YMMV / Sword Art Online


  • Accidental Innuendo: In SAO II Episode 8, Kirito finds Sinon in the BoB. She tries to draw her pistol on him, but he immediately pins both her hands down and presses her back against the ledge. Without context, it could easily be misinterpreted as them making out or Kirito is assaulting her.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Kirito isn't as Oblivious to Love as he appears; he figured out that Lisbeth had feelings for him, and is just acting oblivious so that he doesn't hurt other girls' feelings. In the case of Asuna, he does have feelings for her, and he recognizes the signals she's sending out, but he's still getting over the trauma of Sachi's death.
    • There's also an in-universe example with Kirito, whose "loner" attitude is interpreted early by many players as a sign of him being a "Beater" and not caring about other players, while in reality it is caused by his Survivor Guilt and fear of losing any more people; if anything, the way he treated Klein and Asuna (he is the one because of whom they started Taking Levels In Badass) and him taking the blame for other beta-testers after the first boss' defeat make it really hard to see him as a selfish type unless this trope is invoked.
    • Keita blaming Kirito for their guild-mate's deaths is in fact a mental defense mechanism for his Survivor's Guilt. In truth, he blames himself for not being there. Yet he doesn't even believe himself, which is why he kills himself right afterward.
    • Is Diavel a well-intentioned leader who's too confident in what he knows as a beta tester, a power-hungry manipulator who would do anything just to be in charge of the clearers, or some combination of the two? The former interpretation is somewhat easier to accept in the anime, in which the subplot of Diavel's attempting to buy Kirito's sword through a proxy is removed.
  • Americans Hate Tingle: The series as a whole while very polarizing, has most of the heat and criticism for the series coming from western audiences, while the series is adored in Japan. Specifically Kirito and Asuna, who are iconic in their native country, but extremely divisive in America. However, its flaws are mostly fixed with Ordinal Scale and Alicization, which brings a new leaf to it.
  • Angst Dissonance: During the Aincrad arc, a lot of players struggled to cope with a truly desperate situation. Later stories feature normal, non-deadly MMO's where the players are still acting like it's the Vietnam War.
  • Angst? What Angst?:
    • Kirito's Survivor's Guilt seems to disappear at times and he'll be back to his cheery Nice Guy self an episode later. This one is justified though. The Phantom Bullet arc reveals its not that Kirito no longer feels the pain and trauma, he's just good at hiding it. But scratch the surface and he's still haunted by the horrors he's seen with lapses that are akin to PTSD, such as his flashbacks of being forced to kill members of Laughing Coffin.
    • Asuna seems all too eager to head right back into ALOnote  with her friends, given that she spent months trapped there as the humiliating prisoner of a rapist.
    • For Yuuki it's played straight and fully justified. Even though she's terminally ill with AIDs, she lives everyday to the fullest, wary of how little time she has left. Rather than spending her days moping at her misfortune, she instead comes off as an eternally happy Genki Girl.
  • Ass Pull: One of the biggest critiques towards the first two story arcs is that both end with a Final Battle that is resolved by a blatant Deus ex Machina. To elaborate:
    • Aincrad: Asuna is able to break free of in-game paralysis through The Power of Love to take a blow for Kirito, and then Kirito when loses all of his HP fighting Kayaba, he is able to disobey the System's orders for him to die through sheer willpower, and delays his Fading Away just long enough to return the favor. Although some explanation is offered later by Kayaba that the power of the human will overrides the power of the system.
    • Earlier in the same arc: Kirito is capable of hacking SAO's Operating System within seconds, even if he's never seen it before, and save Yui's code from shutting down forever by placing it in a bauble. Details on this link.
    • Fairy Dance: Kayaba's consciousness appears out of nowhere to Kirito and gives him administrator rights to the game's system, which allows him to defeat Sugou. And then when Sugou tries to kill Kirito in the real world with a knife, he conveniently misses due to the phantom pain in his right eye compromising his depth perception, even though Kirito did nothing to dodge the attack.
    • Phantom Bullet was also partially guilty of this: First, inside GGO, Kirito suddenly remembers Death Gun's true identity thanks to a borderline Bat Deduction. Second, in the real world, Kirito survives a fatal syringe stab thanks to a fully providential and amazingly well placed Pocket Protector. However, they are not as bad as in the previous two arcs, since they're not what actually resolves either fight. What does resolve them is Sinon's help, both inside GGO and in the real world. In the first instance, Sinon uses the laser sight of her scope-less sniper rifle to distract Death Gun, leaving him wide open to Kirito's attack. In the second instance, she smashes a stereo to the back of the final villain's head.
