmed down quite a bit, he suddenly can't bend at all... until he learns that Firebending is more than raw emotion. Then he becomes even more powerful than before.
  • Beta Couple: With Mai. While Aang and Katara dance around the issue, they're snuggling and watching sunsets. Flipped on its head in the comics, where Zuko and Mai go through a bad breakup while Aang and Katara are relatively stable Sickeningly Sweethearts.
  • Beyond Redemption: In "The Crossroads of Destiny," Zuko bonds with Katara over their missing mothers, and she offers to heal his scar. Then they're interrupted by their respective factions, and in the ensuing battle, Zuko sides with Azula against Aang and Katara, proving instrumental in her takeover of Ba Sing Se; this leads Katara to give up hope that Zuko can be redeemed. Even after his Heel–Face Turn, Katara is the least welcoming in the Gaang and the last to accept his change of heart.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Becomes the first human to create dragon fire in Smoke and Shadow, which wasn't supposed to be possible.
  • Big Bad Ensemble: In Season 1, with Zhao, though it's more of a Heavy Ensemble, since they're both still on Ozai's direction.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Zuko does display signs of this on several occasions.
    • Zuko develop a semi brotherly bond with the younger Li, a boy from the Earth Kingdom, teaching him how to fight with dual swords and comes to his aid when he’s taken captive by soldiers.
    • Mainly averted when it comes to Azula due ot her sadistic, psychotic and manipulative tendencies, but he does occasionally show that he cares for her enough to try and repair their relationship.
    • But played completely straight with his younger half-sister Kiyi whom he grew protective of from the moment they first met each other in the comics. In return she adores him. Later when Kiyi and several other children are taken prisoner by the New Ozai Society, Zuko grows particularly ruthless in his quest to bring her and the other kids back safely and punish those responsible.
  • Big Brother Mentor:
    • To Aang in the second half of the third season as his firebending instructor. "You're a talented kid"
    • Also with Sokka, especially in "The Boiling Rock". Zuko gives him advice and saves him more than once, and is seen sparring with him in the comics.
    • It was implied that he was this to Toph.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Early in Book 1, he saves Iroh from getting his hands crushed by the Earth Kingdom soldiers who had captured him. Much later, in "The Western Air Temple", when the Gaang was too busy tending to Toph's wounds to notice Combustion Man sneaking up on them, it was Zuko who saved them from his attack. And in the finale, Zuko risked his life and his victory in an Agni Kai to take a lightning bolt for Katara.
  • Birds of a Feather:
    • With Mai. They're both perpetually frowning Emo Teens with some kind of family issue who are from the Fire Nation and use bladed weapons
    • With Katara. They're both willful, compassionate, and emotional individuals who lost their respective mothers at a young age and are about equal in terms of bending abilities.
    • With Sokka. Both are good leaders and strategists who feel the need to please their respective fathers, and both use swords.
    • With Toph. Both are stubborn and tough beyond reason, expected to fulfill their roles as nobility/royalty, and have some kind of family issue. Both of them also suffer from visual impairment (Toph is completely blind while Zuko has minor sight loss in his left eye) and have unusually good hearing. They're also similar in that they both learned from the original source of their bending arts, and as such both are very powerful benders. To top it all off, they're also both the first to use some sort of new bending technique—Zuko is the only human in history to have created dragon fire (in Smoke and Shadow), and Toph is the first person to metalbend.
    • With Aang. Both are saviors of a sort (Aang saves the world by defeating Fire Lord Ozai, while Zuko saves his nation from more war by taking the throne over his sister) who were expected to rise to impossible responsibility as young children (Zuko was expected by his father to be the perfect heir from birth on up, while Aang was expected to be a dedicated Avatar at age twelve). Both are also prodigies in their respective fields (Aang is a bending prodigy, while Zuko is prodigal with the swords. He later becomes a bending prodigy after training with the dragons.).
    • With Azula. Both are physical prodigies with the widest repertoire of combat skills in the show, share family issues and a dismal childhood, have their own respective Ambiguous Disorder, are competent military strategists and public speakers, and would do anything for their father's approval. Both are also hilariously socially inept and are the exclusive human users of colored flame—Azula's fire is blue, while Zuko produces dragon fire in Smoke and Shadow. They're also two out of four (five if considering Ozai before Aang takes his bending away) people who can manipulate lightning.
  • Bishōnen: Not apparent at first but after he cuts off his Samurai Ponytail and grows his hair out, it becomes obvious that, scar and all, Zuko's a good looking guy.
  • Blinding Bangs: In the later part of Book 3, after his umpteenth Adrenaline Makeover. His hair is cut in a way so that it's not really a problem, but at any given moment there are a few stray strands that fall in front of his eyes. And if he's in a windy area or hangs his head just so, it covers his eyes entirely.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: With Katara, and it's the mother for both.
  • Bookends:
    • In Zuko's first official victory in the series, he used a leg sweep to break the roots of a superior opponent and turn the battle to his favor. In his last fight of the series, he fire-bent with a similar leg sweep to knock his sister down.
    • Zuko's quest for redemption started with his father touches him, probably for the first time, in anger to burn his face as punishment. His quest ends when his uncle (whom many would consider his real father) hugs him in joy and forgiveness.
  • Boring, but Practical: Drilled by his uncle to focus on his fundamentals in the beginning of the series, he relies less on flashy techniques the more he matures. Especially evident in his final fight with Azula. While his sister uses exotic techniques to rocket around the battlefield, Zuko focuses on solid defense to control the space and eventually take her down.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: Zuko was a student of swordmaster Piandao since he was kid. They particularly help if in case he somehow loses his firebending, or if circumstances prevent him from doing so. He also seems to have some experience with knives and unarmed combat, which he most likely learned as a kid from various different trainers.
  • Break the Cutie: As a three-year-old, Zuko was the sweet kind of kid who would rescue a crab-turtle from a sea hawk - and then regret the decision once he realized that the hawk would starve to death if it didn't get something to eat. Fast forward a few years, and between his father's physical and verbal abuse, his mother's disappearance, and his younger sister's constant burning and taunting, Zuko is a lot less innocent, and begins to develop shades of brattiness, violence (e.g., threatening his sister with a knife in "Zuko Alone"), and an Ambiguous Disorder. Fast forward a few years after that, after half his face is seared off by his father and he's sent on a wild goose chase, Zuko descends fully into said bratiness, violence, and a full-fledged Ambiguous Disorder, to the point of developing shades of a type C Psychopathic Manchild, being incapable of even basic social interaction, obsessive, overemotional, and even suffering a sort of mental breakdown in "Bitter Work".
  • Break the Haughty: Season 2 begins with him losing his title as Prince of the Fire Nation and forced to wander as an enemy to all nations.
  • Broken Bird: A rare male example; any innocence he had was lost between his father's and sister's abuse.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl:
    • Zig-Zagged with Mai — Both manage to be both with each other. For the brooding part, they both come from a dysfunctional family which led to them becoming Broken Birds but in different ways (Zuko having anger issues and Mai suppressing her emotions). As for the gentle part, both encourage one another to express themselves in healthier, non-problematic ways.
    • Katara is the gentle girl to Zuko's brooding boy - they are a platonic variation of this trope, despite the Ship Tease.
  • Byronic Hero: Conflicting emotions? Check. Trouble with conflicting integrity? Check. The status of exile? Big ol' Check. A troubled past? Very much so. Pride? Big problem he has to deal with. He's also a loner, "prone to Melodrama", and as for intelligence...well, Aang says that he's smarter than people give him credit for.
  • Cain and Abel: The Abel to Azula's Cain because he has a functioning moral compass. Played with in The Search where Azula agrees to help him in his search for their mother. Ends both heartwarmingly and sadly when Zuko tells Azula that no matter what he will always love her, which hits her hard and the last we see of her is her running off with tears in her eyes. The Search and other comics have him despising the fact that him and his sister have this relationship instead of something like Sokka and Katara; but until he can get through to Azula and help her overcome her psychosis, he's resigned to stop her whenever she rears her head.
  • Calling Parents by Their Name: Begins referring to his father as "Ozai" during The Search.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Calls his father, Ozai, out for the monster and horrible father that he is and tells him that he's going join the Avatar to defeat him. Ozai doesn't take kindly to this.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: His jokes are so bad they're made into jokes by other characters.
  • Cerebus Retcon: All throughout Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2, humorous things happen to Zuko that foil his attempts at catching Aang. At the end of "Bitter Work" (after being unable to create lightning), he's screaming into a storm about how cruel the universe has always been to him and finally breaks down. Suddenly, all those silly things go from the universe poking fun at an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain to the turmoils of a young man desperate to go home and be loved by his father.
  • Character Development: Interestingly, despite being banished, he had shades of a Royal Brat. But unfortunately for his ego, no one treats Zuko with the respect he feels he is entitled to. Learns An Aesop in the Whole Episode Flashback, but he still has shades of it. Although in this case, Zuko has a good reason. He only started acting like a royal brat after his "lesson on respect" from his father — the flashback implies he was more upbeat and cheerful and not interested in being put up on a pedestal. Which makes sense: given his banishment came because he wasn't showing respect to his father, respect would become a big deal in his mind. Part of his character arc in Seasons 1 and especially 2 is Zuko growing past his sense of aristocratic entitlement, personified in his treasonous Blue Spirit persona. He steals not only for basic necessities, but basically whenever he sees something shiny. Zuko's aristocratic nature eventually becomes a positive motivator for him, to the point where he vows to see Ozai overthrown and the Fire Nation redeemed.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: While one of the most visibly muscular characters, he once punches a person across a room, and is seen shattering iron, steel, and wood with his kicks. All that training has served him well. Might be a result of Iroh's training: even among the Fire Nation, Iroh and Zuko are the only ones to display superhuman strength unrelated to bending.
  • Chick Magnet: Sometimes in a relationship with Mai. He has loads of Ship Tease with Katara (who might have even become his endgame love interest according to some of the writers, though the showrunners deny this), and a temporary love interest in the one-off character of Jin. He had some ship tease with the one-off character Song and the comics also have him being ship teased with Suki. Zuko even has some mild Ship Tease with Ty Lee and and Toph! Zuko has almost as much onscreen romance as Sokka, plus a fan club and a bunch of random girls that swoon over him at the beach.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: With Mai. There's a flashback to Puppy Love.
  • Child by Rape: Zuko is almost certainly the result of his father's Marital Rape License. In the comics, Zuko is temporarily lead to believe that Ozai isn't his father, and that he's actually the son of Ikem, Ursa's one true love and Zuko's stepfather. Unfortunately, it turns out that Ozai is indeed Zuko's real father, meaning this trope is in full effect.
  • Child Prodigy: Zuko is this in terms of his swordplay. He began training with Piandao as a child, and by the time he appears in the series he's second to almost none, fending off upwards of ten soldiers while surrounded, successfully deflecting rocks while starved and unfit, and stalemating Jet, whose sole form of combat was swordplay, in a duel - again, while out of shape. His mastery of the blade was so great that even his father, the Fire Lord, opted to not face him during the eclipse, when neither of them could firebend.
  • Child Soldier: Successfully led and commanded an army in the Battle of Yu Dao and fought on the front lines against Earth Kingdom forces as a 16- to 17-year-old boy king. Zuko's also seen in countless combat situations throughout the show, including skirmishes with army soldiers. It's also implied in how Zuko conducts himself and his bending during combat - in "The Blue Spirit", even when Zuko was vastly outnumbered, he was always very calm and professional. And unlike almost every other firebender (and even the other benders in the Gaang) in the show, Zuko is very careful with his fire, only ever accidentally harming something/someone in "The Western Air Temple", when Toph startled him from sleep - for all the Gaang likes to harp about Zuko "burning down Kyoshi Island", if you watch closely, you'll notice that none of Zuko's flames actually set anything on fire; the village burned both because of Zuko's soldiers and because Aang blew Zuko's fireballs into the buildings. Combine that with the fact that Zuko would've been in a lot of areas where firebenders aren't welcome during his banishment, it's very possible that Zuko experienced lethal self-defense at some point. This is all in addition to the fact that Zuko was trained to be a conqueror/warlord from a young age, and was under the tutelage of The Dragon of the West, a renowned general who broke through a wall that had withstood a century of warfare.
  • A Child Shall Lead Them: Became Fire Lord at age sixteen after the imprisonment of his father.
  • The Chosen One: If the prophecy spoken of in "The Search" was of any indication, Zuko was meant to be the Chosen One who would be the Fire Nation's salvation.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: A major indicator, before his Heel–Face Turn, that he's not all bad is that he'll forgo an opportunity to chase the Avatar if Iroh or his crew is in danger, and even risks his life to save his rival Zhao from drowning. Also shows this in "Zuko Alone" where he risks exposing his identity to save Lee, and after he joins the Gaang he readily risks life and limb on "Field Trips" that take time away from their overall goal.
  • Combat Parkour: He's not as flighty as Aang or Ty Lee, but otherwise he ties with his sister Azula as the most acrobatic bender in the show; each of his fight scenes include at least one airborne move. Justified both in that one of his childhood friends was an acrobat and that he's shorter than average, and therefore needs a way to contend with larger opponents.
  • The Comically Serious: Sure, having a Big Fun uncle helps, but he can be comically serious even when he's on his own, partially because he's so endearing. In the same vein as Batman, Zuko's perpetually frowning, serious demeanor leaves him wide open to many a humorous moment, partially to being paired with his foil of a jolly uncle.
