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180px-Sword Art Online Vol 01 cover 8068.jpg

Imagine that gaming had advanced to the point where you no longer watched from the other side of a television screen, but you were right there in the world, with full immersion and body control.

Now imagine that someone had the brilliant idea to create an MMORPG using the brand-new technology. The problem is... you can't log out.

It turns out, the game's creator has issued an ultimatum: Reach the top of a certain castle (all 100 floors of it), beat the Final Boss, and you will be able to log out. However, if you die in game, you die in the real world. The same thing will happen if you force the system to shut off.

Kirito, an experienced, but reserved beta-tester, has fallen into this situation. Now, he and every other player in the game must do their best to survive this ordeal.

Sword Art Online has six main arcs:

  • Aincrad: The original story, set in the world of Sword Art Online.
    • Progressive: An ongoing Interquel/Reboot of the Aincrad arc, expanding upon the previous story.
  • Fairy Dance: Two months after the SAO incident, Asuna and a handful of players have yet to wake up. After rehabilitation, Kirito's back with his family, worried about Asuna, until he gets a lead in the form of a screenshot of a player that looks suspiciously like her. He also gets a lead of a new VMMORPG game called ALFheim and begins his journey to free Asuna from the virtual world.
  • Phantom Bullet: Set in "Gun Gale Online". Kirito is tasked to unveil the mystery behind "Death Gun".
  • Caliber
  • Mother's Rosario
  • Project Alicization

The light novel got browsing numbers exceeding 6.5 million page views recorded at the personal website.

Spawned a web Voice drama (found here), a highly popular anime adaptation by A-1 Pictures and a manga series written by the author, but drawn by different artists.

Video games were also made, from an Alternate Continuity:

  • Sword Art Online: Infinity Moment (PSP)
  • Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment (PS Vita )
    • Sword Art Online: End World. Hollow Fragment (Japanese social network game for smart phones)
    • Sword Art Online Re: Hollow Fragment (an Updated Rerelease for the PS4, with a way better translation)
  • Sword Art Online: Lost Song
  • Sword Art Online: Hollow Realization

For a similar premise, see also .hack. Also see Accel World, penned by the same author.

