Going to follow the Nostalgia Critic's Old vs. New model to make things easier for myself. You don't have to do that.
Both Aang and Korra were well written, fleshed out characters with strengths and weaknesses in personality. Aang is generally good natured, fun loving, brave, and dedicated to his beliefs. He also saw himself as Aang first and the Avatar second. That isn't to say he wasn't without his flaws. There were many times he was unsure of himself and more than once, he was driven to rash decisions making. Korra was headstrong, just, and loyal. On the other hand, she was hotheaded, brash, and had a bit of an inferiority complex that led to severe cases of depression. She was the Avatar first and Korra second. With Aang, you saw how he learned the elements, the development of his relationship with his friends, his parallel storyline with Zuko's, and how he ultimately ended the war. Writing my New Avatar fic, my new Avatar and her friend talk about her past lives and she makes the case that everything seemed to fall into place for Aang despite the hardships. With Korra, you see her grow and mature as a person. Yes, you see that with Aang, but LOK puts more emphasis on it. Ironic how the one who identifies as an individual primarily has a show focused on the world and his duties as the Avatar, but the one who identifies by her title primarily has a show focused on her growth as an individual.
After much thought, I have to give the point to Korra. Aang is certainly more likable, but Korra is more identifiable. She dealt with real life problems and even the ones that can't happen in real life, she dealt with them realistically. I even hated Korra in the second season, and you know what? I actually think that makes her a stronger character. LOK wins here.
What's an Avatar without a group of friends to add comedy, drama, romance, and support to back them up? Each had a great set of characters. In ATLA, Katara served as the mature, motherly figure that keeps the team together. You see her developing romance with Aang, her sibling relationship with Sokka, and her friendships with Toph and Zuko. For all her pluses, you saw her minuses too. She was kinds, but she had her limits, and when she lost her temper, by God id she lose it. Sokka was our sarcastic, comic relief character but so much more than thatÖ He was a great strategist, a hell of a fighter, a good friend to Aang, Zuko, and Toph, a loyal brother to Katara, and a dedicated boyfriend to Suki. Toph was a BAMF and she knew it. She was there to kick ass in battles and offer a snarky remark while the team was engaging in some R&R and in combat. However, you see many times that she is just as caring about her friends as anyone else in the Gaang. You also see that she has personal issues with her parents that I can speculate why she puts on this badass face. Zuko, wow, Zuko is a story unto himself. His story, from the first episode, parallels that of Aangís. I have never seen a more developed character in a cartoon. You first meet him as the bad guy, and frankly, he starts out as a whiny bitch. Then you soon see that thereís so much more to him. In the storm, you feel your heart breaking hearing his backstory. You get invested in his growth as a character, you want him to choose right, yet you canít bring yourself to hate him when he chooses wrong at the end of season 2. When he finally does become good, weíre all happy and I cannot think of one person who did not like seeing him connect individually with each member of the Gaang, and that tear-jerking reconciliation with Iroh; sheer genius writing. Suki, while not as developed as the others, was also a great character. I loved her with Sokka and her dedication to ending the war. She gave a lot of ideas for fanfiction as well.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Team Avatar in Korra. Do not get me wrong, Mako, Bolin, and Asami were great characters, but I did not feel the development we got for the ones in Avatar. Mako is generally serious, a jerk sometimes, but his loyalty to Korra and the others was never in question. When it came to his relationship with Korra and Asami, I just wanted to break my TV. A love triangle; seriously? Thank God they got rid of it in the third season. Bolin really got the shaft as the series progressed. He started out as a nice guy, a loyal friend, and comic relief, but he was shoved to the side as a glorified comic relief character after the first season. Yes, I liked his bro-relationship with Mako, and he and Opal were a cute couple, but it was really unfair what they did to Bolin. Asami, I feel, was the best developed out of all the members of the team other than Korra. We have a headstrong girl who is sweet, understanding, but not afraid to show her tough side. I sort of see her as what Suki would have been (personality wise) if she got more development. I think she really shined in Season Four the most as a friend and eventual girlfriend to Korra.
That said, no contest, ATLA wins this one.
