It’s a great time to be an Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) fan. Netflix’s live-action series is shaping up to be an amazing evolution of the cartoon show. Not to mention, at least one animated movie continuing the story of the Gaang is coming our way. But none of this excitement would exist without the series that started it all, Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. Universally beloved and known as one of the best shows to ever grace our screens, the episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s cartoon come together to create much more than a simple child’s diversion. Between its skillful storytelling, resonant themes, and sometimes heartwarming and sometimes harrowing tales, Avatar: The Last Airbender has something for everyone.
As we return to the world of the show, fans might want to catch up on some of their favorite moments. But with 61 episodes under its belt, rewatching the cartoon series is no easy feat. To help direct you to the chapters you should prioritize revisiting, we’ve compiled a list of the nine best Avatar: The Last Airbender episodes. To keep things fair, we’ve chosen the three greatest outings from each of ATLA‘s three seasons (…And then added a few honorable mentions because this show is too good!)
Jump to: The Best ATLA Episodes from Book One: Water // The Best ATLA Episodes From Book Two: Earth // The Best ATLA Episodes From Book Three: Fire
The 9 Best Avatar: The Last Airbender Episodes (Listed in the Order of Appearance)
The Storm (Book One: Water, Episode 1.12)
The twelfth episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s Book One: Water encapsulates everything ATLA does best. Most importantly, it weaves in the current tale of our heroes with two separate backstories but never feels expository. Instead, as it launches into Prince Zuko’s and Aang’s pasts, the episode offers fascinating insights into their characters and highlights the strong narrative parallels between them. Both boys, whose lives changed forever in the blink of an eye, are haunted by choices they can’t undo and struggle with whether they should reconcile with the past.
In Aang’s case, we see some catharsis as the Avatar forgives himself for the rashness that led to his disappearance. In Zuko’s, it’s the viewers who turn a corner as, for the first time, we see the prince’s softer, more fragile core. “The Storm” brings us the first small step in an incredible journey of redemption and our earliest hints of the deep friendship to come between Aang and Zuko.
The Blue Spirit (Book One: Water, Episode 1.13)
“The Blue Spirit,” which directly follows “The Storm,” continues a streak of excellent episodes in Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s first season. Although the episode initially has a silly premise, it turns intense as Aang is captured by the villainous (newly appointed) Admiral Zhao. When it seems like the Fire Nation has finally won, a masked vigilante called the Blue Spirit appears to save the day. Aang and the Blue Spirit fight seamlessly side by side and, in the end, escape Zhao’s clutches. Of course, by a twist of fate, Aang discovers that his savior is Zuko in disguise. While Aang makes overtures of friendship, Zuko is less than receptive. Still, you can see the gears turning in both their minds.
Even though Zuko would likely insist he did not save the Avatar out of the goodness of his heart, the point stands that the two of them make good team. “The Blue Spirit” invites viewers to imagine Zuko’s redemption, though it is still seasons away, and paints an excellent picture of what could/will be.
The Siege of the North: Part 2 (Book One: Water, Episode 1.20)
“The Siege of the North: Part 2” is a season finale that has it all. It doesn’t waste a second getting started and delivers one of the series’ best monologues. Zuko addresses an unconscious Aang whom he has finally captured, pouring his heart out to him. “I don’t need luck. I don’t want it.” Zuko delivers, as he freezes in the northern storm, “I’ve always had to struggle and fight, and that’s made me strong. It’s made me who I am.” Intense! And things only get wilder from there.
Of course, Zuko loses Aang, who is saved by Katara and Sokka. But they’re not fast enough to stop Commander Zhao from literally killing the moon. The action has horrifying consequences and ends with Sokka’s crush turning into the moon and Aang becoming an enraged fish-shaped monster. The use of color and sound in this episode is second to none and has us at the edge of our seats. “The Siege of the North: Part 2” absolutely ranks high in the line-up of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s best episodes.
Zuko Alone (Book Two: Earth, Episode 2.07)
If you, like me, are rewatching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the fifth, sixth, or hundredth time, then the weight of “Zuko Alone” is only just registering. There is no character more burdened by expectations than Zuko. The expectations of his father, Fire Lord Ozai, yes, but also equally the expectations of his Uncle Iroh. (Although, the latter is much kinder and more well-intended.) While it might seem cruel that Zuko leaves Iroh behind, it’s necessary for his character growth. Zuko needs to be well, alone.
In “Zuko Alone,” Zuko finally gets a taste of the world at war after having his Avatar-shaped blinders on for so long. And despite himself, he tries to help in the ways he can. Of course, in Zuko fashion, everything goes wrong. Still, it’s sweet to see him try his best to be good. Meanwhile, the episode recalls Zuko’s close relationship with his mother and reveals how much the twisted events of his life have left him, you guessed it, alone.
Importantly, though Zuko tries to do the right thing, he is not absolved of the consequences of his actions or of those of his people. The whole episode is beautifully and delicately done.
