|"I can't believe there are still living dragons. My uncle Iroh said he faced the last dragon and killed it."|
|— Zuko to Aang and the Sun Warriors.|
The dragon is the original practitioner of firebending, capable of breathing fire. The species demonstrated the true way of firebending to the Sun Warriors' civilization, a precursor to the modern day Fire Nation and to Wan, the first Avatar. As such, dragons are highly respected by both the Sun Warriors and the Fire Nation.
Around 9,832 BG, after Wan was banished from his village atop a fire lion turtle, but having been allowed to keep the power over fire from the creature, he began his life among the spirits in the Spirit Wilds. During his two-year stay, he came across a white spirit dragon, who performed intricate movements while flying through the sky. Mimicking these movements, Wan became the first known human to perform the Dancing Dragon.
Wanting to appear more fearsome than his father, and regain the popularity he had lost among the nobility after seizing the Fire & Air Center of Learning, Fire Lord Sozin orchestrated the first Dragon Hunts early in his reign. Only a few dragons were killed at first, but the nobility embraced the sport voraciously. Whoever slayed a dragon gained the honorary title of "Dragon", and it was rumored that their firebending powers were increased a thousand-fold. Many nobles enjoyed the prestige of the title, and the ability to one-up on their competitors. This earned loyalty for Sozin among the noble class.
The Dragon Hunts led to ethical debates between the nobles and spiritual authorities, as the Fire Sages were at first deeply concerned about the killing of the original firebenders. Spirits were attracted to the death sites of dragons, and strange hauntings occurred. Sozin kept this under wraps from the general population, and developed an elite taskforce to deal with these occurances. The Water Tribes noticed the spiritual damage that the Dragon Hunts were causing, and sent envoys to the death sites. Yet they faced a number of issues while trying to investigate, and Sozin spun a propaganda campaign that blamed the people of the Water Tribe for any spiritual disturbances that became known to the public. Around this time, the Sun Warriors withdrew from the world and lived in total isolation, leading people to think that they were extinct.
The Dragon Hunts remained relatively small-scale for the first few decades, as Avatar Aang was unaware that the dragons would become endangered, although he did encounter poachers in the period just before the Air Nomad Genocide. Between 2 BG and 0 AG, Aang and Kuzon scoured Fire Nation mountaintops in the hopes of finding the elusive dragons. They ended up saving a dragon egg from poachers and giving it back to its mother. The Dragon Hunts continued throughout Sozin's reign and through the Hundred Year War, increasing in intensity and driving the animals to near-extinction. Near the end of the war, dragons were thought to be completely extinct due to General Iroh's claim that he had killed the final one. However, while searching for the last civilization of the Sun Warriors, Aang and Zuko discovered that two dragons, Ran and Shaw, were still alive, deducing that Iroh had lied to protect the species. The duo was made to promise that they would never reveal anything about the so-thought lost civilization and the dragons.
By 171 AG, a new dragon, Druk, a descendant of Ran and Shaw, had been born and later became Zuko's mount. However, dragons are still an extremely rare sight and very few people were still aware of their existence, as there are only three known dragons left in the world. With the Fire Nation trying to right the wrongs of its past, some conservationists hoped that undocumented dragons could be found in the wilderness, and that a sanctuary might be established that could lead to a new renaissance for the species. Meanwhile, some hunters of rare animals were enticed by the possibility of capturing a creature as rare as a dragon.
The dragon is a large, horned reptile with a long, scaly body that ends in a thin tail. Its head is large compared to the rest of its body, and its bearded face is dominated by a wide, flat nose, golden, cat-like eyes, and long whiskers.
There also seem to be several subspecies of dragons. There are both winged and non-winged dragons, their size and number differing depending on the species of dragon. Some have two large wings that enable them to fly over great distances, while others, like the green dragon, had an extra, smaller pair of wings.
Though not completely immune to the element, a dragon's scales provide significant resistance to both fire and explosions, with Druk only being knocked back from a direct combustionbending attack.
Dragons are intelligent creatures, capable of communicating with humans. Although generally living in solitude, a dragon can form a tight bond with a human, even to the point where it will protect its human partner to the death. Dragons are known to show affection by licking people.
Red and blue dragons
The symbolism of the red and blue dragons has appeared several times throughout Team Avatar's adventures. Commonly, the red dragon represents honor and goodness, while the blue dragon represents seduction and evil.
While living in Ba Sing Se, Zuko dreamed that he was the Fire Lord and lacked his scar. Two dragons, one red and one blue, gave him advice. The blue dragon spoke with the voice of Azula, while the red dragon spoke with the voice of Iroh. The blue dragon sought to harm Zuko, encouraging him to "sleep forever", whereas the red dragon told him to "escape". This dream was eventually brought to life, when Azula and Iroh gave Zuko different advice in the Crystal Catacombs of Ba Sing Se. Zuko decided to fight by Azula's side, later regretting his decision.
The red and blue dragons represented the conflict between Avatar Roku and Fire Lord Sozin, with Roku's dragon being red and Sozin's being blue. Roku and Sozin were initially friends, but they grew distant over time. Both dragons were present on Roku's island when Sozin betrayed Roku and left his old friend to die in the volcanic eruption - Sozin escaped on his blue dragon, while Fang swooped in so he could die with Roku.
Of the original firebending masters, Ran and Shaw, one is a red dragon and one is a blue dragon. Though no distinction of personality or name was made between them, the red one paired with Zuko and the blue one with Aang as they do the "Dancing Dragon" form. However, when Aang and Zuko finished displaying the "Dancing Dragon" form and prepared to face the dragons' judgment, Aang faced the red dragon, and Zuko the blue one. The dragons deemed them worthy and showed Aang and Zuko the original meaning of firebending.
Dragons in the World of Avatar draw inspiration from several different cultures. Aesthetically, they are heavily influenced by traditional Chinese depictions of dragons: long serpentine body, whiskers, fin-like ears, wild looking eyes, canine snout, and the position and proportions of the horns and legs; one of the nine different types of Chinese dragons, also possess wings. Influences from other Asian cultures are also present, such as the dragons having four toes, which is typically a Korean and Vietnamese trait.
In Chinese and other East Asian mythologies, dragons are traditionally portrayed as a chimerical mix of lizards, camels, goats, and bats, among other animals; however, their image seems to have been refined in adaptation for animation and for the Western audience. The ability to breathe fire and the presence of wings are characteristics more common in European dragons, but they are included in the dragons of the Avatar world as they are typical aspects of the western idea of dragons. These features were also included to enhance the dragons' connection to firebending, as Asian dragons are more closely associated to water than any other element, taking for example, Yinglong, the only winged Chinese dragon.
- In Chinese culture, different colored dragons are associated with different locations, as blue dragons reside in bodies of water while red dragons are associated with the south.
- Ran and Shaw encircle each other in a similar way to Tui and La. This symbolizes the taijitu, commonly known as the yin and yang symbol, which is usually black and white.
- There was a golden dragon statue in the Fire Nation's throne room during Sozin's reign.
- While the dragons of the Avatar World are depicted with wings, the white dragon with which Wan trained during the era of Raava did not possess any, and neither did the red and blue dragon from Zuko's dream.
- In the non-canon comic "New Recruits", Hiroshi has a pet rock-dragon named Genji that complements his earthbending.