Updated: Oct 30, 2020
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER & THE LEGEND OF KORRA
In 2005, Avatar: The Last Airbender introduced us to the world of Avatar Aang and the ability of “bending”. Since then, the show has become so beloved and well-known that even those who don’t watch are familiar with the ability of bending. Throughout the show, its successor The Legend of Korra, and the accompanying comics, we have been introduced to many characters who have mastered and utilized the powers of Air, Water, Earth, and Fire. In this list, we will be ranking the most powerful benders from each element, not based on natural ability, but rather on their most powerful state in which we see them in either Avatar: The Last Airbender or The Legend of Korra. We will not be including characters or Avatars who passed away before the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
The first airbender to join the Air Nation after Harmonic Convergence, this thief turned airbender goes from being a self-serving kid to a powerful, devout Air Nomad. Kai is a natural airbender when he gains his newfound ability in Season 3 of The Legend of Korra, and through the training of Master Tenzin and his close relationship with Jinora, eventually becomes well versed in airbending, and ends up playing an important role in both the fight against the Red Lotus and the defense of Republic City.
The eldest granddaughter of Avatar Aang and one of the characters with the deepest connection to the Spirit World, Jinora transitions from a side character in Season 1 of The Legend of Korra to playing a pivotal role in the following three seasons. Her connection to the Spirit World and the light within it are integral in the defeat of UnaVaatu, her banding together of the newly formed Air Nation creates the tornado that ultimately brings down Zaheer, and she also had a hand in bringing down Kuvira’s giant mecha suit/spirit cannon in the defense of Republic City.
The leader of the Red Lotus quickly shows the dangers of airbending’s rebirth in Season 3 of The Legend of Korra. Zaheer is able to quickly and swiftly use his new-found airbending ability to make easy work of the White Lotus guards in order to free himself and his fellow Red Lotus members from four extreme security prisons. His knowledge of airbending history, admiration for the ancient Guru Laghima, and natural bending and fighting prowess have him kill the Earth Queen and throw Ba Sing Se into chaos, defeat Kya and Tonraq, and contend with Tenzin and poisoned Avatar State Korra. Most notably, Zaheer also gains the legendary ability to become untethered to the Earth and fly without the help of a glider. Not to mention his deep connection with the Spirit World.
Tenzin’s training under his father, Avatar Aang, truly made him a force to be reckoned with. Tenzin trained Korra as well as the entirety of the new Air Nation, adapting his teaching style as he grows as a mentor and character. Though Tenzin is a rigid character aspiring to be as great as his father when we first meet him, he soon finds individuality and strength within himself and grows to be one of the most powerful characters in The Legend of Korra. Tenzin takes on multiple equalists, helps Korra in the Water Tribe civil war and the defense of Republic City, and gets the best of Zaheer until the rest of the Red Lotus intervenes.
Honorable Mentions: Ikki, Meelo, Opal
The youngest ever airbending master, Aang shows airbending ability unmatched by any other character in either series. A light-hearted, fun-loving character when we first meet him, Aang’s power as an airbender is quickly apparent when he takes on an entire firebending boat to escape the clutches of Prince Zuko. As the show goes on, he fights extremely powerful characters like Zuko, Azula, King Bumi, and Zhao. Most notably, he takes on the Fire Lord at the age of 14 (though he has the power of the other four elements and the Avatar-State on his side). Aang invented new techniques of airbending such as the air-scooter, and is able to defeat many enemies using solely airbending throughout the course of the show. In the end, he also chooses his pacifistic airbending teachings regardless of the advice of his past Avatar-lives, and takes away Fire Lord Ozai’s bending instead of killing him.
5. Ming Hua
Disabled by her lack of arms, you would think Ming Hua would have trouble bending any element. However, her disability just serves to empower her bending, using psychic bending to give her water arms. Easily defeating Desna and Eska, badly injuring Kya, and contending with Mako are just some of the fights she’s shown excelling in throughout Season 3 of The Legend of Korra. She’s extremely quick, and most benders are not used to fighting against her style of waterbending, making her an extremely intimidating enemy for anyone she faces. And when she equips herself with six water arms, you know you’re in trouble.
The youngest son of bloodbending master Yakkone, Tarrlok is most notable for his bloodbending skills. Tarrlok is one of only three waterbenders ever seen to be using bloodbending without the assistance of a full moon. Using just waterbending, he contends with Avatar Korra using three elements, and eventually defeats her once his bloodbending is in play. Tarrlok is seen bloodbending Tenzin, Lin Beifong, and a good portion of Team Avatar at the same time, incapacitating them until he escapes justice. Ultimately, it is undeniable how powerful bloodbending at will is, making Tarrlok and extremely powerful foe.
