Why Is Avatar The Last Airbender Not An Anime?

Avatar The Last Airbender. Image: Game Informer

Avatar The Last Airbender (ATLA) is one of the best-animated series to ever exist. It narrated a full story in 61 episodes, and it has one of the greatest endings to an animated show, ever.

It’s complex and has impactful depth. ATLA builds its characters in a nuanced way from other animated shows on Nickelodeon. This series generates a completely different vibe than other Western shows, and it’s not like those shows targeted for similar age groups. When watching Avatar The Last Airbender, it is quite visible that it took major inspiration from the extremely popular—Japanese Anime.

Despite it having similar elements of art and storytelling; Avatar The Last Airbender is not an anime. We know it’s something your mind isn’t ready to digest but we are here to help you.

Avatar The Last Airbender. Image: Vanity Fair

To understand why it isn’t an anime, we must first look into the reasons why people think it is.

ATLA Culture

ATLA is highly influenced by Asian culture. It is not particular with the cultures that it uses, but it’s clear that the showrunners took inspiration from many South and East Asian cultures to form the different Nations.

For example, many fans of the show have linked dots between the Earth Kingdom and Chinese cultures; and the Fire Nation and South Asian cultures. It’s not something that the show tries to hide, and it is very solid about its portrayal of Asian culture. In other words, ATLA is an animated show with a huge amount of influences from Asia.

Anime is usually cultivated in Japanese culture, so it becomes easy for many people in the West to believe that ATLA could fall into the same categories.

Avatar Story Elements

Many popular shounen anime contain fight choreography similar to the kind found in Avatar. Quite visibly, ATLA features a main character who must go through the trials and tribulations of a journey fu of hurdles. Aang gets to know the things, and he picks up friends along the way. Overall, it’s a coming of age story.

To decompose it even further; one could even observe similarities to the way ATLA’s villains are presented, and the way music has it’s role in setting the tone for certain scenes.

Alright! so they have a recap and beach episode too. It’s that obvious for people to label Avatar as an anime! It has all those requirements that anime’s need to have. You can even watch it on some “illegal anime” streaming sites if you go on a harder hunt.

Avatar The Last Airbender. Image: Deadline

The fact that ATLA has more similarities than differences to an anime makes it easier for it to be called as one.

Now, we know you must be finding an answer to this million-dollar question and we are ready to answer.

Why is Avatar The Last Airbender Not An Anime?


It has all qualities required to be one. The action and art to character building and journey, everything is anime-like. What more does an anime require?

Anime is not just an art style but much more than that. It is more than all the obvious elements that come with it too. Anime is a whole lot of an industry, and people tend to ignore that.

The minds behind Avatar The Last Airbender are not from inside of the anime industry. It looks like one, flows like one; but alas, it is not one.

Such as, Parasite is not a Hollywood film as it comes from another film industry. The same can be taken as a reference for ATLA’s case.

Now, this isn’t meant to discredit ATLA for the amazing series that it is; but this article provides clarity to what is and isn’t anime.

People forget the fact that anime is more than just a genre. It is an entertainment industry which is itself a whole factory of genres in it.

Avatar The Last Airbender. Image: Syfy Wire

Some people might reason the title by saying, “Avatar The Last Airbender is not a Japanese show, that is why it’s not an anime.” While this is a legitimate point, though this lies more into the production of the show rather than culture itself.

Castlevania on Netflix is another example of this. It is a Western animated show that takes huge inspiration from the anime industry. This is also why many have misinterpreted Castlevania for being an anime.

Not Every Animation is an Anime

People should essentially know what is a real anime, and what is an “inspired series” because of the way a few viewpoints have tainted the anime waters. This was ever so apparent in a recent Netflix documentary called Enter The Anime.

Using the least number of words, the director of that documentary had no idea what she was talking about. To refer to something as an anime just looking at its a way of art style and tone is not right.

Anime takes form in its production. How can a show like “Baccano!” showcase the time of the Prohibition Era in the United States, but still be considered an anime? It’s because it comes from the anime industry. From light novel to an anime television series.

Avatar The Last Airbender is an amazing animated series that was curated for Nickelodeon. There is no refusal of the influence it takes from anime, but it should not be confused for one. At the very least it should be known as an honorary anime.

ATLA Could Represent Asian Media in America

If the live-action series being created for Netflix can be done in the correct way, ATLA could create more opportunities of Asian media in America. This series could help in seeing more social acceptance towards the medium.

In a way, it can also be seen as a gateway series into shows that are similar to it (i.e. Shounen). Avatar does a lot in just 61 episodes, and it deserves all the praise that it has garnered over the years.

Avatar The Last Airbender is not an anime. Image: Deseret News

Just because a Tiger roars, won’t make it a Lion. Nonetheless, both are still wonderful creatures.

Avatar The Last Airbender follows a similar plot formula to popular anime, but they exist on two different platforms. It might not be an anime, but it will continue to be called an achievement in Western animation.