Since Avatar: The Last Airbender is now on Netflix, I was able to watch it for the first time. We didn’t have TV growing up so it wasn’t part of my childhood, but now I understand what the hype was all about. And with people who loved the series when it first came out re-watching it as well, this seems a perfect time to take a look at the personality types of the characters in this series.
This was turning into an enormous blog post, so I decided to split it in two. In this post, I’m talking about the Fire Nation characters — Azula, Iroh, Mai, Ty Lee, and Zuko. Part One post was about the Team Avatar characters, and you can click here to read that (yes, I know Zuko could go in both posts, but I put him here so there’d be five characters for each).
You’ll notice as I talk about each type that I reference functions. In Myers-Briggs® theory, functions refer to the mental processes that each type prefers to use. If you’re not familiar with functions or want a refresher, you can check out my post “The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs® Functions Ever” and Susan Storm’s post “The Cognitive Functions – What Are They?” Usually when I type fictional characters I research other people’s typings as well, but for this post I chose to approach the characters with fresh eyes. I haven’t read any other articles about the Myers-Briggs® types of Avatar characters.
Azula — ENTJ
Typing insane, villainous characters might not be the best idea since at some point it tends to degenerate into stereotypes about the worst aspects of a certain type. I’m hoping, though, that there are enough clues about Azula’s type in the episodes before she looses it to come up with a pretty good guess at her personality type. I also relied heavily on Susan Storm’s article “The Evil Versions of Every Myers-Briggs® Personality Type,” which was very helpful in coming up with this typing.
Even as a child, Azula’s priorities involved finding ways to one-up other people. She has no empathy for others or understanding of why she should. Her Extroverted Thinking side (an ENTJ’s dominant function) has gone to an unhealthy extreme, focused only on what’s the most efficient ways to achieve what she wants (such as wanting Iroh dead so her father will be Fire Lord). Even when she’s doing something normal this side of her personality is over-emphasized, such as during the beach episode when she insists, “We are the perfect party guests. We arrive right on time because we are very punctual.”
Susan writes, “Destructive ENTJs are dominating, aggressive, and quick-tempered.” They don’t care much for other’s perspectives, forcing everyone around them to pursue their own vision for the future. They also “have fiery tempers and can be intimidating bullies, using their quick wits and cold hard logic as a weapon to humiliate and silence their opponents.” Azula does this all the time, whether it’s manipulating Ty Lee and Mai into joining her or tricking the Dai Li into giving her Ba Sing Se. Even giving Zuko credit for killing the Avatar is just another layer of manipulation and control.
Azula treats everything like she’s in a battle. In “The Beach,” volleyball is about analyzing her opponents, finding their weaknesses (using her Introverted Intuition to pick up patterns), and targeting those weaknesses to destroy the other team. This goes along with another thing Susan mentions. For destructive ENTJs, “Domination is a game to them, and they are increasingly power-hungry as they become more and more unhealthy.” By the end of her character arc, Azula is grasping for all the power of Fire Lord with so much desperation that she banishes everyone around her who might betray her.
ENTJs tend to have a blind-spot related to their inferior introverted Feeling function. Even healthy ENTJs can fall into hypersensitivity, emotional outbursts, and fear of feeling when they’re under stress (WAs That Really Me? Naomi Quenk, p.81). For an extremely unhealthy ENTJ like Azula, this shows up as she gives herself permission to wallow in self-pity while being blunt and critical of others. For example, she tells Zuko he’s pathetic when he opens up about his confusion and anger.
Iroh — ENFJ
My brother once described Uncle Iroh as “too self-actualized to have a personality type,” but we’re going to try and figure one out for him anyway. I had a pretty hard time typing him since he’s so well-balanced that figuring out his favorite functions is a challenge, but I finally settled on ENFJ. Once in-line to be the next Fire Lord, Iroh was a war hero who foresaw he would capture Ba Sing Se where others had failed. He gave all that up, though, when he learned of his son’s death. Family is everything to him, and that tragedy made his priorities clear to everyone else.
