How Does Aquaman Breathe Under Water? 

We explore the many varied answers over the years to the question "How can Aquaman breathe underwater?"

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated


Most recently, fans flocked to see Jason Momoa headline the recent Fast X film, and many consider him to be the best part of that movie. While he was great in everything from Game of Thrones to Fast X, his best performance is still arguably headlining the insanely successful first Aquaman movie. Before Aquaman 2 comes out, though, we decided to answer a question that has been plaguing comic book fans for decades: just how the hell does Aquaman breathe underwater, anyway?

As with all comic characters, one possible (albeit very disappointing) explanation is that it varies from comic to comic and writer to writer. For example, there are some early comics where the character has prominent gills. This was meant to be a basic explanation for his ability to breathe underwater, but the comics soon dropped the gills, leaving fans to still ask the obvious question of how he can breathe under the water as if he was an extra in The Little Mermaid.

A later comic in 2006 introduced us to an entirely different kind of Aquaman, one who was fully human instead of part Atlantean. This character could breathe underwater because of bizarre experiments that his father performed. Thanks to these experiments, the young human was given a special mutagenic serum that allowed him to breathe underwater, with him eventually discovering Atlantis and becoming the Aquaman we all know and love (more or less).

Weirdly enough, our most comprehensive explanation of how Aquaman is able to breathe underwater comes from James Wan, director of Aquaman. He was a bit annoyed at some of the lazy workarounds regarding the character that we saw in the original Justice League film, including having Aquaman and Mera converse with one another inside of a special conversation bubble. This led to more debate about the character’s ability to breathe underwater, with fans asking whether that was just an air bubble they were chatting in and whether those air bubbles are part of how Atlanteans can breathe underwater.

In an old interview, James Wan points out that when Mera opens an air pocket for King Orm in Aquaman, he begins breathing air, but realistically, he’d have to expel all of the water inside of his lungs first to effectively switch from water to air. The DC director seemed proud that he had thought of this detail, though fans quickly pointed out that this is an inconsistent idea. After all, we don’t see characters like Aquaman or Mera having to vomit all of the water out of their lungs whenever they make landfall.

Wan also mentioned how the ability to breathe underwater for Atlanteans was a function of their evolution, and this is how they ended up with a caste system (more on this in a minute). It seems that part of that evolution provided characters like Aquaman with the ability to turn saltwater into the oxygen that their bodies need. In this way, he and his fellow people have effectively evolved the same evolutionary quirk that allows certain amphibians to extract the oxygen they need from the surrounding water.

While that makes about as much sense as anything in a major Hollywood comic book movie, fans always ask the related question: if Aquaman and Mera can breathe on land as well as underwater, then why do we see other Atlanteans wear special power suits so they can continue breathing once they leave the ocean? According to James Wan, all Atlanteans once lived on the surface, and over time, some of them evolved differently, creating a kind of caste system in Atlantis. Now, those who have noble blood (including Aquaman, Mera, Orm, and others) are able to breathe on land and water whereas other Atlanteans cannot.

Amber Heard Aquaman

Obviously, these answers lead to even more questions that neither comic book writers nor James Wan is in a hurry to answer. For example, we don’t know whether the characters who ended up ruling Atlantis attained their power and influence due to their advanced genetic abilities or whether or not it’s just a weird coincidence that the underwater kingdom’s royalty just happened to have the ability to breathe on land (a place they generally never want to visit). Maybe these details will be revealed in Aquaman 2, which is certain to make us ask more questions, the chief among them being “How does Amber Heard still have a career?”