It takes place in an East Asian-influenced Constructed World divided into nations based around the elements of water, earth, fire, and air. Some people from each nation, called "benders", have the ability to control the element on which their nation is based.
One person, the Avatar, has the ability to bend all four elements, and is reincarnated into each of the nations upon his or her death in an endless cycle. The main character of each work is this Avatar, and he or she must undergo the trials, tribulations and responsibility of holding that power.
Works in the original canon
- Avatar: The Last Airbender (20052008) - The first entry in the franchise, which centers on an Avatar named Aang as he attempts to prevent the Fire Nation from conquering the world.
- The Legend of Korra (20122014) - A Sequel Series that takes place seventy years after Avatar and focuses on the next Avatar, a hotheaded waterbender named Korra, who has to live up to her responsibilities as the Avatar in a world that is vastly different than it was in Aang's time.
- Untitled Avatar animated film (release date TBA)
- The Lost Scrolls (20062007)
- The Earth Kingdom Chronicles (20072008)
- Sozin's Comet: The Final Battle (2008) - Novelization of the four-part series finale
- Ready-to-Read Series (2008) - Two of the books are based on TV episodes; the third (Love Potion #8) is a non-canon original story
- Legacy (2015) - Aang's testimonial to his son, Tenzin
- Legacy of the Fire Nation (2020) - Uncle Iroh's memoir, left to Zuko
- Chronicles of the Avatar:
- Revolution (2013) - Novelization of the first half of The Legend of Korra Book One.
- Endgame (2013) - Novelization of the second half of The Legend of Korra Book One.
- An Avatar's Chronicle (2019) - A scrapbook covering Korra's experiences throughout her early time as the Avatar, to serve as a guide for her successor.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender comics:
- The Lost Adventures (2011) - A digest graphic novel which includes the out of print Expanded Universe strips first published in Nick Magazine and DVDs of Avatar: The Last Airbender. All but two ("New Recruits" and "Gym Time") are considered canon by Word of God.
- The Promise (2012) - A trilogy that picks up immediately after the end of the series, and deals with Zuko's struggles after the war.
- Rebound (2013)
- The Search (2013) - The fate of Princess Ursa is revealed, tying up one of the biggest loose threads of the original series.
- Shells (2014)
- The Rift (2014) - Aang receives visions of Avatar Yangchen (the previous Air Nomad avatar), and deals with the celebration of an Air Nomad holiday held in her honour.
- Sisters (2015)
- Smoke and Shadow (20152016) - Zuko deals with a rebel faction of Fire Nation citizens calling themselves the "New Ozai Society."
- North and South (20162017) - Katara and Sokka return home for the first time after the war, and finds out that some things have changed.
- Imbalance (20182019) - The characters deal with technological progress in a small town, and its effect on benders and non-benders alike.
- Team Avatar Tales (2019) - An anthology that collects Rebound, Shells, and Sisters, in addition to new, original stories.
- Katara and the Pirate's Silver (2020)
- Toph Beifong's Metalbending Academy (2021)
- Suki, Alone (2021)
- Matcha Makers (2021)
- The Legend of Korra comics:
- Friends for Life (2016)
- Turf Wars (20172018) - A trilogy that focuses on Korra and Asami's relationship and the repercussions of the series finale.
- Lost Pets (2018)
- Ruins of the Empire (20192020) - A trilogy that focuses on rebuilding the Earth Kingdom in the wake of the events of Book Four.
- Clearing the Air (2021)
- Beach Wars (2022)
- Patterns in Time (2022) - Anthology.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender Trading Card Game (2006)
- The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena (2018) - A strategic Board Game based on the Fictional Sport of Pro-Bending.
- Avatar Legends The Roleplaying Game (2022) - The Role-Playing Game with settings based across multiple eras of the Avatar world.
- Escape from the Spirit World (2007) - A online game set between seasons two and three of Avatar.
- The Legend of Korra (2014) - An action game based on the series, made by PlatinumGames.
- The Legend of Korra: A New Era Begins (2014) - A turn-based strategy for the Nintendo 3DS based on the story of the above.
- Republic City Hustle (2013) - A three episode web animation about the lives of Mako and Bolin three years prior to The Legend of Korra.
