Water. Earth. Fire. Air. Long ago, the adventures of Avatars Aang and Korra were told in two amazing animated shows. And in 2020, when the world needed them most, they arrived on Netflix and became more popular than ever.
However, rare is the fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra who has followed the story’s official continuation at Dark Horse. And who could blame them? Both television series have clear, satisfying endings that don’t demand being revisited in a new, different form (looking at you, live-action remake). So what could comic books possibly have to add that the two shows didn’t already do during their run on television?
Well, for starters, most of the Avatar comics are graphic novel trilogies that serve as sequels to both shows, almost like a secret supplementary season that shows Team Avatar discovering what this post-Hundred Year War world looks like. For the most part, the books are spearheaded by the shows’ two creators, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, and written and drawn by talented comic book creators Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru (Superman Smashes the Klan.) All the characters are extremely accurate in how they speak and act in the two shows, and the transition from screen to page is absolutely seamless.
Even the few short stories and other standalone graphic novels that take place during the shows’ events are worth reading. Some of the new stories serve almost as deleted episodes, while others show different creators’ takes on Avatar’s world and characters.
This guide is meant to help you find which comics will be the most appealing to you, depending on what you’re looking for. Do you want to read stories about a specific character? Are you curious about what happened to Korra and Asami after the end of The Legend of Korra? Keep reading to find the comic you’re looking for! (No promises if you’ve always dreamt of a Cabbage Merchant ongoing series.)
The Last Airbender Prequel: Zuko’s Story
The first to be published and currently out of print, this black-and-white manga-style comic is the earliest story in Avatar’s timeline, depicting the immediate aftermath of Zuko’s banishment and the start of his quest to find the Avatar. Although it is actually a prequel to M. Night Shyamalan’s awful 2010 adaptation, and if you ignore some specifics (like Zuko and Iroh’s appearance), it seems it can also be read as a prequel to the show.
The Last Airbender Prequel: Zuko’s Story (out of print)
The Lost Adventures
This anthology collects short stories, first published between 2005 and 2011 across Free Comic Book Day issues, Nickelodeon Magazine, and DVDs of the show. Most stories are brief and humor-based, and see the show’s main characters getting into various hijinks. Special mention to “Relics,” which is set somewhere during the show’s first season, and offers an answer as to why no Air Nomad survived the Fire Nation’s genocide (“Relics” first appeared in FCBD 2011: Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is available on the Dark Horse Digital website with a free account). Also of note are “Going Home Again,” which shows Zuko and Mai’s first date, and “The Bridge,” in which Team Avatar and the Water Tribe warriors capture a Fire Nation ship between seasons two and three.
Katara and the Pirate’s Silver
Although it is the most recent Avatar graphic novel (having come out in October 2020, after the show’s huge resurgence in popularity), Katara and the Pirate’s Silver takes place before the end of the show, between the episodes “Bitter Work” and “The Library” (season two). This one-shot shows Katara struggling with her place in the new group dynamics of Team Avatar, as she realizes the others think she’s not as tough as Toph is. So when she is separated from the rest of the team and has to find her way back by embarking on a pirate ship, she takes the opportunity to prove to her new allies and herself just how Toph she can be.
Katara and the Pirate’s Silver definitely feels like a deleted episode of the show, in the best way. In fact, Faith Erin Hicks’s story is set between two episodes in season two! Hick writes an excellent Katara, sending the character on a journey that’s a perfect fit for that character at that moment!
To be published on June 22, 2021, Suki, Alone is a one-shot graphic novel set during the show’s third season. This story is centered around Suki as a prisoner in the Boiling Rock prison (a reference to the episodes Zuko Alone and Korra Alone of Avatar and The Legend of Korra, respectively)
Published between 2012 and 2019, the Avatar sequel comics have mainly consisted of six graphic novel trilogies, picking up after the end of the show and slowly paving the way towards The Legend of Korra. The first five trilogies are written by Gene Luen Yang, with Faith Erin Hicks providing the final, and all six were crafted in cooperation with Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the two creators of the show.
Can the world really go back to the way it was before the Hundred Year War? That’s the question as tensions rise between the newly crowned Fire Lord Zuko and the rest of Team Avatar over the fate of the Fire Nation’s colonies.
Gene Luen Yang makes great use of the secondary cast of Avatar to show how messy and complex this new world is and how none of the characters can quite fit their lives into the old idea of four clearly separated nations anymore. Gurihiru’s youthful and dynamic art perfectly captures the show’s style, halfway between Japanese manga and American cartoon. It also works very well in the book’s more serious moments, such as the somber dream sequence at the beginning of issue #3.
This first Avatar graphic novel is a solid continuation of the show (although a bit too short), tackling how much the world has changed by the end of season three and how political progress is hindered by trying to go back to the way things were. The tension between Zuko and Aang feels true to their characters, especially when a furious Aang expresses that the four Nations should stay completely separate after seeing his “fan club” culturally appropriating Air Nomad culture.
