Of the many fandoms in the universe, I (a self-professed “nerd”) am bound to Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender and its sequel show The Legend of Korra, the Asian-influenced animated shows by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino centering on the adventures of the “avatar” and his/her ragtag team as they travel the world to maintain world order.
Both series utilize some magical realism, wherein some of the characters are “benders,” or individuals able to control one of the four elements — earth, air, fire, or water — with the use of their chi while striking martial arts forms and techniques. The “avatar” is the person tasked with maintaining peace in the world with their mastery of bending all four elements in addition to a connection to the spirit world where they can confer with their past lives and gain crucial insight.
While there is a plethora of reasons to love either one or both shows, one of the series’ biggest draws is its reliance and development of strong female characters — bender and non-bender alike — who are not only integral to the plot but are some of the most badass fighters you’ll ever get to watch, hands down.The first female character we’re introduced to in the franchise is Katara of Avatar. She’s a maternal, water bender from the Southern Water Tribe and it’s she and her brother Sokka who find Avatar Aang, who had been suspended in ice for 100 years. (It’s a long story.)
Either way, while Katara is entirely sweet and nurturing, she’s also not to be trifled with; as the show progresses, so do Katara’s abilities. Not only does she become a master water bender and a great healer, but she also very quickly learns how to become a blood bender, providing her the ability to control another’s body through the bending of their blood. Oh, yes. Blood is a liquid, too.
Toph Beifong, a blind bender from a wealthy family, is probably the first female master we meet. Though the youngest of her counterparts, Toph mastered the art of moving earth without formal training — or the use of her eyes. Instead, this young warrior learned how to see through her feet acting like a sonar similar to echolocation.
Her fighting scenes are some of the baddest to watch, especially since she doesn’t let her gender or disability stand in her way.Princess Azula, sister to Prince Zuko, is a master manipulator and a fire-bending prodigy, being the only female on the show who is able to bend lightning.
In spite of her sociopathic tendencies and disrupted mental health (stemming from her dysfunctional familial relationships), Azula was a smart strategist who demonstrated her cunning, intelligence, and brute strength. She made a formidable foe against Team Avatar — and even her brother, as seen in her final battle on television.
Aside from depicting women with disabilities kicking butt, Avatar also presented us with women who didn’t need special powers to hold their own, including Kyoshi Warrior Suki as well as Azula’s minions-turned-enemies, Ty Lee and Mai. As a Kyoshi Warrior, Suki spent her life training in the way of former Avatar Kyoshi, a fearsome Earth Bender who even created an island for her people to avoid the oppression of others.
Ty Lee was a former member of the circus, a talented acrobat with agility and chi-blocking skills that would leave anyone paralyzed in a few seconds. And as the daughter of a Fire Nation statesman, Mai was not just pretty and pampered. Her knife-throwing skills could put her on par with any bender.
When we fast-forward 70 years in the future, we find even more stunning women warriors in Legend of Korra, including the titular character herself.
The women around the Avatar are just as important over the course of the series. There's Chief Lin Beifong, daughter of Toph and head of the metal-bending police force. A natural born leader and amazing bender, Lin followed in her mother’s footsteps — literally. She learns how to “see” through her feet, much like Toph, and has a strong will just like the precious earth bender.
She’s also quite frightening.
There's also Asami, the non-bending daughter of a technology industrialist. Legend of Korra establishes her as a well-cultured and astute daughter who wants for nothing. But her wealthy upbringing does nothing to stunt her interest in technology and hand-to-hand combat. Not only is Asami able to dispatch defilers with combat expertise, but she’s able to use her mind to create new technologies to help her bender counterparts.
On the foe front, we have two major baddies who stopped everyone in their tracks: Ming-Hua and Kuvira.
Though Ming-Hua was one of two female villains in Korra Season 3, she was by far the most badass of the twosome for her bending abilities. Much like Toph, Ming-Hua was a disabled character who didn’t let her lack of arms keep her from giving the new Team Avatar a run for their money. As a double-amputee, Ming-Hua performed as well or even better than other benders, with excellent fight scenes that had fans rooting for the villains from time to time.
In the following season, we are given Korra’s biggest foe with Kuvira. Formerly an ally, Kuvira’s ruthless quest to expand the Earth Nation and conquer the world led to a major confrontation with Korra not once, but twice. A tactical soldier, leader, and fighter, Kuvira made it clear she would not be easily back down, especially when it came to seeing her plan — though well-intentioned — executed by any means necessary.
Now, onto Korra.
When we first meet her, we learn she’s assertive, straightforward, and ready to report as the Avatar. Her bending skills were already impressive; however, she still required a bit of mental and emotional growing up to do, which became more than evident when pitted against her season one villain, Amon.
Throughout the course of the show, Korra was able to rise to the occasion using her impeccable fighting skills and conviction of self. By the end of Season 3, Korra suffered a major blow after a failed attempt on her life causes her to experience PTSD, the consequences of which are carried on to Season 4. Korra has several moments of weakness and is crippled mentally, physically, and emotionally, but her persistence and ambition to succeed pushes her — sometimes beyond her limits — and she unlocks a great deal of power inside.
Other badass women of the Korra franchise include metal benders like Suyin Beifong, Lin’s sister and Toph’s youngest daughter, who founded and led her own metal-bending city in the Earth Nation; Jinora, Aang’s air-bending granddaughter whose spirituality is almost as deep as her grandfather’s; and Eska, Korra’s water-bending cousin who is slightly creepy, but insanely gifted with bending.
Ultimately, there are still quite a few other female characters from both shows to explore — which should be an indication on the amount of agency, finesse, and tenacity the showrunners gave to the young girls and women of the entire franchise. While some of them were “baddies,” the vigor, endurance, and self-reliance of all the ladies on both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra is definitely something for women of all ages to aspire and look up to.