Avatar the Last Airbender: A Guide to the Graphic Novels

Avatar: The Last Airbender has always had a large fanbase, and love for the series has only increased since Netflix began streaming it. Now, fans hungry for more Avatar content can jump into the sequel series, The Legend of Korra. However, if you're someone who wants to see more of the Aang Gang's adventures, look no further than the A:TLA graphic novel series.

After Avatar: The Last Airbender ended in 2008, a series of comics known as The Lost Adventures were published. They were an anthology series telling side stories during the series, wrapping up in 2011. With that kickstarting the Avatar graphic novel series, here's a guide for fans looking to dive into the expanded adventures of Team Avatar.

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The Promise

zuko asking aang to kill him, from avatar comics

The Promise -- released in 2013 -- is the first 3-part graphic novel taking place directly after Avatar: The Last Airbender. These followups were written by Gene Luen Yang alongside series creators Micheal DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, with art and coloring by Japanese illustration duo Gurihiru (Superman Smashes the Klan).

Like the original series, The Promise has the intense drama and complex global politics that Avatar had, but now Team Avatar must navigate a world still not used to peace. After his coronation as Fire Lord and taking on the heavy burden of leading the Fire Nation in a new direction, Zuko asks Aang to promise to end his life if he ever sees himself become like his father, Ozai.

Fast forward a year, and work begins on the Harmony Restoration Movement -- meant to return Fire Nation citizens to their homeland, which has now crept into Earth Kingdom cities. Unfortunately, this is not as easy a solution as it sounds as Zuko learns towns like Yu Dao have become a melting pot of Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom cultures and population. Now the issue becomes convincing the citizens of leaving the only home they've ever known.

The Search

If there were one trilogy that's a must-read for Avatar fans, The Search would fit that bill. The Search answers the most important question the series left unanswered -- what became of Zuko's mother, Ursa, after escaping the Fire Nation capital? With help from Aang, Katara and Sokka, Zuko sets out on a journey to find his mother, but he must rely on the only person who's the key to finding her, Azula.

Considering the years of animosity between Zuko and Azula -- plus Aang, Katara and Sokka's reservations -- it's certainly a stressful task. Still, it also paints a more sympathetic view of Azula as we see her and Zuko's relationship juxtaposed against the healthier brother-sister dynamic of Sokka and Katara.

The Rift

The Rift Avatar Aang spirits Avatar The Last Airbender

Following The Search is The Rift, the first trilogy installment to more prominently feature Toph. This series poses quite the conundrum for Aang, as he meets a club of Earth Kingdom girls who are hardcore fans of Air Nomad culture called the Air Acolytes. He decides to take them on a field trip to experience the Yangchen Festival -- an Air Nomad holiday in honor of the previous Air Nomad Avatar, Yangchen.

However, Aang is upset to find the once vibrant island which hosted the festival has become a factory village owned by a new Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation joint venture called Earthen Fire Industries. He now finds himself embroiled in a complicated conflict of tradition vs. progress and nature vs. industry.

Smoke and Shadow

Smoke and Shadow Zuko Mai Aang Avatar The Last Airbender

Despite coming after The Rift, Smoke and Shadow follows up on The Search, with Zuko and the team returning to the Fire Nation. Without getting into spoilers, this series becomes about paranoia and nationalistic rebellion with a group called the New Ozai Society determined to remove Zuko from the throne. At the same time, spirits known as the Kemurikage begin stealing Fire Nation children in the dead of night. We also see Mai and Ty Lee have a more prominent return after only being somewhat featured in The Promise and The Search.

North and South

5 Southern water tribe town in avatar comics

While Katara and Sokka have been present for almost all the trilogies, North and South is the one to give them a more focused storyline. Returning to the Sothern Water Tribe for the first time since they first met Aang, the siblings are shocked to find how much the small village has developed into an actual city spearheaded by Northern Water Tribe engineers Malina and Maliq.

Character growth is undoubtedly important, but fans sometimes forget the people and places left behind. Something the Avatar franchise has always done well is to have progression throughout the world, even when we aren't necessarily focused on a specific place. It's strange for Katara and Sokka to come home after so long and everything to be so different suddenly. The conflict of North and South comes from not everyone being interested in a unified Northern and Southern Water Tribe.


Team Avatar Imbalance Avatar the Last Airbender

Taking over from Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru, Imbalance is the first trilogy to feature a new collaborator team. This series was written by Faith Erin Hicks with art by Peter Wartman and Adele Matera while still being overseen by Avatar creators DiMartino and Konietzko. Like how Smoke and Shadow was a sequel to The Search, Imbalance parallels as a sequel to The Rift. Team Avatar returns to Cranefish Town to find business booming for Earthen Fire Industries, but it seems conflict is stirring between the bender and non-bender citizens.

Where to Find Them & How to Start

Avatar Graphic Novels

Each graphic novel trilogy goes for about $12.99 per volume on Amazon, but they can also be purchased as a collected Omnibus for $24.99. Digitally on ComiXology, the volumes are $6.99, with the Omnibuses being $14.99. Certain installments like Smoke and Shadow and North and South have hardcover editions, which are $39.99 from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. These editions include commentary on the sides of each page from both writer/artist teams, as well as concept art of characters and volume cover sketches.

The best place to start enjoying the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels is with The Promise. From there, work your way chronologically through the above list in order of appearance. However, for fans eager to know what happened to Zuko's mother, then you can also jump into The Search without needing any context as long as you finished all of the animated series.

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