    • A more minor example that doesn't really effect the plot. During the climax of the Phantom Bullet arc, Yui is able to hack a real life hospital TV screen to show the MMO Tomorrow live streaming of the Bullet of Bullets Tournament. This is quite ridiculous considering that not only does Yui no longer have admin privileges, but some random TV screen doesn't have any connection to the Seed or Kirito's computer. There's also the fact the nurse doesn't appear shocked that their security system has been so easily compromised.
  • Author's Saving Throw:
    • The Progressive mini-series addresses to some extent the complains of people who thought Kirito and Asuna's romance was too rushed. One of the main points of this soft reboot is to see them interact in more depth than in the original story. However, since they still canonically get together in the original first novel, they're not supposed to become a couple in the mini-series itself. Whether it succeeds or not in improving their romance (whether you liked it originally or not) is another matter entirely.
    • The video game continuity itself is considered an Author's Saving Throw (due to Reki Kawahara overseeing the story of each game) by some, due to keeping many of the good parts of the novels/anime, trimming down the more controversial parts, and adding in things that many feel make the story better.
      • Lost Song is over Hollow Fragment, which had the "Online" aspect be limited to a strange isolated field area, and only allowed you to party with your custom version of Kirito and one other person, with the only way to have anyone else be to do a pseudo-online game, which still disallowed multiplayer in the main quest fields. Lost Song has no division between the Single Player and Multiplayer, and allows you to field a three-person party of anyone at all you have unlocked.
      • Lost Song also has Yuuki live and become playable in the sequel Hollow Realization, giving her character a chance to shine that canon couldn't give her.
      • Two characters who appear in Hollow Realization onwards are Alice and Eugeo, the main characters in the Alicization arc!
      • Accel World vs Sword Art Online has a set of DLC, which is the Origins pack. It includes Kirito, Asuna, Silica and Yuuki in the uniform of Heathcliff's guild from SAO,note  plus several costumes for Kirito and Sinon. Oh yes, and Sachi, who is notable for being the ONE death NOT averted by the video game continuity!
      • Fatal Bullet started receiving this treatment before it even came out, for a simple reason: The player, not Kirito, is the main character. Yes, Kirito and the gang are still there and have important roles to play, but the protagonist is a character of your own creation separate from them, something even the most die-hard fans have wanted since near the beginning. In addition, one of the biggest complaints about the Phantom Bullet arc was it only focused on Kirito and Sinon, with all of the other SAO cast being shoved aside. In this game, all of them accompany Kirito to GGO and play their roles there. Then there's Alternative Gun Gale Online characters: LLENN, Fuka, Pitohui, and M being included in Fatal Bullet!
    • The mobile game, Integral Factor, is an adaptation of the original Aincrad arc using a complete custom made character. Essentially, you get to journey through the original Sword Art Online, not as Kirito but as yourself.
    • For the Live-Action Adaptation, Laeta Kaligridis said that Kirito and Asuna will be played by Asian actors and will avoid a Race Lift, given SAO's real-world setting in Japan.
  • Awesome Art: Say what you will about the plot and character development. One thing that has consistently been praised for SAO is how spectacular the animation is.
    • Kirito Vs The Gleam Eyes. How could not one be awed by this fight when seeing Kirito unleash the Starburst Stream? The sheer amount of work put into the animation of the 16/20-hit combo cannot is undeniably epic.
    • The climactic battle with Death Gun was praised even by haters. Particularly spectacular was when Kirito's SAO avatar gets superimposed over his GGO avatar, when he reaches for his gun to shoot Death Gun.
  • Awesome Music: Part of the course considering it has Yuki Kajiura taking care of it. There's so many examples it has a page of its own.
  • Badass Decay:
    • While Klein was never the equal of Kirito in SAO, he filled an important role in Aincrad as Kirito's loyal friend and foil, even when Kirito didn't believe that he deserved the friendship; by Excaliber he's degraded to comic relief and the butt of the jokes, and yet he's still crucial to its success. Alleviated somewhat in the Mother's Rosario arc, where he's seen swatting dozens of players out of the way with ease, and in Ordinal Scale, where he and his guild are among some of the only players to hold their own against the first Event Boss while Kirito falls flat on his face and needs bailing out, and may have actually won a fist fight with Eiji had the latter not had an additional AR device to read his opponent's movements.