Non-canon works and alternate continuities
- Super Deformed Shorts
- The Last Airbender (2010) - A live-action film directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film adapts the first season, with the hope that a pair of sequels based on the other two seasons would follow, but its critical failure put a stop to any further plans for any follow-up.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender Chibi Vol. 1: Aang's Unfreezing Day (2021)
- Avatar: The Last Airbender (TBD) - On September 18, 2018, Netflix and Nickelodeon announced that a live action television adaptation of the show, though without DiMartino and Konietzko returning as showrunners or executive producers (they were initially on-board, but left due to creative differences), but it remains in development. Production began in November 2021.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender (2006)
- The Burning Earth (2007)
- Into the Inferno (2008)
- The Last Airbender (2010)
Video Game Other Appearences
- Nicktoons Nitro (2005) - Arcade kart racing title featuring Aang as a playable character.
- Nicktoons MLB (2010) - An actual, real video game that was made and sold to people where Nicktoons characters played baseball alongside real-world athletes. Aang, Katara, Zuko, and Toph were all playable in-game.
- SMITE (2014) - On June 22, 2020, character skins that portray Aang, Zuko and Korra were made available in the "Avatar Battle Pass". Azula was later added as an additional skin in 2021.
- Nickelodeon Kart Racers 2: Grand Prix (2020) - Aang and Korra appear as playable racers, along with a variety of Avatar-related tracks and support units.
- Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl (2021) - A Nicktoons crossover Platform Fighter. Aang, Toph, and Korra are playable characters, with stages based on the Western Air Temple, Omashu, and Harmonic Convergence.
Not to be confused with other meanings of the term "avatar".
Tropes common to the franchise:
- Animesque: The art style of the franchise is based on anime, as admitted by the creators themselves, especially the work of Hayao Miyazaki. It also helps that the show is animated by many companies known for working on genuine anime.
- Arc Villain: While The Last Airbender featured a single Big Bad for the duration of the series in Ozai, different villains served as The Heavy in the first two seasons. The Legend of Korra features several major antagonists throughout each season, and introduces the Greater-Scope Villain of the franchise.
- The Last Airbender: Zuko and Zhao for Book One, Azula in Book Two, and Fire Lord Ozai with Azula as The Dragon in Book Three.
- The Legend of Korra: Amon for Book One, Vaatu and Unalaq for Book Two, Zaheer for Book Three and Kuvira for Book Four.
- Bilingual Bonus: All the text within the franchise is written in authentic Chinese.
- Dangerous Forbidden Technique: Bloodbending has been revealed to be downright illegal in Korra, with the punishment being a life sentence.
- Dragons Are Divine: Dragons were the original firebenders. Naturally, they were respected and revered by the Sun Warriors and their later incarnation, the Fire Nation. However, Fire Lord Sozin proclaimed dragon hunting the ultimate display of power and prestige, and the species was driven to extinction. Thankfully, the Sun Warriors managed to safeguard two of them, and Iroh kept their existence a secret after meeting them himself. These two help Aang and Zuko learn the true way of firebending.
- Elemental Nation: Integral to the setting — four nations, each themed around one of the four classical elements. By the time of The Legend Korra, more intermingling has happened between the four, and the Fire Nation's former colonies in the northwest Earth Kingdom have been merged into a new country, the United Republic of Nations.
- Elemental Powers: The franchise has the four Bending Arts, namely Water, Earth, Fire, and Air. Indeed, all four nations are themed around their respective elements — the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads, with a certain percentage of people born within those countries manifesting their respective signature elemental power. Normally, a bender can only use the element they're born with, but there is one exception in the titular Avatar, a reincarnated figure who can (with training and time) harness the powers of all four elements, and serves more or less as the resident Superhero. Note that the cycle of Avatar reincarnation corresponds with the ancient Greek order: Air (warm and wet) to Water (cold and wet) to Earth (cold and dry) to Fire (hot and dry) and back to Air, and so on.
- There is also Pure Energy in the form of chi, which tends to be related to the Spirit World, granting abilities like locating things far away, seeing the future, and reading auras. It is also the metaphysical basis of Bending (done by manipulating chi within one's body via muscle or breath control) and the ability to invoke the Avatar State at will (via opening one's chakras). In the Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender, another discipline of Bending, called Energybending, is revealed. It is an ancient style said to predate the Bending of the elements (and the first incarnation of the Avatar) and was used by beings to manipulate the energy within themselves. Bending the energy of another is shown to be capable of both bestowing knowledge and removing the ability to Bend, at the risk of having one's own spirit overwhelmed by the target.