This franchise has some of the most well written antagonists in the history of fiction. Bryke knew we did not want to see 2D baddies; we wanted to see actual characters with motives and personalities. Ozai is panned by the fandom as simply being an abusive jerk and a power hungry totalitarian dictator. No, heís much more than that. This was a guy who grew up being raised to believe that it was divine right that the Fire Nation should rule the world and that the Royal Family are equal to gods. He was the one who held true to his father and grandfatherís militaristic ideals, so you could understand his resentment he felt for the less extreme Iroh and the fact that Azulon favored him. Zukoís outburst very likely reminded him of Iroh. However, he is overshadowed by Azula, and for good reason. She is cool, collected, merciless, and always in control. On the other hand, itís clear she has issues with her long-absent mother, you see her collapse when she loses control over her friends, Mai and Ty Lee, and though you wanted to see her defeated, her gradual mental breakdown is heart wrenching. Even the lesser villains were great. Jet serves to remind us that war isnít black and white, and that terrorism is never the answer. Another lesson he serves to both kids and adults is that old proverb: you live by the sword, you die by the sword. Long Feng is an obvious reference to Red China, Hell, their labor camps are called Laogai. Zhao is a thug and an opportunist. He is the guy we love to hate, and are we ever glad that he died. Yon Rha we hope is miserable for the rest of his pathetic life, but I personally hoped he was put on trial and hanged.
In Korra, the villains were actually better than the good guys were. Each represents an ideology and each were extremists in that ideology. Amon was obviously communism, or in the showís case, equality. The nobility and bourgeoisie were the benders and the proletariat were the nonbenders. Amonís goal to equalize the world was a clear reference to Trotskyism and the international ideal. Tarrlok served as Amonís opposite extreme; autocracy and oppression of the working class. As much as I loved the backstory of the both of them, I do kind of wish Amonís cover story was genuine. It left us sad seeing the two of them die, but we knew they deserved it. Then came Season Two. Good frigging God, Unalaq was the most uninspired, clichť of a villain since Seymour in Final Fantasy X. He was just a rehash of Tarrlok, only a theocrat instead of just a power hungry dictator. My God, he was the Dark Avatar; he could have been so much better! VaatuÖ the only thing that really saves him is his voice actor. Desna and Eska were just creepyÖ and thatís about it. You almost forget they exist after Season Two. Then came Zaheer and the Red Lotus Clan representing anarchy. This is the first time I actually supported the bad guys. Corrupt, oppressive governments must be overthrown. Then I saw how far he was willing to take it. Not only are Zaheer, Ming-Hua, Ghazan, and PíLi great, intimidating villains, but also their defeats are brutal. Three out of the four are killed on screen in really messed up ways. Lastly, you have Kuvira representing National Socialism. You have this imperialist psycho killing off all non-Earth Kingdom citizens, taking over everything in her path, and decimating an entire city. In addition, she embodies all of Korraís previous personality flaws.
This is a tough one to choose, and I do not do ties. Iím going with Avatar on this one for the simple reason that we spend more time with the villains there. We seem them develop along with the good guys. We get to see them outside their villainous roles. In Korra, each villain lasts for only one season. Even the side villains disappear. Good as they are, point goes to the original.
The Side Characters
These are some of the most memorable characters whether they are as important as Iroh, or as minor as the record player storeowners in Korra are. Iíll be writing a novel covering all of them, so Iíll just cover a few categories here. You canít have a show about martial arts without the old masters. Gyatso was kind and fatherly, but you know he would never back out a fight if it were unavoidable. Bumi was a weirdo, but wise and powerful. This guy had everything figured out and everything under control. Iíd hate to be the poor dumb bastard who pissed him off. Jeong Jeong was also wise, but you see how the war affected him. Pakku was a stubborn asshole set in his ways at first, and then you see his softer side after seeing Kannaís. Granted, heís still a bit of a jerk but a likeable one. Piandao was pretty generic, but I like him mostly for his attitude rather than teaching methods. Tenzin was tough, stubborn, and impatient, but you see how he and Korra form a bond.