Also, did this comic canonize Smellerbee being trans? Maybe not, but it’s hard for me to believe Yang didn’t know what he was doing with that casual panel of Katara correcting Sokka after he misgendered her…
Collects: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Promise #1-3
Zuko tries to find the answer to one of the main questions still left after the end of the show: what happened to his mom? Struggling with the abusive mess that is his family, he takes a chance on his sister Azula and asks for her and Team Avatar’s help on his quest.
The Search is a comic focused on family and the psychological toll that Fire Lord Ozai’s abuse has taken on Zuko, Azula, and their mother, Ursa. Now that the war is over, Zuko’s sister appears less like a terrifying villain and more like a deeply traumatized teenager, convinced that the loving relationships she sees among the people she used to manipulate have to be fake and the result of even greater manipulations from her missing mother. The story also picks up the thread of Zuko feeling insecure in his new role as Fire Lord, afraid that what he sees as his own inability to keep his family together means that he will fail to keep the nation together, which leaves him ready to abandon the crown as soon as he sees a possible way out.
Collects: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search #1-3
Building upon the two previous graphic novels’ themes of letting go of the past in order to move forward, The Rift shows the clash between tradition and innovation, as embodied by Aang and Toph, respectively. Aang is holding on to the past, feeling that the industrial town that has grown on the site of an ancient Airbender festival is a betrayal of his culture (in a setup that is reminiscent of the episode “The Northern Air Temple” from season one). On the other hand, because of how she was raised, Toph sees tradition only as a burden of senseless rules, meant to take away people’s freedom.
This graphic novel also shows the beginning of the industrial revolution, which will lead to the more technologically advanced state of the world as it is in The Legend of Korra. It begins to foreshadow the tensions between benders and non-benders that will be at the center of the sequel show’s first season (Katara watching the non-bender production line and saying “bending just seems so much more… elegant” feels very much like what someone unaware of their own privilege would say in that situation, seeing non-benders gain access to equal opportunities). Some fun moments include a reference to 1984’s Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars, the origin story of Cabbage Corp, and Avatar State Aang using an earthbent Ben Grimm mecha suit. Yang also includes a few flashback scenes to Yangchen’s time as Avatar, which were so good I now want to see him write an entire Yangchen prequel comic.
Collects: Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift #1-3
(“Rebound,” first published in Free Comic Book Day 2013: Star Wars/Captain Midnight/Avatar and later collected in Team Avatar Tales, is best read here. That specific FCBD issue is sadly not on the Dark Horse Digital website.)
Smoke and Shadow
Back in the Fire Nation after the events of The Search, Zuko has to face the machinations of the New Ozai Society and the feelings of mistrust and insecurity they’re sowing in the capital city’s population. And it doesn’t make it easier that his ex-girlfriend’s family is involved, as well as her new boyfriend… The comic is centered on both Zuko and Mai, as they face hard choices that could determine not only their future but the entire Fire Nation’s as well.
Smoke and Shadow sees its characters struggling with their self-identity: Zuko is afraid that his decisions as Fire Lord will make him become like his father; Mai lies to her boyfriend Kei Lo, to Zuko, and herself until she doesn’t quite know what she wants or who she is anymore; and Ursa especially has to deal with the rift between her present identity as mother and wife in a loving family, and her past identity as a victim of Ozai’s abuse, which is made worse by her own daughter not recognizing her anymore after the changes she went through in The Search. After having been mostly absent from the previous graphic novels, Iroh also returns for a wonderful scene with Ursa; plus some fun moments such as him channeling Zuko’s angst through method acting.
Collects: Avatar: The Last Airbender – Smoke and Shadow #1-3
North and South
Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru’s final Avatar book! Katara and Sokka return to their home village for the first time since the beginning of the show, but they find it completely unrecognizable, and whereas Sokka loves and embraces the change, Katara feels like her culture is being taken away from her. North and South put Katara and Sokka in a similar situation Aang was in The Rift, except here, Katara is far from alone in thinking her home is being taken over. She finds herself at odds with the rest of her family.
Yang tackles here not only the slippery slope between patriotism and xenophobia with Gilak (the book’s main antagonist) and his allies; but also the lie that colonization is somehow a noble means of bringing civilization to societies that are perceived as “primitive” by the colonizers, with the way Malina and Maliq from the Northern Water Tribe as well as Earth King Kuei talk about the South as needing a lift to reach a higher form of civilization before it can step onto the international stage. And while the comic’s message can get a bit muddled by trying to handle both these subjects, Yang portrays the schism in the Southern Water Tribe’s people and Katara’s internal conflict between trusting her family and fearing that her culture is dying very well, allowing her to be fallible, saying things like “I guess I just never thought of non-benders as not equal,” which is basically Avatar’s metaphor for “I guess I just don’t see color.”
Yang and Gurihiru’s final entry in their run of Avatar: The Last Airbender comics concludes the characters’ journey in finding their place between tradition and modernity and establishes the general state of the world after the war and the main characters’ place in it, planting the seeds for The Legend of Korra. The comic’s final scene perfectly ties a bow on the whole run, with characters representing every nation sharing their cultures in a collective meal, symbolizing the peace and friendship that has risen from the ashes of the Hundred Year War.