- Each of the Bending styles also has specialized substyles, some which require a great amount of skill and special training, or are stronger in certain bloodlines. Some Firebenders can fire explosive beams from their forehead (referred to as "Combustionbending") or generate lightning, some Waterbenders can heal, calm spirits, or bend the blood of others, select Earthbenders can bend metal or even lava, and a few Airbenders can perform Astral Projection or outright fly. There are also a few odd groups with their own takes on bending, like swampbenders and sandbenders; these are not separate elements, but specific disciplines of Waterbending and Earthbending developed by some tribes to better suit the areas they live in (swamps and deserts, respectively). Similarly, Waterbending is shown to include ice and snow by default since both Water Tribes are located near the poles.
- The benders' temperaments often follow the traditional associations with those elements, but there are exceptions. Uncle Iroh is one of the most skilled firebenders in the world, and is a fat, philosophical and laid back (many would say "lazy", and many do). Of course, push him too far, and you will learn why he is known as the Dragon of the West. Meanwhile, King Bumi, one of the most skilled Earthbenders, is probably entirely insane, in contrast to the calm Implacable Man association you'd expect.
- Bending is so integral that it's even incorporated into major technologies; in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Ba Sing Se's transit system is powered by earthbenders, while in The Legend of Korra, Republic City's power plants are staffed by lightningbenders.
- The Epic: Both series qualify, and together they form a Generational Saga.
- Ethnic Magician: Zigzagged. Everyone in the world comes from a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for either China, Japan, Tibet, the Inuit, or the Aztecs, meaning there are no "Europeans" to compare them to (although the Northern Water Tribe's culture combines the Inuit culture with a vaguely Russian and/or Scandinavian aesthetic. At the same time, however, each nation and corresponding ethnicity is still firmly linked to one particular element and its associated bending style, which is part of why Aang had to travel all over the world so he could learn all the styles where they were actually practiced, so in that sense they're still all Ethnic Magicians to each other.
- Expanded Universe: The comic books as well as canonical comic strips.
- Extraordinary World, Ordinary Problems: The conflicts in most of the story arcs are often mundane issues which just so happen to take place in a fantasy setting. For example, the Fire Nation's imperialism in the first series is shown more akin to Imperial Japan at the height of Japanese colonialism or the Roman Empire, rather than hordes of Always Chaotic Evil Mooks marching out of Mordor. Many stories acknowledge the mundane political realities of the war against the Fire Nation, including its political aftermath in the comics and The Legend of Korra - people don't just instantly trust the Fire Nation government again.
- Fantastic Caste System:
- The city of Ba Sing Se divides its classes into three concentric zones, which also serve as Urban Segregation, with war refugees and the poor crammed into the Lower Ring, merchants and the middle class in the Middle Ring, the nobility in the Upper Ring, and the Earth King's palace at the very center of it all. (By The Legend of Korra, the situation has only grown worse, with an ever greater divide between the classes).
- The Fire Nation's system is partly tied to its colonial empire. In descending order from highest to lowest on the pecking order, you have: the Fire Lord, the royal family, the nobility and Fire Sages, the managerial middle class, peasants, and then colonials at the bottom. In turn, the colonies divide into Fire Nation citizens and Earth Kingdom non-citizens, although in the colonies even earthbenders (otherwise disparaged by their Fire-supremacist occupiers) can become Fire Nation citizens if one of their parents was a citizen.
- The Northern Water Tribe has three castes: The Royal Family, the warrior class, and finally, peasants. By The Legend of Korra, the warrior class appears to have been abolished in favor of a professional army.
- Fantasy Gun Control: Played with in that explosives made from blasting jelly and "spark powder" are prevalent, but handheld firearms of any kind are never seen, even in the 1920's style setting of The Legend of Korra.
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The four nations borrow features from real-life historical nations.
- The Air Nomads draw most of their influence from Tibet, specifically from the monks of Tibetan Buddhism.
- The Fire Nation's political situation at the beginning of the story (technologically advanced archipelago with imperialist intentions) mirrors that of Imperial Japan, though its aesthetics draw more from Cambodia and Tibet.
- The Earth Kingdom's aesthetics and politics are taken from countries in mainland East Asia, chiefly China and Korea.
- The Water Tribes are chiefly based on the Inuit peoples, with the Northern Tribes having some Russian and Scandinavian elements.
