In a series as focused on the fighting ability and power of its characters like Avatar, it's only natural that fans turn to ranking the different characters against one another. In that process, the big named characters tend to get a lot of attention, and there are even a few whose power is rarely ever seen that get severely overhyped.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum are the benders everyone overlooks. Despite having every reason to rank them among some of the best of the best, these few fighters rarely come up in such discussions. Everyone loves a dark horse, so if you're looking to bet on a tragically underrated character you need look no further than these five fighters.
It may seem odd to kick off a list of underrated characters with an Avatar, but as far as the Avatars go, it's Roku who consistently gets the short end of the stick. Aang, Korra and Kyoshi all get their own series bursting with material to evidence their superlative status in their respective bending arts, and even lesser-known Avatars like Yangchen and Szeto receive mounds of attention for how impressive the small bits of bending they do are. But in terms of the ratio between how little we see him and how impressive his feats are, Roku is likely one of the strongest benders of all time.
Before even mastering the Avatar State he commanded a tsunami of water in his duel with his waterbending master that stands as one of the largest scale waterbending feats ever performed without the Avatar State. To demonstrate his mastery of all four elements, he sent out colossal waves of each -- one larger than 95 percent of Aang or Korra's showings. Even in the Avatar State he blew up throne rooms, temples and commanded fire so precisely it melted chains without hurting those they bound. This is some of the best bending in the franchise, and yet Roku's reputation as a failure who didn't stop Sozin when he could have overshadows his accomplishments.
Whether it's a general bias toward characters from The Legend of Korra or favoritism for firebenders like Zuko or Azula it's hard to say, but most people sleep on Mako when picking out the franchise's best fighters. Mako showcased a wide array of talents and is one of the most well-rounded fighters in the franchise, utilizing his pro-bending moves for an athletic fighting style that favors evasiveness as much as offense.
Mako has reacted fast enough to reshape the outskirts of an explosion, became the first bender to overpower Amon's bloodbending and prevailed over the insanely talented fighter Ming Hua through quick thinking and utilizing his environment. His ability to release redirected lightning easily puts him on Zuko or Azula's level, while his ability to sustain a balance of the two while destroying Kuvira's mech may stand out as one of lightning bending's most impressive feats in the franchise in terms of sheer control.
Correctly estimating Mako's abilities has implications for the characters he fights, and once you fully appreciate just how proficient Mako is, it's hard not to admit that Unalaq is even more so. Mako's abilities, compounded with his brother Bolin, work in tandem with greater synergy than possibly anyone else in the franchise. They combined attacks, covered each other and proved to be an overwhelming duo to almost anyone. "Almost" is the keyword there, because Unalaq completely outfought them.
Even with the full force of the brothers' honed in on Unalaq, the evil waterbending master deflected, evaded and outright overpowered the firebender and earthbender. Unalaq quickly mastered his Dark Avatar abilities well enough to contend with Korra's own Avatar State, and even when he was a young man, Unalaq was the greatest spiritbending master in the world -- capable of dissipating whole swarms of dark spirits simultaneously. The unpopularity of Unalaq's featured season likely leads fans to overlook him as a top tier contender, but he's every bit as capable a waterbender as Pakku or other fan favorites.
Much like an Avatar, it may seem peculiar to rank a bloodbender as overrated. Bloodbending is almost certainly the most overhyped ability in the world of Avatar, with fans frequently assigning it lethal application and overwhelming force the series itself never depicts. But the reason Tarrlok is overrated is that his family members most often receive the lion's share of the credit, with their bloodbending so comparably superior that the ambitious politician is quite often overlooked. Raw power isn't everything in a fight, though, and where Tarrlok gets majorly underrated is his intelligence.
Amon overpowering Tarrlok and Yakone paralyzing a full courtroom of people invariably leads to others preferring the two men over the councilman. The mistake is that Tarrlok is the only bloodbender in either series to induce unconsciousness in a victim. He first uses the ability on Korra before kidnapping her and later on over a half dozen benders at once. Yakone and Amon both get overpowered and beaten in fights because they foolishly play with their victims, but Tarrlok proved far more efficient. Added to the fact is that he actually has demonstrated combat applications for his waterbending, so it's a shame he's so often passed over.
Given the Kyoshi novels' relative recency, the fact that its characters don't receive near enough credit is likely due more to fans being unaware of their existence than anything. And that's a shame. Whereas Kyoshi has always been a fan favorite who receives (completely deserved) credit for her extraordinary abilities, her partner Rangi may just be one of the best fighters and Firebenders in the series despite rarely coming up in discussion.
Rangi's fighting style became the basis for the Kyoshi Warriors her companion founded, and even against larger opponents, she proves uniquely capable of targeting their weak points while evading counterattacks. Rangi's military discipline allows her a control superlative among firebenders, and despite flight being extremely difficult with firebending, she develops the jet-stepping technique that simulates it almost instantly. Combined with the sheer power of releasing white-hot flame or using rocket propulsion to amplify the impact of her hits, Rangi needs way more attention for her inventiveness, precision and downright impressive skills in combat.