Legend of Korra was a sequel series to Nickelodeon’s wildly popular Avatar: The Last Airbender, and it ran for four seasons before it was quietly canceled ahead of season 5. Legend of Korra focused on the new Avatar, a teenage girl named Korra, and significantly built out the mythology of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Prior to the premiere of season 2, co-creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko announced at San Diego Comic-Con that Nickelodeon had ordered 26 more episodes, to be divided into seasons 3 and 4. Following a significant drop in ratings and both creators looking to move onto different projects, Legend of Korra ended with season 4, which was released online in its entirety.
Legend of Korra was significantly different from its predecessor. While Avatar: The Last Airbender was aimed at children, Legend of Korra was designed for an older audience, and it dealt with more mature themes such as terrorism, fascism, and sexual orientation. Many fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender hated the show’s tonal shift, and many fans of Legend of Korra blamed Nickelodeon’s refusal to promote the show for its demise. Since Legend of Korra has been added to Netflix, the debate over the show has fired back up.
Legend of Korra had a troubled relationship with Nickelodeon from the start. While Avatar: The Last Airbender was promised a three-season run (with potential for a fourth, which was ultimately scrapped), Legend of Korra was never guaranteed anything past the original one-season order. Nickelodeon eventually gave the show a total of 52 episodes and four seasons, but as the ratings for Legend of Korra rapidly declined, season 5 never happened. When Nickelodeon pulled Legend of Korra from the air without warning in the middle of season 3, and released season 4 entirely online, it became clear that the show had no future on the network.
Although Nickelodeon never officially canceled Legend of Korra, it systemically undermined the success of the show. Even before pulling Legend of Korra off the air, Nickelodeon was continuously changing the date and time that the show aired, and did almost no promotion for it. The explicit content of the series meant that Nickelodeon was hesitant to air Legend of Korra on a channel geared towards children, but pushing it online without warning meant that devoted fans had difficulty finding new episodes. Already dealing with a ratings drop from waiting 18 months to release season 2, Legend of Korra never recovered after its move.
Even despite Nickelodeon’s sabotage, Legend of Korra season 5 may not have happened anyway, as DiMartino and Konietzko were ready to work outside of their creative partnership. As a result of the show’s soft cancellation or due to its low ratings, Legend of Korra season 5 never moved forward – but the story did continue after the show ended in a three-part graphic novel, Legend of Korra: Turf Wars. The graphic novel was written by DiMartino and is considered a canonical continuation of the series.
Legend of Korra was criticized for the lack of an overarching plot but spent most of its run under the threat of cancellation due to the rapidly dropping ratings and explicit content. After battling diminishing support from Nickelodeon, a surprise shift to airing exclusively online, and backlash from fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender, it’s no surprise that the troubled series ended after only four seasons. Although it was never officially canceled, the massive ratings drop and mature content meant that Legend of Korra season 5 could never have happened on Nickelodeon.