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Avatar: The Last Airbender is quite simply one of the greatest TV shows of all time, and now it’s on Netflix.

Not only is it on Netflix, it’s quickly risen to the top of the streaming app’s most popular shows.

It’s been a few years since I watched the show with my family, and I’ve watched the follow-up show The Legend of Korra since then (which is also terrific). I’m excited to dive back in now that it’s on Netflix.

Here are five reasons why you really need to watch Avatar: The Last Airbender.

1. It’s not just for kids (but kids love it).

My favorite kind of shows are ones that are good no matter what age you are. Smart, complex, interesting stories that appeal just as much to grownups as they do kids.

Avatar: The Last Airbender is the perfect example of this kind of TV show. It’s funny and exciting, with plenty of goofy humor for younger children. But it’s thought-provoking and emotionally powerful, too.

I think a lot of grownups think that cartoons are just for kids, or that the only cartoons adults should watch are the type with adult humor (like Netflix’s Big Mouth). That’s a shame, because The Last Airbender is a fantasy epic that can stand shoulder to shoulder with The Lord of the Rings.

The Story

“Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished.”

Avatar: The Last Airbender is a story of magic. Powerful “benders” are able to manipulate the elements—Earth, Fire, Water and Air—and the Avatar can wield all four, though he has gone missing when our story begins.

The Last Airbender takes place during a time of war. Four societies stand on the precipice as the Fire Nation seeks to take over the entire world. The Earth Kingdom and Water Tribes fight back, but it’s a losing fight. The Air Nomads are nowhere to be found.

2. The characters will win over your heart.

The story may be intended for all ages, but it focuses primarily on a handful of children out on a quest to stop the Fire Nation and discover the mysteries of their past.

We’ll get into a little bit of spoilers here, but only very surface level stuff that will be revealed in the first episode or thereabouts, in order to introduce the main cast. Other characters you meet along the way will win your heart just as surely, but it’s the three main characters (and their pets) who steal the show.

Aang

Aang (Zach Tyler) is the Avatar. He’s been encased in ice for a hundred years, and his absence has been a disaster. The Avatar is a constant presence in the world, moving from body to body as he (or she) is reincarnated over the centuries. Without his balancing influence, the Fire Nation has gone astray.

Aang is a friendly, loving character very much new to the whole Avatar thing. His is a Hero’s Quest to find out who he is, what happened to his people and what he needs to do to bring balance to the Force. Or, well, you get the idea.

Sokka and Katara

Sokka (Jack De Sena) and Katara (Mae Whitman) are two youths from the Water Nation who join Aang on his quest after discovering him in the ice.

Katara is a waterbender. She’s smart and fierce and loyal and kind. Sokka is her brother. He’s . . . not as smart or as compassionate, but he’s every bit as loyal and while he’s not a full-fledged warrior, he does his best to protect his friends.

The three set out on an epic journey, meeting other memorable characters along the way, growing closer as friends and learning more about who they each are along the way.

Appa and Momo

Every great animated show needs some non-speaking adorable animal companions, right? The creatures in The Last Airbender are all pretty fascinating. From Armadillo Lions to Buffalo Deer, most are a weird hybrid of familiar beasts.

The two main creature companions in the show are Appa—a giant Flying Bison, and the primary means of travel for our heroes—and Momo, a tiny Winged Lemur. Both are flying creatures that hail from the Air Nation, Aang’s home.

3. Epic fantasy and deep world-building with an Eastern twist.

All this talk of magical creatures segues nicely with Reason Number Three. The world itself is vast and magical, filled with colorful characters, interesting locations and an abundance of magic.

Sometimes this magic is beautiful, and sometimes it’s very, very dark—and not just fireballs from tyrannical firebenders. When you get to the episode about bloodbending you’ll know what I mean.

What’s wonderful about this fantasy world is that it’s so starkly different from what many of us expect out of a fantasy—there are no elves or dwarves. No magicians with pointy hats and wands. There are dragons and other staples of fantasy, but it’s all distinctly asian in nature (though it’s a Western production).

While you won’t really get into Buddhism directly in The Last Airbender, there’s definitely an Eastern Religion vibe. Aang is a vegetarian who shaves his head and looks every bit the Tibetan monk. Themes of harmony and balance weave throughout.

None of this is hokey or in-your-face, however. There is no proselytizing taking place.

The magic system, while fairly simple and straightforward, leads to a lot of great action, exciting combat and even some cool puzzle-solving. Of course, it often plays second fiddle to characters figuring out things on their own—using their wits or their hearts to solve problems that magic can’t solve.

4. It has a great, complicated villain.

Before there was Kylo Ren, there was Prince Zuko. Kylo Ren wishes he had as much time to develop into a compelling, conflicted villain.

Prince Zuko is the disgraced son of the Firelord, and a talented—albeit ruthless—firebender in his own right.

He’s made it his mission to capture the Avatar and bring him back to his father. His pursuit of Aang and his companions is an ongoing conflict throughout the show.

But like our heroes, Zuko is far from a one-dimensional bad guy. I won’t spoil the story, but Zuko is one of The Last Airbender’s best, most interesting characters.

(As a side-note, most of the villains in The Legend of Korra take a page from Zuko, and I still believe they’re some of the best in any TV show period).

Of course, Zuko isn’t the only villain—or even the chief villain of the story—but he is Aang’s nemesis early on.

5. It’s anime for people who may not normally like anime (but also huge anime fans).

Okay, this one is a little harder to put into words. I’m not a big anime fan. I like some anime, but for whatever reason it often just isn’t my thing. Shows I want to like, such as Attack On Titan, end up disappointing me (though in that one it’s mostly that one kid who yells all the time). I do love Studio Ghibli movies and some JRPGs like Persona, but I don’t cast my net much wider than that.

Maybe it’s because Avatar: The Last Airbender is an anime designed for an American/Western audience. Maybe it just bridges that cultural divide between very distinctly Japanese anime and the kind of animated content we’ve come to expect on this side of the pond.

For whatever reason, this is a show that I think can appeal to a very broad base. Anime fans and people who normally pass on anime both love this show. You will too.

In any case, those are my five reasons to watch The Last Airbender. I could probably come up with five more, but I’d risk spoiling too much. It’s a fun, funny, heart-warming, action-packed epic fantasy about benders who can manipulate the elements. It’s a story of magic and war, strange beasts and stranger lands.

And now it’s on Netflix. Go watch it. Hopefully The Legend Of Korra follows close behind . . . .

The Last Airbender’ On Netflix
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