- Fantasy World Map: Shown in the beginning of each episode of TLA.
- Greater-Scope Paragon:
- The great lion turtles. In ancient days they were the protectors of humanity, and granted them the power of bending. After the mortal Wan joined with the spirit of light Raava to become the first Avatar, the lion turtles withdrew from the world at large. At the end of the Hundred Years War, Aang met the last lion turtle, who gave him the final key to defeating Fire Lord Ozai.
- Avatar Wan himself counts as this, as the very first Avatar who separated the human and Spirit Worlds and sealed the spirit of darkness Vaatu inside the Tree of Time for 10,000 years. By the time of The Legend of Korra, so much time has passed that very few apart from the Red Lotus and later on Korra herself even know of his existence.
- Avatar Aang attains this status in The Legend of Korra, having been the one who originally founded the United Republic alongside Fire Lord Zuko and being Korra's direct predecessor. However, because of Korra's issues with the spiritual aspects of being the Avatar, his role as Spirit Advisor is limited to giving her dreams of his battle with Yakone 42 years prior, and restoring her bending at the end of Book 1. In Books 3 and 4 he's unable to help Korra because he and all her other past lives had their connection to her severed by Unalaq managing to kill Raava.
- Greater-Scope Villain:
- Vaatu, the spirit of chaos and darkness, though he wasn't revealed until the Origins Episode during the second book of Korra.
- For smaller examples of this, there's Fire Lord Sozin, who committed the genocide of the Air Nomads, and Yakone, a crime boss whose legacy proves disastrous for Republic City. The Red Lotus, a terrorist organization out to enforce a new world order, make their debut in the third book of Korra.
- God of Good: The Avatar is the human incarnation of the spirit of light and peace, Raava. She bonded herself with a human host in order to defeat her evil opposite Vaatu and later bring peace to both physical and spirit worlds.
- Heal It with Water: Of the four classical elements, Waterbenders have the unique power of Healing Hands, which women in the Northern Water Tribe are only allowed to learn. Katara spontaneously manifests the ability when she dips her burned hands in a stream and later trains up to become such a Combat Medic that she can use water from a sacred spring to basically bring someone Back from the Dead.
- In My Language, That Sounds Like...: In the real world, the whole franchise suffers from this in Britain. Unfortunately, in British English, the word "bender" is a childishly insulting slang term for a gay man. Compound words like "airbender" aren't too problematic, but lines referring to a person being a "bender" generically sound unintentionally "naughty" to a British audience. This led to the first show being promoted in the UK as Avatar: The Legend of Aang, which then inspired the worldwide title of the second show.
- Legacy Character: The Avatar, via reincarnation.
- Mutually Exclusive Magic: The ability to bend one of the four elements (water, fire, earth, and air) is mutually exclusive. Mixed-heritage people take after one side or the other (or possibly neither). That is not to say that studying other disciplines is pointless, as you can gain tremendous insight into how Bending works and come up with new techniques. Iroh, a firebender, developed lightning redirection by observing waterbenders. The one exception to this rule is the Avatar, who is able (and required) to master all four elements. Even then, there's a spiritual or philosophical divide between the techniques used for each element — Aang was raised an airbender, which is all about flowing with the surroundings, and had trouble with the stubborn assertiveness that earthbending required. In contrast, Korra is brash and hotheaded and has serious problems grasping airbending due to its go-with-the-flow philosophy being so opposed to her own temperament.
The mutual exclusiveness is elaborated on in Korra when we find out about the origins of Bending. It was originally a power bestowed by Lion Turtles, but a human physically could not contain more than one power at the same time. The first Avatar got around the limitation by gaining the help of an extremely powerful (if weakened) spirit, eventually merging with it.
- Neglectful Precursors: A reoccurring theme throughout the franchise is that the Avatar, for all his or her power, is still human and liable to make mistakes. More often than not, their successors are forced to confront the consequences of those choices and figure out a way to correct them as best they can in the current circumstances.
- Avatar Yangchen, one of the most beloved Avatars in recorded history, failed in her duty of being a bridge between humanity and the spirits due to constantly siding with the former. This led to her successor Kuruk dying an early death because he constantly had to fight off the dark spirits angered by Yangchen's actions, which sapped a bit of his life force with every confrontation.