Aside from bloodbending, Unalaq’s pure waterbending prowess is one of the most powerful we have seen in either series. With a respect for the spirits and the traditions of the Water Tribe, Unalaq uses his powers to eventually fuse with Vaatu and become the first ever Dark Avatar. Just from a waterbending standpoint, he is seen contending and even debatably defeating Avatar Korra using only waterbending, and easily defeats his brother Tonraq in the streets of the Southern Water Tribe. He also uses his waterbending abilities and his connection to the Spirit World to “heal” and control spirits.
Katara is the first waterbender ever introduced to the world. Growing from an untrained yet natural bender to one of the most powerful characters in either show, Katara shows that true devotion and determination can lead to great things. One of the most versatile benders of the series, Katara masters both the Northern and Southern Water tribe’s waterbending styles. She also masters bloodbending from Hama, eventually resisting the bloodbending innovator’s powers and defeating her. She goes on to defeat an overpowered Azula during Sozin’s Comet using waterbending and strategic fighting. Her legacy lives on into The Legend of Korra, where she is generally regarded as “the greatest healer in the world”. It’s tough to say how she’d hold her own against the bloodbenders of Yakkone’s bloodline.
Honorable Mentions: Pakku, Korra, Yakkone, Tonraq, Hama
Though we rarely see Amon use actual waterbending, his bloodbending ability is one of the more frightening things in the Avatar universe. A natural at the ability, he eventually learns how to pair it with his chi blocking abilities to take bending abilities away. He even brings Avatar Korra to her knees and temporarily takes her ability to bend water, earth, and fire away until it is restored by her Avatar Spirit. He easily defeats many foes during his reign of terror, only being temporarily bested by Mako (but ultimately bloodbends him into submission) and Korra’s unexpected airbending abilities.
5. Lin Beifong
The eldest daughter of legendary earth/metalbender Toph Beifong, Lin quickly shows that she is a stern Republic City Chief, and a master metalbender. Using metal whips, she leads the Republic City police, and often is tasked with protecting the Avatar. She is pivotal in fighting Amon’s equalists throughout Season 1, and though she shows some disdain for Tenzin and Avatar Korra, she ultimately sacrifices herself for Korra as well as Tenzin’s family throughout the season, which temporarily costs her bending abilities at the hands of Amon. Throughout Seasons 3 & 4, she mends her relationship with her family, and continues to fight along-side Team Avatar against Zaheer and Kuvira.
A valued member of the Red Lotus, Ghazan is the first character to introduce lavabending (outside of Avatars) to the audience. Ghazan shows how useful this rare ability is in a fight, subduing countless foes, creating large moats to separate the Red Lotus from oncoming enemies, and even destroying the entire Northern Air Temple. He even gets the best of Fire Lord Zuko in their fight at the Northern Water Tribe prison. Though Ghazan demonstrates how dangerous lavabending really is, he is not a frequent user of traditional earthbending, but does show some prowess when he decides to utilize the ability. Ultimately, when he is about to defeat the new lavabender Bolin, Mako comes to Bolin’s aid, and Ghazan chooses death by lava and earth instead of a life in prison.
3. King Bumi
King Bumi introduces himself as “the most powerful earthbender you’ll ever see” when he duels Aang. Bumi lives up to expectations as he’s seen coming to a stalemate with Aang, fighting along-side the rest of the White Lotus in the liberation of Ba Sing Se, and escaping captivity and liberating his city of Omashu (while bending entire buildings and taking down an entire statue of Fire Lord Ozai). Though King Bumi has achieved many feats other earthbenders can only dream of, for purposes of this list, we have some other even more powerful earthbenders who we’ve seen.
The Great Uniter is certainly an intimidating metalbender, and pivotal final foe in The Legend of Korra. She is shown as a metal and earthbending natural, who is able to quickly and easily subdue enemies. She bends an entire giant mecha suit/spirit cannon throughout the final battle of the series, defeats a “rusty” Avatar Korra in one-on-one combat, and defeats Suyin Beifong when attacked. In the last episode of the series, she comes head-to-head with Avatar Korra (who is using all four elements) in the control room of her mecha suit, and is able to hold her own until the monstrosity comes crashing down. We never really see a defeated Kuvira until it is her own arrogance and lust for power that ultimately brings her to her knees.
