In the 2000s, Nickelodeon brought us the fantasy Asian-inspired world of Avatar: the Last Airbender, where avatar Aang answered the call of duty to learn the four elements and end the hundred-year war against the Fire Nation. Seven decades later, avatar Korra contended with all kinds of new bad guys in The Legend of Korra, from anarchists to empire builders, each more challenging than the last.
Fans love classic characters such as Aang, Toph, Zuko, and Bolin, but the villains do their part to truly bring this world to life. The likes of Fire Lord Ozai, Amon the revolutionary, and Unalaq of the Northern Water Tribe are quite powerful and scary in combat, and today, we are going to rank the ten most powerful villains of this universe. (We aren’t counting Zuko.)
Update May 14th, 2020 by Louis Kemner: There are many compelling villains in the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, some of which easily shine in the spotlight. Others, though, are soon forgotten, even if they have a cool outfit, compelling voice acting, and relatable motivations behind their actions. So, it may not be enough to have just ten major villains listed here for the Avatar universe: it’s time to consider five more, and make this a more comprehensive list that gives credit to all villains, major and minor.
15 Ty Lee
Fortunately, the acrobatic girl known as Ty Lee didn’t remain a villain forever. Being one of many identical sisters, she longed to stand out and turned to the circus in her native Fire Nation to make her mark. She can’t be blamed for that.
But she did join hands with the arch-villain Azula, and fought hard to help take down team avatar. She’s no bender, but her incredible acrobatics and her chi-blocking strikes make her quite a fearsome opponent. She can even outmaneuver Ba Sing Se earthbender soldiers.
On the left is Mai, the moody daughter of a powerful man in the Fire Nation. Like her outgoing friend Ty Lee, she had her redemption, and she is more interested in Zuko than trying to conquer the globe. She mainly joined Azula because it was something to kill time with.
This is a kids’ show, so the full extent of Mai’s abilities aren’t shown. She can throw knives and ninja stars with impressive accuracy, and she can drive sharp steel into anyone’s forehead to injure or even kill them. This isn’t depicted to keep things PG, but she could.
13 Admiral Zhao
If Admiral Zhao had paid closer attention to his firebending lessons with Jeong Jeong and learned some discipline, he could have ranked higher among the villains. He is held back by his sloppy and aggressive technique, traits that Aang used against him.
Still, Zhao is a capable military commander, and he very nearly conquered the Northern Water Tribe and temporarily killed the moon spirit. His firebending, though clumsy, is certainly powerful, and isn’t to be taken lightly.
Here is another minor villain who found redemption. Eska is the princess of the Northern Water Tribe, and she and her brother, Desna, are quite skilled waterbenders that always fight as a team. They can fight Mako and Bolin on roughly equal terms.
Eska and Desna cannot bloodbend like Tarrlok and Amon do, but they can perform a wide variety of waterbending moves, from trapping people in sudden blocks of ice or skating on slopes to conventional battle moves. Their training is no doubt quite extensive.
This chilling woman is a member of the Red Lotus, an anarchist terrorist cell dedicated to overthrowing kingdoms and empires. She is not as powerful as her peers, but she is still a fearsome bender who poses a real threat to Korra and her allies.
Unlike Ghazan and P’Li, Ming-Hua has not unlocked the ultimate form of her own bending technique (waterbending), but her conventional waterbending is highly advanced. She is mobile, too, forming flexible water arms to maneuver across the battlefield. This way, she can evade enemy attacks with ease, and attack in an opponent’s blind spot.
10 Councilman Tarrlok
At first, councilman Tarrlok was more of a nuisance than a real menace. He butted heads with Tenzin over whether to train Korra as an air bender or use her existing bending to take on the Equalists on the streets. He’s certainly a bold one, more like a fire bender than water bender.
He showed his true colors when he subdued Korra in combat via his blood bending, and brought her to his remote home and locked her in a box. Tarrlok is a skilled water bender, yes, but blood bending is where he really shines. Not as much as his brother Noatak/Amon, though.
This earth bender can wield the incredibly rare art of lava bending, and he does not hesitate to coat the battlefield with molten rock or fling deadly lava balls at his enemies. Not even Bolin earned any mercy from him.