Bitter Work (Book Two: Earth, Episode 2.09)
It’s not a fun time for Twinkle Toes in “Bitter Work.” This season two episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the best because it challenges the characters to embrace what they’re inherently bad at, pushing them out of their comfort zones. For Aang, it’s standing firm and facing his problems head-on. Meanwhile, for Zuko, it’s obtaining peace of mind. For Katara, it’s about letting Aang face his struggles alone. And for Toph, well, Toph is perfect!
Or, in other words, Toph tries to teach Aang earthbending, while Uncle Iroh tries to teach Zuko how to deflect lightning, and teaching either one of these fellas anything is tough work. It’s a great serving of character development. We love seeing Toph be the boss. And the way Uncle Iroh borrows waterbending techniques for firebending is just cool. Of course, Zuko shouting emo sentiments into a literal storm makes for the kind of ridiculous Zuko antics we couldn’t live without. Full marks to you, “Bitter Work.”
The Crossroads of Destiny (Book Two: Earth, Episode 2.18)
What can we say, Avatar: The Last Airbender sure knows how to impress with a finale. This one is especially terrible/wonderful because it gives us everything we want and then takes it away. (Which is secretly what we wanted, we guess!) Azula and company have successfully infiltrated the Earth Kingdom, thrown Zuko and Katara in prison, and now they’re ready to take down the Avatar. Meanwhile, Sokka, Toph, and Aang have teamed up with Iroh to stop that fate from coming true. In prison, Zuko and Katara share a quiet moment, which no doubt helped a fan ship set sail, and Katara almost attempts to heal his scar with spirit water from the Northern Water Tribe oasis. This fragile alliance between enemies takes our breath away every time.
But alas, it is not to be. At the moment of truth, Zuko makes the WRONG choice and turns back toward his sister, unable to let go of the siren song of his honor and presumed destiny. Iroh is captured, Aang is gravely injured, and no one is very happy. In conclusion, this episode absolutely rules.
The Avatar and the Fire Lord (Book Three: Fire, Episode 3.06)
“The Avatar and the Fire Lord” steps away from our main story but zeroes in on the greater thematic elements critical to understanding the project of Avatar: The Last Airbender. This tale takes us back to the beginning of the war and the friendship between two powerful members of the Fire Nation, Fire Lord Sozin and Avatar Roku. Although both figures are from the Fire Nation, the episode takes the time to reveal that both good and evil can exist in anyone and that great friendship can have an important impact on life and also on the world. Of course, it also reveals Zuko as a descendant of both Roku and Sozin, highlighting the conflict within him. It’s a deft plot twist that underscores the character’s whole project.
The Firebending Masters (Book Three: Fire, Episode 3.12)
Dun, dun, dun! The time has come. Zuko has turned to the side of good and joined the Gaang, and he’s ready to teach Aang some firebending. The only problem is that Zuko’s firebending isn’t really working. He needs new inspiration for his craft. And so, Zuko and Aang take a journey together to learn the true meaning of firebending (and friendship). Through the power of dance and teamwork, they discover destruction and anger aren’t inherent to bending flames but that, instead, firebending centers on creation and passion. Aang conquers his fears of hurting others, and Zuko finally rounds the last corner toward being all in on the good team. The animation work of this episode is also second to none. It all comes together emotionally but remains infused with that trademark ATLA humor.
Sozin’s Comet: Avatar Aang (Book Three: Fire, Episode 3.21)
To complete the trifecta, “Sozin’s Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang,” the final episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of its greats. Maybe this episode is the best episode Avatar: The Last Airbender because it resolves the series in an astoundingly elegant way. Endings can be tough to stick for the best of them, but having Aang take away Ozai’s bending as the solution to ending the war is one of the neatest solutions out there. It’s poignant because firebending is clearly the source of Ozai’s superiority. It has allowed him to do much damage and to hurt so many. In removing Ozai’s bending, Aang serves him his just desserts without harming his own character’s integrity. We really cannot say enough about the perfection of this conceit.
Of course, that’s not even getting into the emotional and epic scenes that see Sokka, Suki, and Toph fighting in the fray and the final fallout in the duel between Zuko, Katara, and Azula. Zuko jumping in front of Katara to save her life in the previous episode is a beautiful play on everything he didn’t do in season two’s finale. And Katara taking down Azula is so absolutely satisfying. Not to mention the happily ever after conclusion that sees everyone healing. We are in our feelings!
Honorable Mentions for Avatar: The Last Airbender Best Episodes
How does one choose between the stars in the sky? Or, in this case, the elements of the universe? It’s impossible. Although we had to narrow down the list of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s episodes somehow, we must applaud “The Deserter,” “The Tales of Ba Sing Se,” “Appa’s Lost Days,” “The Puppetmaster,” “The Western Air Temple,” and “Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters.” These episodes deliver some of Avatar: The Last Airbender‘s saddest, scariest, funniest, and just downright emotional moments. We highly suggest you also give them a watch.