I don’t understand the weird hatred that some people have for Mako. It makes no sense to me for people to be profiling Mako against ex-boyfriends who have abused them. Understandably, Mako has flaws but he has never been an abusive character, neither to Asami nor Korra. Treating Mako as a paragon of the perfect boyfriend is reducing his character. Mako is not meant to always be a perfect boyfriend; he is meant to be a perfect love. Which Mako actually succeeds in doing. Mako is a character: three dimensionally, he isn’t only supposed to be only be a love interest and that what made his and Korra’s relationship so interesting. They were both characters in their own right trying to make it work. And it succeeds and succeeds on many levels.
I think people are not addressing something that is extremely important. Korra and Mako are not “perfect” boyfriend and girlfriend. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Mako was made to mature before his adulthood so he has certain needs and styles of showing affection that is pretty non-generic. In fact, Korra, due to growing up mostly alone, is not really indoctrinated to popular social cues in the dating game herself. This allows an esoteric dialogue between them. One must not always look at a character as a reflection of themselves or what they would do. It can’t really be valid because of differing circumstances. I mean, Korra didn’t plan to kiss Mako beforehand neither did Mako plan prematurely to return her kiss in a full-fledged way. It happened for other circumstances.
The relationship had some mature circumstances thrown at it. It isn’t fully a standard teen romance and that is why Makorra shined. For example, Mako said it made “more sense” to be with Asami. This attitude clearly showed that like many people Mako thought that dating Asami would be prudent because Asami is, ironically, the “perfect girlfriend.” Asami is the person you can’t really be gut-wrenchingly honest with, if you are a person like Mako, because Asami behaved like a socialite. Mako aspires to be like her: content, confident and secure. However, you will notice that Mako easily opens up to Korra because Korra and Mako challenge each other and can easily be comfortable with each other. This may be intimidating at first to a person in Mako’s position who has faced so many hardships in life that reservation has become second skin and instinct to him at first. Then when Korra got kidnapped Mako realised what was really important was Korra and that confidence, security and contentment would easily follow if he is honest with himself.
Mako’s “crimes” against Asami are also something that young people, of all genders and sexes, accidentally do, it is not innately an evil trait that makes him inevitably a cheating low-life. Despite Book 2 I saw Makorra as a real substantial relationship that had real complex issues involved in it. That is why I loved it. Mako evaluated Korra’s actions and Korra evaluated his which is what true loves actually happen to do. You evaluate to make them better; the best they can be. Mako, as Korra, had some real true complications. Raiko cornered Mako into confessing about Korra but this was not really exacerbated by him from the get-go not finding Korra’s United Forces recruitment a prudent idea. Mako was essentially right. We know with experiences with Aang that Katara was his natural council and that he did less than wise things too out of being rather emotionally hyperactive or too invested. Katara was not always agreeing with Aang, in fact, in one of the most important journeys of Katara’s life Aang refused to join saying that she should forgive her mother’s murderer. Of course, I loved Zutara better because I think Zuko may understand Katara in some cases better but after much thought I must say that Aang was wiser here. Yes, Katara didn’t forgive the man but she couldn’t kill him either. Killing isn’t in Katara’s nature and Aang instinctively knew that. Like Mako instinctively understood that in her zeal to fix things as the avatar Korra forgets about repercussions about her actions. This was the first thing that happened in Republic City when she arrived. Korra went overboard with the Triple Threats making Lin question her tactics.
Where Aang does not engage in action and can pretty much be passive in his avatar duties (while more prudent in his interpersonal relationships) Korra is the antithesis. Katara gave advice to Aang to be more an engaged avatar while Mako gives advice to Korra to not be an overzealous one. I think both relationship types matter and both are full realised characters in their own right due to be able to do something like that. Mako and Katara are not merely cheerleaders. They have the capacity to understand and judge things via a rubric of their own values and ideas which are consistent with the avatars they know but they do think a bit more ahead at times.
In relation with Asami, she is the perfect girlfriend, as in socially she is. She does all the socially right things. But she doesn’t really know people deeply or innately enough to have a bond with them. I mean you will notice Asami is generally nice to everyone like in a way it was Mako’s reservation to everyone just opposite tandem. But she doesn’t really ask Mako much things or even Korra. Like she never does ask what Korra did when she was away all these years even when in the garden having tea and she never asks Mako in the carriage what it must have been like to be alone and fend for himself. She, just reaffirms her own feelings, says she feels safe with Mako and then later with Korra says that she would be unhappy if she didn’t come back after the last battle. Asami has this flaw but it was focused a lot more on Book 1 and by Book 4 well she isn’t really focused on much so it became a bit relegated but it’s still there.
So, Mako is not intrinsically a bad character. I think he has been give a bad hand and is always trying to play it well. I really respect a character who struggles through homelessness, poverty, bureaucracy, prejudices (due to his past criminal history), frustrations at being a good detective and not being able to play things out well and still care about people, care and empathize about the ones he loves and also work hard to become a more competent detective and person. Mako isn’t the socially perfect boyfriend: Mako is an all-around individual.