Powerful Women in the Avatar Universe

By Arlett Ramirez
Assistant Web Content Manager

Since March is Women’s History (should be HER-story) Month, I started thinking about the female characters I watched growing up. My mind instantly went to two shows that I think have some great female characters. Those two shows are “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Legend of Korra.” (I’ll be referencing “Avatar” the TV show not the movie!)

If you were a kid during the mid-2000s, you probably watched “Avatar” (I mean, I hope you did). It ran for three seasons (2005-2008) and dealt with serious issues that might have flown over your younger self. You might look back at it and realize that it was covering themes of genocide, imperialism, war, gender discrimination, oppression and female empowerment. All relevant topics in this day and age. 

“Legend of Korra” was a sequel to “Avatar.” It follows Korra, Aang’s successor in the Avatar cycle, as she faces political and spiritual unrest in a modernizing world. “Legend of Korra” ran for four seasons from 2012 to 2014. Like “Avatar,” it also dealt with topics that other cartoons might have not covered like social unrest, terrorism and sociopolitical issues. It also pushed the boundaries for children’s television by addressing issues like race, gender and sexual orientation.

Both shows have female characters that I looked up to when I was younger (and still do). These characters faced challenges and made girls (like me) think I could accomplish anything with dedication and perseverance. These characters will be in random order. 

Katara

Katara is the first character that we’re introduced to in the very first episode of “Avatar.” We listen to her as she tells us about the four nations (Water, Earth, Fire, Air), the war, her family and the Avatar. The intro to “Avatar” is iconic and you can probably recite it word-by-word. Below is the first intro to “Avatar” and you’ll see how it sets up the world perfectly.

The first time we meet Katara, she’s started learning waterbending techniques and that she’s the only waterbender in the South Pole. Throughout the first season, we see her become a better water-bender and that she has healing abilities. When she arrives to the North Pole to learn waterbending from an actual master, she’s told that female waterbenders cannot be taught the art of waterbending, instead they’re meant to be healers. 

As a viewer, this particular scene bothered me because of the gender discrimination. Katara is the only watrebender we know of in the first season and then hearing that she can’t pursue her passion, is maddening. However, she doesn’t give up and she becomes one of the best waterbenders in the North Pole. 

What I loved about Katara was that she was always willing to learn and adapt to new bending styles. Watching her grow into a master waterbender was amazing and showed me that anything can be possible with hard work and dedication. 

Toph Beifong

Beifong is one of the most powerful benders ever. When we see her, she’s already mastered earth-bending and she did it while blind. She learned how to earthbend at a very young age and it’s how she “sees” the world. Throughout the series we see her amazing skills as an earthbender, but we also see her invent a new sub-style of earthbending called metalbending. She’s the first to do it and masters it pretty quickly. 

Even though viewers see her as a badass (don’t know if I should censor that) bender, the men in her life treat her as though she’s made of glass just because she’s blind. Her father thinks of her as his defenseless daughter. Her earthbending teacher hinders her ability by teaching her simple and non-demanding techniques. 

Azula

Even though she’s a villain, she’s one strong female character and deserves some recognition. She’s Zuko’s younger sister and princess of the Fire Nation. Being a princess, you’d think she would spend her time in a palace and know nothing of war or strategy. However, she’s the exact opposite. She’s a firebending prodigy and can produce lightning. She can manipulate anyone (including friends and family) and is obsessed with obtaining power.  

Watching Azula when I was younger, I was surprised that a princess could be like this, since Disney had taught me that princesses were usually nice and sweet. They usually didn’t have a mean or sadistic bone in their body. Azula definitely changed that perspective for me and changed my view of a princess.

Korra

Korra is Aang’s successor in the Avatar cycle. The first time we see Korra she’s a child who declares she’s the Avatar and can already bend three of the elements. Compared to Aang, who ran away when he was told he was the Avatar, Korra can’t wait to be the Avatar. Korra is an excellent bender and even learns two news styles of bending through the course of “The Legend of Korra” series. 

What I love about Korra is that she’s strong, helpful and doesn’t shy away from doing the right thing. Plus she never backs down from a fight. She helps people no matter what. In the final season, we see her struggle with PTSD and overcome it with the help of friends and family. 

Asami Sato

Sato is a triple-threat. She’s a businesswoman, engineer and industrialist. Her father was a wealthy businessman who supplied weapons to a terrorist organization. He was later imprisoned, and she had to save the company. 

When we first meet her, we think she’s a daddy’s girl who has had everything handed to her, when in reality, she lost her mother when she was younger, knows how to drive exceptionally well and knows self-defense. Sato continued to surprise viewers as the series progressed since there were so many times she could have easily been a villain.

She’s always willing to help Korra and her friends with whatever. She’s also extremely dedicated to her company seeing she almost lost it because of her father’s actions.   

Kuvira

She’s another villain in the “Avatar” universe, yet we can’t help but love her. We’re introduced to Kuvira in season three of “The Legend of Korra” as a minor character, however, she takes center stage in season four as the villain. Kuvira is also a master earthbender and metalbender. 

Kuvira was abandoned by her parents when she was a child and she found a mother figure in Beifong’s daughter: Suyin. She brought peace and stability to the Earth Kingdom but refused to give up power when asked to do so. 

Like Korra she wants to help others (specifically the citizens of the Earth Kingdom), she’s strong and doesn’t back down from a challenge. When Korra and Kuvira were face-to-face, you could see the similarities between them, not only in bending, but also physical traits. 

These are some of my favorite female characters in the “Avatar” universe. They’re not perfect, but who is? These characters were my favorite growing up and I can’t wait to see these characters again on the new live-action remake coming to Netflix soon! 

Featured image screen-shotted via YouTube by Arlett Ramirez.

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