Home Entertainment Korra and She-Ra: Five similarities between these pioneering “spirit sisters” and animated series

Korra and She-Ra: Five similarities between these pioneering “spirit sisters” and animated series

12 min read
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Korra. She-Ra (AKA Adora). They even share the same last two letters in their two-syllable names. Nickelodeon’s The Legend of Korra may have finished four years before Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power even debuted, but there are an amazing number of parallels between these two award-winning fantasy adventures.

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Of course, you could claim that with the time difference, She-Ra’s creative team simply copy-pasted certain elements from Korra, yet that seems like an oversimplification. There are certainly enough thematic and other differences between the two shows. It’s easier to claim that the earlier animated series pried open a door, and provided a platform for the newer show to gleefully springboard from, waving its rainbow flag the whole time. Alternatively, you can argue that She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is a spiritual successor and series “sister” to The Legend of Korra.

Both cartoons are well-crafted, emotionally powerful tales that audiences are richer for experiencing. But let’s look a little closer at their shared features.

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Warning: Spoilers ahead for She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and The Legend of Korra.

1. The burden of legacy

Perhaps the greatest similarity between the two shows, and their title characters, is the burden they’re saddled with – both onscreen and off. Both The Legend of Korra and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power are women-centred spin-offs of massively popular, male-led series – Avatar: The Last Airbender and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, respectively. As a reboot of a beloved 1985 spin-off, the new She-Ra had a further shadow to escape from. Pre-release, a vocal contingent of original series fans were unimpressed by the reimagining’s drastic, desexualised redesign of its title character.

Within both The Legend of Korra and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, meanwhile, our heroines are encumbered with a massive expectation: to restore balance to their worlds. They are the latest in a thousand-year line of legendary protectors who tap into and wield the wild elemental energy of their planet. At their peak power, the two teenagers enter a dazzling avatar state.

In addition to the daunting responsibility, Korra (the latest Avatar) and Adora (the latest She-Ra) have to contend with the failings of their predecessors. It’s not simply anxiety over making the same mistakes. There is serious course correction for both young women to make. They’re pressured to fix damage caused by their predecessors thousands of years previously – for better or worse, as it turns out.

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In Korra’s case, that means reopening the portals between the Human and Spirit Worlds in Season 2, restoring a connection that was broken by the first Avatar, Wan. She-Ra, in Season 4, transplants the planet of Etheria out of the empty dimension of Despondos back into the greater universe. This, after the last She-Ra, Mara, displaced the planet to stop massive galactic destruction from unfolding.

Speaking of predecessors, there can only be one Avatar and She-Ra at a time. One must die for the next defender to emerge. Yet, at key moments in both series, Korra and Adora interact with the spirits of their forerunners and receive important advice. While Adora is largely in the dark as the first She-Ra in a thousand years (hologram recordings prove largely useless), Korra has a whole chain of previous Avatars behind her. The severing of that link in Season 2 hits her hard.   

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2. Heroines alike in attitudes and allies

Both Korra and She-Ra are muscled tomboy-ish heroines of action. These young women, both around 17 years old to start, punch first and ask questions later. That said, Adora’s military training in the Fright Zone means she is inherently more of a cool-headed leader and campaign strategist.

The overlaps don’t end there. Over the course of their series, both girls leave the bubbles of their sheltered upbringings. Both are stripped of their powers. Both lose once-trusted sources of guidance. And both receive cryptic, but sound, life lessons from wild-haired old ladies in the woods.

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Korra and She-Ra each have loyal animal companions – who double as modes of transport – to boot. The heroines get drastic new looks for their final series. And, in each case, there’s a close-knit support team of teenage peers: Korra’s Team Avatar and She-Ra’s Best Friend Squad. Although, in a cartoon with a more light-hearted tone, She-Ra’s bond with Glimmer and Bow is arguably closer to the goofy friendship between Aang, Katara, Sokka and Toph in the original Avatar.

P.S. You can’t tell me you don’t also see similarities between the moustached, self-absorbed rogues that are Korra’s Varrick and She-Ra’s Sea Hawk.

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3. Crippling crises of confidence

Korra and She-Ra are unquestionably cocky on the surface (Korra more so), but their bravado masks serious anxiety. Do they have any value, any contribution, to make if they aren’t the Avatar and She-Ra? What if they aren’t worthy or strong enough to fill the role? Korra and Adora both struggle with major crises of confidence in their respective series, although their internal journeys take a somewhat different path.

Korra starts off supremely confident. From toddlerhood, she is aware of her destiny and receives all the training and protection the Order of the Lotus can provide to prepare her for her divine duty. Exposure to the real world and its moral complexities, though, tarnishes Korra’s “I’m going to change the world” idealism. Theory and practice prove to be very different, and she finds she can’t just power her way through problems. In addition, over all four seasons of the show, the primary antagonists drive home the message that in the new rapidly industrialising world, the Avatar is no longer necessary.

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I’ve written a far more thorough analysis of Korra’s character progression, but, in short, despite always stepping up and delivering in a crisis, her enemies’ message hits a nerve. With the connection to the other Avatars severed and her powers compromised, Korra gives in to depression and self-loathing. Having deliberately isolated herself – because she believes her friends and family don’t need her – she is relentlessly pursued by visions of herself in the Avatar state.

