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A Guide to Avatar the Last Airbender Graphic Novels

The best reading order for getting into the show's comics.

MOBILE 78
Dark Horse Books

With the live action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender right around the corner and an approaching expiration date on the classic show’s time on Netflix, it’s a good time to get back into what may be the greatest American animated series.

If you get to the end of the show, however, and are still hungry for more… well, there’s always Legend of Korra. After that (or if you’re looking for a more direct follow up to Avatar), there are two decades of Avatar the Last Airbender graphic novels and comics to keep you occupied with the adventures of the Gaang.

But where to start? These are listed by the publication date of the collections (The Lost Adventures technically collects individual comics that were the first published) but luckily it's a list that starts out strong.

Before we start, though, if you like Avatar and you’re looking for more like it, here are some other options to get you started.

What to Read Before Avatar the Last Airbender Graphic Novels:

Isola

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Like Avatar, it’s a compelling adventure through a beautiful fantasy world with a very small cast. The book is beautiful with some fantastic characters.

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Through the Moon

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If you like Avatar, hopefully you’ve also checked out Dragon Prince. While the animation style takes some getting used to, it’s a similarly epic adventure with much of the same creative team. Like Avatar, it also has a graphic novel to help tide you through to the next season.

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Runaways

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Marvel Comics

While not high fantasy like Isola, Dragon Prince or Avatar, Runaways does feature the same endearing group of outcasts dealing with the problems of terrible parents.

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But anyway, you came here for Avatar comics. Below is a good reading order for all of the Avatar the Last Airbender graphic novels released to date:

1. The Promise

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Dark Horse Books

(January-September 2012)

Though it isn’t the earliest book by publication date, a fan who just finished Avatar: the Last Airbender and is hungry for more should start with The Promise. The book picks up just moments after the series finale, but more broadly helps flesh out the first year after Ozai’s defeat.

Aside from Aang and Katara constantly calling each other “sweetie” in a move so saccharine it even makes Sokka and Toph gag, The Promise not only does a remarkable job of keeping the characters’ voices true to the show, but presents them with a conflict where right and wrong isn’t as clear as it was throughout much of Avatar.

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2. The Search

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Dark Horse Books

(March-October 2013)

Following The Promise, the next few sets of Avatar books flow sequentially and tell a few overarching narratives. One of the big ones—Zuko’s search for his mother—is a loose thread from the show that becomes a major plot point in the comics that starts here. There’s some Aang and the spirit world action too, but it’s the continuation of Zuko and Azula’s story that’s rightfully center-stage here.

After all the build up, revelations about Zuko’s family past aren’t as compelling or impactful as readers might have hoped, but following up on Azula after the show’s end makes The Search worthwhile.

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3. The Rift

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Dark Horse Books

(March-November 2014)

The Rift shifts the focus back to Aang and Toph, kicking off a turn for the series to focus more on one or two characters rather than the broader cast. There are some instances where that weakens the story, but it works in The Rift by—like The Promise—both emphasizing the cultural evolution from Avatar to Legend of Korra and some of the moral complexities.

In The Rift, new refinery is bringing together various types of benders as part of technology advancing. Beyond just depicting a technological evolution, something that’s been a strength of Avatar’s worldbuilding since the start, it’s a representation of some of the wounds of the Fire Nation’s war starting to heal.

The refinery is causing ruin to the nearby land and the spirits. Aang is put into an uncomfortable situation where his role as a bridge between the spirit world and the human world is tested in a conflict where no solution will satisfy both parties.

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4. Smoke and Shadow

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Dark Horse Books

(October 2015-April 2016)

Aang returns for this comic, but make no mistake: this is the Team Fire Nation’s story. Smoke and Shadow is very much a follow up to The Search. Your enjoyment of Smoke and Shadow will hinge on two things: your tolerance for the Avatar comics dipping back into the conflict with parents for the fourth time in a row and your enjoyment of the Fire Nation internal conflicts set up in The Promise and The Search.

Overall, Zuko’s continuing arc in the Avatar comics helps keep Smoke and Shadow an enjoyable and worthwhile addition to the Avatar canon for those who aren’t too bothered by some of that story getting a little repetitive.

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5. North and South

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Dark Horse Books

(September 2016-April 2017)

North and South finishes out Gene Yang and Studio Gurihiru’s run on the Avatar comics, but it doesn’t quite live up to the heights of the earlier stories. Once again, the Gaang—here represented primarily with Katara and Sokka—is in the middle of a divide between respecting tradition and embracing technological progress. But the divide feels less personal and less nuanced than in The Rift.

Katara and Sokka return to the South Pole only to find some of the locals concerned that the Northern Water Tribe is starting to erase the Southern Water Tribe’s culture and drill for oil. The Southern nationalist isn’t as sympathetic an antagonist as earlier iterations of that same idea, and the Northern Water Tribe acquiescing to most of his demands almost halfway through the series sort of takes the wind out of the conflict’s sail.

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6. Imbalance

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Dark Horse Books

(December 2018-October 2019)

Imbalance opens with a new writing and artistic team, with Faith Erin Hicks on the script and Peter Wartman, Ryan Hill and Adele Matera on the art. The shift is noticeable, but isn’t a downgrade. Studio Gurihiru’s art was a very literal transition from the show to the comics, with panels that look like they might have been still frames from the show.