Tropes used in Sword Art Online include:
  • Absurdly High Stakes Game: To be fair, not every player needs to fight the final boss of Sword Art Online. But if you lose all of your HP, you die.
  • The Ace: Ignoring his moments of angst Kirito is usually this trope which is rare for a Light Novel protagonist.
  • Action Girl: Asuna. Not only was she an idol in SAO she also happens to be the strongest female character in the game, and perhaps other girls that Kirito meets along his way, Shinon in volume 6 to compare
  • Attractive Bent Gender: Thor as Freya
  • Always Someone Better: Invoked by Zekken who even beat Kirito in single-wielding mode. Justified because they are mostly terminally ill people that require a machine called the Medicuboid which pops them into virtual games to survive. This causes them to play a absurd number of hours, even longer than the SAO players who were trapped for over two years straight inside of a game and are otherwise the most experienced players on the planet.
  • Artifact Title: Beyond the first arc, the series has little to with the titular game. Justified, as it was originally meant to be a one-shot series.
  • Anti-Hero: Kirito starts off as this, choosing to protect only himself, while attempting to complete the game. He changes later.
  • Art Shift: The Light Novels have a more subtle art style compared to the manga which is Darker and Edgier.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Kobatz attacks even when his subordinates are exhausted, the boss area don't allows teleportation crystals to be used, and two of his men already died. It gets him killed.
  • Ax Crazy: Kuradeel's true personality is one of a sadistic killer..
  • Badass: Kirito and how!
  • BFS: Gleam Eyes's weapon. Justified since he's also a gigantic creature.
  • Big Bad: Akihito Kayaba, the creator of SAO that imprisoned its players on there and created a trap on their Nerve Gear that will kill them if they are killed in-game or if their Nerve gear is removed or broken.
  • Big Damn Heroes: So in the last part of volume 4 Kirito faces Oberon and get thoroughly beaten. Then Kayaba went inside ALO and gives Kirito GM POWERS, which he used to beat Oberon with.
    • And on any occasion Kirito and Co. pulls this off by himself or with his buddies.
  • Bishounen: Kirito provides an example much more so in volume 6 where his character kinda looks like Yuri from Tales of Vesperia.
  • Black Swords Are Better: One of Kirito's swords, Elucidator, is pitch black.
  • Bloodless Carnage: It's a game, of course it is bloodless. Averted when it comes to real world fights like the one outside the hospital.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Kuradeel at least just seems worried, but the time he reveals he watches Asuna even outside his working hours and challenges Kirito to a duel, his obsession over her becomes pretty obvious.
  • Brand X: During an episode early in the "Alfhein" arc, Kirito visits a bar in the real world (run by a friend from SAO). While he's there the camera lingers briefly on an old-fashioned tin sign for "9-Up" soda.
  • Breakable Weapons: Explained in Volume 2. When Kirito found a blacksmith girl named Lizbeth and he needed a new sword to practice on, he was given one. But when he tested it out it broke easily, so they go on a quest to slay a snow dragon to get the mineral needed to forge a new weapon.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: One side on Suguha's part. She slowly falls in love with him however since he already has Asuna and Kirito isn't really into that stuff so he doesn't reciprocate. Though latter it's revealed that she's actually his first cousin.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Lizbet to Kirito, because he's already got Asuna.
  • Character Level: It is supposed to be an MMORPG... Kirito is explicitly referred to as one of the highest-leveled characters in SAO.
    • Averted in Alfheim Online, which runs on a skill-based system with no levels.
  • Chick Magnet: Kirito. However he is usually better than most harem protagonists in the sense that girls will usually fall for him after a decent amount of interaction happens. Also unlike other harem protagonists Kirito is usually seen as The Ace rather then a Ordinary High School Student or worse a loser.
  • Crash Into Hello: How Kirito meets his "harem".
  • Code Name: Almost everyone uses one, which protects their real life identity. Averted by Asuna
  • Cold Sniper: Sinon at first
  • Continuity Nod: Lizbeth, Yui and Silica who all appear in Volume 2 during the 2 year span of the SAO incident makes their comebacks in Volume 3 and Volume 4, still retaining their jobs, Silika a beast tamer, Lizbeth still a blacksmith, and Yui still an AI, As Volume 2 are side stories of Asuna and Kirito's lives in SAO during that 2 year span prior to meeting each other. And note that their names never appeared in Volume 1 of the light novels.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Out of all the countless people he could have met, Kirito just happens to Crash Into Hello his sister the very first time he logs into the MMORPG Alfheim. Not that either of them know it at the time... Which turns out not to be coincidence, the server registered the two different logins from the same location and thought they were the same person so it moved Kirito to Lyfa
  • Critical Existence Failure: Happens when a character dies in any of the games.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Your brain is gonna be microwaved like pizza if you lose all your HP points on a MMO or if someone removes a VR equipment from your head.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: in Volume 2, Kirito vs Orange guild Titan's Hand.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Another reason why Kirito avoids guilds and playing with other people was a result of blaming himself for the death of his past guild.
  • Death Is Cheap: Subverted. Death in game is death in real life in SAO. Played straight in the others.
    • Though Kirito continues to act as if it's subverted, much to the shock and sometimes aggravation of other ALO players. His experiences in SAO have deeply ingrained a refusal to allow in-game death to happen to people he cares about, even when they try to tell him the worst that will happen is losing a little bit of in-game progress.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: The devices used allow this. Unfortunately the immersion is too deep in SAO: You die in real life once your avatar dies.
