12 Most Underrated Avatar: The Last Airbender Episodes

There's a reason that many consider "Avatar: The Last Airbender" to be the best-animated show of all time. Its rich world, lovable and nuanced characters, and willingness to tackle complicated topics like war and trauma drew in dedicated fans of all ages. In the nearly 15 years since the show's finale, fans have kept the proverbial flame burning, and the production companies have paid attention! Avatar Studios recently announced plans for a run of feature films, the first of which will focus on Aang and the rest of Team Avatar. Netflix currently has a live-action "Avatar" show in the works that added Amber Midthunder to its cast. "Avatar" left an indelible mark on the world of animated television.

For three seasons, "Avatar" released excellent episodes, so a few were bound to slip through the cracks and become forgotten by the most vocal critics and fans. From undeniably endearing to sleeper hits that snuck in some incredible action and character development, we're looking at the 12 most underrated episodes of "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

The Waterbending Scroll

"The Waterbending Scroll" sees Sokka (Jack De Sena), Katara (Mae Whitman), and Aang (Zach Tyler Eisen) facing off against pirates and Zuko (Dante Basco) as Katara faces feelings of inadequacy. Frustrated that Aang is quickly beginning to surpass her in waterbending, Katara impulsively steals a waterbending scroll from a group of pirates. Naturally, the pirates don't take too kindly to being robbed by kids. They chase after the group before making a deal with Zuko to aid him in Aang's capture.

As the ninth episode of the entire series, "The Waterbending Scroll" is a fantastic indicator of events to come in the series. The episode deftly mixes in comic relief as the group interacts with the pirates. However, there's still genuine threat and malice when Zuko takes Katara hostage, and the pirates prepare to hand Aang over to the Fire Lord. The episode's climax is a shining moment of growth for Katara, who overcomes her jealousy and insecurity to execute the move that has eluded her for the entire episode. By the end, she has accepted that her journey is hers, and there is no need to compare herself to Aang. Also, she should never steal — unless it's from pirates.


One of Katara's defining features is her deep, profound sense of justice and righteous fury. "Imprisoned" is one of the first episodes that gives the audience a good look at the fire in this waterbender's heart. When Aang, Sokka, and Katara set up camp near an Earth Kingdom town controlled by Fire Nation forces, Katara inadvertently causes the arrest of Haru (Michael Dow), a young earthbender. To help him, she devises a scheme to get herself arrested for defying the anti-earthbending law and stages a prison break. The scene where Katara fakes her earthbending is some classic "Avatar" goofiness, but inside the prison, she encounters people with broken spirits, beaten down into submission. She makes it her mission to remind the earthbenders of the power they hold as a collective and encourages them to rebel.

Seeing Katara take on the occupying forces of the Fire Nation military and inspire the oppressed earthbenders to launch a revolt is energizing and satisfying all at once. This episode sets the stage for some of Katara's future acts of resistance and defiance.

Avatar Day

Mostly when Aang encounters people who learn of his identity as the Avatar, he is greeted as a beloved hero and a symbol of hope — except for Fire Nation forces. But when the gang arrives in Chin Village, they discover that the town's annual celebration of Avatar Day involves the ritual burning of effigies built to resemble the Avatar's various incarnations, commemorating a great injustice supposedly done by Avatar Kyoshi many years ago. When Aang becomes arrested for the crimes of his past self, Katara and Sokka investigate the townspeople's claims.

The episode is a ton of fun — especially when Sokka embodies his inner Sherlock Holmes. "Avatar Day" forces Aang to reckon with the possibility of being held responsible for the sins of the past. This episode asks the audience to interrogate how historical accounts can be warped and changed depending on who is writing them. Aang is eventually proven innocent and thankfully not boiled to death in oil. However, the impact of his time in custody lingers. Meanwhile, Zuko grapples with his sense of purpose and realizes he must set out on his own to find his inner strength.

The Cave of Two Lovers

Viewers may remember "The Cave of Two Lovers" as the last leg of Team Avatar's journey to Omashu, but it is so much more than that. When the gang follows a group of traveling bards through the caves, a cave-in separates them. Sokka is stuck with the bards, with Aang and Katara trapped together. After learning about the cave's history and of Omashu, Katara and Aang become inspired by an inscription: "Love is brightest in the dark." They share a kiss just as the light of their torch goes out.