Ghazan is one of the elite four members of the Red Lotus anarchist/terrorist cell, and his combat skills merited his imprisonment in a remote, high-security facility. In this case, a wooden platform far out at sea, where he has no metal or earth to bend.
This Water Tribe chief is Korra’s uncle on her father’s side, and like Tarrlok, he starts off more as an ambitious and visionary leader than a monster. For a time, Korra actually took his side at the expense of her father and even Tenzin.
Even if you don’t count Unalaq’s fusion with Vaatu, he is a skilled water bender for sure, and not even Korra’s tough-as-nails father could take him on and win. Korra herself struggled against him, and once Unalaq combined with Vaatu’s essence, he became something else entirely.
This fire bending woman is another major player in the Red Lotus, and like Ghazan, special security measures were necessary to seal her incredible power. In this case, a frigid cell deep in the Northern Water Tribe.
Once free, P’Li demonstrated some serious acrobatic abilities, dodging all kinds of earth bender attacks later in the season. And of course, her combustion attack is nothing short of devastating from afar. You can’t even get close to her.
Here is the first major villain whom avatar Korra ever had to go up against, and he was a terror both on the battlefield and in Korra’s nightmares. He is a blood bender, like his little brother Tarrlok, and both of them are sons of Yakon.
Noatak proved the stronger blood bender brother, and now, as Amon, he can control anyone in battle and evade attacks with ease. Most of all is his incredible ability to bend blood in the brain and lock away a person’s bending. Only the power of the avatar can undo this curse.
Both Amon and Unalaq were tough foes for Korra to face, but Zaheer and his Red Lotus pushed team avatar to the limit. Zaheer came incredibly close to destroying the avatar cycle for good, and the thought is terrifying.
Besides that, Zaheer is perhaps the most nimble and athletic among these ten villains, and once he gained the power to bend air, he became nigh unstoppable. And he became only the second person in history to unlock true flight, astounding even Tenzin with his newfound abilities.
It is time for the fourth and final major villain whom Korra faced in her four-season animated series. Kuvira is the first earth-bending villain we’ve seen thus far, and she’s a metal bender on top of that. Metal bending is very relevant in this day and age.
Kuvira is, put simply, a well-oiled and efficient machine in battle, a fine mirror for the Earth Empire army she forged in three short years. Kuvira doesn’t waste a single movement; she uses metal bending (especially with the metal strips on her uniform) to deflect attacks, disable her opponent, and hold them at her mercy. It takes the avatar state to even challenge her in combat.
3 Princess Azula
Now it is time for a villain from the original series. At first, it may seem odd that a 14-15 year old girl could match the likes of grown benders like Zaheer or Kuvira, but she earned a spot in this list with ease.
Azula is a prodigy fire bender (everyone freely admits this), and she can handle any opponent without fear, from Aang to Zuko and beyond. She can bend rare blue flames, wield lightning, and use the battlefield in all kinds of creative ways. While Zuko’s attempts to capture Aang were hilariously half-baked, Azula was a downright maniac once she took over the mission, and Aang could do little but run away.
2 Fire Lord Ozai
This guy is so scary, he appears as a silhouette early on (pictured). As a member of the Fire Nation’s royal family, Ozai is descended from Sozin, a master fire bender, and he also inherited prodigious fire bending from his father, Azulon.
Ozai is a well-built and confident man who can fire bend like no one else can even dream of, and once Sozin’s Comet arrived, Ozai became a one-man army who could burn the very land to cinders. Only the full extent of the avatar state and rare energy bending could topple this titan.
Vaatu is far and away the most powerful villain in all of the Avatar universe, especially since he is not even human. He and his light counterpart, Raava, are the ultimate embodiments of chaos vs order, light vs dark, and those aspects of the world are truly indestructible. Absolutely no one can kill either of them, not even each other.
Vaatu is a mammoth spirit with a deadly beam attack, and his tentacles can beat any opponent to submission with ease. Wan, the first-ever Avatar, had no chance to slay this beast. Instead, he sealed Vaatu into the Tree of Time… until Unalaq set him loose! We came this close to one hundred centuries of total darkness, and only a legendary villain like Vaatu could create stakes like that.
There are a lot of villains sprinkled throughout the Avatar: The Last Airbender Universe. Here's a look at the most powerful villains, ranked!