A brittle material under loading fails by the nucleation and propagation of a sharp crack. In monatomic crystals, such as silicon, the lattice geometries front to the crack-tip changes the way of propagation even with the same cleavage surface. In general, however, crystals have multiple kinds of atoms and how the deformation of each atom affects the failure is still elusive. Here, we show that local atomic distortions from the different types of atoms causes a propagation anisotropy in suspended WS2 monolayers by combining annular dark-field scanning transmission electron microscopy and empirical molecular dynamics that are validated by first-principles calculations. Conventional conditions for brittle failure such as surface energy, elasticity, and crack geometry cannot account for this anisotropy. Further simulations predict the enhancement of the strengths and fracture toughness of the materials by designing void shapes and edge structures.