  • Commonality Connection: Bonds with Katara over their Missing Moms in Season 2, and they forge a proper friendship when he takes her to confront Kya's murderer in Season 3.
  • Composite Character: In-universe, he's combined with Zhao as the leader of the Siege of the North in the Show Within a Show "The Ember Island Players". Conversely, his Secret Identity of The Blue Spirit is made a completely separate character.
  • Cool Helmet:
    • He has one in "The Avatar Returns". It's reminiscent of Magneto's, with a spearlike point instead of a pair of horns.
    • The Fire Lord war helmet he wears to the Battle of Yu Dao in "The Promise" also applies.
  • Cosmic Plaything:
    • He's so sure he's this, he shouts Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter! on top of a mountain during a thunderstorm. He wants to be struck by lighting to practice redirection, and doesn't get his wish. His track record would suggest that at any other time he would have been struck. Given all the crap he's put up with, he just might be right.
    • Another one of such example is that when incarcerated into a fire nation prison; Zuko's bad luck has him incarcerated in the prison under the Warden whose niece Zuko just dumped.
  • Counter-Attack: Towards the end of the series, Zuko tends to fight by patiently countering and nullifying the attacks of his opponents, (particularly Azula) and then looking for an opening to strike back - a style reminiscent of earthbending. Much like how he learned how to redirect lightning from Waterbenders, his fighting style incorporates ideas from Iroh about learning from other nations and tribes. As a bonus, patience and counter-striking also promotes good breath control, the main source of strength for fire benders. This forms a nice contrast to the start of the series, where Zuko was Mr. Attack! Attack! Attack!, and frequently either wore himself out, blinded himself to possibilities, or left himself prone to being outmaneuvered by his opponents. It also also dovetails with his Character Development as well as his change in fighting style.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: In The Beach, all it takes for Zuko to lose his cool is seeing some guy show the slightest bit of interest in his girlfriend. When Ruon Jian invites Mai to the party, Zuko gets immediately upset and storms towards the guy until Azula stops him. When Ruon Jian is flirting with Mai at the party, Zuko grabs the guy and spins him away, orders him to not talk to Mai, and when the guy tries to get Zuko to calm down, Zuko shoves him clear across the room to smash into a vase.
  • Cry Cute: In one of only two times that he cries in the series (besides flashbacks). He finally reunites with his Uncle after treating him badly, ultimately betraying him and leading to him getting imprisoned by the Fire Nation, and saying mean things to him when he's in prison. He feels absolutely awful about it and is sure Iroh will hate him for it, and tearfully apologizes to his uncle. Iroh hugs him before he can finish apologizing.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Inflicts one on Sokka when he attacks the Southern Water Tribe in "The Avatar Returns". Without firebending, breaking Sokka's spear and beating him with it.
    • Inflicts another one on Sokka in the side comic "Swordbending"; in every match, Zuko beats Sokka within seconds, either by disarming Sokka of his sword or dodging his attacks and tripping him up with hand-to-hand combat skills.
    • In "Zuko Alone" he easily defeats the first three tyranical Earth Kingdom soldiers without using his firebending or even drawing his swords. The leader Gow is an earthbender so he initially has the upper hand until Zuko resorts to his firebending.
  • Curb Stomp Cushion: Sokka manages to get one good blow in: a hit with the boomerang on his helmet. He manages again to get Zuko with his boomerang in their "Swordbending Kai".
  • Dark and Troubled Past: His mother's mysterious disappearance, his father's brutal physical and verbal abuse, his younger sister's constant burning and mocking, both of their attempted murders, and then the wild goose chase...
  • Dark Magical Girl: He may be a guy, but otherwise he fits in perfectly:
    • A not-quite-evil antagonist that seeks the approval of a parent figure.
    • Desperately clings to a birthright duty in contrast to the protagonist who runs away from his own.
    • Becomes great friends with the protagonists via The Power of Friendship.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Since Zuko's the most ill-tempered character in the show, this is a given. He's actually a lot like Katara in that respect: particularly sarcastic in books one and two, less so for a part of book three, and then more so for the other half:
    • After some random kids threw an egg at Earth Kingdom soldiers, they blame Zuko, who continually denies it. It eventually leads to this exchange:
      Gow: The egg had to come from somewhere!
      Zuko: Maybe a chicken flew over.
    • He also manages to get in a few good ones at Sokka, of all people:
      Zuko: I think I'm a little past your level, Sokka. Why don't you practice with the Duke or something.
      Sokka: The Duke? But he's, like, eight years old!
      Zuko: He should be a good match for you, then.
    • Even eight-year-old Zuko gets in on the action.
      Azula: You waste all your time playing with knives. You're not even good!
      Zuko: Put an apple on your head and we'll find out how good I am!
  • Defrosting Ice King: It takes two and a half seasons, but he thaws with The Power of Friendship.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Not at first, when his purpose (capture the Avatar and regain his honor) is quite clear. As he begins to question his goals, however, this trope comes more and more into play, culminating in the first half of Season 3.
  • Determinator: He chases a flying bison on foot from the South Pole to the North Pole after three years of no leads at all.
    Sokka: If there's anything we've learned about Zuko, it's that he never gives up.
  • Deus Angst Machina: He spends his childhood being mentally tortured by his sister, gets a fireball thrown into his face by his own father and banished for speaking up in a war meeting and suggesting a tactic that could save the lives of more of his country's soldiers, and is constantly humiliated in his attempts to capture Aang to regain his family's respect. Eventually, he's even declared a fugitive for his continued failure and has to live off the land for the first time in his life. His Day in the Limelight episode features him befriending a family of farmers and taking care of the corrupt soldiers harassing them, only for them to reject him afterward because he revealed his identity in the process. Is it any wonder he takes to screaming at the sky, demanding to be hit by lightning? And it fails to happen?
  • Deuteragonist: Shares this role with Katara. Just as important as Aang's journey of living up to being the Avatar is Zuko's journey of self-discovery and rise from under his father's shadow. He gets as much screen time as the members of the Gaang and is probably the character with the most Character Development in the series:
    • Several episodes reveal Zuko's past or have him learning lessons that mirror Aang's own history and development, showing their parallel growth towards their destinies. Also, amongst all the characters, they both have the responsibility and ability to bring balance to the world.
    • Zuko's backstory is often revealed parallel to Aang's and there are several episode in the first season that show the pasts of both characters.
    • He also had an entire episode to himself, "Zuko Alone", in which no other main cast member was present, something no other character can attest to.
  • Didn't Think This Through: He's extremely prone to this and it's lampshaded by Iroh with a And Then What? moment. He gets better over the course of the show, though.
  • Discard and Draw: After his Heel–Face Turn, Zuko temporarily loses his ability to bend because he has let go of the anger and hate that used to power his fire. Learning the original form of firebending from the Dragons, where fire is powered by drive and energy, allows him to regain his bending in a much stronger and stable form, to the point where he becomes a match for his Child Prodigy sister.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Was subjected to this by his father in his youth, as he had spoken out against untrained soldiers being used as fodder against a superior Earth Kingdom force during a war meeting. Taking it as a show of disrespect, he challenged Zuko to a duel and led him to believe it was the officer Zuko spoke out against that he'd be facing. Zuko refused to fight his own father and for this was permanently scarred and then banished, leading to his obsessive hunt of the Avatar. Upon his Heel–Face Turn, Zuko would call out his father on his cruel actions before joining the Avatar.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Because of his pride and how much he had to struggle, he hates being pitied.
  • Dork Knight: He genuinely is good-looking and a true badass, and he's skilled at fighting, giving orders, and anything that doesn't involve social interaction. But sit down and have a conversation with the guy and you'll discover his adorable side pretty quickly.
    Toph: Because I once had a long conversation with the guy, and all he would talk about was you.
    Zuko: Really?
    Toph: Yeah. And it was kind of annoying.
    Zuko: Oh. Sorry.
  • Double Consciousness: Zuko constantly feels like this. It is amplified when he discovers he is the great-grandson of both Fire Lord Sozin and Roku, the Avatar's previous incarnation.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Turns out he's this while training Aang in firebending. He's not as brutal as Toph (at least not from what was shown), but he's still pretty tough.
  • Duality Motif: Zuko's scar covers almost the entire left side of his face, incidentally making one eye look smaller than the other. Additionally, he's one of the few characters in the series to have two fighting styles: firebending, and using Dao Swords - aka Dual Wielding. His internal struggle is heavily emphasized.
  • Dual Wielding: He's quite skilled with double broadswords. And there are those twin fire daggers that he battles Azula with, both in the show and the in the comics.
  • Dueling Scar: His burn scar isn't quite the iconic version, but as a facial scar received in a duel fought in a militaristic culture, it's a pretty clear reference.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Bringing back his mother was his true happy ending. Becoming Fire Lord felt like a hollow victory by comparison.
  • Easily Forgiven: Averted with the Gaang, especially Katara, but exaggerated with Iroh, who will always forgive him. Zuko lampshades this.
    Zuko: Uncle, I know you must have mixed feelings about seeing me. But I want you to know, I am so, so sorry Uncle. (starts crying) I'm so sorry and ashamed of what I did. I don't know how I can ever make it up to you, but I'll-
    (Iroh cuts Zuko off by pulling him in for a hug.)
    Zuko: How can you forgive me so easily? I thought you would be furious with me!
    Iroh: (also crying) I was never angry with you. I was sad, because I was afraid you had lost your way.
    Zuko: I did lose my way.
    Iroh: But you found it again. And you did it by yourself. And I'm so happy you found your way here.
    (They both smile and embrace each other once again.)
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: During the first season, where he has chalk-white skin coupled with a black ponytail. It later evens out slightly; sometimes his hair is dark brown instead of straight black, and he adopts a very slight tan that takes the edge off the eerie. That said, cutting off the ponytail and growing his hair out properly probably also helped.
  • Emo Teen: Qualifies, but with good reason. Evens out a little bit later on, attempting jokes and the like.
  • Enlightenment Superpowers: It's not as spectacular as most other examples, but an important part of Zuko's development is that his firebending was initially powered by negative emotions, such as anger, pride, jealousy, fear, aggression, hatred, and ambition. Once he makes his Heel–Face Turn, he casts those emotions aside, detaches himself from worldly desires, and instead seeks to rebuild relationships and make amends for his mistakes. This causes him to temporarily lose his bending ability, but his humility and newfound inner peace allows him to finally learn the original form of firebending, which is about life, energy, and drive, and he becomes far more powerful than before. Contrast this with Azula, who clings on to accolades, power, and her ability to control people, all of which are either stripped away from her or revealed to be mere illusions, and she ultimately can no longer match Zuko's bending, despite having defeated him many times before.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the first episode, Zuko storms into Southern Water Tribe only hours after Aang has emerged from the iceberg and offers to leave everyone else alone if Aang gives himself up - keeping his promise even after Aang escapes. This quickly establishes that Zuko's determination to capture the Avatar and aggressive demeanour is tempered by a genuine sense of honour and aversion to harming bystanders. (Something we learn is not true of his father and sister).
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Zuko's mother Ursa was the only person in the family other than his uncle who cared about him, and her lingering influence plays a key role in his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: In an early episode, Zuko chooses to save his uncle at the cost of capturing the Avatar.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Probably not surprising considering those standards led him to change sides but from day one it's clear Zuko has a fairly rigid moral code. He has many opportunities to blackmail or otherwise manipulate Aang into doing what he wants, but never does:
    • In the first episode, he promises Aang he'll leave the Southern Water Tribe alone if he surrenders. Aang does and Zuko sails away from the village. Even after Aang escapes with the help of Sokka and Katara, who are members of the Water Tribe, Zuko doesn't return to harm the village like one of his crew suggests.
    • When he burned Kyoshi Island he swore he would leave if Aang did, and kept his word. A few episodes later he has Katara tied to a tree, which could have become very sketchy, but all he did was angrily demand to know where Aang was, with few actual threats.
    • Ambitious as he is, he spoke out against intentionally sending lines of inexperienced troops to die simply to wear down the enemy's defenses for their more experienced forces.
    • He has no problem stealing to get what he wants, but he won't rob a pregnant couple. He's also shown to be genuinely protective of children.
    • He'll fight his Ax-Crazy sister to tooth and nail, matching her hit for hit, but he'll never outright kill her.
    • When his father decides to burn the Earth Kingdom to oblivion during Sozin's Comet, enough was enough; He wanted to speak out against this awful plan, but he remembered what happened the first time he did so. Sure enough, he took it a step further and performed a Heel–Face Turn the next day.
  • Evil Nephew: Subverted and deconstructed as part of his Character Development. Although Zuko sometimes yells at his uncle and treats him like dirt, he cares deeply about him, as he is the one person who never gave him up after his banishment and the father figure he truly needed. Case in point, he passed up a chancee on following Aang to rescue Iroh when he was captured by earthbenders, which says a lot considering capturing theAvatar was his sole reason of living back then. He's clearly distraught to have betrayed him in the Season 2's finale, and sees it as My Greatest Failure. After the day of the black sun, he is determinate to go on the right path and ask for his uncle's forgiveness while trying to help the Avatar stop the Hundred Year War.
  • The Evil Prince: He plays at this for a while, but winds up becoming one hell of a subversion by the latter half of Season 3.
  • Evil Virtues: Oh yeah, Zuko has these in spades. He may have been a relentless antagonist to Aang in the beginning but he was also a Noble Demon who kept his promises and has a deep love for his family, even if his family can be dysfunctional.