It would have been easy to type the wise old mentor figure as an INFJ, but because we know how successful he’s been with sensory, outer world activities it doesn’t make sense for Extroverted Sensing to be his least-developed function (as it would be for an INFJ). ENFJs use the same functions, but in a different order. Extroverted Feeling is their strongest function, Introverted Intuition their co-pilot, and Extroverted Sensing their tertiary process.
Extroverted Feeling has a strong desire to meet other peoples’ needs and maintain harmony in relationships. This is the function ENFJs use to make decisions, and we see over and over again that Iroh bases his choices on personal factors. That might not at first sound like a war hero type, but in fighting the other nations Iroh was simply fulfilling family obligations. Also, while he was good at it, fighting is now where he’s most comfortable. While Zuko was growing up, Iroh was the one who would spend time with him and build sandcastles on the beach with the kids even through it appears that Iroh was away from home more often than Zuko’s father.
Even though he did what his family expected, for the most part, Iroh was never content to simply do as he was told. ENFJs don’t much care for confrontation with people they care about, but they’re also an innovative type that thinks outside the box. Iroh’s co-pilot of Introverted Intuition gives him the ability to notice patterns of behavior, adopt different perspectives, and forecast what might happen in the future with a surprising degree of accuracy. He thinks for himself and acts for himself, especially as he ages. Younger Iroh chose to protect the last dragons, but he didn’t let anyone know about it. More mature Iroh stands up publicly and turns against the Fire Nation to try and save the Northern Water Tribe’s moon and ocean spirits.
Personality Hacker nicknamed Introverted Intuition “Perspectives” (you can click here to read about their nicknames for the cognitive functions, or check out their book which is linked at the end of this post). This function is able to shift into other peoples’ viewpoints with ease. Iroh can interact with anyone he meets with openness and understanding because he can see things from their point of view and because he’s good at reading others’ emotions. He’s also able to predict how people would respond if he were to take Ozai’s throne, and says that Zuko must be the next Fire Lord if they mean to achieve lasting peace.
ENFJs are sometimes called “The Teacher” type. Many choose to go into careers related to psychology, counseling, and ministry. One of my favorite scenes with Iroh is when he teaches someone who tried to rob him how to fight better, then serves him tea and life advice. It has always seemed kind of strange to me, but for some reason INFJs and ENFJs tend to attract people who need to talk. Even complete strangers will open up to them and seek emotional support.
Naomi Quenk notes that in midlife, mature ENFJs become more reflective. They’re more attentive to their own needs and to their inner life, often adopting a meditation practice and tempering their Extroversion with “calm wisdom” (p. 165). That’s where Iroh is — a balanced, peaceful, and wise man who has learned to let go of power and seek happiness instead.
Mai — INTP
Mai isn’t an easy character to type. Not only does she have less screen time than many other main characters, but she deliberately keeps other characters and therefore the audience at an emotional distance. It’s hard to tell what’s going on inside her head. What we do see, however, seems to fit best with a type who relies on Introverted Thinking as their favorite function. Her extroverted function is not well-developed, but I’ve chosen INTP instead of ISTP because Mai seems to be a little less “present oriented” and more in-tune with recognizing possibilities. Going with INTP also means that Introverted Sensing is her tertiary process.
According to Azula, Mai had a controlling mother who shut Mai down when she strayed from expectations and now she’s afraid to care about anything or express herself. Mai herself confirms that this is the case, saying, “I was a rich, only child who got anything I wanted… as long as I behaved… and sat still… and didn’t speak unless spoken to. My mother said I had to keep out of trouble.” This conversation tells us a couple things. First, that the personality Mai presents to others is one she created out of fear, and that her true self was more concerned with conforming to what was expected than with rebelling and being herself.
It hurts Mai when Zuko suggest she can’t believe in or feel passion about anything, but she hasn’t developed the parts of her personality that might let her do that openly. She has doubled-down on her favorite function — the logical, impersonal Introverted Thinking. She also pulls-in her tertiary Introverted Sensing, a function which relies heavily on past experience. INTP types in a “loop” between these two functions often struggle to process past mistakes and move forward into the future.