Peter Wartman’s art in particular feels refreshingly like an interpretation of the show’s style rather than a direct copy. Another strong suit of the artwork is that Team Avatar is also visibly growing up, though it’s a little disorienting at first seeing a tall Aang. The detailed images of a swelling cityscape are a particular standout that help make Imbalance’s urban setting stand out.

The comic follows up on some of what started in The Rift, much like Smoke and Shadow felt like a follow up to The Search. But here, Imbalance benefits both from the set up in previous conflicts and from some foresight with how its story foreshadows the main conflict between benders and non-benders in the first season of Legend of Korra. The haves and have-nots conflict felt a little underdeveloped in that season, and Imbalance is a worthwhile read to see that explored more.

Both thematically and visually, the very good earlier run of Avatar comics started to lose some steam towards the end, and Imbalance goes a long way to breathing fresh life into the comics. Unfortunately, what seems like a fresh start and a new chapter for the comics ends (for now) with this story.

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7. Katara and the Pirate’s Silver

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Dark Horse Books

(October 2020)

Katara and the Pirate’s Silver isn’t bad. If you really love Katara as a character and want more of her specifically, you’re in luck. Earlier Avatar comics focused on specific characters, but never to the degree that this book does. It’s also set during Book 2 of the show. Those are two bold departures from the previous comics, but it also confines the story and stunts any potential character growth in ways that make it feel more skippable and less independent than earlier entries.

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8. The Lost Adventures

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Dark Horse Books

(November 2020)

Chronologically the first Avatar comics written, these vignettes are mainly collected from the Nickelodeon magazine and the DVD collections. The quality of the art and the various stories are fine, but most of them are no longer than three or four pages and don’t have room to tell much of a worthwhile story. There are a handful of longer comics in the mix, but even those don’t really manage to add much. Ultimately, The Lost Adventures is a boon for hardcore collectors or folks starving for Avatar content after reading everything else, but they’re hard to recommend beyond that.

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9. Team Avatar Tales

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Dark Horse Books

(November 2020)

Probably the most comic-y of the Avatar comics, Team Avatar Tales is an anthology collecting several free comic book day issues. For the first time in the list, the art styles are dramatically different from the show. Some look different, but work really well; others less so, but it’s at least a change that helps the comics stand out. Like The Lost Adventures, these stories are on the shorter side, but have just enough room to tell interesting stories and generally have more compelling premises. This is still not a “must read” but definitely a step up from The Lost Adventures.

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10. Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy

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Dark Horse Books

(February 2021)

Toph is one of the standout characters from Avatar and a fan favorite, and her endearing grumpiness and impatience help boost the really thin plot. Toph getting into trouble because she’s bored is a great characterization, along with her revulsion at being an authority figure. It’s a good Toph story with appropriately small stakes, but that does leave the comic a little lacking in comparison to some of the more epic earlier arcs that felt like they could have been seasons of a show.

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11. Suki, Alone

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Dark Horse Books

(July 2021)

With its name, Suki, Alone ties itself to the tradition of Zuko Alone and Korra Alone, two of the best episodes in Avatar and Legend of Korra, respectively. Does Suki, Alone live up to that pedigree? Not really, but it’s still a good story, and despite having the same problems as Katara and the Pirate’s Silver with being set between episodes of the show, Suki, Alone is more compelling by putting the spotlight on the eponymous secondary character from Avatar. Katara was at the center of three seasons of Avatar and many of the earlier comics, and spending more time with Suki during her stay at Boiling Rock feels more worthwhile and interesting.

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If you’ve finished those and are looking for more, there’s also a pair of Legend of Korra comics as well.

Legend of Korra Comics:

12. Turf Wars

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Dark Horse Books

(July 2017)

Like The Promise, Turf Wars kicks off within a few minutes of the show’s end. Here, there’s a touching expansion on the relationship alluded to in the Legend of Korra ending and the writing here is as tender and compassionate as that deserves, working even better since its paired with some of the wild visuals of the spirit world. But back in Republic City, the comic focuses more on the aftermath of the crisis at the end of the show. Irene Koh’s excellent artwork is also some of the best in the Avatar/Korra comics, both matching the feeling of the show while still looking unique.

Like Toph Beifong’s Metalbending Academy, the scale is a bit smaller than some of the other comics, at least at first, but if you’re willing to overlook that, the strength of the comic is in exploring its central romantic relationship and leaning into a discussion of queer relationships and oppression in a way the show could only skirt around. More broadly, there are themes of non-violent protest and some complications around internal politics that might be a little dull, even heavy-handed in some places, but still help Turf Wars feel like a fitting epilogue—if not its own epic standalone story.

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13. Ruins of the Empire

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Dark Horse Books

(September 2020)

While Turf Wars could get away with feeling more like an epilogue than its own standalone story, that starts to wear a little thin in Ruins of the Empire. It’s very much a Kuvira story, and your mileage here will vary by how invested you were in Kuvira. The Kuvira ending was a little rushed at the end of Season 4 of Legend of Korra, so the turn for her character feels worth exploring, but the pacing of the comic seems to drag that out for a little longer than it merits. While the trilogy structure has worked well for some other Avatar comics, here maybe two might have been better. Also Asami gets kidnapped again, which is 2-for-2 in the Korra comics and feels not only a little repetitive but sort of a cheap use of her relationship with Korra.

Still, Ruins of the Empire is a capable, but not extraordinary, addition to Legend of Korra.

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