  • Ex-Big Bad: His arc after Book 1, both pre and post-Heel–Face Turn.
  • The Exile: He was banished for speaking out of turn at a war meeting and shaming himself in a duel with his father, and spends much of the first two seasons on a quest to earn his return back home. Becomes this again in the second half of Season 3, except this time, it's willing because his father won't let him leave alive.
  • Exposed to the Elements: During the siege of the Northern Watertribe, Zuko escapes with Aang and wanders a considerable distance through a blizzard in soaked and thin clothes before he's forced to seek shelter. Downplayed as he is repeatedly shown to be affected by the cold both during the blizzard and just after he’s swum through arctic waters in the middle of winter just to infiltrate the Northern Water Tribes' capitol.
  • Expository Hairstyle Change: Every time something significant happens to him, his hair seems to change.
  • Eye Scream: Averted; despite the burn over his left eye, Zuko has no problem using it. On the other hand, characters fighting Zuko appear to think he can't use it because they often attack Zuko's left, thinking he can't see them (observe Aang's fight in Zuko's cabin in "The Avatar Returns").
  • Facial Horror: However, that scar certainly doesn't affect him being the series' most famous Mr. Fanservice one bit.
  • Family of Choice: Season 3 has him building a much more affectionate and healthy relationship with Team Avatar than he had with abusive father and sister. By series' end Ozai is in prison, his mother is still missing, and Azula is in the nuthouse and he considers the team and his uncle to be his real family.
    • One of his story arcs in the comics is coming to terms that as screwed up as they are, they're still his family and he wants them to be whole again. Thus far, he succeeds in finding his mother, though reintegration to the Fire Nation isn't easy for her, and Azula is trying to help him become a more decisive Fire Lord though Zuko heavily disagrees on her approach to put it lightly.
  • Fanservice Pack: His Character Development and gradual transformation into a good guy also makes him more attractive.
  • Fanservice with a Smile: When he works in Iroh's tea shop.
  • The Farmer and the Viper:
    • A pretty tragic example happens at the end of Book 2. When his sister offers him a chance to return home to his father with honor and have his old title reinstated if he helps her conquer Ba Sing Se, Zuko promptly sells out Team Avatar and his uncle Iroh. Keep in mind, Aang and his friends had saved Zuko's life at least twice when they had no obligation to do so ("The Blue Spirit", "The Siege Of North"), while Iroh had been nothing but kind to him since his father disowned him, so this betrayal hurt like hell, especially because it prevented the Gaang from saving Ba Sing Se, very nearly got Aang killed, and got Iroh imprisoned. In-universe, this decision is treated as one of the worst things Zuko ever did that he needs to atone for, and one of the primary reasons why Katara can't stand him in Book 3.
    • Less infamous, though still a major Kick the Dog moment, was the ending of the second episode of Book 2, where he stole an ostrich-horse from a poor family that took him in and gave them food and shelter when his uncle was sick. Iroh, though silent, did not hide his disappointment in him.
  • The Fettered: Ask Zuko about honor and/or destiny. Then prepare yourself for the hours-long lecture and endorsement he'll have ready for you off the top of his head.
  • Fights Like a Normal: His sword skills give him a handy means of defending himself in situations where firebending might be a bad idea, as do his hand-to-hand skills and experience in knives. While acting as the Blue Spirit, as well as his time incognito in the Earth Kingdom, Zuko utilizes zero fire bending outside of one particularly tricky fight.
  • Fire Is Masculine: Zuko is a firebender and the most stereotypically masculine of the Gaang's male members, being strict, serious-minded, scar-faced, quick to anger and lacking Aang's gentleness and Sokka's sense of humor.
  • Flechette Storm: Not to the same extent as his girlfriend Mai, but Zuko manages a very accurate knife throw as the Blue Spirit. He also possesses exceptional skill in his knifeplay, dueling his prodigy sister Azula to a draw in a dagger-to-dagger battle in the Smoke and Shadow comics.
  • Foil: He serves as one in several cases...
    • To Aang. Aang is an upbeat, cheerful young boy who is essentially a natural prodigy at most kinds of bending despite his struggles with Earthbending. Zuko on the other hand is moody, brooding, and nowhere near as talented with even his own bending element. However, both boys are searching for themselves and their destiny, trying to find what that means instead of simply what they are told to do.
    • To Sokka. Like Sokka to Katara and Hadoka, he is nowhere near as talented as Azula and is equally as eager to prove himself something more to his father. Unlike Sokka though, his relationship with Azula is dysfunctional and Ozai cares nothing for him, even trying to kill him.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Melancholic to both Azula and her friends, and then Team Avatar.
  • Freudian Excuse: Getting your face scorched by your own father, along with a bunch of past abuse and a missing mother, is bound to make anyone have issues.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: In "The Beach", Zuko at one point defaults to his Dark and Troubled Past in an argument with Mai, who is not swayed by it. Even the creators' commentary notes that she already knows about his past trauma but that it can't be used as an excuse for his bad behavior.
  • Freudian Slip: Him accidentally calling Ozai the 'Fatherlord' gives a pretty neat summary of how he sees his father, and how completely screwed-up their relationship is.
  • Friend or Idol Decision: Zuko has a choice between going after the Avatar, whose capture would restore his honor, or saving his uncle Iroh who has been imprisoned by the Earth Kingdom. After much agonizing, he chooses Iroh.
  • Friend to All Children: Perhaps owing to his own horrible family life (taunted mercilessly by his sister, and verbally, emotionally, and physically abused by his father), if Zuko sees a child being threatened, he will charge in and bear down on the aggressors in question with the wrath of a mother elephant protecting her calf. This trope is on full display in "Zuko Alone," where he fights off a gang of corrupt Earth Kingdom soldiers in defense of innocent farm boy Lee and his family. By the same token, Zuko briefly instructs Lee on how to wield the broadswords that he carries with him, and lends him the dagger that Iroh had once gifted him.
    • After the 100-Year-War ended, Zuko is shown to be a wonderful big-brother figure to his half-sister, Kiyi.
  • Frontline General: Along with his Royals Who Actually Do Something status. In The Promise, Zuko is quite literally on the front lines of the Battle of Yu Dao, taking down several Earth Kingdom soldiers while effectively commanding his army.

    G-L 
  • Generation Xerox: An interesting variation to his paternal great-grandfather, Sozin. Both are Fire Lords who want to spread their help to the other nations but while Sozin was about conquest and domination, Zuko was about genuine peace and love.
  • Giftedly Bad: Zuko says that making tea is a simple task, and for most people it's true. But somehow he has failed to master the craft. Not only his uncle, who is a tea connoisseur despises his tea, but also the less refined members of Team Avatar.
  • Glory Seeker: His pursuit of the elusive Avatar is motivated by his desire to earn the respect of his father.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Zuko's entire journey started with Ozai challenging his son to a duel to teach him humility. Once Zuko learned his lesson, he turned against Ozai and began the Fire Lord's downfall.
  • Good Cannot Comprehend Evil: Zuko's bending skills never matched up to his sister, Azula's, when they were children. At the time, the Fire Nation's bending style was driven by uncontrolled emotion—rage and hate manifested into fire, something Azula was naturally better at. Once Zuko learned the true art of firebending from the dragons, he proved himself a match for Azula in every single subsequent clash.
  • Good Eyes, Evil Eyes: His eyes indicate moral ambiguity and inner conflict right from the beginning, as one is narrower than the other. Additionally, when in frame he often turns to be viewed in profile, either to display his scar or his unmarked cheek. This is a pretty explicit example of his temperament at that moment. When in the north pole with a captured and unconscious Aang he describes his father and turns to show his scar. When confronting his father the camera focuses on his good side.
  • Good Is Not Nice: After his Heel–Face Turn, Zuko has some signs of this. One big example would be enabling Katara to kill her mother's murderer, basically encouraging her hatred and violence.
  • The Good King: He eventually becomes the Fire Lord and a much more benevolent one than his father. However, this is deconstructed later on; Zuko finds out that even with him being an objectively better Fire Lord than his father, there is still resistance to his rule, resistance that may one day need to be dealt with through overt violence.
  • Good Running Evil: He eventually ends up ruler of the Fire Nation, the Evil Empire of the series, and begins reforming it to become less evil. As of Korra, it appears he succeeded.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: His most distinctive physical trait, although the story of how he got it makes him much more sympathetic.
  • Guest Fighter: Added as a skin for Susano in Smite in 2020.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: It's pretty easy to piss him off, even if you don't mention the things that hurt.
  • Happily Adopted: As of his Heel–Face Turn by Iroh, his beloved uncle who considers him to be his second son.
  • Harmful to Minors:
    • He was only thirteen when he suffered torture at his father's hands.
    • He also fought an all-out war in the Battle of Yu Dao as a sixteen-year-old, and due to the fact that he searched all the Air Temples during his hunt for the Avatar, he would've seen hundreds of corpses.
    • After the Siege of the North, he was drifting on a raft with his uncle directly after Aang had destroyed a large portion of their navy, which means that Zuko would've been floating alongside hundreds of Fire Nation corpses for weeks.
  • The Heavy: For part of Book 1, he's the main villain but the head guy is his father. Zhao gradually takes this position over the course of the season. In Season 2, he completely gives up the position to his initially far more dangerous sister, Azula.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Famously failed to make a Heel–Face Turn in Season 2, and then finally settled on the Face side in Season 3. However, he and Aang ended up at odds with each other during "The Promise", and it got out of hand. In fact, the essence of what makes a Heel–Face Turn is the core driving point of Zuko's overall character arc. To wit, he's discussed it, teased it, defied it, subverted it, and ultimately double subverted it.
  • Heel Realization: In "Nightmares and Daydreams".
    "During the meeting, I was the perfect prince. The son my father wanted. But I wasn't me."
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Played with. Aside from his bending, Zuko also developed masterful skill in swordsmanship, and he specialized in dual wielding swordplay, using a set of dao blades, skills he gained after being trained by the sword master Piandao. He does not demonstrate this until he becomes an anti hero in season 2 but he still remains antagonistic towards Team Avatar. Then, he finally makes a full Heel–Face Turn, joins Team Avatar to stop his father, and becomes Aang's official firebending teacher.
  • Heroic Ambidexterity: Zuko is trained to dual wield twin scimitars, and uses this skill to fight against benders when he wants to hide his identity and his knowledge of fire bending. When explaining what he was taught he says that when using two swords you have to treat them like "they're part of the same body" and move them in sync.
  • Hero with an F in Good: "Why am I so bad at being good!?"
  • Hidden Depths:
    • Badass, Determinator, Evil Prince -turned- The Atoner, is also a Momma's Boy and a lover of Turtleducks. In the "Ember Island Players", he gives hints that he likes theater, but just dislikes that specific group because while they have great special effects, they tend to butcher their stories. He admits to Toph that he's been doing Angst? What Angst? for some time, but the play is opening some hidden wounds.
      Toph: "Oh come on. Lighten up. They're just having fun."
      Zuko: "Fun? Of course you (Toph) like it. They made you a big buff guy! But to me... they're taking all the mistakes I made and throwing them right back in my face."
    • His Uncle has indicated numerous times Zuko is also skilled with the fictional Tsungi horn. Tie-in comics also show Zuko is very good with kids too; especially during his interactions with Kiyi, Zuko shows potential to be an outstanding father. His daughter Izumi’s brief appearance in Korra implies that he was.
    • When actually put on the spot; Zuko misquotes proverbs or messes up speaking socially. But when he relaxes and actually says what's in his heart, he's very good at empathy and surprisingly charismatic. The best example of this is in The Search where at the climax against Azula he tells her that the throne is his destiny as are the burdens that come with it. So why didn't he just take the easy way out and throw her off the cliff or destroy the letter? No matter how screwed up their relationship is, she's still his sister and he loves her. This works so well that it actually gets through to Azula and prompts a Hazy Feel Turn from her!
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: From the heroes' point of view, it's hidden until his Heel–Face Turn. Iroh and Ursa always knew it was there.
  • His Own Worst Enemy: Zuko's own self-interest and desire to attain his honor back causes more trouble for him and others.
  • His Story Repeats Itself: Happened over and over again with Zuko. Most notably was his final showdown with his father where he was about to get burned once more, but instead deflected his father's lightning. In the comics, particularly The Promise, the stress Zuko undergoes spazzes him out to the point where he makes Aang promise to end him if he ends up as bad as other Fire Lords before him. Fortunately, once he's able to relax and calm down a bit, he asks Aang to forsake the promise.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Has the power to inflict this on opponents using Lightning-redirecting, and the only one to use this ability in the manner this trope describes. Learned from Iroh, taught to Aang. In this way, he can Beat Them at Their Own Game.
  • Honor Before Reason: Zuko's gentle soul means that he, above all else, seeks to be honorable and do the right thing. However, Zuko suffers for it because he has filial piety for his jerkass of a father and blames himself for speaking out of turn during a war council and then being burned by Ozai during an Agni Kai. He goes to extreme lengths to 'regain his honor'. Indeed, chasing Aang across the world, without any regard for the consequences, including running into a snowstorm at the north pole, are all done in the name of his honor. His growth is often marked by what he decides is and isn't honorable.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: After Zuko spoke out against a plan to use new military recruits as cannon fodder, Ozai challenged him to an Agni Kai. When he refused to fight back, Ozai considered it a disgrace, torched his face and banished him on a Wild Goose Chase to hunt down the Avatar (who hadn't been seen in a century). After the Avatar showed up and Zuko still didn't capture him, Ozai sent his daughter, Azula, to capture her brother. Eventually, Zuko was welcomed back after supposedly killing the Avatar, but then did a Heel–Face Turn and spectacularly called his father out — to which Ozai responded by trying to electrocute him. During the Grand Finale, Ozai is away fighting Aang, so Azula takes up the mantle of Honor-Related Abuse and tries to electrocute him again — though she only succeeds by forcing him to take the hit for Katara, and even then he manages to redirect most of it.