  • Dem Bones:
    • Demonic Servant, a skeletal monster in Sword Art Online, found in the Labyrinth on the 74th Floor of Aincrad.
    • The Skull Reaper, the boss of Floor 75, that looks like a centipede with an elongated head.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Keita commits suicide by jumping off the edge of Aincrad after the members of his guild aside of Kirito are killed.
    • Asuna says she will do it if Kirito dies against the boss of Floor 75 and she stays behind.
    • Kirito himself after Asura is apparently killed by Akihito, attacking Akihito without any real will to hit him.
  • Dual-Wielding: Only Kirito gets this skill.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady:
    • Kirito comments some people mistake him for a girl when he uses the clothes of his sister at the beginning of Aincrad.
    • Kirito in GGO. He abuses this to get help from the nearby Sinon
  • Dumb Muscle: Kuradeel calls Godfree this for falling into his trap.
  • Face Heel Turn: Kayaba aka Heathcliff had planned to do this on the higher floors, but did not get the chance.
    • Heel Face Turn: When Kirito is losing to Oberon, Kayaba's program ghost shows up and grants Kirito admin powers.
  • Fan Service: We get to see every major female character in their undergarments one way or the other.
  • Five-Man Band: Later on, in a quest, we get
  • Flight: A main feature in ALO
  • Forgot I Could Change the Rules: This is the downfall of the Big Bad of the second story arc, Sugou Nobuyuki. Despite conducting his research within a virtual world where he had administrative access that allowed him to alter the world as he wished, he could only think in terms of conventional security (such as constructing a cage accessed by entering a password, rather than allowing entrance and exit only to himself).
  • For the Evulz: Kayaba entrapping everyone in Sword Art Online appears to be this, as he claims he just wants to see the ultimate game and for it to be "real". At the end he mentions that perhaps his real desire was to see someone who could break the physical laws of the world they lived in if they wanted it badly enough, which Kirito achieved.
  • Four Is Death: After a familiar dies, there is a chance it will leave behind an item that will allow the player to resurrect it. However, if the player cannot meet the requirements within four days, the item will change and the pet will be dead for good.
  • Expy: Yui is an expy of .hack's AURA only that her creation was not intentional as she was only composed of data that somehow became sentient. In SAO she has the powers of an Admin.
  • The Gadfly: Kirito sometimes when he's in the mood to tease someone.
  • "Glad to Be Alive" Sex: Asuna at least interprets it as Kirito's desire after he is almost killed by Kuradeel, but the truth is that Kirito didn't even know it was possible to have sex inside the game and just wished to spend the night with Asuna; though, after he learns it's possible, he don't refuses it.
  • Harem: for some odd reason the number of female casts that get closer to Kirito keeps on rising volume after volume.
    • Played completely straight in the short story that takes place post-ending to Alicization...
  • Harem Hero: Kirito is a very strong type B.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Due to some incident with Kazuto's character creation he winds up being the only character to wield a sword in a game full of gun fights.
  • Hot Dad: See Hot Mom.
  • Hot Mom: Well if you think about Yui's relationship with Asuna and Kirito, it's like that... Asuna happens to be Yui's "mom" and Kirito the "dad"
  • I Gave My Word: Kirito joins the Knights of the Blood after losing his duel with their leader.
  • Ill Girl/Guy: all the members of the Sleeping Knights
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: The entire skill system in SAO is based on swordsmanship. Not a single spell to be found. Handwaved as an attempt to raise immersion.
    • Kirito could cut bullets in midair easily.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Not an issue early on where swords are commonplace, but come Volume 5 of the light novel Kirito becomes the only character to wield a sword in a gun fight in a game that's all about shooting.
  • It's All My Fault: Asuna blames herself for the people that Kuradeel killed in the training mission and for the almost-death of Kirito using this sentence.
  • The Informant: Come volume 5, and he's now the informant for the Public Safety.
  • Jerkass: At least one in every volume.
    • Jerkass Facade: Kirito at the start doesn't interact with other players due to past trauma. The bonus episode that spans between the end of the first season and the start of the second makes it explicit that he also cultivated his reputation as a "Beater" (a combination of "Beta Tester" and "Cheater") to give the other players someone to hate, so that they'd leave other people who'd been in the Beta alone.
  • Killer Rabbit: The Ragout Rabbit at least pretends to be that in concept, but it isn't a very strong monster.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Kirito is this no matter what game he is in due to having Super Reflexes.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Kirito and the few other solo players are seen as unusual for not joining guilds and going out to battle alone, something that is likely to get them killed. On the other hand, it's the reason Kirito is so skilled, and presumably the other solo players as well.
  • Love Makes You Crazy/Love Makes You Evil: Kyouji. So very, very much.
  • Male Gaze: Seriously, the camera focuses a lot on Sinon's virtual avatar's butt.
  • Mythology Gag: In one of the side stories, Kirito is called to test a new 4th Generation Full Dive Unit, and finds himself stuck in another virtual world battling Silver Crow.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Kuradeel planned to do this to Kirito, no matter how many other people he had to kill.
  • Nerves of Steel: Kirito has his moments of angst but usually when shit happens he's the one least visibly freaked out.
  • New Game+: In his first minutes in the game, Kirito discovers that Alfheim Online remembers all his skills and stats from SAO, and has carried them over to his new character. Apparently all his gold from SAO came over, too, but none of his items or gear.