Meanwhile, Zuko and Iroh (Mako) find themselves invited into the home of an Earth Kingdom family. Zuko receives a firsthand look at the devastation the Fire Nation has done to the rest of the world: This encounter plants some of the first seeds of doubt in his mind. Between this turning point for Zuko, Katara and Aang's deepened connection, and the necessary comic relief of Sokka dealing with a band of hippies, "The Cave of Two Lovers" is one of the best unsung episodes of the show.

Return to Omashu

When Aang, Katara, and Sokka arrive in Omashu, the Fire Nation controls the city. While attempting to smuggle Earth Kingdom citizens out of Omashu, the gang accidentally takes the Fire Nation governor's two-year-old son. Aang tries to use the child as leverage to negotiate the release of his friend, King Bumi (André Sogliuzzo), but Azula (Grey DeLisle) arrives to get in the way.

The episode also marks the first appearance of Mai (Cricket Leigh), the deadpan, knife-throwing governor's daughter and eventual love interest to Zuko, and Ty Lee (Olivia Hack), the bubbly circus performer with a talent for hand-to-hand combat and special chi-blocking moves. Azula joins up with the two girls and forms a task force to capture The Avatar. With their combined efforts, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee make a formidable new obstacle for Team Avatar. The trio barely manages to evade them. It's an action-packed episode that introduces some iconic new characters and raises the stakes by revealing that Omashu, once a stronghold of the Earth Kingdom, has already fallen to enemy forces.

The Warriors of Kyoshi

"The Warriors of Kyoshi" is a blast from start to finish. This season one episode has everything a fan could want: a badass group of female warriors, a giant eel monster, and Sokka getting his attitudes about men and women turned upside down and learning some much-needed humility. When Aang brings Katara and Sokka to Kyoshi Island so that they can ride giant koi fish, they encounter The Unagi, a massive sea creature and a town full of Avatar's biggest fans.

While a portion of the episode is about Aang learning what it means to be The Avatar and the importance of the role he was born into, the storyline revolving around Sokka and the Kyoshi Warriors is the true standout. Sokka is carrying around some pretty rigid ideas about gender roles, ideas that he has (literally) knocked out of him when he confronts Suki. After being humbled, he asks to learn from the Kyoshi Warriors. Sokka leaves Kyoshi Island with new combat skills, an open mind, and a big crush on Suki.

Bato of the Water Tribe

For an episode rarely discussed, there is a lot to love about "Bato of the Water Tribe." As the title would imply, the episode sees Katara and Sokka reunite with Bato (Richard McGonagle), a friend of their father's from the Southern Water Tribe. But there is so much more at play than that. For the first time, Aang confronts the possibility of being forced to part with the surrogate family he's found in Sokka and Katara and struggles to cope. Katara and Sokka receive their first chance in a long time to reconnect with the home and family they lost. While all of Team Avatar's emotions are running high, the brassy bounty hunter June (Jennifer Hale) and her pet, a giant mole-like creature with the ability to paralyze prey, hunt Aang.

Although Aang's impulsive choice to intercept a message regarding Sokka and Katara's father temporarily breaks the gang apart, they come back together to take on June, reasserting the strength of their bond as a team.

The Runaway

When Toph (Jessie Flower) first joins Team Avatar, she and Katara struggle to find a comfortable rapport. Her dynamic with Aang is clear-cut, as she takes on the role of his earthbending teacher. She grows to harbor a not-so-secret crush on Sokka, but she and Katara are frequently at odds. Katara tends to take on the de facto role of Mother to the rest of the group, and the rebellious, independent Toph bristles at any maternal energy. Enter season 3's "The Runaway," which finally confronts the distance between Toph and Katara head-on.

When Toph uses her earthbending to scam Fire Nation citizens out of money, Katara makes her disapproval no secret. As Toph pushes back against Katara's mothering, Katara wonders if Toph might be behaving this way because she misses her parents — a fact Toph denies. Wanting to prove that she can be fun, Katara offers to help Toph pull off a massive scam, and the two find themselves captured by an assassin after Aang. There, they must work together to escape. In the process, they earn each other's respect. Katara and Toph end the episode on far better terms, and for the first time since she first ran away from home, Toph writes a letter to her parents. "The Runaway" shows sides of Katara and Toph that the audience doesn't often see: Katara's capacity for quick-thinking heroism and Toph's soft, emotional underbelly.

