18 times Avatar: The Last Airbender was referenced in other pop culture
Even though Avatar: The Last Airbender ran for only three seasons, it's remained beloved and influential for fans of its stellar storytelling, animation, and humor. These fans include creators behind some of our other favorite pop culture titles, and a few are even ATLA alums.
In March, ATLA co-creator Bryan Konietzko pointed out Bart wearing an Air Nomad shirt (albeit with different colors) on The Simpsons. He saw it thanks to Colin Heck, who's worked on both The Simpsons and ATLA's sequel, The Legend of Korra. It's not the only time the long-running franchise has referenced the Nickelodeon cartoon, and other entities like Community, The Dragon Prince, and even a Kendrick Lamar music video have made nods to the show.
Below is a list of TV programs, as well as musicals, songs, plus a movie and comic that have referenced Avatar: The Last Airbender. And with both Nick and Netflix working to expand the Avatarverse, we hope to add more titles down the road to keep the legacy going.
The Dragon Prince
The Dragon Prince features a number of parallels and homages to ATLA, which should come as no surprise given that it's co-created by Aaron Ehasz, who served as head writer on the Nick series. There are more subtle similarities between the two series, but the direct references should stick out for diehard Avatar viewers. In the pilot that premiered in 2018, the character Claudia reads from a book titled Love Amongst the Dragons, which is a play that ATLA's Zuko said he once saw with his family.
Ehasz isn't the only Avatar alum who now works on the fantasy adventure series. Voice actor Jack De Sena portrayed protagonists in both series, and there are nods to this connection in two season 3 episodes (Giancarlo Volpe, who was a director on ATLA, is a director and executive producer on The Dragon Prince as well).
In episode 4, De Sena's character Callum notices something "strangely familiar" about a boomerang, the trusty tool prized by Sokka, who the actor voiced in ATLA.
In the next episode's end credits, Callum is also shown in Sokka's exact pose from his now-iconic cactus juice meltdown.
If you thought you hated M. Night Shyamalan's Avatar adaptation, you haven't met Robot Chicken's Roger Ebert character. In a season 9 episode from 2018, the lauded critic transports into the film during a screening and uses his "criticism power" to defeat Fire Lord Ozai while critiquing the dialogue and visual effects of the cinematic disaster.
We Bare Bears
In 2017, a season 3 episode of Cartoon Network's We Bare Bears featured antagonist Barry, who aims to steal the tech to Ice Bear's vacuum so his "dad will finally respect me." His motivation is similar to Zuko's, who sets out to capture Avatar Aang to impress his father, who banished him.
Later, when Barry gets scarred around his left eye, he resembles Zuko. The flame logo of his father's company is likely also a nod to the Fire Nation's emblem in ATLA.
The Loud House
Not only did ATLA's wise uncle Iroh show up in a 2016 episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon The Loud House, but so did a number of his fellow seniors from the network's other shows. You might miss Iroh in the group, but he's there lounging by the pool, along with Grandpa Phil from Hey Arnold!, Lou Pickles from Rugrats and All Grown Up!, and more.
The Fox series, which has skewered pop culture since its inception, contained two Avatar easter eggs in season 22, which aired between 2010 and 2011. In episode 4, "Treehouse of Horror XXI," "The Last Chairbender" is listed as a co-executive producer.
Then, in the season's 21st episode, Lisa spots the Avatar symbols for Water, Earth, Air, and Fire on the wall of a classroom. It's a blink-and-you-missed it moment, but eagle-eyed fans definitely took notice.
The animated sketch comedy series MAD had a 2011 bit called "Airbender Technical Institute." In it, a salesman and Zuko look-alike promotes the program, which would place powerful benders in a "realistic job setting."
"I was a disgrace to my family, why should you be too?" he says, alluding to the Fire Nation prince's exile from the kingdom.
In "The Legend of Dora" sketch the next year, MAD simultaneously spoofed two Nickelodeon shows: The Legend of Korra and Dora the Explorer. The visuals make it pretty obvious, with references to Korra's parents, her mentor Tenzin, Republic City, and her polar bear dog companion Naga (who the show morphed with Dora's monkey sidekick Boots for terrifying results).
In season 2, Abed is searched on campus by Secret Service agents, who discover that he has a bootleg of The Last Airbender DVD. "Where were you a week ago?" he jokes. "You can keep it." Like with Robot Chicken, this is technically a reference to the show's doomed film adaptation, but hey, any chance to diss it is fine by us.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
It's been confirmed that Clone Sergeant Appo's helmet design in Star Wars: The Clone Wars was inspired by Appa's iconic arrow in ATLA, which Dave Filoni worked on before he was a supervising director for the sci-fi series. And another fun fact — Dee Bradley Baker, who voiced the clones, also played Appa, Aang's sky bison companion!
In a 2007 episode of Cold Case, John Stillman's grandson Sean proudly shows off his figurine of Avatar Aang, "who can bend air."
The little girl in Shyamalan's 2008 thriller The Happening sports an Avatar backpack toward the end of the movie. It's likely a deliberate nod, as by that time, the director had already signed on to helm what was supposed to be a trilogy of ATLA live-action films.
Kendrick Lamar's "Backseat Freestyle" music video
Rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Denzel Curry, Lil Peep, and more have name checked ATLA in their songs, but you can actually spot Katara around the 1:22 mark in the music video for Kendrick Lamar's song "Backseat Freestyle."
While some other titles in this list reference more general elements from Avatar, the heroes in issue #9 of the Marvel comic Champions, which debuted in 2019, are pictured watching a specific ATLA episode. It's probably "The Cave of Two Lovers" from Book Two, given one of the characters singing the song "Secret Tunnel."
A Very Potter Musical and A Very Potter Sequel
In the viral 2009 and 2010 spoof musicals, which starred Darren Criss, there are countless callbacks to ATLA and even lines of dialogue from the show. One of the funniest was Ron telling Harry "That's rough, buddy," a quote from Zuko that fans have memed endlessly.
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Avatar: The Last Airbender