  • No Body Left Behind: Well, what did expect from video games when death happens inside them?
  • Oblivious to Love: Sorta Justified for Kirito since he's already has a girlfriend so he doesn't really pay attention to other girls.
    • He later becomes acutely aware of his sister's feelings, but understandably the two of them decide that it's better if they both just act like he's not.
  • Official Couple: Yuuki Asuna and Kirigaya Kazuto Despite his growing harem in all the games he is jumping through
  • Ojou: Asuna happens to be the daughter of the CEO of RECTO which later on becomes the only producer of the improved version of Nerve gear called Amusphere.
  • Older Than They Look:
    • Perhaps not the case for Kirito as he was a beta player for SAO, however Asuna initially assumed this was the case due to Kirito's experience in the game only to be shocked that she is actually 1 year his senior
    • Kuradeel in in his early 20s but to Kirito he looks much older thanks to his wrinkles.
  • Plucky Girl: Silica
  • Posthumous Character: All members of the Moonlit Black Cats with the exception of Kirito.
  • Rain of Arrows: Sinon in ALO.
  • Reality Ensues: Kirito is a frail shell of a (young) man when he finally wakes up from SAO, since he spent so much time paralysed and fed through tubes.
  • Recycled in Space: It's like .hack in its initial premise.
    • In-universe, Alfheim Online is pretty much literally "Sword Art Online with Wings and Magic", since it's built on SAO's programming base. Kirito even retains most of his skill levels between the two, they're so much alike and share so much code.
  • Red Baron: Kirito gets "The Black Swordsman", and is pretty well known.
    • In ALO, Asuna becomes equally well-known as "The Berserk Healer" due to her tendency to leave the back-line casters to charge into combat when she feels needed.
  • Saintly Church: Which takes care of the younger players in SAO.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Geoff Thew of Mother's Basement youtube channel loves ripping on SAO and asserts not only is the show itself terrible, but game it features is likewise terrible, not only from a game audience perspective (game mechanics and such), but also based off a quantifiable business perspective (marketing strategy and sales numbers in the show) and comparing them to publicly available data about what is considered a successful video games [1].
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Kirito is almost killed by Kuradeel, he and Asuna decide to leave the front lines.
  • Shout-Out: Kikuoka apparently watched an anime where everyone in real life suffered epilepsy around the country. This is of course, referring to the now-banned Porygon episode.
    • While going through a tunnel under a mountain, Kirito mentioned to Lyfa a book that he had read in which the party also went under a mountain, only to be ambushed by Orcs and then met an ancient demon. Moments later, they were ambushed by a bunch of Salamanders.
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Shinon is described as having a doll-like avatar. She wields a Hecate II.
  • Sole Survivor:
    • Kirito is the only member of the Moonlit Black Cats that survives a trap in a hidden room in the 27th Floor.
    • Kuradeel planned to be this to the members of the training mission.
  • Solid Gold Poop: A particular in-game dragon shits rare ores used to make very good weapons.
  • Stronger Sibling: Eugene and Mortimer of the Salamanders in Alfheim Online.
  • Suicide Attack: Much lighter compared to other examples of the same trope, and not exactly this trope in-universe, but counts as it is how it is interpreted in-game: Kirito and Sinon both win the Bullet of Bullets Tournament through Sinon's gift grenade that kills both(in-game) at the same time, since Sinon didn't want to fight a weakened Kirito.
  • Suicide by Cop: Kirito practically throws himself in Akihito's sword after Asuna is apparently killed.
  • Super Reflexes: Kirito in the various games he plays through have been shown to have the ability to dodge bullets effortlessly.
  • Supreme Chef: Asuna in SAO, she tries to replicate real world tastes in game, since the in game food is mostly horrible.
    • Kirito reacts with shock when he finds she's maxed out the cooking-related skills. He's never even heard of someone else doing so.
  • Survivor Guilt: Kirito, the only survivor of the Black Cats of the Full Moon guild. Made worse because as a Beta Tester, he knew the area well enough that he could have prevented it just by warning them. The only thing that held him back was the fear of being hated for being a Beater.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Crystals in SAO.
  • Tenchi Solution: As of April 18 2012, the newest translated Side Story, There is but one Ultimate way, Kirito seems set to be in a Type 1 Tenchi Solution by simply getting married to all the members of his Unwanted Harem plus a 5 year honey moon in a time dilated MMO. Do note that the author himself has already declared on his twitter account (with verifications from translators) that this story is to be treated as a non-canon story.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Kayaba expected everything in the game and also the skill Dual Blades that was bestowed on Kirito, that he would be defeated by a Dual Sword Skill user, but never imagined that Kirito would catch up to his Heathcliff disguise quite early on.
  • There Are No Therapists: Not inside Aincrad. Since Yui, who was supposed to be one, was blocked.
  • There Is Only One Bed: So Kirito has to sleep on the floor while Silica gets the bed.
  • Time Skip: Between different arcs.
  • Truce Zone: You can’t hurt anyone in towns in SAO... theoretically. Unfortunately, there are ways around this, making the only way to be truly safe in SAO be to have someone you absolutely trust watch over you as you sleep, even in a town.
  • World Tree: The setting of Volume 3 has one, that is the goal of the game, and it’s called Yggdrasil. Unsuprising, since its setting heavily relies on Nordic terminology.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Asuna believes that running away from the objective of clearing the game is useless anyway, because their life support in the real world will eventually fail and the players will die.