The Swamp

One of the most compelling aspects of the show's world is the wide variety of benders that the team encounters on their journey. With bloodbending, metalbending, and even lightning, the art of bending goes far beyond the surface level of the four elements. One of the most intriguing departures from straightforward bending arrives in "The Swamp," where Aang, Katara, and Sokka encounter what appears to be a giant monster living in the eponymous swamp. As the episode progresses, they discover that the "monster" is a waterbender named Huu (William H. Bassett), who bends the water inside of the plants to defend the swamp from within a massive suit of vines. Huu tells them more about the nature of the swamp, which shows visions to certain chosen people in the form of their lost loved ones.

In classic "Avatar" fashion, "The Swamp" combines thoughtful spirituality, comedy, and inventive fight sequences to create a compelling and complex episode of television. 

Lake Laogai

Throughout the series, "Avatar" straddles a variety of tones and explores several genres, including action, comedy, romance, and even horror. (Koh the face stealer has some childhood nightmares to answer for creating!) So why not have an episode that serves as the show's take on a political thriller in the vein of "The Manchurian Candidate?" As Team Avatar searches for a missing Appa in "Lake Laogai," season 1 bad boy and potential romantic rival Jet (Crawford Wilson) reappears to join the hunt. But all is not as it seems, and the group finds themselves pulled into a dark web of conspiracy and brainwashing. The scenes at Lake Laogai are tense and uneasy, and the glimpse of a room full of women programmed to take on the role of Joo Dee, a "Stepford Wives"-like servant, is downright chilling.

While Aang and the gang are facing off against the Dai Li (Andre Sogliuzzo) and a brainwashed Jet, Zuko confronts his struggles with identity at the behest of Uncle Iroh. His decision to free Appa from captivity and cast off the Blue Spirit mask represents a significant turning point for him, a step toward finally becoming free of the endless quest to please his abusive father.

The Beach

"Avatar: The Last Airbender" frequently borrows inspiration from the world of anime — look at the show's combination of humor, emotion, and action sequences, to Appa's design resembling the Catbus from "My Neighbor Totoro." But one particular anime trope made its way into season 3 of the series, a classic narrative pit stop along the storyline of dozens and dozens of anime series: the beach episode. It appears in romantic comedies, action-adventures, and even "Pokemon" gives its characters a day of fun in the sun. A beach episode is what it sounds like: It's an opportunity to show characters out of their ordinary routine and see what hijinks and growth they discover.

In the aptly named episode "The Beach," Zuko, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee are sent on a mandatory vacation to Ember Island by the Fire Lord. Ty Lee takes to the trip like a fish to water, as the other three flounder in the carefree environment. Zuko spirals as he attempts to impress the nonchalant Mai, and the two share a moment of genuine emotional honesty. Meanwhile, Azula tries to engage in ordinary teen girl behavior like games, parties, and flirting, with hilarious results that almost make you feel a little sorry for the would-be-fire-lord. Sure, she's homicidal, but she's so awkward! There's also a B-plot about Aang and friends evading an assassin, but the beach storyline stands out beautifully.

The Library

Though regularly left off many "Best of Avatar" lists, "The Library" is one of the series' best narrative turning points. It begins like a filler episode, a side quest where the gang helps a professor locate a mythical library in a desert guarded by a Knowledge Spirit. When they find it, the spirit is reluctant to allow them access. The Knowledge Spirit (Héctor Elizondo) says that humans have proven themselves untrustworthy with the knowledge inside the library — only ever using it to gain leverage over one another. However, Aang's promise to honor the spirit of the library, along with a piece of knowledge donated by each teammate, causes the Knowledge Spirit to change his mind.

However, even though they are our heroes, Team Avatar is only human. They use the library to uncover a vital weakness in the fire nation's forces: an upcoming solar eclipse. Furious, the Knowledge Spirit chases them out of the library, where they discover someone kidnapped Appa. "The Library" introduces the solar eclipse, which features heavily in the season's story arc. But it also takes a deep look at each character's struggles as they grapple with the fact that compromises occur during times of war.