Prince Zuko, the antagonist of Avatar: The Last Airbender, has one of the best redemption-based character arcs in media. That said, particularly in seasons one and two, he still performs a few particularly mind-boggling actions. As his journey continues, Zuko becomes to understand the dangers of his family legacy, as well as all the ways he can overcome it.
Even if his temper doesn’t improve, his actions do start to. When the series ends, it’s clear the character still has work to do, however. Therefore, let’s discuss the five best and five worst character traits of Prince Zuko.
10 Best: Light On His Feet
It is clear early on that while Zuko is still learning as a firebender, his stealth skills are to be admired. His rescue of Aang from Pohuai stronghold is quick and careful, exacerbated by the fact that Aang doesn’t even know who he is until the rescue is over. Even after he abandons the Blue Spirit disguise in season two, Zuko remains quick as a fighter, using speed to his advantage.
Though his sister is smaller and more agile (one of Azula’s best qualities), Zuko improves throughout the series to eventually be able to match her in their final fight; although she is also disadvantaged in that she’s undergoing a mental breakdown at the same time. Ultimately, one of Zuko’s best traits is the way he fights: quickly and furiously. As the series goes on, he learns patience, but it doesn’t deter his fighting style.
9 Worst: Temper
From his first appearance, it’s clear Zuko has a temper – and it is one of his worst traits. His anger frequently gets him in trouble, and indicates to other characters that he isn’t really a good person. Even at the end of the series, he does still get angry, but he’s managed to tame it.
His anger also causes him to fight erratically in season one. Part of why Aang gets away so often is because Zuko’s temper gets the better of him. His chaotic state of mind is also part of why he can’t generate lightning at the beginning of the second season. Of all the show’s characters, Zuko’s temper is probably the quickest to erupt out of everyone in the series.
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8 Best: Learns From Mistakes
When the show starts, Zuko is angry and bitter, and continually does the wrong thing, even when it doesn’t help him at all. Though Zuko seems to be improving as a character as season two continues, he ends up making his biggest mistake yet at the end of the season. On the bright side, during season three he does learn from his mistakes, and this ends up being one of the best parts of his character. After betraying Katara personally, he does everything he can to make it up to her, even brushing aside Aang’s advice of forgiveness in the process to really get to her level.
By the time he reunites with his uncle towards the end of the show, Zuko has reformed himself into the kind of person Iroh would like to see him become. A lot of his character growth is directly connected to fixing his past mistakes, and it is excellent to see his journey as the show progresses.
7 Worst: Doesn’t Know What He Wants
As his priorities change throughout the series, Zuko comes to be unsure about what he wants in life. At first, his desires are decided by other people, such as wanting his father to accept him so Zuko can regain his honor, but eventually, he needs to learn what he wants and needs. Unfortunately, this leads to some pretty bad results, as he ends up helping Azula at the end of season two so that he can go home a hero.
As season three continues, Zuko learns about his great-grandfathers’ past and continues to realize that his nation has done horrible things. He understands that his destiny is helping the Avatar as opposed to capturing him. Ultimately, he has tamed one of his biggest hurdles: what does he want?
6 Best: Faces Things Head On
Partly due to his unconventional childhood, Zuko has become well-versed in facing things as they come. He doesn’t hide behind others, or needlessly delay tasks. For all of his other faults, he is confident in his own abilities and is ready to work with his problems when the time comes.
For example, he eagerly rises to the challenge of fighting Zhao early in the series, and even late in the series doesn’t understand why the rest of Team Avatar plans to wait until after the comet to defeat the Fire Lord. This is one aspect where Zuko really shines as a character, and where Aang learns from him instead of the other way around.
5 Worst: Wants To See The Best In The Worst People
With his father and Azula, Zuko has always wanted to see the best in the worst people. He helps Azula in the season two finale despite knowing how she is as a person and knowing the cruel actions she’s performed in the past. Despite the fact that his father burned and banished him, Zuko still wants his love and respect.
Zuko also thinks he can earn his honor by completing the wild goose chase of capturing the Avatar. Luckily, he learns to grow out of this character trait as the show goes on, and starts to see good things in good people, like his friends.
4 Best: Good With Kids
Zuko is surprisingly good with kids, as is shown by the episode “Zuko Alone”. It is the first episode where he really understands (through his interactions with the boy he meets, Lee) just what the Fire Nation has done to the ordinary citizens of the rest of the world, and how they are hated for it.
He ends up getting on fairly well with Toph and Aang later on, who are both four years younger than him and certainly can still be considered children, even in the context of the series, where teenagers must save the world.
3 Worst: Impatient
Another of Zuko’s worst character flaws is that he’s impatient. A good part of that is connected to his temper. When Zuko is working with Iroh on redirecting lightning, immediately after learning the move he wants to try it for real.
When Iroh refuses him, he goes out to the storm and demands the lightning strike him, so he can practice now. It’s a step back for his character since he submitted to the teaching from Iroh with grace, but won’t accept that the actual move is too dangerous to perform in real life unless it’s a dangerous necessity.
2 Best: Speaks Up For What’s Right
Who can forget watching “The Storm” for the first time, and actually seeing how Zuko was burned and banished? His sense of righteousness and honor was always part of his character, it just ended up being buried by his desire to go home and have his father accept him. However, this righteousness is part of why Zuko was always a character whose path would change and who would end up on the Avatar’s side.
He is never as heartless as Zhao and even attempts to save him from the wrath of the Ocean Spirit, though this fails. Towards the end of the series, Zuko also affirms that Aang should fight the Fire Lord before the comet comes because if he waits, the Earth Kingdom will burn. Though he could have spoken up at the meeting in question, he waits until it matters.
1 Worst: Doesn’t Think Before He Acts
Another of Zuko’s worst traits – one he is rightly called out on multiple times – is that he often doesn’t think before he acts. He rushes through until consequences arrive and he must face them. One prominent example is in capturing Aang at the North Pole; he carries the Avatar into a blizzard, finds a cave, and from then on doesn’t know what to do.
Zuko thinks he has a plan until he doesn’t. This is a trait that improves as the series goes on, though subtly, and mostly with help from other characters such as Iroh and Sokka.
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About The Author Noemi Arellano-Summer (83 Articles Published)
Noemi Arellano-Summer is an arts and culture journalist working in the Los Angeles area. Armed with a BS in Journalism from Boston University, she has published work at the following publications: Boston Globe, Crime Report, Ancient World Magazine, Screen Queens, BU BUZZ, BU Quad, Mindfray, Catalyst.cm, the Boston Hassle, and the Celebrity Cafe. She is excited to share film, history, and the arts with people.