  • Hot-Blooded: No pun intended but he can be reckless and hotheaded. Iroh complains that he "never thinks things through".
  • Hurting Hero: Post-Heel–Face Turn he deals with a lot of angst while helping the Avatar save the world.
  • Hypocritical Humor: When he first meets Aang, he expresses disbelief that the Avatar is a child. Aang retorts that Zuko is just a teenager. Zuko doesn't react well to this. Also, he's very sensitive to remarks about his temper and is seen aggressively denying them on several occasions.
  • I Am Not Left-Handed: When it seems he's lost to his opponent in "Zuko Alone". Then he starts Firebending. Works both ways. Unlike most benders, he is still very dangerous without bending due to his mastery of dual-wielding dao swords and being very adept at stealth and infiltration (it's getting out undetected that he has problems with). Most other benders don't bother to learn anything besides hand-to-hand fighting that comes with learning bending.
  • I Am Not My Father: In Season 3. He even says this word for word in "The Promise".
  • I Am X, Son of Y: "My name is Zuko, son of Ursa and Fire Lord Ozai, Prince of the Fire Nation and heir to the throne."
  • Ice-Cream Koan: A running gag after his Heel–Face Turn has him trying to come up with the kind of advice to himself that his uncle would, but finding himself stringing together poetic-sounding phrases that don't have any actual comprehensible point.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Said word for word about what happened in Ba Sing Se.
  • I Gave My Word: One of the first hints given that Zuko is not a clear-cut villain is in the second episode, where he agrees to leave Sokka and Katara's village alone if Aang surrenders, and keeps his word.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: In The Search the letter from his mother implying that he is not Ozai's biological son initially comes as a relief to Zuko, who has grown weary of the burdens that come with being the Fire Lord.
  • Important Haircut: When declared a traitor to the Fire Nation at the beginning of Season 2 he cuts off his topknot.
  • Inadequate Inheritor: Only for being an essentially decent person and not a sadistic monster.
  • In a Single Bound: Zuko's pulled this trope several times throughout the series. He's been seen clearing ridiculous distances and demonstrated himself capable of leaping through the sky on the backs of Fire Nation war ships — the Avatar franchise's version of blimps. Even from a standstill, he seems to be able to travel a good ten feet in one leap — while his trajectory is upwards.
  • Ineffectual Loner: In Book 2 when he eventually splits off from his uncle, but achieves very little during his tenure working alone.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: There are only two significant evil deeds that he does throughout the entire show despite being the first villain: burn Kyoshi island and betray his uncle to help Azula take over Ba Sing Se. And even the burning of Kyoshi island wasn't directly his fault; while he does throw fire, it's never at any of the buildings. The fires were caused by his men, not him, and only after the Kyoshi warriors attacked them.
  • Inferiority Superiority Complex: Zuko behaves very arrogantly early on, though his arrogance dissipates as he starts to go through his prolonged Heel–Face Turn. He's rude to his uncle, berates his crew, and frequently loses his temper over small things. It becomes clear later that this attitude is merely Zuko trying to behave as the son his father wants, and a defensive result of the pressures and frustrations this desire causes. Zuko is actually a sensitive and compassionate kid, but who sees himself as inferior due to these perceived "weaknesses", especially next to his prodigious, ruthless sister Azula. Furthermore, his compassion and sensitivity was what got him in trouble in the first place (after speaking against a general for planning to new recruits as basically cannon fodder. He ends up fighting his dad and getting his telltale scar). After joining the Avatar's group, he comes to realize these are his strengths, not his weaknesses.
  • Insult Backfire:
    Firelord Ozai: Your uncle has gotten to you, hasn't he?
    Zuko: (beat) Yes, he has.
  • In the Back: Commander Zhao attempts to hit Zuko in the back when they fight a duel early in Season 1 (Zuko having just won). Unfortunately for Zhao, Iroh is right there and knocks him on his back, berating Zhao for his lack of honor.
  • In the Blood: Zuko, revealed by Iroh in Season 3, has inherited his paternal great-grandfather Sozin's "evil" and his maternal great-grandfather Roku's "good".
  • In the Hood: Dons a hooded cloak when he returns to the Fire Nation, which helps hide his appearance during his private trips out.
  • In Touch with His Feminine Side: When he's not brooding and angsting, Zuko fits this. He was a very sensitive child who was close to his mother. As a teenager, he does things like take his girlfriend to watch the sunset and cry openly while reconciling with his uncle. He is also unusually flexible for a male and a lover of turtle ducks.
  • Irisless Eye Mask Of Mystery: Zuko's alter ego of the Blue Spirit wears a mask of the completely black variety. His mask presumably has black glass covering its eyeholes, since they appear black even when fully illuminated. This, of course, helps hide his Secret Identity, since major characters tend to be very good at seeing through disguises in this universe.
  • It's All About Me: Zuko after his banishment was obsessed with capturing the Avatar to restore his honor, so much so that he helps Aang escape from Zhao even though he's an enemy of the Fire Nation. Zhao himself (who is also incredibly self-centered) calls Zuko out on putting himself before his nation; hypocritical, but Jerkass Has a Point. The sad thing is that Zuko genuinely cared about the Fire Nation before his banishment and that love for his people (and probably a wish to prove his worth to his father) is what got him into trouble in the first place. Even sadder is that Zuko still cares genuinely about the Fire Nation after being banished, in the sense that he did not wish Fire Lord Azula on them.
  • It's Personal with the Dragon:
    • In Season 1, he and Zhao are The Heavy ensemble, with the latter serving as The Dragon for Fire Lord Ozai for the season. Since Zuko is still loyal to his father to some extent, he will not fight him, but Zhao is fair game as the two compete for bragging rights to capture the Avatar. Things get personal on Zuko's end when Zhao attempts to assassinate him just before the Siege of the North and when he encounters Zhao when the admiral flees, he is determined to kill him.
    • Season 2 and 3: He and Azula, who takes over dragon duties after Zhao's demise, have this relationship as well. Zuko and Iroh hide in the Earth Kingdom specifically to escape Azula, he is taught lightningbending and lightning redirection to counteract Azula, and when Ozai challenges Zuko to attack him on the Day of Black Sun when Zuko makes his Heel–Face Turn, Zuko refuses, telling him that it is not his destiny to defeat his father, it is Aang's. Finally during the finale, Zuko faces off against Azula for the title of Fire Lord.
  • Jack-of-All-Stats: Zuko takes this trope Up to Eleven. He's as quick and dexterous as Aang (without airbending), but not faster; he can't plan on the fly as quickly as Sokka, but is the best at improvising; he's as agile and acrobatic as Suki and Aang, but not more so; his firebending naturally lacks the offensive/defensive versatility and dynamics of Katara's waterbending, but he's shown using his firebending far more creatively than any other firebender in the show; he's not the most powerful in the bender in the group, but he's one of the best benders in the world by the end of the series; he can't compare to Toph's seismic senses, but his hearing and eyesight are unusually good; and he's highly capable in hand-to-hand martial arts, but not more so than Suki. Overall, he doesn't have a definitive edge at anything in the Avatar's group, save for swordplay, knifeplay, and sheer physical strength, but he seems to tie for number one or two at everything. He also has no major weaknesses, unlike the the other Gaang members. He doesn't have Toph's blindness and can easily take care of airborne enemies, he doesn't need to rely on his bending or a steady supply of his element to be effective like Katara, he's got hand-to-hand skills and bending unlike Sokka and Suki, and he's a disciplined, focused fighter, unlike Aang.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • When training with his uncle, Zuko demanded that Iroh teach him more advanced Fire-bending skills. While Iroh made a point Zuko wasn't ready, Zuko pointed out that if he is to fight the Avatar, he would need to learn more advanced techniques to win, and although neigther knew at the time the Avatar was a 12 year old boy, Zuko was accurate about needing more skills to stand a chance.
    • While heading for Ba Sing Se, Zuko angrily slaps away his Uncle's Tea he bought but because he used Fire-bending to heat it up cause it was cold. Considering the two are supposed to be hiding who they really are, Zuko was right to call out his uncle for doing such a stupid thing. Especially that Iroh's decision to use Fire-bending resulted in Jet learning who they really were.
    • When he was reunited with Katara in Ba Sing Se, she treats him coldly calling him a terrible person and being just like his father, to the point Zuko breaks from his silence and calls her out for not knowing what she's talking about, a reasonable point since Katara really doesn't even know anything about Zuko.
    • When the Gaang wanted to have fun on the beach despite Sozin's comet days away, Zuko attacked Aang to "teach him a lesson". While everyone was angry demanding Zuko explained himself, Zuko lashed out at them demanding what's wrong with them correctly reminding them Sozin's comet is 3 days away and how relaxed they are despite how serious the situation is. He drives it further revealing his father's plan to commit mass genocide in the Earth Kingdom. Upon hearing this, the whole Gaang lambasts Zuko for not telling them about it in advance, only for Zuko to coldly rebuke them by saying that he didn't think there was any need to as they never told him they were planning to wait after the Comet's passing, which the rest can only sheepishly agree with.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: He's Hot-Blooded and can still be quite rude, but Zuko is a good hearted person. At the start of the series, Zuko was rude, violent, selfish, short-tempered and entitled, and wasn't above emotional blackmail or being a Bad Boss. He still cared a lot for his uncle, however, and if push came to shove also prioritized his crew's safety over his chasing of the Avatar, while also occasionally showing mercy and restraint that earned him the mockery of Admiral Zhao. He gradually grows out of this, culminating in a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: A case where Zuko 'chooses this path rather than let it come to him after he betrays Katara in Ba Sing Se, which allows Azula to kill Aang and take over the city. He knows in season three that he could just let Ozai burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground, pay the assassin more to kill Aang, and humor Azula's manipulative tendencies. Instead, Zuko defects, leaves a "Dear John" Letter for Mai, and goes to offer his firebending services to teach the Avatar. For obvious reasons, the Gaang thinks that it's another trick and they bring up all the terrible things he did in his venture to capture Aang, and Katara smacks him in the face with a water whip. Zuko then works really hard to earn everyone's trust and gets accepted as a team member; in doing so, he gets trapped in a temple by the Sun Warriors, imprisoned by Mai's uncle as punishment for breaking her heart, and faces a murderous Azula twice to save his new friends.
  • Kick the Dog: Often when he was in danger of becoming too nice, at least until his formal Heel–Face Turn in Book 3.
  • King Incognito: Season 2 where he pretended to be a non-bending wanderer.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: He becomes this after his Heel–Face Turn. While he's on the side of good now, he's still as grumpy as ever and firmly believes that Aang's silly ideas about pacifism should remain in air temple preschool where they belong.
  • The Lancer: When he becomes part of Team Avatar he is the grumpy, snarly Shoot the Dog advocate towards Aang's cheerful Take a Third Option.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: A really big one with Azula and Katara. When Azula tempts him with a pardon if he helps her conquer Ba Sing Se, he saves her from Katara in "The Crossroads of Destiny" shortly after having a bonding moment with the latter. Katara holds this against Zuko for a long time, even when he realizes what a terrible mistake he made, and tells him she's never trusting him again after he betrayed her and caused the city to fall. Even though Zuko earns her forgiveness by helping avenge her mother, he refuses to let Katara get struck by Azula's lightning and takes a strike for her during the series' climactic Agni Kai. Katara reluctantly gets her rematch against Azula, and defeats her soundly. Zuko doesn't get healed until Katara chains up Azula, making him the winner by default.
  • The Leader: He often does this with his own troops since he is a prince after all but he also takes over as the leader of the Gaang in the finale when Aang disappears and Katara becomes his second-in-command.
  • Leitmotif: The Blue Spirit theme, a low, haunting tsungi horn accompanied by a sneaky, fast-paced dinging.
  • Le Parkour: Downplayed for Suki to get her moment in "The Boiling Rock" but otherwise played completely straight. Both as himself and as the Blue Spirit, Zuko has repeatedly shown incredible agility and a wide variety of acrobatics—including cartwheels, which is ironic considering that he was shown to dislike cartwheels as a young child. On top of this, he's shown himself to be very fleet on his feet, even once chasing Aang down on foot.
  • Licked by the Dog: The Sky Bison in this case.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: With all his flaws, he is shown to be much more honorable and dignified than Zhao, more empathic than his sister Azula, and of course overall better than his cruel and abusive father, Fire Lord Ozai.
  • Lightning Bruiser: In both the physical sense and the bending sense. As a physical opponent, Zuko is the strongest character in the show, ties for the fastest with Aang, Azula, and Ty Lee, and is durable to the point of being Made of Iron. As a bending opponent, Zuko can create massive explosions, blasts, comets, tunnels, and vortexes of fire, again ties for fastest with Aang and Azula, and, unlike most firebenders, has several solid defenses that make him more durable than most.
  • Light Feminine Dark Feminine: Zuko forms a Gender Inverted example with Aang, being the dark feminine (brooding, short-tempered, moody) to Aang's light feminine (peaceful, gentle, open with his emotions).