According to an article that polled 314 INTPs, the number one thing this type fears is rejection. This perhpas has something to do with their inferior function, Extroverted Feeling. They use the same function that drives FJ types like Katara to live in community with others and put their needs first, but this is not well developed for INTPs. According to Naomi Quenk, “In its extreme form, the grip experience of Introverted Thinking types may manifest as a feeling of profound and infinite separateness from the whole of humanity. The ISTP or INTP is convinced that he or she is unloved and ultimately unlovable. … The memory of childhood misery and helplessness may intensify the adult’s inferior function experience” (p. 131). Sounds a whole lot like Mai’s perspective.
With fear identified as her driving motivation, it’s even more poignant when Mai helps Zuko escape, wryly telling the guards that she’s “saving the jerk who dumped me.” She tells Azula, “You miscalculated. I love Zuko more than I fear you.” She’s reasserting who she wants to be, and that involves taking risks to protect the one person she really cares about. When we see her again, she’s much more relaxed and warm than she’d been during most of the series. At first, trying to tell Zuko she cared about him consisted of, “I don’t hate you.” Now she’s able to say, with a blush and smile, “I actually kind of like you.”
Ty Lee — ESFP
There isn’t nearly as much to go on for typing Ty Lee as there are for some of the other characters, but I think we have enough clues to come up with a good guess. We learn during “The Beach” episode that she’s one of six identical sisters and joined the circus to have an identity. Being so strongly focused on who she is indicates she’s probably a type that uses Introverted Feeling. Personality Hacker nicknamed this function “Authenticity.”
Authenticity users make decisions based on, “Does this feel right to me?” (Personality Hacker, p. 71). They also tend to go with the flow until there’s a good reason to stand up for their personal values. Ty Lee doesn’t like conflict (“negative energy is bad for your skin”) and prefers to live in the moment without worrying too much about the things going on around her. However, when Azula turns on Mai for saving Zuko’s life, Ty Lee joins Mai in betraying Azula. If she has to choose between betraying one of her two friends, then turning against the one who manipulated her and is bent on a path of destruction is the most authentic option for Ty Lee.
As an ESFP, Ty Lee leads with Extroverted Sensing. This function’s nickname is “Sensation.” It’s a mental process that lives for the present moment. The SP types are often labeled hedonists, though that’s an oversimplification of what drives them. I bring up that stereotype, though, because even the people closest to Ty Lee assume that she’s shallow and desperate for attention. While she is trying to make up for feeling invisible as a child, she also notices more than people assume and she doesn’t just fill her life with shallow relationships. Ty Lee wants friends and enjoys forging real connections with people, including bonding with Kyoshi Warriors in prison and announcing “now we’re going to be best friends.”
Zuko — ISFP
I knew just a few episodes in that Zuko was going to be my favorite character. For this typing, I referenced Susan’s “The Evil Versions of Every Myers-Briggs® Personality Type” post because I wanted to make sure the typing worked equally well for redeemed Zuko as for villainous Zuko. Let’s start with that:
“Destructive ISFPs are … easily lost in self-pity and bitterness over numerous perceived or misunderstood slights. They will go from stages of passive-aggressive coldness to stages of self-righteous indignation. … They are easily angered by people who don’t understand their intense emotional reactions … They are not swayed by logical arguments or reasonable discussion; everyone they allow into their life is at the mercy of their subjective value judgments.” — Susan Storm writing about The Destructive ISFP
Poor Zuko. He’s a hot mess when we start out this series, though thankfully his uncle is there and Iroh’s patient enough not to be daunted by Zuko’s volatility. They clash quite a bit (or rather, Zuko lashes out and Iroh deflects), but they also understand each other quite well. Because they share the same perceiving functions, they conceptualize the world and learn new information in very similar ways (Introverted Intuition is Iroh’s co-pilot and Zuko’s tertiary function. Extroverted Sensing is Zuko’s co-pilot and Iroh’s tertiary function).
