‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’: Why Fans Think Zuko Has the Best Redemption Arc

Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the most beloved TV shows of all time. Created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the series aired from 2005 to 2008 on Nickelodeon and each of its three seasons received critical acclaim. The show’s characters are part of what has kept this series so popular with fans. Zuko is perhaps one of the most prominent characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender thanks to his character development and redemption arc.

Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
Writer/producers Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko | Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Zuko starts out as a villain

Before the series takes place, Zuko spoke out of turn and when his father Fire Lord Ozai challenged him to a dual, Zuko refused. Ozai burned part of Zuko’s face as a result, and he banished Zuko. When Avatar: The Last Airbender begins, Zuko has been banished and is searching to capture the Avatar in an attempt to regain his honor and his father’s approval.

For years, he is an adversary to Team Avatar, repeatedly attempting to capture Aang and thwart the group’s plans. However, it is clear to viewers that Zuko has a lot of internal turmoil and is torn over what is actually right, making him a sympathetic villain.

Thanks to unwavering support from his Uncle Iroh, Zuko eventually has a change of heart. Even though he has his father’s acceptance, he leaves the Fire Nation in Season 3 and joins Team Avatar to teach Aang firebending. When Aang defeats Ozai, Zuko becomes Fire Lord and helps bring peace after the war.

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Zuko makes a lot of mistakes in ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’

One of the reasons Zuko’s redemption arc works so well is because it is a slow burn. Fans and Iroh can see Zuko’s potential for good and his conflicted heart, but Zuko himself cannot. It takes a lot of mistakes and Zuko realizing that his father’s approval will not bring him happiness for him to realize what he needs to do.

Even when he joins Team Avatar, Zuko must prove he has changed in order for them to trust him. By the end of the series, he is close friends with Aang, Sokka, Katara, and Toph, but building those friendships took time.

“For so long we saw Zuko’s tragic past unfold. He is a very sympathetic character. But the beauty of his arc is that his past doesn’t in any way lessen the magnitude of his own actions. Zuko has caused a lot of pain, and it’s not wiped away just because he has experienced his own pain. Zuko has to choose to be different. It’s an inspiring message because it shows that change is possible for any of us, if we’re willing to put in the hard work that goes with it,” one Reddit user wrote.

Zuko’s storyline helped others find redemption

In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Zuko noticeably differs from characters who were not redeemable, like Ozai and Azula. He is also a reflection of characters like Iroh.

While Iroh was easygoing and respected all of the elements, he was conflicted in his past much like Zuko was. Originally, Iroh himself was destined to become Fire Lord, but after the death of his son Lu Ten in war, he loses any sort of motivation to claim power.

Iroh thinks of Zuko more as a son, and he tries his best to guide Zuko so he is not driven by anger. Zuko’s growth and redemption help Iroh complete his journey of returning peace. Iroh helping put Zuko on the right path makes up for his past failings.