  • Like a Son to Me: Iroh explicitly told Zuko in Book 1 that after the death of Lu Ten, he always considered Zuko to be a son.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Zuko has often been compared to his father, from his appearance (minus the scar) to his hot temper to even his status as The Unfavorite. One of Iroh's greatest fears is that Zuko would become another Ozai if his worst traits are left unchecked.
  • Like Father, Unlike Son: His character arc is learning to accept that he cannot be like his father and should not emulate him in the first place.
  • Living Lie Detector: Not to Toph's extent; but having lived with his sister who can't go two sentences without a half-truth, he knows when he's being bullshitted and doesn't like it. One such example is in "The Boiling Rock, part 1" in which he knew right out the gate that Sokka was planning something, so he waited on Appa to catch him in the act.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: He is the banished prince of the Fire Nation, but you can literally count the people who genuinely care for him on one hand (Iroh, Mai and Ursa). Eventually subverted when he makes his Heel–Face Turn, after which he becomes part of Aang's True Companions...and even turns Azula's own Girl Posse.
  • Loner-Turned-Friend: To the Team Avatar. It would be accurate to say this is the first time he's had friends his own age.
  • Loony Friends Improve Your Personality: For fifty-two straight episodes (out of sixty-one) of the series, Zuko is a moody jerk. Being forced into a "life-changing field-trip" with Manic Pixie Dream Boy Aang calms and brightens him enough to interact with people without shouting over the course of a single episode. There's Fridge Brilliance here. Firebenders in Zuko's time were taught to fuel their bending through negative emotions. Even with not wanting to rely on hate and rage anymore, Zuko had been trained his entire life that being grouchy = better fire. So while Aang definitely had a positive influence, it might be a mix of this and the fact that Zuko suddenly didn't need to be mean to fuel his martial arts.
  • Love Redeems:
    • Averted with Mai. He leaves her before switching to the good side and the two don't reconcile their relationship until after the final battle. Instead it was familial love for Iroh, whom he acknowledges as his true father figure and role model, that redeems him. The shame he feels for betraying his uncle's trust is part of what compels him to make his Heel–Face Turn. He also influenced Mai to follow suit and betray Azula.
    • In the follow up comics, he tries this with Azula. It partially works. Azula leaves the current fight and returns later in Smoke and Shadow much more composed, has some of her sanity back as a result, and desires to see herself as an adviser to her brother. However...said advice is to become much more of a tyrannical fire lord like she wanted to be. Plus, half of her expressions are still indicating to the audience that she's one bad word or day again from snapping like a twig. Regardless, Zuko tries to amend with Azula in the hope that they can be a loving brother and sister.
  • Loved I Not Honor More: Mai's pissed that he ran off in the middle of the night to "fulfill his destiny".
  • Love Martyr: He's blindly devoted to his Evil Overlord father who burned his face, banished him on a wild goose chase, and sent his sister to either capture or kill him. Until the second half of Book Three, where after his Heel–Face Turn, he is the biggest advocate to Aang killing his father.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: He's Avatar Roku's great-grandson.
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    M-R 
  • Made of Iron: Oh yeah. You can knock Zuko down. Keeping him down is another story entirely. Before and during the Siege of the North, Zuko not only survives several things in succession that would kill most people, including things implied to be lethal to firebenders in particular, he comes through still able to take on Admiral Zhao in a fight. And immediately after, he survives drifting three weeks on a raft across the ocean. Combine this with his Determinator attitude...well, as much as Azula mocks him, there's a reason she tried to hit him with lightning when she couldn't trick him into being imprisoned.
  • Magic Knight: He's about equally good (as in, nigh-unequaled at sixteen) with firebending and swordsmanship, in a world where benders generally are too arrogant to bother with secondary fighting styles.
  • Mark of Shame:
    • That burn scar over his eye is a reminder of his banishment. Katara recognizes this in the Season 2 finale. It later becomes more like a mark of pride, though; a signifier of his willingness to do the right thing.
    • His hairstyle in Season 1 is a lesser one; supplementary material reveals that Firebenders who lose an Agni Kai will shave their head as a mark of humility and dishonor.
  • The Masochism Tango: Has this type of relationship with Mai. They love each other but constantly fight, do not understand each other, have different morals and are always breaking up only to get back together again. Mai tells Kei Lo about how miserable Zuko makes her feel and she later says it to Zuko's face about how much of an idiot she was to date him.
  • Meaningful Name: Zuko's name is written in Chinese characters which read as "ancestor's robber". It may or may not be intentional, but Zuko is an actual name in a Filipino dialect. Its meaning? "Madness" or "Angry." And he spends a lot of time angry in the show...
  • Momma's Boy: He and his mother Ursa adored each other. Asking what happened to her is his second-to-last line in the original series.
  • Mood-Swinger: He can go from calm to incredibly loud and angry in an instant.
  • Mr. Fanservice: The infamous shirtless Agni Kai in the third episode. Lampshaded in the beach episode with a flock of birds. Further Lampshaded by posse of fangirls ogling his shirtless state.
  • Muggle–Mage Romance: In a relationship with non-bender Mai.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: He starts off with the literal take on this trope. Eventually he comes to embrace the "if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right" interpretation when he makes his Heel–Face Turn.
    Zuko: Mai, I never wanted to hurt you. But I have to do this to save my country.
    Mai: Save it? You're betraying your country!
    Zuko: That's not how I see it.
  • My Greatest Failure: Originally, he believed it to be disrespecting his father and being banished. Eventually, he realizes that it was betraying Iroh in Ba Sing Se. With Iroh, he gets a My Greatest Second Chance .
  • My God, What Have I Done?:
    • He goes through an extended one after betraying his uncle, while at the same time trying to rationalize it.
    • Likewise, he humbly apologizes to the Gaang for his List of Transgressions, all the while having admitted to a frog that he wouldn't believe in his redemption either. While before he would knock Sokka to the ground for trying to fight him, he just tells him to quit poking him to make him angry enough to Firebend, since he's trying to show that he's no longer Hot-Blooded. Katara for a few episodes afterward keeps reminding him that he betrayed her in Ba Sing Se and she's watching him to make sure he doesn't backslide. Zuko has a stunned expression when she brings this up in "The Southern Raiders" and decides to make up for it by helping find her mother's killer.
  • My Greatest Second Chance: Katara holds a grudge against him for betraying her in Ba Sing Se, by interfering in her fight against Azula. Zuko is forced to admit that she has a point and works to earn her trust back. When Azula aims lightning against her in the Series Finale, he releases a Big "NO!" and refuses to let Katara (or anyone else for that matter) get hurt by his sister again, taking the blow.
  • Mythical Motifs: Zuko had an animal motif in the theme of dragons, creatures associated with fire. However, his motifs were of two dragons, one blue and one red, representing the dual aspect of his nature. in Legend of Korra he lives up to his great-grandfather's image by having a dragon as a pet-slash-mode-of-transportation.
  • Nephewism: Zuko was essentially raised by his uncle Iroh, as his father is the abusive Big Bad and his mother is mysteriously gone. Iroh took Zuko under his wing when a) his own son died in the war and b) Zuko's mom disappeared, having been banished long before the series started. Eventually, Zuko considers Iroh to be more like a father to him.
  • New Old Flame: Zuko and Mai are a textbook "skip all the boring foreplay and get right to the intensity." Contrast with the heroic Official Couple, who were in the foreplay stage for fifty episodes. In this case, we see a flashback of them as Childhood Friends before the reunion.
  • Nice Guy: Post-Character Development. Zuko in the comics (especially The Search onward) and The Legend of Korra comes off as a warm, understanding, and rather even-tempered person capable of owning up to his own mistakes.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Zigzagged. Was originally this as a child when he speaks up to protect a division of innocent soldiers from being sacrificed. His resulting banishment broke the habit and he's unpleasant and domineering with his crew, but gets better thanks to his Uncle's guidance and experiences as a refugee. In Season 3 he's kind to his servants (in contrast to his father and sister) and they genuinely enjoy serving him.
  • Ninja: His Blue Spirit alter ego invokes traditional ninja aspects and imagery—he's dressed in all black, doesn't make a sound, absurdly graceful and light on his feet, and relies entirely on hand-to-hand, knives, and swords to incapacitate enemies. Even outside of that, he's displayed masterful infiltration and intel-gathering tactics worthy of an actual ninja, from dressing in colors appropriate to the environment, to using disguises and gathering information, and his ability to rework plans on the fly.
  • No Brows: A half example, as his left eye does not have a brow due to a burn inflicted by his father Ozai.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Could be renamed "The Zuko" if we're being honest. Is it any wonder he struggles so much with knowing the difference between right and wrong when every altruistic thing he did in the first sixteen years of his life ends with him embarrassed, harmed, and/or belittled for weakness?
    • "Zuko Alone" and "The Storm" are the most notable. For the former, he saves a town from bandits but the townspeople demand he leave immediately for being a firebender. For the latter, he saves his crew but the Avatar escapes.
    • "The Storm" reveals in a flashback that a younger Zuko spoke out against sending inexperienced troops to be killed in battle to wear down Ba Sing Se's defenses... which led to getting his face horrifically burned and banished by his father.
  • No Sense of Humor: He has one, he's just horrible at using it due to his social ineptitude.
  • No Social Skills: He was raised in a royal court and had little experience with casual interaction.
    • His date with Jin is a good example of this.
    Jin: So, what do you do for fun?
    Zuko (deadpan): Nothing.
    • This exchange with Sokka is also priceless.
    Sokka: Fine. You caught me. I'm gonna rescue my dad. You happy now?
    Zuko (deadpan): I'm never happy.
  • Noble Demon: Character Development for him in Season 1. He goes from burning down the Kyoshi Warriors' village in his pursuit of Aang to abandoning a later pursuit to keep his soldiers safe. Even right from the start, he threatens the South Pole villagers to get information on the Avatar but when Aang promises to come quietly if he leaves the Water tribe alone, Zuko agrees (and keeps his word).
  • No Place for Me There: Zuko since his Heel–Face Turn believes that it his destiny to teach the Avatar and join him in defeating his father, and that it's up to people like Aang or Iroh to build a better tomorrow. He feels that with his many mistakes, he has no place in the new future. However, Iroh challenges that notion, telling Zuko he does have a place in that better future, as his struggles have made him stronger and have allowed him to choose his own path.
  • Not Afraid of You Anymore: After spending two seasons trying to redeem his honor, Zuko finally learns that his father has always been an abusive, manipulative bastard who needs to be taken down, and begins his true redemption by standing up against the Fire Lord instead of seeking his approval.
  • Not Helping Your Case: While trying to convince the Gaang that he's changed, he accidentally lets it slip that he was the one who sent the Combustion Man after them in the first place, which, only cements their decision not to let him join. He wins some good faith by helping them fight him off later on.
  • Not Quite Flight: By way of his fire jets, Zuko can propel himself continually over long distances. He first displays this ability in the finale when he launches himself over one of his sister's attacks, and later on in the comics when he saves both himself and Earth King Kuei from falling off a cliff.
  • Number Two: Once the Gaang trusts him, he takes on his role to Sokka and even steps up to lead the search for Aang when he goes missing.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: The Gaang recall all of his misdeeds when he finally switches sides and tries to join them the first time. Hence, they don't trust him. Katara for several episodes after treats Zuko coldly for betraying her in Ba Sing Se, never letting him live it down. She only forgives him when he helps find her mother's killer.
  • The One Guy: When hanging out with Mai, Azula, and Ty Lee.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Since the Avatar is his only shot at restoring his honor, he's not about to let anyone else take him in.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Zuko is hellbent on capturing the Avatar to restore his former position in the Fire Nation, but unlike his Chessmaster sister, Azula, he never has a concrete plan in place for how he's going to accomplish it. He spends most of his time tracking Aang, winging it as he goes, teaming up with anyone from pirates to bounty hunters so long as it gives him an opportunity to capture Aang. Iroh eventually called him out on this, pointing out how many times Zuko's nearly died because he never thinks through what he should do after achieving his immediate goal.
  • Opposites Attract: He and Mai somehow manage to be this and Birds of a Feather. Despite their apparent similarities, their temperaments are completely opposite: Zuko is a Hot-Blooded Determinator, whereas Mai is an emotionless Defrosting Ice Queen.
  • Overlord Jr.: He tried to be this at first, but grew tired of pleasing his father who doesn't care about his own family.
  • Overshadowed by Awesome:
    • By average standards, Zuko is a damn good Firebender, best shown during his two duels with Zhao. The problem is, he's usually not being stacked up against the average Firebender, but the rest of his family; considering Ozai, Iroh, & Azula are all prodigious talents and, in all likelihood, the three best Firebenders in the world, Zuko falls short in spite of his dedication.
    • That his main opponent is the Avatar also makes Zuko's prowess seem lesser in comparison.
    • After joining the Gaang, Zuko is still the only bender on the team not considered a prodigy in his field. He later receives some training from dragons that close the skill gap.
  • Parent Service: It should be noted that Zuko is the oldest of the main cast and has numerous shirtless scenes throughout the series that showed off his muscular build.
  • Patriotic Fervor: One of Zuko's defining characteristics was love for his nation. Everything Zuko did, even during his own banishment, he felt was for the good of the Fire Nation, and he just couldn't bear the thought of losing his own country. But Zuko later realizes the Fire Nation he loved brought fear and hatred to other lands, and he's shaken by it. Of course, he later realizes that's all because it's led by the wrong people, and upon being crowned Fire Lord, he will spend years healing the broken nation into the one he so loved.
