When almost every episode is good, it’s hard to narrow down just 10.
Avatar: The Last Airbender still has a devoted fan base since it first aired on Nickelodeon in 2005. Ever since the show concluded with its third season, there have been many follow-ups and adaptations, including comics, sequel shows, a movie adaptation and an upcoming live-action remake on Netflix. Even with this new content, it’s still the original show that fans often find themselves coming back to.
There are 61 total episodes in Avatar, all of which vary in terms of tone, importance and sometimes entertainment value. While no episode is widely regarded as “bad,” there are certainly some that are much better than others. Today, let’s look at the 10 best episodes from Avatar: The Last Airbender:
*MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*
10. The Western Air Temple (Book 3, Episode 12)
Episode 12 of the final season of Avatar is a big turning point for the show. After a long built-up plan went astray in the previous episode, it’s time for the “Gaang” to regroup and figure out a new plan of action to defeat the Fire Nation. This may have been a standard planning episode if it weren’t for the appearance of a potential new member of the main group. This addition was a long time coming for the past two-and-a-half seasons, but that doesn’t make his commencement an easy one. Throughout the episode, we see his many struggles to gain the trust of the Gaang, who is rightfully suspicious of him. The episode is filled with emotional turmoil, but there is also plenty of comedy mixed in as well.
Perhaps the most important thing this episode does is set both a tone and plan for the rest of the show’s run.
9. The Library (Book 2, Episode 10)
The halfway point of season two could also be considered a turning point. Here, Aang, Katara, Sokka and Toph travel to a sunken library in the middle of a desert in order to find information that could help them take down the Fire Nation. The only problem: the library is watched over by a spirit that does not want his knowledge to be used for warfare, so obtaining this information might not be so easy.
Much of this episode is suspenseful, given that a lot of it takes place in a dark maze of a library. The real treat is that this episode makes the Gaang feel so much closer to getting an advantage over their enemy. The information they find ends up being their driving point for the next 20 or so episodes.
8. Sozen’s Comet (Book 3, Episodes 18-21)
There was no better way to end off one of the greatest cartoons of all time than an hour-and-a-half series finale. Just about every loose end is tied up in this four-part ending, and we also get to see two of the greatest fights in the entire show at once. The animation, music and voice acting are all peak for the show so that every moment feels perfect for the climax.
Some fans complain that the finale has a serious issue of “deus ex machina,” and while that criticism is understandable, the moment in particular does fit with the show’s themes and is partially a result of Aang’s own morals, not just pure luck. So, as series finales go, this one is near perfect.
7. The Storm (Book 1, Episode 12)
The dynamic between Aang and Zuko, the first antagonist of Avatar, is one of the strongest aspects of the show we see early on. The two are constantly against each other, but they don’t necessarily hate one another. Aang and Zuko also have similar external and internal problems, but circumstances make it impossible for them to be friends. It’s a classic foil dynamic that comes to light as both characters’ backstories are explored as they wait out a dark storm.
Even if we already did have hints at the origins of these two, this episode uses flashbacks to show just how tragic both situations really were. The show’s signature comedy is still used throughout this episode, but that doesn’t stop the sadder moments from bringing tears to your eyes.
6. The Tales of Ba Sing Se (Book 2, Episode 15)
A fan-favorite for good reason, Tales of Ba Sing Se is the closest that Avatar gets to being a slice of life show. For the most part, nothing that important happens here except for some brief foreshadowing. This episode simply shows how the characters are living their lives in the Earth Kingdom capital, with each character getting their own mini story. Some of these stories, like Aang’s and Sokka’s, are pretty light-hearted and fun. Others, such as Katara and Toph’s, Zuko’s and Momo’s mix in both comedy and character development.
Then you have The Story of Iroh, which starts out as funny and charming, but then takes a somber turn. The ending scene is what many consider to be the saddest scene in the entire show, and also serves as a tribute to Iroh’s deceased voice actor, Mako.
5. The Siege of the North (Book 1, Episodes 19-20)
The first season started in the desolate Southern Water Tribe and ended in the grand Northern Water Tribe. While Aang and Katara are busy mastering water bending, Sokka spends his time hanging out with the chief’s daughter, Yue, and romance soon sparks between the two. Unfortunately, all three members of the Gaang have to make room for the imminent threat of the Fire Nation, which is launching a surprise invasion on the Northern Water Tribe.
Even if it isn’t the show’s ending, this season finale ends up being great closure for Aang, Katara and Sokka for the time being. All three of them are stronger and wiser than they were at the beginning of the show, and you’re left excited to see them continue their journey in the next season.
4. The Day of Black Sun (Book 3, Episodes 10-11)
This mid-season finale could have been the ending, had things gone better for the good guys. Unfortunately, nothing ever comes easy if you’re going against the Fire Nation.
Ever since the halfway point of the second season, viewers have been awaiting the day of the eclipse, the one day where fire benders lose their bending. Of course, there are a few unforeseen holes in the plan, and things quickly come tumbling down as those faults are exposed. Even still, the episode itself isn’t completely tragic. There’s a glimpse of hope for the main four as they’re able to regroup together. Not to mention, one character’s redemption arc finally ignites.
3. The Crossroads of Destiny (Book 2, Episode 20)
Well, there’s certainly a lot to take in here. Fans knew that things would get complicated in Ba Sing Se for the season two finale, but this episode definitely takes things in an unexpected direction toward the end. There are unexpected team-ups, old enemies clashing once again and, of course, great advice from Uncle Iroh (it wouldn’t be Avatar without that).
The ending to this finale is a shocker, and while things aren’t completely hopeless by the end, it was certainly hard to have to wait months for the next season to find out what happens to the Gaang next.
2. Zuko Alone (Book 2, Episode 7)
Of course, this is ranked high. Everyone loves this episode. It’s over 20 minutes of spending time with one of the show’s most beloved characters, after all. This episode is such a standout; not only do we get even more insight into Zuko’s backstory (this time with more focus on his family), but we also get to see Avatar’s own take on a spaghetti western type story.
Even if this isn’t exactly a cheerful episode, you find yourself enjoying moments of Zuko’s character and psychology. It’s not the first or last time Zuko gets explored in this fashion, but this episode does it more in-depth than any other.
1. The Beach (Book 3, Episode 5)
Huh? This episode? You probably think it’s good, but it’s not the best, right? Oh, it is. It’s one of the funniest episodes, one of the saddest and it includes plenty of action as well.
I won’t mention any specific jokes that will have you weak laughing, but there is something truly hilarious about seeing a socially disconnected Azula do everything she can to be normal around people who she clearly sees as lowly peasants. That comedy goes alongside poor Ty Lee being hit on by every guy on the beach and Zuko doing everything he can to not be a lame boyfriend to Mai.
If this was a pure comedic episode, that would have been fine; this episode is more than that, however. The second half of The Beach focuses on each of the four “antagonists” sitting around a fire and talking about who they are, why they’re the way they are and why that makes them happy or unhappy. There’s plenty of arguing, screaming and insulting, but the conversation ends with honesty and forgiveness. It’s one of, if not the, best scenes in the show, and it’s a perfect climax to the best episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.