Adora doesn’t have Korra’s foundation of unwavering confidence. Even before joining the Rebellion, she’s had to work hard for her success in the Horde. She also isn’t long torn up over learning that everything she was raised to believe is a lie. Adora’s greatest fear is that she isn’t strong enough as She-Ra – to avoid repeating “insane” Mara’s mistakes, and prevent people from getting hurt. Events with Entrapta and Queen Angella confirm Adora’s worst fears, and, guilt-ridden, she starts to believe Light Hope’s insistence that the only way for her to effectively perform her role, is to let go of her emotional attachments.

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Of course, the overarching, consistent message of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is that love, compassion and friendship make you stronger. So Adora doesn’t isolate herself like Korra. At least not for extended periods. Adora’s greatest internal struggle – the same for Korra – is the dread that she can’t live up to her potential, and the perceived expectations of others. To that end, there is nothing Adora won’t do, pushing herself to her physical limits, and even accepting that she may have to sacrifice herself to save Etheria.

Fortunately, over the course of both series, Adora and Korra learn to value and love themselves as they are, not solely as She-Ra and the Avatar.

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4. Women loving women

That fundamental need for self-love and self-acceptance is arguably why both The Legend of Korra and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power only unveiled their end game, women-loving-women romances in their final episode. Well, that and to dampen controversy, and keep their LGBT+ fanbase speculating until the last minute.

Veering away from romantic love seen in normative, family cartoons, both powerful heroines end up with other women after long runs of singledom. In fact, Adora never has a love interest over five seasons.

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In Korra’s case, once she has her mojo back and fascist Earth Kingdom forces have been crushed, she’s paired with inventor Asami Sato, her best female friend and once romantic rival in Seasons 1 and 2. Korra and Asami’s friendship-turned-romance is implied in the closing seconds of the series, as they embark on a vacation alone together to the Spirit World. In the show’s final moments, the women face each other, hold hands and look into each other’s eyes before fading into the spirit realm. This was followed by a post-release statement from the show’s creators confirming that yes, Korra and Asami are a couple. Their relationship has since been expanded on in the Legend of Korra follow-up comics, beginning with Turf Wars.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is less subtle, but then again the unusually intense bond between Adora and lifelong friend-turned-mortal-enemy Catra is in the spotlight for five seasons. In the final episode, there are mutual declarations of love and a passionate kiss that give Adora the strength to save the day. That is impossible, though, until Adora learns to prioritise her feelings instead of always defaulting to self-sacrifice. It’s also essential for Catra to first let go of her fear-driven hatred and jealousies, and finally come over to the good side.

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The Legend of Korra is arguably the more groundbreaking of the two series in terms of revealing its title character to be in a same-sex relationship. It was back in December 2014 that Korrasami became canon. In between then and now, predating She-Ra’s finale, other animated series have picked up the torch of LGBT+ representation. Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe is a notable case, showing lesbian relationships, physical displays of affection and even marriage.

Since The Legend of Korra, times have changed in terms of what can be shown in kids’ cartoons. Today, She-ra and the Princesses of Power may have multiple rivals for the title of “Queerest show on TV,” but it’s been consistent in promoting a message of inclusivity and “Love is love.” That was never the thematic focus of The Legend of Korra, with its explorations of social inequality, extremism and post-traumatic stress, to name a few subjects.

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Since Season 1, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power has featured characters of different races, body types, sexual orientations and, the case of Double Trouble, gender identities. Even before Catradora became a reality, princesses Spinnerella and Netossa are revealed as a lesbian couple back in Season 1, while Bow is shown to have two dads in Season 2, and mercenary Huntara is seen flirting with a barmaid in Season 3. In the world of She-Ra, sexual orientation is a non-issue.

By contrast, in the tonally darker and more mature Avatar universe, sexual orientation is topical. Although only explored in the Turf Wars comic, Korra’s world is closer to our reality, with a mix of views. While the Air Nomads are accepting of all relationships, the Water Tribe adopts a “Your personal life is private” perspective, and the more conservative Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation veer between cold unacceptance and criminalisation.

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The Legend of Korra and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power reflect different worlds and different attitudes. But both series provide the same positive, matter-of-fact representation of same-sex relationships for viewers.

5. The grand finale

While a bit of digging is required to unearth similarities between The Legend of Korra and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on the whole, little effort is required when it comes to the final episode of both series.

In each case, weapons of mass destruction that harness the world’s spirit energy are destroyed, and the planet’s wild elemental magic is unchained, surging to full strength to overwhelm the technology of the attackers. Former villains get redemption arcs and/or make the ultimate sacrifice. And, probably most memorable for fans, long-debated romantic relationships are revealed to be canon. In both cartoons, in the final moments, our heroines stand face to face with their beloved, holding hands against a magical, shimmery Spirit World background. 

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The end of each series is also clearly not the end for our heroes and their allies. As already mentioned, Korra’s story has continued on the comics page. If She-ra showrunner Noelle Stevenson isn’t tempted by the prospect of returning for Season 6, it seems likely that She-Ra and her Best Friend Squad will see their teased space explorations depicted in graphic novel form. There’s plenty of room for more adventure (say that in Sea Hawk’s voice) – which could potentially clear up mystery around the First Ones, and *gasp* maybe bring together the She-Ra and He-Man universes.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and The Legend of Korra may have diverted with different themes and narrative goals, but they share multiple other similarities. And both animated series should always be mentioned when talking about emotionally powerful, polished and pioneering shows with the courage to offer fresh perspectives and commentary to audiences of all ages.

Last Updated: June 9, 2020

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