  • Perpetual Frowner: "I'm never happy." Though it is averted around Mai, and after he joins Team Avatar.
  • Pet the Dog: He has countless examples, fitting his status as a sympathetic Anti-Villain prior to his Heel–Face Turn.
  • Playing with Fire: He is a Firebender.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: During the first season, Zuko's go to dialogue with Sokka and Katara are classist insults and then in exile in the Earth Kingdom is spent living in squalor, earning him some Humble Pie and character development.
  • Power Limiter: Initially, Zuko's Firebending skills are hampered because he was taught the corrupted form of the art that focused on aggression and anger. Once he learns the true form that focuses on passion and energy, he improves considerably and winds up on even footing with Azula.
  • Pretty Boy: In a flashback at age thirteen. He'd still be this if not for the scar.
  • Prince Charmless: Princely moody and grouchy. He grows out of this after the first season when he starts treating servants and ordinary citizens better.
  • Princeling Rivalry: He is the older brother and an Anti-Hero who has to fight Azula, his younger sister and a villain through and through, for the throne of the Fire Nation.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Considering how Zuko was technically also protagonist, it is kinda played straight up to Book 3, Chapter 1, but inverted in the second half of Book 3, where he swings to a more anti-heroic standpoint.
  • Psychosomatic Superpower Outage: After his Heel–Face Turn, Zuko loses his firebending powers for a while, since he no longer feels the anger that fueled them.
  • Psychotic Smirk: In "The Boiling Rock", he gives one of his own after unbolting the cooler. Looking kinda Light Yagami there, Zuko. Though oddly this is the only time he makes one and it's after he does a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: After becoming the Fire Lord. In "The Promise" he acknowledges that he will try his hardest to be this, but cannot always guarantee he will be so.
  • Redemption Demotion: Lampshaded in "The Firebending Masters" when he notices his Firebending has weakened almost to nothing.
    "I bet it's because I changed sides."
  • Redemption Promotion: Once he discovers the true form of fire bending, which is more positive instead of hatred based, he becomes stronger than ever.
  • Redemption Rejection: In the Season 2 finale, Zuko shares a heart to heart with Katara and Iroh implores him to choose good, but faced with an offer by Azula of finally reclaiming his lost honor and status, Zuko sides with his sister and works with her to defeat Aang.
  • Redemption Quest: Zuko, trying to earn his father's approval travels the world trying as punishment. It's Inverted in that he's trying to prove himself evil. The second half of Season 3 is his true redemption quest. He goes on to save the world from his ruthless father, regain the trust of his former enemies up until he takes the throne.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • The emotional, easily angered Red Oni to his sister's calculating, eerily calm Blue Oni, though it's reversed after her Villainous Breakdown. This is enforced by the colors of the Flames they produce; Zuko's flames are red/orange, while Azula's are blue.
    • The hot-tempered, loud Red Oni to Aang's positive, peace-loving Blue Oni, which is visualized through their facial markings (red scar vs. blue tattoos)
  • Red Right Hand: Zuko's scar is a straight version at first, but then gets completely inverted when it's revealed just how he got that scar; from then on, it seems to be more of a symbol of the potential for goodness that's still in him.
  • Reformed, but Not Tamed: After joining Team Avatar he is still a grouchy Anti-Hero which is similar to how he was in Season 2. The difference is that now he believes his father has to be stopped.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: For a few episodes with Katara because she remembers what happened the last time he tried to reform.
  • Relationship Revolving Door: His relationship with Mai is complicated and...unstable to say the least. They break up at least twice in the series and once again in the comics.
  • Replacement Goldfish: A very downplayed and benign example. Iroh began acting as Zuko's Parental Substitute after he lost his own son, Lu Ten, but Iroh loves Zuko for who he is and never tries to mold him in Lu Ten's image.
  • The Resenter: Played with. He claims not to care that Aang and Azula were, as he puts it, "born lucky," taking pride in the fact that he's had to fight and struggle to survive, but he was highly jealous of his sister's natural skill as a child and only broaches the subject to deride Aang. In The Search he is also jealous of the close relationship Sokka and Katara have, a far cry from the frequently-borderline-murderous relationship he has with Azula.
  • Reverse Grip: Occasionally creates fire-daggers in this fashion. He's also seen holding his swords this way sometimes.
  • Right Makes Might: He is a firm believer in this trope, unlike his father, who believes the opposite. He even discusses this with regards to how the earthbenders will never give up against the Fire Nation as long as they have hope.
  • Royal Brat: Has some strong elements of this (mainly he sense of entitlement, which earned him a male version of Well, Excuse Me, Princess!, and his sense of pride) in Season 1 and the start of Season 2, which is ironic considering he's The Exile. Character Development lessens it.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Enforced upon him by Ozai but he already eager to learn how to be one of these. Even after becoming Fire Lord, Zuko personally leads his army and stands on the battlefield alongside them, in contrast to his father, who only left the safety of the Fire Nation when Sozin's Comet arrived and made him nigh-invincible. He continues this trend throughout his life, dealing with his problems himself and never refusing to put himself in the same danger he would command others to walk into.

    S-Y 
  • Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training: He's an epic fighter and leader, but he has No Social Skills because he wasn't raised in an environment conducive to casual interaction.
  • Samurai Ponytail: The Fire Nation seems to use the hairstyle just as the trope indicates with the style being indicative of his status, even in exile. He cuts it when betrayed by Azula at the beginning of the second season.
  • Sanity Slippage:
    • Gets a prolonged one in the first installment of comics, and it's pretty major. The first few pages reveal that Zuko was suffering from paranoia and insomnia, to the point of imagining noises and getting out of bed to demand of the guards if there was anyone there every few minutes. When the guards reassure him that it was nothing, one guard trails off with ,"Just like there wasn't anyone there the last time, or the time before that, or the time before that...", indicating that this had been going on for a while. It also prompts Zuko—compassionate Zuko, who helped save the world—to grab him by his collar and scream in his face about how "There have already been five attempts on my life!" Later on, when he defeats the would-be assassin Kori, he's prepared to kill her on the spot if she doesn't "Convince me (Zuko) to not take your (her) life!" After that, when he visits Yu Dao, the mayor makes the mistake of comparing him to his father. In response, Zuko pins him to the wall, holds a fire dagger to his throat, and snarls "I'm not my father!" This is moments after he marched into the city and threatened to have it burned to the ground because of Kori's assassination attempt. And it only gets worse from there. After seeing the mayor's opinion on the Yu Dao situation, Zuko becomes so conflicted and desperate to make the right decision that he decides to consult his father, the genocidal warlord, on how to be a good Fire Lord. Predictably, Ozai is in a manipulative mood, and further confuses Zuko, to the point of driving him to fighting a battle for Yu Dao against the Earth Kingdom. Thankfully, though, after the battle is over and Zuko collapses from exhaustion, the Sanity Slippage is resolved through support from friends and uncle. That didn't stop many fans from noting how similar his behavior was to his sister's before her Villainous Breakdown, though.
    • Zuko is visibly unwell throughout the duration of The Promise, with a dark circle under his one good eye and increasingly apparent cheekbones, which implies that he also wasn't eating. And while it's not so apparent with his Fire Lord robes on, in nightclothes, his frame is visibly skinnier than it was in the series.
    • The Sanity Slippage is taken Up to Eleven when Zuko mentions to Aang that "...all I can hear is his (Ozai's) voice..." And they're not in Ozai's cell when he says this. Also, that one part where he was talking to Iroh's portrait was... interesting.
    • Zuko's one suicide attempt—that is, yelling at Aang to fulfill his promise of killing him and baring his chest to him—is also worth mentioning.
  • Save the Villain:
    • Of a sort. Saved by Team Avatar in season 1 from freezing to death and by Aang from getting captured.
    • Zuko himself pulls this when he attempts to save Zhao from the Ocean Spirit in the Book One Finale. Zhao, however, is too prideful to take Zuko's help and lets the Spirit take him.
    • The final Agni Kai; though it comes at the cost of breaking his sister's sanity, ultimately got her off the throne and away from leading a life of paranoia and tyranny that would've likely ended with a dagger in her back.
    • In the comics, he keeps trying to do this with Azula, out of a desire to help repair a family bond between them.
  • Scars Are Forever: Lampshaded in the series when he refuses Katara's offer to remove it. It can't be removed.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Lampshaded later, as when Aang goes missing, everyone looks to him. As Sokka points out, Zuko has the greatest experience chasing Aang from the South Pole to the North Pole.
  • Secret Identity: The Blue Spirit.
  • Shock and Awe: Can't generate lightning as of yet (to do so requires a serene and balanced heart, which Zuko doesn't have), but can redirect it.
  • Sick Episode: After releasing Appa from captivity in Ba Sing Se, he's so conflicted about his decisions and morality that he collapses and is bedridden for an entire episode. He spends the time having vivid nightmares.
  • Signature Move: A Firebending + spin kick combo; he first uses it in his Agni Kai with Zhao, and later uses it against the Kyoshi Warriors, Gow's gang of soldiers, and in his last Agni Kai with Azula.
  • Sixth Ranger: To Team Avatar; joined in Season 3.
  • Sliding Scale of Beauty: Jin, Mai, and the fangirls in the Beach Episode don't seem to mind his giant burn scar and lack of social skills, and he can summon Disturbed Doves by removing his shirt.
  • The Smart Guy: Not to the same extent as Sokka, but he has more instances of this than other characters in the show due to the fact that he relied solely on himself and his wits for the majority of the show instead of a team effort like Aang, Katara, and Toph.
    • Additionally, given that he's the only person in the Gaang to have actually grown up in the Fire Nation and he joins the team in a season where they are largely in or adjacent to it consistently, he is able to provide a fair amount of context on the nation's history and plot quick courses of action that help the rest of the team through their personal ordeals. His knowledge of the Sun Warriors is what leads him and Aang to seek out the civilizations' ruins and ultimately learn from the dragons, him telling Sokka about the Boiling Rock results in them locating and rescuing Hakoda and Suki, and him knowing about the Southern Raiders is what allowed Katara to quickly track down her mother's killer.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Zuko never appears stupid, per se, but when compared to his sister Azula (the most brilliant character in the show), it's not really a contest between the two. That, combined with his obsession to please his father, can occasionally lead to rash and impulsive actions that are, well, stupid. However, far more often than not, Zuko displays keen intelligence, strategy, perception, and creativity, especially once he gets over his obsession and joins the Gaang.
    • For example, there are exchanges like these throughout the series:
    Pirate Captain: Shouldn't we stop to search the woods?
    Zuko: We don't need to stop. They stole a waterbending scroll, right?
    Pirate Captain: Mm-hm.
    Zuko: Then they'll be on the water.

    Zuko: Uncle! Uncle, where are you?
    Fire Nation soldier: Sir, maybe he thought you left without him.
    Zuko: Something's not right here. (He studies the hot spring Iroh was in, which is covered in rocks that point upwards) That pile of rocks.
    Fire Nation Soldier: It looks like there's been a landslide, sir.
    Zuko: Land doesn't slide uphill. Those rocks didn't move naturally. My uncle's been captured by earthbenders!
    • There was also the episode where he outsmarted the sunstone, managed to find Appa in a day (which the Gaang hadn't found in weeks of looking) just by catching a piece of fur and finding a Dai Li agent, using his ship's damage as a smokescreen, figuring out who killed Katara's mother just by listening to Sokka's description of a flag... the list goes on.
    • Even Sokka, the strategist of the group, praises his ability to improvise. Twice.
    Sokka (to Zuko, after he broke the lever to the gondola and almost missed the jump): What are you doing?
    Zuko: I'm making it so they can't follow us.
    Sokka: Way to think ahead!

    Sokka: He's crafty, but we'll find a way to capture him.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Complete with rain and yelling at the sky.
  • Snipe Hunt: No one actually expected Zuko to capture the Avatar when he got exiled. This did not stop him from giving it his all.
  • The Social Darwinist: Of the Struggler variety, if his monologue at the north pole is to be believed. He gradually mellows out of this mindset once he frees Appa and much later runs off to join the Gaang.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: After his Heel–Face Turn, he becomes this, best seen when rehearsing his introduction/apology to the Gaang and when he recites an Orphaned Punchline of one of Iroh's old jokes to them.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Trying to get struck by lightning was an attempt to learn to bend lightning, or at the very least, redirect it so it doesn't hurt him. Zuko knows that the universe hates him, so he tries to manipulate his bad luck and purposely get struck by lightning. This doesn't work, of course.
  • Sour Outside, Sad Inside: He is short-tempered, arrogant, demanding and selfish (though with enough Pet the Dog moments to make it clear he's not all bad), and even after his eventual Heel–Face Turn, he is noticeably more brooding and serious than the others. He is also deeply hurt inside, and once his backstory is revealed in full, it's very easy to see why.
  • Speech Impediment: He has a distinct lisp that's less pronounced as the series progresses, but never really goes away. Dante Basco likes to think it's a result growing up with social anxiety.
    "It's like a thilver thandwich!"
  • The Starscream: In a way, Zuko is this to his father. He was the go-guy for his father in Season 3, especially during a war meeting before the eclipse. However, he realizes how wrong his father has been, and decides to help the Avatar overthrow him.