In Naomi Quenk’s book about how stress brings out our hidden personalities, she describes the inferior function of ISFPs (which is Extroverted Thinking) showing up as judgements of incompetence, aggressive criticism, and precipitous action (p.105). Interestingly, this is the function that Azula uses most comfortably. It’s no wonder that angry, hurt Zuko reacts a lot like his sister. For example, in the first season, Zuko talks about how how he’ll get the Avatar if he has to kill all his men to do it, which is similar to Azula’s threat about killing her ship’s captain is he can’t master the tides. The big difference is, we’re all sure Azula would have done it but Zuko just talks like that. What he actually does is take risks to keep his crew alive, including letting the Avatar escape.
Personality Hacker calls people’s preferred function their Driver process. What drives Zuko is a deep desire for Authenticity (Introverted Feeling’s nickname). He thinks he wants belonging and acceptance, but when he finally gets that he discovers that’s not really him. He struggles a lot in the second and third season with the question of who he truly is, and the struggle is so difficult that he visits Iroh in prison to beg for help, saying, “I’m loosing my mind … I’m so confused.” Iroh doesn’t help him this time, though. This is a journey Zuko has to take on his own and he spends a huge amount of time in self-reflection.
At one point early in Season 3, Mai asks Zuko a simple question (“Are you cold?”) and he responds by sharing what’s on his mind, such as wondering how his home has changed and how he’s changed since he was banished. During “The Beach” episode, he confesses to Mai, Azula, and Ty Lee that he’s angry because he’s confused and isn’t sure he knows “the difference between right and wrong anymore.” That’s got to be hard for an FP type, whose identity and decision making is wrapped up in what they feel is right. Even after deciding that he needs to join Team Avatar and fight his father, he continues reflecting on himself and his motives. For example, when Zuko and Aang trigger a trap in the Sun Warrior’s temple Aang tries to call for help while Zuko suggests they use the time to “think about our place in the universe.”
In her excellent book Personality Type, Lenore Thomson says that “Introverted Feeling is trained by subjective life experience.” Once developed sufficiently, it puts human value first in a way that is “unquestionably illogical, but … in no way irrational” (p.368). It takes time to develop the core values that drive a type leading with Authenticity, and once they finally put their foot down and stand for what they believe it doesn’t always make sense to the people around them. Zuko’s father thinks he’s crazy and weak when Zuko confronts him to say, “If we don’t want the world to destroy itself” we need to replace the Fire Nation’s reign with “an era of peace and kindness.” Now that he’s secure in this belief, his father’s disapproval doesn’t matter. He sticks with this conviction, telling Aang and the others, “I know my destiny is to help you restore balance to the world.” As Fire Lord, his first act is voicing a commitment to “a new era of love and peace.”
The better Zuko understands himself, the better he’s able to understand others. For example, he realizes that Katara connects her anger towards him with her anger about losing her mother. He also notices that Azula is slipping, which is why he agrees to fight her in an Agni Kai in the hope that it will keep others from getting hurt.
In terms of his relationship to the outer world, Zuko tends to engage with things as they are. He’s not all that interested in abstract possibility no matter how much Iroh talks to him in metaphor (and even when he does listen he struggles to understand). That doesn’t mean he has no interest in the future, but rather that his co-pilot Extroverted Sensing is strongly grounded in reality. We also see him choosing to engage in active, sensing activities — from fire bending, to working on a farm in exchange for his supper in the episode “Zuko Alone.”
If you would like to purchase the books mentioned in this article, you can follow the links below. Please note that these are affiliate links which means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.
- Personality Hacker: Harness the Power of Your Personality Type to Transform Your Work, Relationships, and Life by Joel Mark Witt and Antonia Dodge
- Personality Type: An Owner’s Manual: A Practical Guide to Understanding Yourself and Others Through Typology by Lenore Thomson
- Was That Really Me? How Everyday Stress Brings Out Our Hidden Personality by Naomi Quenk
- Neuroscience of Personality: Brain Savvy Insights for All Types of People by Dario Nardi