Honorable Mentions: Suyin Beifong, Bolin, Haru
1. Toph Beifong
Toph is an earthbending legend and the inventor of metalbending, who most other earthbenders aspire to be. We follow Toph through the final two seasons of The Last Airbender, and see her use her blindness to enhance her earth and metalbending. Not only does she teach Aang earthbending, his weakest element, but she also helps Sokka and Suki take down the airships in the final battle of the show, fights Iron Man style in bended metal suits, masters sandbending, and even makes easy work of Avatar Korra as she is recovering from her run-in with Zaheer. She also saves her family from Kuvira’s clutches, and even Kuvira isn’t willing to stand up to her as she escapes.
Mako is the most prominent firebender we meet in The Legend of Korra, and starts the series already well-versed in the art. He is an accomplished pro-bender and master of lightningbending when we first meet him, and only grows in power from there. He is the only character to get the best of Amon until Korra unlocks her airbending, helps Bolin defeat Ghazan, and is able to defeat Ming Hua one-on-one. He also assists Korra in fighting UnaVaatu, and is willing to sacrifice himself to bring down Kuvira’s giant mecha suit. Though Mako is powerful, he’s nothing compared to what we see from the Fire Nation’s Royal family.
Perhaps the most natural bender in either series, Azula and her blue fire subdue the main characters in The Last Airbender over and over throughout the final two seasons. Azula is a perfectionist who does not accept defeat, and is not only a powerful fire/lightningbender but also a master manipulator. She is able to conquer Ba Sing Se with her the help of Mai and Ty Lee, and is about to become Fire Lord until Zuko and Katara step in. Her final Agni Kai is the only time we see her defeated. After she starts losing her mind following the betrayal of her friends, Zuko gets the best of her during the fight (until she tries to zap Katara) and then Katara also gets the best of her using cunning waterbending tactics.
The banished prince is far from a firebending natural in his father’s eyes. Always a good-hearted character struggling with his father’s disdain and his sister’s shadow, Zuko starts the show off showing limited bending abilities. As the show progresses, he grows as a character and firebender still struggling with his identity. Though he never learns lightningbending, his Uncle Iroh teaches him lightning redirection, which he goes on to use against his father. When he chooses the good within him over the acceptance of his father, his anger fueled firebending abilities fail him, and he has to relearn firebending from scratch, but this time by Aang’s side from the legendary dragons. Following this, his firebending, now fueled by his passion for good, goes on to defeat Azula and assist Aang in bringing balance to the world. Zuko subsequently becomes the Fire Lord, and devotes his life (even after he abdicates the throne) to bringing balance and peace to the world.
Better known as just “The Fire Lord”, Ozai is the looming villain throughout Avatar: The Last Airbender. Ozai is powerful, intimidating, and cold-hearted, and does not accept defeat well. He also manipulates his way to the Fire Nation Throne, and tightens his grip on the rest of the world, eventually naming himself “Phoenix King”. Though he is subdued by Zuko using lightning redirection, he shows his masterful firebending abilities is his final fight against Avatar Aang. Though Ozai is overpowered due to Sozin’s Comet, Aang’s firebending is also enhanced, and Ozai is still able to bring Aang to his knees until the Avatar State is unlocked (even with Aang using all four elements). Ozai is certainly one of the most powerful villains and characters in the Avatar world.
Honorable Mentions: P’Li, Combustion Man, Zhao, Jeong Jeong
It would have been interesting to see Ozai and Iroh come to blows, as even Iroh mentions that he wasn’t sure he could defeat the Fire Lord. However, Iroh’s study of all the elements lead him to new bending abilities, such as lightning redirection, and an understanding of all foes he came in contact with. He is also a lightningbender and spiritual guru, who has an understanding of the Spirit World like no other Avatar character (even residing in the Spirit World upon his death). Iroh is a light-hearted, loving, and caring character who would do anything to protect his nephew Zuko. His time in prison following the conquering of Ba Sing Se only strengthened him, allowing him to devote time to becoming physically fit. He takes on multiple enemies at once (only when necessary), learned firebending styles from the dragons, mastered lightningbending and lightning redirection, and goes on the lead the White Lotus. Though Ozai has similar abilities, Iroh’s understanding of all the elements (which gives him the ability to redirect lightning), as well as the Spirit World, make him powerful against all other enemies who come his way.
Ranked by Nick Mandala and Jake Zall
Written by Nick Mandala
Edited by Jake Zall