  • Starter Villain: He was the first main antagonist from the Fire Nation that Aang, Katara, and Sokka had to confront.
  • Stern Teacher: Becomes this to Aang at the time to learning him Firebending. He is a very strict and demanding but at the end comprensive and caring.
  • Stock Shōnen Rival: Zuko is all but one in name. His characterization and character development resembles that of the archetype's (specifically of the Privileged Rival type), however he is not officially Aang's rival. He starts out as a standard stronger, more pessimistic foil to the inexperienced, cheerful protagonist and undergoes a Heel–Face Turn later on. Zuko also has the common black hair and fire powers.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: Returning home to the Fire Nation in the beginning of Season 3 was everything he (thought he) hoped for and yet he was still angry.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: According to Bryke, Ozai's supposed to be an evil un-scarred version of Zuko. Which is lampshaded when the girls mistake a baby picture of Zuko, and it turns out to be Ozai's.
  • Successful Sibling Syndrome: He is the firstborn son of the Fire Nation Royal Family, but only had his mother's favor. Their father, the Fire Lord Ozai, gave favor to the younger firebending prodigy, Azula. Zuko's empathy was disdained while Azula's cruelty and ruthlessness were rewarded. In the end, though, Zuko ends up the successful one, and Azula ends up mentally damaged when her world falls down around her.
  • Super Breeding Program: Zuko is the largely successful product of one. According to The Search, his grandfather Azulon paired Ursa with Ozai in order to combine Sozin's bloodline with Avatar Roku's bloodline. It results in Zuko eventually being one of the most powerful benders in the franchise and the only human firebender capable of creating dragon fire.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: Like the other members of the Fire Nation royal family, he has gold eyes, indicating his superior firebending abilities.
  • Super Strength: Zuko (and Iroh) display this throughout the series, something nobody else does without specifically bending. Throughout the series, Zuko is shown to be able to:
    • Shatter iron chains with his swords without harming the blades at all.
    • Shatter small boulders thrown by Earthbenders with his swords, again with no damage to the swords.
    • Kick a boulder out of the air so hard its momentum right-angles. Said boulder was being used as a giant hammer by an Earthbender. Also, said boulder was much larger than Zuko himself. He then follows it up by shattering a metal chain with an axe kick.
    • Snap a cable car's steel control lever with a kick. While wearing thin prison slippers.
    • Keep up with Aang while going up a sheer cliff. Aang flew. Zuko climbed.
  • Super Not-Drowning Skills: Word of God states that Zuko can hold his breath for an unusual amount of time—which is exemplified in "The Siege of the North: Part 1", when he swims upstream through the canals of the North Pole for an extended amount of time—without drowning, of course.
  • Super Reflexes: Zuko has several instances of this throughout the show, with his most famous showing probably in "The Desert"—he chops an arrow out of midair, while his back is turned.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: There is a noticeable difference between Zuko's physique in Book 1 and the time of "The Beach" in Book 3. Whereas in the former, he's as buff as would be expected from someone who works out day and night, while in the later, he's clearly lost some of that muscle, as a result of spending several months as a refugee.
  • Survival Mantra: At certain points in his life when he's feeling particularly low, he reminds himself that "Azula always lies."
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Word of God says in the Series Finale commentary that Zuko and Katara have only pity for Azula upon her defeat, not joy or satisfaction.
  • Taking the Bullet: During his Agi Kai with Azula, his sister fires lightning at Katara. Zuko then jumps in front of Katara and takes the lightning himself, though thankfully, Katara returns the favor by healing him.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Though only taller than his peers, adults tower over him. Dark and Handsome parts always apply, just ask Mai.l
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Tallest teenager in the series with raven hair and a cynical attitude.
  • Tame His Anger: True firebending, that is, the original stuff learned from dragons, is not about anger. It's about life and the warmth of the sun that brings life. Zuko incorporates this into his style to become kinder and stronger.
  • Team Dad: He acts this way towards Team Avatar and it provides an interesting contrast to Katara's Team Mom style of parenting. Zuko would rather give others the ability to solve the problems themselves rather than nagging at them. The two become the Designated Parents for the group and this is especially apparent in the comics. Zuko has a fondness for children - he refers to Aang affectionately as "kid", teaches a young Earth Kingdom boy how to wield a sword and is very protective of Kiyi (who turns out to be his half-sister).
  • Tears of Remorse: When he finally reunites with his uncle after treating him like crap and betraying him. He feels awful about it, and tearfully apologizes, swearing that he'll make it up to Iroh. Iroh hugs him before he finishes talking.
  • Technician vs. Performer: Zigzagged, as Zuko is ostensibly the "Technician" to Aang and Azula's "Performer"... but he started as a performer. As Iroh points out during their training sessions in Book 1, Zuko's techniques are showy and overly aggressive, which both leave him unbalanced and quickly tire him out. Lacking Aang's power as The Avatar and Azula's insane prodigious strength, he learns to make up the difference by fighting smarter, not harder. He eventually learns techniques that bring him on equal footing with his sister, and eventually surpasses her through his dedication to training (and her own fraying mental state).
  • Technicolor Fire: Although he for a long time lacked his sister's unique blue flames, Zuko eventually learns to create Dragon Fire.
  • Teen Genius: He doubles as this and Child Prodigy in terms of his swordsmanship. He also later becomes this with his firebending; after finding a power source that worked better for him than raw emotion, he becomes a definitive firebending master and becomes his prodigy sister Azula's equal within the space of two episodes. His leadership skills also qualify. At the age of sixteen, Zuko was a competent public speaker, military commander, and strategist. The fact that he ruled his nation successfully too implies skill in court manners, politics, and economic management and dealings.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: After regaining his position as Firelord's heir Zuko struggled with this after witnessing the Earth Kingdom's citizens suffering and trying to come to terms with betraying his uncle. At the end he chosen to be good. Even as Firelord Zuko struggles with this from time to time, especially with dealing with the Fire Nation Colonists in the comic book The Promise or issuing martial law against the Capital Citizens to stop kidnappings in Smoke and Shadow.
  • Took a Level in Badass:
    • He gradually improves throughout the series, but he makes dramatic improvements in season 3. It's then he learns to redirect the most powerful of lightning, holds his own against his sister, casually raise a huge fire tunnel that engulfs an entire hallway, and most importantly, firebends without relying on rage.
    • He takes more in the comics that continue the original series. This is particularly true in Smoke and Shadows, when it's revealed that Zuko can use dragon fire. He replicates the dragons' massive fire vortex and easily blocks half a dozen fireblasts with a whirlwind of flames that had rainbow colors within them. Judging by the reaction of the attackers, they didn't believe it was possible for one firebender to block so many others at once.
  • Took a Level in Cheerfulness: By the series finale, Zuko's angst and ill-tempered nature have evened out a little, even if he's still the most cynical and grumpy member of Team Avatar.
  • Took a Level in Cynic: As shown in the flashbacks of "The Storm", Zuko was rather enthusiastic about having his say in the argument over whether the Fire Nation soldiers should sacrifice themselves or not. The earning of his scar and his banishment along with Iroh turned him into a bitter, grumpy Byronic Hero. However, later on in the series…
  • Took a Level in Idealism: He realizes that the ideology he was taught as a child was just a lie and dedicates his life to creating a new era of peace and kindness.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: After his Heel–Face Turn, he drops much of his grouchiness, and helps out the Gang and others.
  • Tough Love: Zuko is so deadset on having Aang kill his father that when he catches Aang playing instead of training, he proceeds to attack him in order to get him to train.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: This is what ultimately caused his banishment, though Disproportionate Retribution is at play. Iroh took him to a war meeting after Zuko begged to be included but warned him to not speak out of turn because Iroh knows what kind of man Ozai is. Then Zuko hears how a general wants to use Fire Nation recruits for cannon fodder; rather than nudge Iroh to respond to form an appropriate argument, he yells at the man. Ozai used this violation of etiquette as an excuse to challenge Zuko to an Agni Kai, scar his face when Zuko refused to fight, and banish him. Zigzagged when Zuko later calls out Ozai for this, saying it was wrong and cruel to challenge his own son. He also says that Ozai banishing him actually did Zuko a favor because it opened his son's eyes to how the Fire Nation is a bastion of imperialism and entitlement.
  • Tragic Hero: Zuko also spends most of Season 2 and late Season 1 struggling with integrity and sense of right and wrong - until he succeeds in getting his honor back, discovers that he really didn't want it after all, and sets out to join the Gaang.
  • Trauma Conga Line:
    • Zuko's father was the quintessential Abusive Parent, and was downright brutal with Zuko by way of both physical and verbal abuse. According to Ozai himself, he wanted his son abandoned at birth because Zuko didn't have "that spark in his eye" that supposedly denoted a firebender. Fast forward a few years and Ozai is openly telling this to a six-year-old Zuko's face, along with the infamous "lucky to be born line". He also says this:

    Ozai (to Ursa): Every time I speak harshly to him... every time I wound him...
    • A few years later, Ozai was fully prepared and willing to murder his eight-year-old son in his sleep as a way to compensate for a mistake he made. Again, Zuko's death was only prevented by his mother's intervention - and this time, Ursa was banished as a result, leaving Zuko alone with his father. Five years after this, Zuko is brutally scarred by his father and exiled to find the century-missing, all-powerful Avatar. He eventually returns home, only to leave again - but not before his father mocks him and tries to shoot him full of lightning, marking the third time Ozai attempted Offing the Offspring.
    • Zuko's sister Azula was also vicious to him, even as a young child. The comics show her burning him in retaliation for tattling, and the show itself reveals that she regularly mocked and taunted him at every opportunity. She seemed to find it amusing when she found out that their father was going to kill Zuko and teased him about that too, and visibly found pleasure in watching Zuko be punished, in pain, or fail. This trend continued when they were older - she tried to kill him several times, shamelessly manipulated him, and is the only character in the show to have mocked his scar.
    • In a non-family sense, the finale ends with him taking lightning bolt in the chest and barely surviving. The next day he has to start ruling his country, which thought him a traitor the day before, and just got out of a century-long war. The stress gets him so crazy that his best friend nearly murders him.
  • Troubled, but Cute: His tragic past (see above entry) and broodiness only add to his allure (at least for the fangirls).
  • Troubled Teen: Zuko is the straightest example by this show's standards; he was emotionally and physically abused by his own father, which has left him with tons of angst and mixed feelings towards his father as well as himself. Several episodes indicate before he had his self-actualization in the third season that he was going through serious emotional turbulence.
  • Tsundere: He acts broody and abrasive, but his interactions with Mai and Team Avatar show his softer side.
  • Tsurime Eyes: He has narrow, upwards arching eyes.
  • Two-Faced: Because of his father, during an Agni Kai. It's also a theme with his character, and the camera focuses both sides of his face separately when he's about to make a critical decision. Is the pristine, beautiful side the 'good' side, or is it a reminder of his position as the Fire Prince, and therefore 'evil'? Is the hideous, destroyed side a mark of evil, or is it a testament of his nobility and kind-hearted nature?
  • Undying Loyalty: This is Zuko's greatest weakness and greatest strength. Loyalty kept Zuko on the side of his father and sister long after he stopped seeing things their way, but when he finally made up his mind to join Aang, he took a lot of punishment from them without complaint to win their trust, and he protected them over and over. In the sequel, Zuko abdicated the throne, naming his daughter Fire Lord, so that he could travel the world after Aang's death, to keep their dream alive while the Avatar could not.
  • The Unfavorite: To his father, and grandfather at least. Zuko once remarked that they consider him "lucky to be born". His sister, by contrast, is said to be "born lucky".
  • The Unfettered: So much so that even Azula calls him ruthless in the "Smoke and Shadow" comic trilogy. When the children of the Fire Nation begin being kidnapped by masked terrorists, Zuko's response is to have his soldiers search and seize his people's homes and arrest any suspicious (and most likely innocent) citizens. It's so brutal that it causes mob violence—and Zuko has his soldiers put down any rebellion with military force. He even helps them out at one point.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Though not quite malicious. In "Zuko Alone", he says Azula always lies after she told him his father is going to kill him. In "The Day of Black Sun, Part 2", Ozai reveals to him that Azulon really ordered him to kill his son as punishment for mocking the death of Lu Ten.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: In the first part of the series he mostly relies on his anger to fuel his strength but is also capable of using the simple basics his uncle taught him to use more skill in his battles but seeing as his temper get the best of him he makes sloppy movements and is uses more brute force rather than skill.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: The abuse and loss Zuko suffered was already making him eligible for this trope, but the day his father burned and exiled him was when he really became this....Even his Heel–Face Turn did nothing to reverse this.
  • Villain Ball Magnet: Season 2 through the first half of Season 3. Whenever he tries to do something good, it goes horribly wrong and paints him as a villain once again. Case in point: accidentally burning Toph's feet when she was the only member of the Gaang to trust him.
    Zuko: Why am I so bad at being good?!
  • Villain Forgot to Level Grind: Averted prior to his Heel–Face Turn. One of the many interesting things about Zuko as bad guy was that he was growing stronger and learning more about his art as the same time as The Hero. Every time Zuko and Aang clashed, Zuko did better in his fights, adapted better to Aang's style, and in general he was shown constantly training and trying to push himself to reach higher levels.
  • Villainous Valor: In Season 1, it's made abundantly clear that the odds are very much against him, but he never falters in his pursuit of Aang. It's lampshaded by Sokka, who says if they know one thing about Zuko it's that he never gives up.