Collects: Avatar: The Last Airbender – North and South #1-3
Republic City is born! Team Avatar returns to Cranefish Town, the small industrial settlement from The Rift… which is now a sprawling labyrinth of factories and dense habitations. This is the clearest prequel to The Legend of Korra, and as a fan of the sequel show, I can’t deny that moments like Aang and Katara taking a stroll across what will become Air Temple Island are very cool to see. Writer Faith Erin Hicks builds upon Yang’s background thread of inequality between benders and non-benders (I guess you could call it… the bender gap), clearly framing benders as an oppressive minority whose power is starting to dwindle with the rise of technology (they’re even called “bender supremacists” in the comic, which isn’t very subtle, but hey, subtext is for cowards).
The story uses bending as an obvious metaphor for racism, and while metaphors like this one can easily fall flat on their face if they’re not carefully thought out, Hicks manages to keep her point nuanced and grounded in specificities accurate to real-world discrimination. Benders as a whole are portrayed as privileged bullies, asking for higher salaries than non-benders for equal work, and lashing out when they start losing their privilege, ranting about how they should be in power because of “the natural order of things.” At best, they claim to be against bender supremacists and then run away when it comes time to actually take a stand for non-benders; at worst, they commit terrorist acts to get back the privilege they already have (where have I seen that before ? Oh, right). Even the benders of Team Avatar have to reevaluate their perspective on the situation, which leads to some great discussions between Aang and Sokka especially, in which Hicks can show how smart Sokka actually is; as he solves a crime in the span of three pages, all while helping Aang understand what it means to be a non-bender in a world where the people in power are almost all benders. Detective Hat Sokka is absolutely my favorite Sokka.
Imbalance is currently the final sequel comic book trilogy to Avatar: The Last Airbender and no other comic taking place between Team Avatar’s arrival to Cranefish Town and the start of The Legend of Korra have been announced as of January 2021.
Collects: Avatar: The Last Airbender – Imbalance #1-3
Team Avatar Tales
Another anthology similar to The Lost Adventures, compiling five new short stories, plus three reprinted FCBD comics (including “Rebound,” which takes place right before Smoke and Shadow, as well as “Shells” and “Sisters,” which are available for free on the Dark Horse Digital website). The short stories include Sokka writing a poem, Toph helping the Boulder with his cat problem, and a sweet story about Team Avatar being invited to dinner by a family Katara saved from Fire Nation soldiers.
FCBD Avatar: The Last Airbender 2014 (“Shells”)
FCBD Avatar: The Last Airbender 2015 (“Sisters”)
Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy
To be published on February 16th, 2021, this Toph-centric standalone graphic novel takes place sometime after the creation of her Metalbending Academy in The Promise.
Although it has generated fewer comics than its parent series, the Legend of Korra’s creators have spun the show off into two FCBD short stories and two sequel graphic novel trilogies. While the Avatar comics were slightly limited in the stories they could tell (in that we already know where the world and the characters will end up by the time of The Legend of Korra), Korra’s sequel comics can go wherever they want and are a welcome addition to the show’s story, especially as they can explicitly tell certain stories that the show couldn’t.
Published for FCBD 2016, this short prequel story takes place in Korra’s childhood, learning waterbending with Katara and meeting Naga for the first time.
Written by co-creator of the show Michael Dante DiMartino, Turf Wars is a graphic novel picking up immediately after the end of the show, expanding upon Korra and Asami’s developing romance, and explicitly making them the first two queer characters in the world of Avatar (as well as confirming two other Avatar characters as being queer).
The end of Korra, although still timid in its onscreen depiction of bi characters, is widely considered to be a defining moment for queer representation in animation, one that has paved the way for shows like Steven Universe or The Owl House to start telling stories about queer characters without having to resort to background hints or vaguely suggestive dialogue; and getting to actually see Korra and Asami’s developing romantic relationship expanded upon in this graphic novel is great and makes the show’s final episode all the more meaningful.
Turf Wars also explores the aftermath of Kuvira’s attack on Republic City, the presence of the new Spirit Portal, a conflict between the Triads, and presidential elections.
Collects: The Legend of Korra – Turf Wars #1-3
This is a short story published for FCBD 2018 about Meelo rescuing lost pets in the abandoned area of Republic City right after the end of Turf Wars.
Ruins of the Empire
After the events of season four, Kuvira is put on trial for her actions as leader of the Earth Empire. And while the graphic novel addressed the possibility of her redemption, she begins the story pleading not guilty, arguing that what she sees as her benevolent actions during her time in the Earth Empire should also be taken into account.
The story takes place during the Earth Kingdom’s transition from monarchy to democracy (as initiated by King Wu in season four), showing the slow, frustrating process of elections within an unchanging political class… which is the perfect political situation for the remnants of the Earth Empire to try and seize power, the legitimate way this time. It’s also the perfect setting for Kuvira to face up to her crimes and try to do better. Written again by DiMartino, Ruins of the Empire goes into some of Kuvira’s backstory as a foster child raised by Suyin Beifong in Zaofu. While Kuvira does seem to get off the hook a bit too easily in the end, it is an interesting continuation of her storyline from season four of The Legend of Korra.
Collects: The Legend of Korra – Ruins of the Empire #1-3