The family members are also worth a mention. Iroh was wise, inspirational and funny. Itís because him that Zuko became good. Hakoda is obviously a caring father. Itís clear his doesnít want to leave his two children alone with his elderly mother, as much as she loves them, but knows he has to. I see him as the military father type and sympathize with him. That scene in the Awakening when Katara breaks down crying on him is one of the most powerful moments in the franchise. Kya was obviously a loving mother, but obviously, we see very little of her. The same can be said about Tonraq and Senna. You know, now that I think about it, not much emphasis is placed on the main charactersí relationships with the families, itís more with each other and the allies.
Now the allies in Avatar are generally minor, but still memorable. Iíll start with the major ones. You have Mai, our Goth depressive knife wielding BAMF girlfriend/possible future wife of Zuko. Then you hear her background, while not as bad as some others had it, was how noble girls were treated in Imperial China. They were pampered and spoiled by their parents, and what was demanded in return was their individuality. Ty Lee is our ditzy extroverted girl who was always the optimist to the point where it got annoying at times. Then you see that sheís insecure and making up for lack of attention as a child. Then you have others such as the Freedom Fighters who you hoped turned out okay. There the Mechanist and Teo. I wasnít a huge fan of the Mechanist at first, but he grew on me. Teo was a nice kid. The hillbilly Waterbenders were funny, except for the Buddha one who was just wise. Haru and his father were interesting, but come on; the most memorable thing about Imprisoned was George Takei. Guru Pathik was fascinating. Hell, he got me into Chakra meditations for a while. In Korra, I found myself caring more about the allies than I did about the protagonists. Lin Bei-Fong was tough, unyielding, but loyal and you can tell that sheís bitter about her past with Tenzin, Toph, and Suyin. The show would not have been the same without Tenzinís family. Pema was nice, Jinora was calm and wise, Ikki was hyperactive, and Meelo was funny. Rohan was just a baby, canít say much other than heís cute. Suyin is like the former hippie/hell raiser turned enlightened leader Sheís got a better control of her temper than her sister and mother, but sheís still a Bei-Fong and not to be messed with. Opalís a sweetheart, but still not afraid to dish out the hurt on people who mess with her and her family, not to mention making Bolin sleep in the polar bear doghouse for joining Kuvira. Kya and Bumi were interesting characters, but they were shoved to the side unfortunately. Even the animal characters were awesome like Appa and Naga. They stuck with their Avatars thick and thin. Momo and Pabu were pretty awesome too.
Point goes to Korra.
The Animation and Music
Both these shows had some of the most gorgeous animation Iíve ever seen. In Avatar, what sticks out in my mind the most with the animation are the Northern Water Tribe, the firestorm from the airships, and the Agni Kai between Azula and Zuko. The last one was just amazing. The other stuff too, you can tell itís very anime inspired; almost Studio Ghibli-ish. Bryke are known fans of Miyazaki, so itís not surprising. What I like most about it was that most of Avatar was hand-drawn with minimal CGI. Korra had awesome animation too but after the first season, they changed from Studio Mir to Studio Pierrot, which did not do as well. Iím not much of an art critic, but I felt it lacked the charm of Mir. The music was the same in both shows. The track team is just awesome.
Point goes to Avatar.
This is the most important aspect of any show. These are two very different stories when you look at both as a whole. Avatar had an entire show dedicated to one plotline and goal. You see Aangís journey learning the elements to defeat the Firelord and the parallel storyline of Zuko finding his destiny, only to find that his and Aangís paths were not meant to collide but to be traveled together. Korra on the other hand, is about Korra. Each season had a different plot and a different conflict, but when it comes down to it, the show was really about Korra growing as a person. As a narrative story, I feel Avatar is better. Point goes to the original, as good and as more ďadultĒ Korra is.
Overall Better Show
Itís pretty obvious, I believe Avatar to be the better show. Why? Mostly because of the characters when it really comes down to things. Each member of the Gaang stays interesting, stays relevant, and you see them all bonding with one another as friends for life. I also think it had a better story than Korra. Sure, Korra had some dark, complex plotlines, but Avatarís overall narrative was better. Both shows had awesome settings like the early industrial era of Avatar and the 1920ís steampunk age of Korra, both influenced by real East Asian cultures. Also, props to using real Kung Fu for their bending forms rather than Hollywood karate. However, even the setting of Avatar I feel is better. Same goes for the animation.
While Bryke did a great job with Korra, the original Avatar wins.