  • Villain Protagonist: Sort of. How evil he is at the start of the series is debatable, but he is still considered an enemy to Aang for most of the series, and it is mostly out of selfish interest (as sympathetic as he may be). Despite this, he is more often than not given a sympathetic POV and has entire subplots dedicated to him and his pursuits- often having to take down his own antagonists outside of the Gaang.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Even back when he was still an enemy to Team Avatar, we would get quite a few scenes of him and his uncle just doing mundane every day stuff, including shopping.
  • Vocal Evolution: Zuko's lisp becomes less pronounced as the series goes on.
  • Warrior Prince: Prince of the Fire Nation and very skilled in combat.
  • Warrior Therapist: Plays The Lancer to Sokka and Katara when they need to sort out their problems (after Aang does the same to him) but the brand of therapy he gives to Katara skirted the line of a Poisonous Friend (albeit unintentionally). Mocked when Toph points out that everyone else got to go on a life-changing field trip with Zuko, grabs his arm, and proceeds to take him for a walk-and-talk... and he tells her that they need to focus on finding Aang.
  • Weak, but Skilled: While Zuko is a decent bender, he is trapped in the shadow of the rest of his family, and is almost always matched up against benders of prodigious skill, making him look much worse in comparison. He compensates for this by training constantly, being the biggest Determinator in the series, as well as practicing swordsmanship, resulting in him performing exceptionally well against opponents more naturally skilled than he is. While considered weak and worthless by his father with bending, without bending Ozai doubted he had any chance of beating him in a fight. The weak part goes away entirely after he trains with the dragons and becomes one of the most powerful benders in the world. Zuko also compensates for his lack of direct firebending mastery by combining skills learned from other tribes such as lightning redirection and counter-attack style earth bending philosophies and strokes. Zuko usually fights with the basics, but he's got so many ways to cover for his deficiencies later in the franchise that they're all he needs.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Earning his father's approval is his driving force. Later on it's his uncle's.
  • Well, Excuse Me, Princess!: Something of a male version of this trope in regards to Mai. She doesn't put up with his brooding and temperamental nature, instead encouraging him to lighten up.
  • What Would X Do?: When trying to find a way to prove Team Avatar that he has genuinely changed sides, he imitates his uncle, and for the sake of argument, his sister.
  • What You Are in the Dark: A rare variation; By "Nightmares and Daydreams", he has everything he could possibly want; he's a Prince again, honored by his father, all the wealth he can imagine, servants to tend to his every need, and even a mutually loving relationship with his childhood sweetheart. Then he learns his father's Final Solution to continued rebellion in the Earth Kingdoms; to use Sozin's Comet and a fleet of airships to incinerate everyone and everything on the continent. He is thus driven to his Heel–Face Turn - even knowing the Gaang is very unlikely to accept his help, he's giving up everything just for the possibility of stopping that from happening.
  • When He Smiles: The poor guy is frowning so often (and for good reason), the few times he gives a genuine smile are really heartwarming.
  • White Man's Burden: Raised to believe that the Hundred Year War was the way the Fire Nation could share its unparalleled greatness with the rest of the world, Zuko eventually rejects this line of thinking as a lie. Later on in "The Promise" trilogy, after he becomes Fire Lord, he has mixed feelings on the concept. While the war itself was bad and all the more recent colonies should be removed, Zuko defends the continued existence of the older colonies, arguing that in spite of their shabby treatment of the native populace the two are too intermingled to separate anymore. He justifies this in terms reminiscent of the White Man's Burden; even if the Fire Nation citizens make up the upper end of the social ladder, everyone's standard of living is still better than before. Aang eventually concedes that, even if social changes are still in order, Zuko was for the most part right.
  • White Sheep: Zuko is a downright saint when one takes his grandfather, his sister and his father in comparison. He shares the White Sheep factor with his uncle and his mother.
  • The Worf Effect: Zuko is a solid firebender, but he tends to only fight opponents who are masters of their field, and so while he can defeat an opponent like Zhao, he almost never wins against the likes of Aang or Azula.
  • Worf Had the Flu: Word of God has stated that he was impeded during his fight with Katara during the Siege Of the North by the fatigue and exposure from infiltrating the Water Tribe fortress. Had he been in good shape he would have won much more decisively. This is directly in line with his Didn't Think This Through personality, he fails to realize that borderline hypothermia and exhaustion are not good conditions to have in the middle of an enemy fortress.
  • Worthy Opponent: He sees himself as The Only One Allowed to Defeat You towards Aang, even going as far as to free him when he's in Zhao's captivity.
  • Would Hit a Girl: He's not fond of it, but Zuko is willing to fight women if the situation calls for it. Before he joined Team Avatar, he dueled Katara twice, and afterward his personal foe is usually his little sister Azula, resident firebending prodigy and psychopath. In future comics, he hates fighting his sister because he's tired of having to fight her and wants to rebuild an actual familial bond with her. Regardless, nobody thinks ill of him for having to do so considering the ladies of the Avatar universe can kick some serious ass themselves.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Zuko's under the impression that he's a Warrior Prince on a Redemption Quest for disrespecting his lord and father. It's not until he hears said lord and father decide to wipe out a continent that he realizes that he's the Noble Demon destined to make a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: Zuko constantly runs into this just as he thinks he's about to accomplish his goals. He captures the Avatar in the Northern Water Tribe, and has no way of getting the boy off the ice field. He helps his sister take down the Avatar, but feels empty even when he was able to go home. He turns on his father and moves to rescue his uncle from captivity so he can apologize for the betrayal at Ba Sing Se, but Iroh has already escaped before they can reunite. He finally finds purpose, friends, and balance, and reconciles with his uncle, but is told that his true destiny is more than just to help the Avatar overthrow the Firelord, it's to become Firelord himself by defeating his sister once and for all.

    Tropes that apply to him in The Legend of Korra 
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"The Avatar must be protected."

During his reign as Fire Lord, Zuko worked with Avatar Aang to transform the former Fire Nation colony regions in the Earth Kingdom into the United Republic. He shared the Fire Nation's advanced technology with the rest of the world. Zuko stepped down from the throne three years ago at age 84, and his daughter Izumi is now Fire Lord, while his grandson Iroh is general of the United Forces. He also has a granddaughter who’s never been seen or named. She was in the original outline of Book 4 but got cut out of a lack of time. He is currently a wandering ambassador for peace and balance. He is honored in Republic City with a large statue in front of Central City Station.


  • Abdicate the Throne: What he did three years prior to the start of the series due to his age, allowing his daughter to take over as Fire Lord.
  • Adult Fear: Because of what Zaheer did to the Earth Queen, he resolves that he must return to the Fire Nation and keep his reigning daughter safe before they get to her and she suffers the same fate.
  • All There in the Manual: His dragon's name is Druk.
  • Ambadassador: Since his retirement as Fire Lord, he now travels the world acting as an unofficial Fire Nation ambassador. He is also a liaison to the White Lotus, and still a very capable fighter.
  • Babies Ever After: Had a a daughter in between the Time Skip.
  • Badass Beard: In his later years, he adopted a pointy, Iroh-like beard.
  • Breaking the Cycle of Bad Parenting: Considering all the emotional baggage Ozai left him with, it would make sense that he would put in a lot of effort to make sure that he didn't repeat his father's mistakes. It definitely shows: Izumi is by far the most well-adjusted of all of the original Team Avatar's children.
  • Captain Obvious: When relating the story of how he once hired a combustion bender to kill the Avatar, he comments that it didn't work.
  • Dragon Rider: He has a red dragon for transportation. Unlike the serpent-shaped ones Roku and Sozin rode, Zuko's dragon looks more like a western dragon, with a shorter, bulkier body.
  • Dual Wielding: If his picture is anything to go by, he still wielded his dual swords later in life. In the present, he doesn't carry any weapons.
  • Glass Cannon: While undoubtedly still a badass, it's pretty clear he's become this in his old age, the same way that Toph implies that she and Katara have. While he did last longer than Desna and Eska in the group fight against the Red Lotus (no small feat considering the two are exceptionally talented waterbenders and it was night time in the North Pole, where P'Li, a powerful firebender, couldn't even light a spark until Druk blasted her), he was downed in one blow by Ghazan.
  • Good Parents: Unlike his father, he's implied to have a much better relationship with his daughter, and to raise her as a better-adjusted individual.
  • Hereditary Hairstyle: The San Diego Comic Con "Old Friends" poster shows that adult Zuko elected to grow out his hair to match that of the Fire Lords before him. Perhaps to prevent himself looking too much like Ozai, however, he forgoes the beard (at least until his later years).
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: According to Iroh, he and Aang went from a "rocky relationship" to life-long friends. Zuko knew Aang better than anyone, including Aang's own wife, Katara.
  • Intergenerational Friendship:
    • Even though he didn't meet Korra for long, they became friends very quickly note .
    • He is also this with Tonraq, as they've known each other for quite a while.
  • Irony:
    • Achieved his Great-Grandfather Sozin's goal of sharing Fire Nation progress and prosperity with the rest of the world, but he did it peacefully, as it should have been done all along. Also, like his father, he surrendered the title of Fire Lord to his daughter, but again did it the right way and for the right reasons.
    • The first of the United Republic cities would be the Fire Nation colonies Sozin set up over a century ago, and what prompted the animosity between the Fire Lord and Avatar. Zuko and Aang would be the ones who turned Sozin's mistake into one of the biggest revolutionary developments in the Avatar world.
    • As a young man, he dedicated himself to hunting the Avatar. In his old age he's similarly dedicated himself to protecting the Avatar.
    • As he himself notes when going to check on P'Li, she's a firebender with a mental combustion ability who tried to kill the Avatar. He himself hired a man with a similar ability to try and kill Aang.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: He, along with Tonraq, Sokka and Tenzin, defeated Zaheer and his group when they tried to kidnap a then four-year old Korra. What makes it even better is that he and Sokka would have been well into their seventies at the time.
  • Older and Wiser: In his old age, Zuko displays a more calm and wise demeanour, as well as a strong sense of protecting his family and the Avatar.
  • Older Than They Look: While he doesn't look young, Zuko seems to be doing quite well for someone in their 90s, travelling the world alone and unassisted (except for his dragon), while firebending and doing acrobatics just as well as in his youth. He could easily pass for being a few decades younger. Considering Sozin lived to be 102, longevity probably runs in his family.
  • Old Master: Like Katara, he is a prominent member of the Order of the White Lotus. He was in his early seventies he when saved Korra from the Red Lotus when she was a little girl. While Katara trained and mentored Korra, Zuko oversaw their continued imprisonment.
  • Our Founder: There is a statue of him casting a flame in front of Central City Station.
  • Out of Focus: Makes his long-awaited return in Season 3, but all things considered he doesn't actually do much aside from try (and fail) to stop Zaheer from rescuing his cohorts and subsequently warning Korra (and her allies) about said escape. Probably justified, though, considering his age.
  • Papa Wolf: He was planning to return to the Fire Nation to protect his daughter when he learns of Zaheer's plan to kill all the world leaders.
  • Passing the Torch: He gave the throne to his daughter, making him the first known Fire Lord to have abdicated voluntarily (Ozai gave the title to his daughter while claiming a superior title, making the "Lord" powerless). Compare with his predecessors: Sozin died of old age after starting the Hundred-Year War and killing all but one of the Airbenders, Azulon was murdered by Ozai under Ursa's suggestion to protect Zuko from his wrath, Azula’s mental health rapidly deteriorated after losing the only people she considered friends and was hauled off to an insane asylum after her defeat while Ozai was Depowered by Aang when he tried to burn the Earth Kingdom using the power of Sozin's Comet.
  • Redeeming Replacement: As Fire Lord, Zuko worked to repair the violence perpetrated by his forefathers and remake his country and the world at large into more peaceful places.
  • Refusal of the Second Call: He's living out a peaceful retirement in the Fire Nation and only shows up to help the Krew when the Red Lotus escapes.
  • Scars Are Forever: Zuko's the official TVTropes poster boy for it for a reason. His scar is still visible well into his 90s.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Despite otherwise being Older and Wiser, it appears Zuko never outgrew this, as seen during his conversation with Tonraq, Eska, and Desna note .
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Now in his later years, Zuko looks quite a bit like both of his Great-Grandfathers, Avatar Roku and Fire Lord Sozin. note 
  • This Cannot Be!: Says this when he learns that Zaheer has become an airbender.
  • Walking the Earth: Zuko ceded his position to his daughter and spends his time traveling the world, acting as an unofficial Fire Nation ambassador and helping people out. He's 91.
  • Worf Had the Flu: He is beaten by Ghazan to hype up the latter's earthbending prowess, but they fight at midnight in the middle of a blizzard, where firebending would logically be at its absolute weakest, and that's not taking into account Zuko's age. Even with Ghazan similarly limited by the supply of rocks he trucked in, Zuko was fighting with an extreme handicap.
    • Worth noting that in the same situation, P'li couldn't firebend at all until Druk tried to spray her with flames and she was able to get warm enough to. P'li was much younger, much more used to the cold due to her imprisonment, and allegedly one of the most dangerous firebenders in the world.
  • World's Strongest Man: Much like the rest of the surviving members of the original Team Avatar, he's still far and away one of the greatest benders alive and still holds his own in a fight, it's just that nothing can make up for the fact that he's almost a century old and that does hold him back... if other factors also work against him. It's noted just above that despite hypothetically being in a situation where he shouldn't even be able to firebend, he still does.

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