Why do university students still love Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Why do university students still love Avatar: The Last Airbender?

Why "Appa Yip Yip!" never gets old

I don’t know about you, but recently, my entire Facebook feed has been filled with everyone getting back on Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA). I don’t know what it is about ATLA, but literally every exam season when I’m at the lowest of my lows, when all my energy is gone, re-watching it gives me S T R E N G T H. And I don’t think it’s just me. I think there is something wholly unique to ATLA which sets it apart from any other childhood television series which inspires countless re-binges. And that’s why we’re here today, to uncover, why the hell do university students still love Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Not an ATLA meme but still captures the essence of this entire piece.

Long story short, I think there are three reasons to explain the obsession. Firstly, content and values, secondly, sentimentality, and thirdly, memes.

The story behind ATLA is simply solid. It provides us with a mythical world wherein “…Long ago, the four nations lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Only the Avatar, master of all four elements, could stop them, but when the world needed him most, he vanished. A hundred years passed and my brother and I discovered the new Avatar, an airbender named Aang. And although his airbending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.”

Simple, easy, clean. And that’s just the start. The series continues with Aang helping the Water Tribe from fending against ongoing invasion, then the Earth Kingdom resisting occupation, to finally the Fire Nation in overpowering the evil Fire Lord Ozai. But wait, there’s more! Join Aang and his realisation that with great power comes great responsibility, or Prince Zuko’s redemption arc in trying to redeem his honour and create his own destiny. There’s so much to love!

But it’s not all about the content, plot, characters and development, ATLA is coated with wholesome life lessons. One character in mind, a General Iroh, the Dragon of the West, is a fountain of profound truths. He’s the show’s ethical touchstone and acts as some sort of mystical wizard of knowledge. I’m going to share with you some of his greatest sayings and afterwards, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you don’t feel inspired.

The key to both [wisdom and tea] is proper aging.

It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it only from one place it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others, the other elements and the other nations, will help you become whole.

Life happens wherever you are, whether you make it or not.

You must let go of your feelings of shame if you want your anger to go away… pride is not the opposite of shame, but it’s source – true humility is the only antidote to shame.

Sharing tea with a fascinating stranger is one of life’s true delights.

“this tea is nothing more than hot leaf juice!” Uncle, that’s what all tea is, “how could a member of my own family say something so horrible?”.

“I’m begging you prince Zuko, it’s time for you to look inward and begin asking yourself the big questions – who are you and what do you want?”

There is nothing wrong with letting people who love you help you.

Sometimes life is like this dark tunnel, you can’t always see the light at the end of the tunnel, but if you just keep moving, you will come to a better place.


Now I believe it is the sentimentality, the wisdom that the show imparts which gets its loyal fanbase back on the show, again and again. Because who else, when they’re feeling bogged down, stressed by climate anxiety, and the weight of the world, exhausted from university, needs to hear that while life is like a dark tunnel, if you keep moving, you will come to a better place?

But, having watched the entire series at least twenty times now, I have a few critiques.

  1. Aang at the end of season 3 “I can’t kill the Fire Lord, the monks have always taught me is that all life is sacred.”
    Aang at the end of season 1 – kills Admiral Zhao in the Avatar State
  2. Considering that at the end of season 3, the Fire Nation is a highly militarised, extremely nationalised, by a stratocracy, the notion that simply taking away the Fire Lord’s firebending would put an end to the Fire Nation’s dream of world dominations is ridiculous. Failing to kill the Fire Lord and having him prisoner means two things; one, he is still the head of his state so Zuko legally cannot become Fire Lord, and two, the odds of a countercoup developing is so high, considering that most of the leaders of the Fire Nation are highly militant, is so extremely high – they’ve gone from a warmongering tyrant to a peaceful child. No one is going to think Zuko is the right person for the job, and the leaders of the nation will still be convinced that they should not secede all the land that they have annexed. i.e. Aang should have killed the Fire Lord to prevent any ambitious Fire Lord generals using Fire Lord Ozai as a symbol Fire Nation Supremacy and sitting him on the throne, following a period of extreme volatility within the Fire Nation, all this harkening back to Napoleon’s second attempt at forming a French Empire.
  3. Sue me but Aang and Katara’s ‘love’ is so forced, they have little to no chemistry.
  4. The Tales of Ba Sing Se is an average episode.


But best of all, somehow, the meme culture behind ATLA is not only alive but thriving. Which is why I spent literally an hour compiling the finest ATLA memes for your consumption.

M Wayne
Seren Irving
Krzysiek Bogusz
Curtis Sarkin
Ebuka Bukkie Okolo
“I love both my children equally”
Niv Akiva
J Alejandro Reyes
Monica Dao

In conclusion ATLA is a fantastic show that university students keep on going back to is because of its wholesome content and the memes reminding us that it’s a thing… a nostalgic hark back to easier, more naïve times.

Elli is currently studying Medicine at Monash University after completing his Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Science

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