On the other hand, The Legend of Korra makes an emphasis on Korra herself, rather than her enemies, which explains why each book has its own set of adversaries to overcome (some of whom return later as allies.) These antagonists run the gamut of how well they play the roles woven for them.
10 Desna & Eska
Desna and Eska, the weirdly identical twins, are fun antagonists, but their roles in various events are kept minimal by their father, Unalaq. They are far better as sources of comic relief, especially in the form of Eska’s “wooing” of poor Bolin, or Desna’s cold cynicism and occasionally short temper.
The pair almost succeed in killing Korra, at least indirectly, by leaving her in the hands of an undersea dark spirit; but they later become chiefs of the Northern Water Tribe and close friends of the Avatar.
9 Hiroshi Sato
Hiroshi Sato is an unexpected bad guy as his introduction revolves around promising Mako his Pro-Bending sponsorship, which pleases Team Avatar as well as Asami. However, Hiroshi exhibits a seething hatred of all benders because his wife was killed by a random firebender who broke into their home.
He tries to help Amon with his revolution, but it is his daughter who takes him out of the equation at the last minute. Hiroshi does get the redemption he so desperately needs, though, when he dies a martyr to protect the United Republic of Nations from Kuvira and her mecha army.
Tarrlok, unfortunately, is second to his older brother in every sense: bending skill, political maneuvering, and personal determination. He bloodbends Korra even though he explicitly states that he despised using the technique as a child. However, his lack of knowledge about Amon’s identity shows that he still believes in the triumph of good over evil.
In other words, Tarrlok is not a vicious fiend but rather a misguided soul who could have benefited enormously from some sensible parenting and decent role models.
At this point, The Legend of Korra villains take a turn towards the dark side, with Ghazan and his terrifying lavabending leading the charge. He isn’t as focused as Zaheer, as dexterous as Ming-Hua, or as explosive as P’Li, but he is the only Red Lotus member who doesn’t get frustrated or stressed out if events aren’t going according to plan.
Ghazan is not dismissive of talent, either, as seen when he congratulates Bolin for his foray into lavabending (before asking him to employ it in a death match). All in all, solid B+.
Ming-Hua is a captivating character, being the only person with a disability since Toph in the prequel, but she doesn’t allow it to hold her back from being an exciting adversary. She and her water tentacles are practically invincible, making her one of the strongest waterbenders of all time.
More importantly, Ming-Hua doesn’t see the difference between armed combatants and civilians, and is as likely to murder either of them in cold blood — if she’s in the mood for it.
The chief antagonist of Book One: Air, Amon, aka Noatak, is an overwhelmingly powerful bender, especially due to his dangerous unbending ability. Although highly protective of his sibling when younger, Yakone’s manipulations have warped Amon’s mind into something gruesome and unfathomable.
Amon is formidable for none of these reasons, however, but rather because of how easily he is able to amass a cult following of anti-bending “revolutionaries,” and for his starring role in many of Korra’s nightmares.
The story of P’Li is a sad one, because her destruction also ends one of the healthiest relationships shown in the series (no matter how tough the going gets, she and Zaheer always keep their promises to one another.) However, this blind loyalty is quite a sharp thorn in the Avatar’s side, because P’Li’s combustionbending is nearly impossible to deal with head-on.
She doesn’t have time nor interest in the fates of those who don’t concern her, which is basically everyone except her lover and her two friends — but mostly her lover. Her devotion to the cause is unwavering and would have continued if Suyin Beifong hadn’t come up with her genius ploy at the last second.
The fact that Unalaq is Korra’s paternal uncle makes it all the more difficult for her not to trust him; he brainwashes her to the point that she justifies his blatant slander of her own dad, Tonraq, believing it to be an acceptable loss in the large scope of things.
And then there’s Vaatu, the concept of darkness given physical form, who fuses with Unalaq to produce one of the strongest villains in the whole series. Korra is unable to win this battle alone; it takes a combined effort from everyone — Tenzin, Jinora, Mako, Bolin, Asami, even Eska and Desna — for her to take UnaVaatu down.
There is an elemental conflict in Zaheer’s philosophy. On one hand, he professes to follow the path of the Air Nomads, but simultaneously uses violence to meet his goals — stringently against airbender credo.
It gets more complicated when one realizes that his goal to end the Avatar cycle might actually make sense in the context of the modern world, and empathizing with the enemy is usually the first step towards sowing discord. Ironically, Zaheer aligns himself to Guru Laghima’s doctrines a lot more after his defeat and subsequent imprisonment.
Kuvira, the charming earthbender rebel, is basically Korra through the looking glass. She enters the vacuum left behind by the Avatar’s “disappearance,” quickly mobilizing armies and converting people (by any means necessary) to her brand of justice and equality.
Kuvira is based on the same template as most dictators: convincing in her ideologies and capable of employing unethical force in order to achieve her “dreams.” In this respect, she is the most realistic villain in the show, which is honestly scarier than anything else.
NEXT: Avatar: Everything You Didn’t Know About Aang & Katara’s Relationship