The A List: “Avatar the Last Airbender” (2005-2008)

As everyone stays home, I see all kinds of incredible offerings, from free books to virtual educational activities, to keep you and your loved ones entertained. Unfortunately, my urban fantasy series is (bearly) not ready to go and The Thread is still getting its new edition, so I don’t have my own content to throw in the mix right now. I do, though, have some recommendations. 

Today’s recommendation is for animated content lovers, fantasy dreamers, and parents of young kids. 

ATLA is a children’s show that I can’t stop rewatching, decade after decade. The animation and characters are so good they deserve their own posts, but what keeps me coming back is deeper than beautiful scenes and great writing. The show runners weave a complex history of war, genocide, and conquest into a rich and recognizable fantasy world. Their character POVs highlight how peace and freedom aren’t just required to save the world; they are conscious choices to change it. 

Aang, the titular character, is the hero everyone needs. Compassionate, peaceful, and goofy, his journey to master all four elements and his spiritual Avatar power is as gripping as it is tender. He is the last bastion of hope facing the Fire Nation who wiped out his people and invaded the Earth Kingdom. He is expected to bring balance to a war-torn world where disparity is maintained through mechanized progress and disproportionate wealth at only twelve years old. Despite it all, he still believes in joy, gentleness, and forgiveness over anger, violence, and revenge.

Though Aang’s story alone makes ATLA worth watching, the show would not have earned the place it holds in my heart without its incredible secondary characters. The exiled Prince Zuko embodies the overwhelming strength of the Fire Nation and will go to any extreme to bring Aang down. His need to see the Avatar burn is tempered only by his wise uncle, General Iroh, whose counsel and love for tea make him as endearing as he is formidable. Katara and Sokka, siblings from the Southern Water Tribe, are Aang’s best friends. They bring banter and nascent combat skills to Team Avatar, hoping their travels with Aang might reunite them with their missing father. These first four are the start to a brilliant ensemble, but the rest you should get to now as the show introduces them in all their glory, villainy, and humor.The beauty of all these characters is they are fully developed in their own right, not just in comparison to Aang. Their victories uplift, their failures hurt, and their whole group dynamics is what makes this great show timeless.

ATLA can make you feel warm and fuzzy, tense and scared, and joyous and triumphant in the same episode, and every high and low leads to a powerful moment. I can turn to this show (knowing which episodes do which) when I am either in need of a cheerful pick me up or when I am looking to escape in the thrill of action. High stakes, engaging characters, and just the right blend of drama, comedy, and action, ATLA has a lot for everyone, no matter your age. 

Also, bending. Bending is the coolest—trust me. 

And did I mention Mark Hamill is one of the voice actors?

If you love fantasy, animated content, or elemental magic, check this show out. Double the recommendation for kids watching TVY7. 

P.S.: Just to be clear, I am not recommending the live action movie.

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