Avatar: The Last Airbender was an intelligent, quick-witted series that was ahead of its time. Set in a world inspired by Asian cultures, where some people, known as benders, can manipulate the elements using variants of martial arts, the animated series used as its backdrop a global war that touched upon topics not commonly presented in children's programming, like colonialism and genocide. However, it wasn't until the release of its sequel, The Legend of Korra, that sexual identity was finally explored in the Avatar franchise.
Like its parent show, The Legend of Korra addressed multiple sociopolitical issues, but it went even further beyond the boundaries of youth entertainment by creating LGBTQ+ characters -- something Avatar wasn't ready to do when it aired. The series introduced several characters who identified as bisexual and homosexual, including the protagonist herself, Korra, and Kya, the only daughter of Katara and Avatar Aang.
The series didn't do it all by itself, though; it was also aided by the literary works that followed. The last image of the finale of The Legend of Korra mirrored the composition of Aang and Katara from the original series, when characters Korra and Asami gaze into each other's eyes in an act meant to establish them as a loving couple. That seemingly named Korra as the first LGBTQ+ Avatar, but then fans found out differently in the graphic novel that followed. In The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, it was revealed that Avatar Kyoshi was bisexual and even had a long term girlfriend.
The revelation comes when Kya approaches Korra and Asami about their new relationship, revealing her own homosexual identity as she describes the attitudes towards LGBTQ+ relationships in each of the four nations. According to her, the Earth Kingdom is the most traditional in their views. “Even Avatar Kyoshi -- who by all accounts loved men and women -- was unable to effect any kind of real progress. After all, the Earth Kingdom has been the slowest to accept change and the most militaristically repressive.”
The sexual representation in the Avatar universe is very sporadic, appearing primarily in the lesser-known comic sequels. The only real nods to sexual identity and gender fluidity appearing in the television series are brief, such as Aang being described as feminine, Toph as masculine, Sokka learning how to fight like the female Kyoshi Warriors and Korra getting just a minute to hold her girlfriend's hand. It was all minor moments that seemed to be given a second life as the fans of the series have gotten older.
It's clear from the way Avatar treated these characters that the idea was always there. Kyoshi was portrayed as being both masculine and feminine, landing somewhere down the middle, which also can be said for Toph who was a "tomboy" but mentioned her occasional desire to take part in "girly" activities. Such characters never had affirmed love interests as if the show wanted to keep audiences open to the possibility of an unorthodox romance just by keeping them single. In a world where people are literally in touch with spiritual forces, able to summon the elements to their will through their bodies and souls, why wouldn't they embrace all forms of love?
Now that Netflix is adapting Avatar: The Last Airbender for a live-action reboot it is the perfect time to include the LGBTQ+ representation the original couldn't properly portray. Being live-action and marketed towards the original fans, who are now all in their 20s and early 30s, it's likely that the new adaptation will be more mature than the animated processor. Every addition to the Avatar franchise goes deeper and deeper into mature topics, meaning it would only be logical for the newest installment to go farther than ever before.