- Avatar Kuruk cultivated a reputation of being a self-indulgent and lazy Avatar to preserve Yangchen's reputation and cope with the stress of fighting off all those dark spirits. That would lead to not only having his fiancee's face stolen by Koh, but also caused his friends to involve themselves in the search and tutelage for the next Avatar, which would lead to a lot of undue personal tragedy for his successor, Kyoshi.
- Avatar Kyoshi created the Dai Li, which later became a corrupt entity abused by numerous authoritarians, caused the downfall of the Earth Kingdom during the Hundred Year War when they sided with Azula over Long Feng, and eventually the collapse of the Earth Kingdom all together when they enforced the tyranny of Queen Hou-Ting, leading to her assassination by the Red Lotus and paving the way for Kuvira and her Earth Empire. While they weren't an issue for her immediate successor Roku, they were massive thorns in the sides of Roku's successor Aang and Aang's successor Korra.
- Avatar Roku's is, of course, failing to kill his best friend Sozin and prevent the Hundred Year War, leading to the genocide of the Air Nomads and putting an undue burden on Aang, forcing Aang to adopt his duties as the Avatar at a younger age than he should have. That's actually why the war lasted as long as it did; Aang couldn't handle having the weight of that responsibility on his shoulders at such a young age, so he ran off to clear his head and got caught up in a storm, almost drowning as a result and freezing Appa and himself with the Avatar State in order to survive. While this did allow Aang to avoid the Air Nomad Genocide and survive long enough to finally end the war, it nonetheless prolonged the suffering of the rest of world to last over a century.
- Subverted with Aang. Compared to everyone else on the list, he left comparatively less problems for his successor Korra to deal with. The worst he is responsible for is indirectly inspiring the Anti-Bending Movement, and after seeing the events that led to the movement's rise, even Korra recognizes he made the best choices he could have in that situation.
- Playing with Fire:
- Firebenders, obviously. A select few also have secondary abilities like lightningbending (Shock and Awe) and combustionbending (explosive lasers, basically). The interesting part is that not all of them fit the hot-tempered mold that usually goes along with fire powers, given that they are an entire culture. Zuko is plenty hot-headed, but his sister, Azula, is more cold and cunning, which her blue fire reflects. Their father, Ozai, is somewhere in between, while Iroh has the personality of a warm campfire.
- Aang, on the other hand, once he accepts that Firebending does not equal Bad Powers, Bad People, comes fairly close to Iroh's version of this, though he does become considerably more focused; it's implied that Firebenders have a tendency to become overly intense and Determinators.
- In the original show, the Fire Nation's philosophy of firebending via rage plays a part in their hot-headed tempers; the Sun Warriors, the descendants of the original Firebending civilization, passed onto Iroh, Zuko, and Aang the original, life-affirming form of firebending that averts the need for firebenders to be Hot-Blooded to use their powers. It is indicated that this style of firebending allows for far more control than rage-bending does.
- Then there's Mako from The Legend of Korra, who's The Stoic ("cool under fire," as a sports announcer puts it). Avatar Korra herself fits the Hot-Blooded stereotype and it's interesting to note that she will default to fire even though she's a Waterbender by birth.
- Psycho Electro: Lightningbending is the secondary ability of firebenders. However, it's a complete subversion as it requires a kind of emotional clarity and detachment (which can be calmness, such as with Iroh, or cold-heartedness, as with Azula and Ozai) which allows one to separate and focus the necessary energies. Azula's ability to continue shooting lightning even after her Villainous Breakdown is probably due to a combination of familiarity, the significant power boost provided by Sozin's Comet, and having great clarity in terms of really wanting to kill Zuko and Katara. Also subverted in The Legend of Korra, where bending lightning has become commonplace. There are even factories where lightningbenders can work to provide electricity for utilities.
- Reincarnation: The Avatar's spirit never truly dies as it continuously reincarnates into a new body at death. However, if the Avatar is killed in the Avatar State, the Avatar would truly die.
- Single Substance Manipulation: Benders are only able to manipulate one specific element. Waterbenders can only control forms of water, earthbenders can only control forms of earth, and so on. However, particularly creative benders are able to manipulate more unusual forms of their element. For instance, earthbenders are able to sense the impurities within metal to bend it. The only person able to bend multiple elements is the Avatar, which grants a fully trained Avatar unparalleled power compared to a normal bender.
- Whatevermancy: Or whateverbending in this case.