There are two types of people in this world: those who are ride-or-die for Avatar: The Last Airbender and those who are wrong.
The magnificent Nickelodeon series is finally back on Netflix after years away from a streaming subscription service (no doubt to build hype for the promised live-action series). Before you start your 872,374th rewatch and try to convince everyone else in your life to watch from the beginning, we thought it would be fun to revisit some old favorites.
To keep this list somewhat fair, we didn’t include multiple parts of the same episode. (A top 10 list gets boring pretty fast when half the contenders are “Sozin’s Comet.”) We tried to have a healthy mix of seasons, but it’s tough when Season 3 slaps so damn hard. And we didn’t rank them, but stayed to sequential order.
With that in mind, here are 10 perfect episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender to binge right now on Netflix.
1. Season 1, episode 12: “The Storm”
The first half of Season 1 brings us into the world of A:TLA, but The Storm gives us the history we need to invest in this story moving forward. It’s both a riveting episode in and of itself and one of the most crucial to the entire series — a 20-minute microcosm summarizing the character arcs of Zuko and Aang through flashbacks, unexpectedly humanizing the former and highlighting the parallels between them both.
In Aang’s flashbacks, we meet Gyatso, who makes it clear where Aang gets his personality, and their personal connection amplifies the pain of knowing the entire Air Nation will be brutally wiped out. In Zuko’s, we see a curious, empathetic boy, the polar opposite of the angry jerk we know. Realizing how Zuko got his scar is an early horror in the series, a warning that this “kids’ show” (it opens in a post-genocidal authoritarian society) is going to push us. At the same time, our first glimpse at Ozai is of a man who is larger than life and everything Aang fears.
2. Season 1, episode 13: “The Blue Spirit”
The Aang/Zuko connection deepens in this episode — the first time we see them pitted against each other alone, with no Iroh, Katara, or Sokka. Though he is one of the foremost antagonists at this point in the series, it’s satisfying to see 16 year-old Zuko outmaneuvering Zhao, and somehow we know it’s Zuko behind the Blue Spirit before Aang unmasks him (and we gasp every time). It’s a mark of Aang’s unfailingly trusting nature that he keeps this secret, and there’s genuine anguish when he asks Zuko if they can be friends — an offer Zuko violently rejects, foreshadowing the reversed situation they’ll find themselves in down the line. Special shoutout to Momo’s dancing side show and Sokka and Katara being loopy with fever.
3. Season 1, episode 20: “The Siege of the North, Part 2”
The stakes couldn’t be higher as Zhao attacks the Northern Water Tribe, planning to rob every surviving waterbender of their powers by killing the Moon Spirit. We’ve only spent one episode in the North, but the gorgeous architecture and ancient knowledge of the Water Tribe are irresistible. Katara finds a master, Sokka pursues a crush — we feel like we could at least stay awhile, and we can’t bear to see these people hurt further.
Aang attacks the Fire Nation army with the help of the Ocean Spirit, but we still sustain a painful loss in battle: Princess Yue, who sacrifices herself to save the Moon Spirit and becomes its new spirit form. Try not to cry just thinking about it.
4. Season 2, episode 7: “Zuko Alone”
The definitive episode in Zuko’s transformation from antagonist to anti-hero also shows us where he gets his ridiculous melodramatic flair (“I’d like to demonstrate what I’ve been learning!”). Further insight into his family proves how terrible Ozai is as a father and just how batshit the entire family really is. Zuko’s continued humanization further props up Azula as the new villain. Once again we see Zuko rejected and banished because of who he is, this time by an Earth Kingdom family. Each time it happens, we feel for him a little more.
5. Season 2, episode 14: “City of Walls and Secrets”
A:TLA continues to shock us with this episode straight out of 1984, in which the Earth Kingdom capital city reveals itself to be the complete opposite of earthbending’s true nature: secretive, manipulative, and completely dishonest. There is no war in Ba Sing Se, where Joo Dee sports a plastic smile and no one can get anywhere near the king without a decent amount of skullduggery. (Enter Lord Momo, of the Momo Dynasty.)
We find ourselves rooting for Jet’s lunatic obsessiveness and feeling for his tragic failure to prove that Zuko and Iroh are firebenders –– especially because of the irony that he’s correct. One of the better fights in this series is the only one completely devoid of bending: Jet vs. Zuko, perfectly matched with twin blades and twin hook swords. There’s also a strong undercurrent of the deep frustration of kids who have the solution and adults who don’t want to hear it.
6. Season 2, episode 15: “Tales of Ba Sing Se”
In this break from the norm, the core characters go off on solo adventures that perfectly capture their best qualities or deepest desires: Aang’s flightiness and love of all living creatures, plus some awesome bending; Sokka’s humorous ineptitude and awkward charm with girls; Katara and Toph’s struggle to connect. Zuko enjoys a rare moment of normalcy and selflessness, and Momo all but steals the show — and breaks our hearts by showing how much he misses Appa. The otherwise fluffy vignettes are punctured by Iroh’s agonizing tribute to his son, a loss so personal and painful that it ultimately destroyed his allegiance to the Fire Nation.
7. Season 3, episode 5: “The Beach”
The powerful youth of the Fire Nation enjoy a welcome break from wartime with a weekend at the beach. (Dare we call it…Fire Fest?) The trip is equal parts side-splitting awkwardness and deep soul searching, bouncing expertly between those drastically disparate tones. One minute you have Azula losing her shit on the volleyball court, and a few minutes later she’s just an awkward nerd trying to flirt with a local hottie. Is Azula a mood??
8. Season 3, episode 4: “Sokka’s Master”
This episode speaks as much to the characters as to the audience by addressing and resolving building issues with Sokka. It solidifies his importance to the Gaang with finite certainty, thus raising him above the slew of sidekick-esque characters in animated epics and eliminating the “three on three-plus-Sokka” mentality for good. A single-episode character study, it reminds us why we love him — not that some of us needed any reminding.
9. Season 3, episode 15: “The Boiling Rock, Part 2”
Though it’s Part 1 that contains the iconic “My first girlfriend turned into the moon” exchange, Part 2 contains every element we love about this show: an utterly humorless Zuko, ass-kicking Suki, Azula’s people skills, and the grand yet fatally flawed plans of our beloved Sokka. The climax proves a pivotal moment for Azula as she loses her two best friends, and with them, the last of her humanity. By saving his father, and redeeming himself with Suki, Sokka proves to himself that he earned his role as protector, even if he was thrust into it unwillingly at a young age.
Mai gets some depth at long last, when we see that she was truly hurt by what Zuko did to her in the ultimate Avatar twist on teenage post-break-up awkwardness. As if having your ex-girlfriend read you the break-up letter you wrote her isn’t bad enough, try doing it while tied to a chair in her uncle’s prison.
10. Season 3, episode 20: “Sozin’s Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno”
Just when Avatar‘s four-part finale could be susceptible to a lag, it hits — nay, burns — us with this episode, in which we watch Azula descend irrevocably into madness on the cusp of her Firelord coronation. Her final face off with Zuko is as epic as it was inevitable, made all the more fantastic by his team up with Katara — the last member of Team Avatar to truly accept him. (Speaking of burning: my Zutara FEELINGS.)
We have reached the height of the battle for world peace: Sokka and Toph take the airships, the White Lotus protects Ba Sing Se, the Phoenix King prepares to scorch the Earth Kingdom and destroy the Avatar once and for all. Zuko and Azula’s battle is juxtaposed with Aang and Ozai’s (in which the Avatar feels woefully mismatched), giving us some of the most spectacular bending the show has to offer.
‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ is now streaming on Netflix.