‘Legend of Korra’ Teaches Us That Cartoons Aren’t Just for Kids

Are you one of those who bemoans the fact that TV no longer tries to teach us anything? Well, then, meet Nick Cannata-Bowman, who’s here to show how wrong you’ve been. (And by “you” we mean “we.”)

by Nick Cannata-Bowman

Exploring adult themes in cartoons is something that’s been practiced since the days of Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life, but the animated series that explore heavier topics like loss, growing up, and the pitfalls that go hand-in-hand with adulthood are few and far between. With Nickelodeon’s Legend of Korra, we get just that: a cartoon aimed at kids with massive crossover appeal for adults, featuring themes that everyone can relate to. As the final chapter comes to a close in the coming weeks, let’s explore just what’s made each season so special (spoilers ahoy, so consider yourself warned).

Book 1: Air

The opening season of Korra fast-forwarded 100 or so years from the end of The Last Airbender into a steam-punky, pseudo-industrial future where the new, teenage avatar is presented with a whole new set of challenges. Very quickly we see our hero Korra, still learning to master both herself and the elements, thrown into a society that doesn’t feel as though they need her at all, and in fact views benders as oppressive and dangerous (which in the show’s history has been proven to be true).

What do you think?

Korra is forced to come face to face with her worst fear: having her physical skills taken away from her. The average 12-year-old watching this probably doesn’t often think of the impermanence of natural gifts, making for a first season that dives headfirst into a very adult fear that many of us share.

Book 2: Spirits

Here in Season 2, Korra’s itching to build on the spirituality she attained in Book 1 but is still making the hard-headed immature decisions of the past. In just a few episodes, she unwittingly incites a civil war, alienates the people who love and care for her, and is left alone to clean up the mess. We as an audience see firsthand here what it’s like to lose everything, as well the consequences of not learning from our mistakes. While an average kid’s show would soften its message and talk down to its audience, Korra does quite the opposite; Book 2 pulls no punches as it demonstrates the true meaning of understanding your past in order to have a future.

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