    • Asuna go subjected to this post-Aincrad, with her first being reduced to Damsel in Distress before becoming a Satellite Love Interest. The Mother's Rosario arc and Ordinal Scale heavily fix these issues, where Asuna shows how competent of a fighter she is on her own, without Kirito backing her. Especially prevalent in the movie where she actually outshone Kirito for a large part of the film, being crowned the MVP for the first two boss battles (when Kirito was struggling) and showing off her exceptional leadership skills in combat. She only takes a back seat after Taking the Bullet for Silica and losing her memory, forcing Kirito to step in when the game stops being a game, but even then she's still able to pull off a Big Damn Heroes against the Final Boss who had been stomping Kirito's party, before showing off the Mother's Rosario OSS she got from Yuuki to finish the boss off.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • The Official Couple Kirito and Asuna. Two of the most polarizing heroes in The New '10s anime history. On the broad strokes, some claim that both are a little bit too perfect, thus making them unrelatable, if not downright unlikable. Others find them as perfectly engaging protagonists, specially when they are together as a Battle Couple (See Escapist Character below). To be more specific:
      • For Kirito it mostly has to do with whether or not he is a bland self-insert Wish Fulfillment character as opposed to being a completely legitimate and believably badass lead with a well formed character. There are a lot of arguments over whether his overpoweredness is justified or completely unreasonable, with detractors stating this simply does not happen in video games and only appeals to those seeking a tasteless power fantasy, while fans point out it's explained In-Universe that his solo status as opposed to fighting in groups was what allowed him to leap so far ahead. Detractors also argue that, even leaving aside his "overpoweredness" arguably breaking both the character and the narrative, Kirito's badassery just doesn't work in this setting, as the original appeal of the premise comes from the imminent threat of death which is negated by him being an Invincible Hero who never has a real risk of dying. His Chick Magnet status and the way the story tends to focus on him instead of on arguably more interesting characters are also huge points of contention. For some, these points make him almost unbearable to watch, to the point that detractors treat him like a Hate Sink character (See Snark Bait below), while others don't mind them and argue they're just blown out of proportion by the detractors, seeing him as a legitimate Escapist Character.
      • As for Asuna, she is either one of the most moe, badass and likable, strong female leads in The New '10s anime history or another typical Shana Clone and run-of-the-mill Tsundere Love Interest. Then there's another group who thought she started off brilliantly as a strong female lead with her own independent character, but her appeal decayed after she becomes all lovey-dovey towards Kirito and begins revolving around him, albeit this last part was alleviated by the Mother's Rosario arc and the Ordinal Scale movie to a lesser degree. It's not uncommon to find those who hate SAO but still finding an appeal in Asuna on her own. The way Kawahara tends to put her in the background in arcs like Gun Gale Online despite being the female lead of the franchise also hurts her reputation among detractors. And of course, there's her role in the Fairy Dance arc, which for most detractors it utterly broke her beyond repair. While fans, albeit even they concede that Kawahara was just disrespectful to her in that arc in general, argue that there were mitigating factors, namely the fact that she almost gets to escape on her own with no help and even then she manages to give Kirito the means to get to hernote , and she never sees herself in that situation ever again. Her Spoiled Sweet background is another point of debate, albeit to a lesser degree (to some people, it gives her more depth; to others, it makes her less relatable).
    • Yui is a Tastes Like Diabetes variation. Fans thought that she was adorable and contributed to Kirito and Asuna's relationship. Detractors on the other hand saw her as a lolicon pandering bait and a dreaded moeblob who contributed to the show's Seasonal Rot.
    • Suguha in the Fairy Dance anime adaptation can be either seen as a Deconstruction of Kissing Cousins or a toxic Little Sister Heroine who repeatedly goes "Kirito-kun" or "Onii-chan" in just about every scene she's in and "steals" the role of the heroine from Asuna. There's also the excessive fanservice that comes with her character such as the repeated close-ups of her oversized bust, for some that's an appeal to her character while for others it's incredibly annoying pandering to a certain demographic.
  • Better Than Canon:
    • There are those who consider the video games' continuity (Hollow Fragment, Lost Song, and Hollow Realization) better than the original storyline of the novels/anime due to several factors, such as having to fight all the way to Floor 100 of Aincrad, giving supporting characters like Sinon, Silica, and Lisbeth (and especially Argo) more screentime, and removing some of the most controversial aspects of the original story. You can also explore the world of Aincrad in much more detail when the anime had glossed over many locations and settings, along with many newer areas exclusive to the games such as the Hollow Area.
      • Specifically, Suguha's pseudo-incestuous crush on Kirito is nowhere to be found in Lost Song as the game already established she knows Kirito is her cousin in ALO in the first cutscene. The heavily disliked Fairy Dance arc is also completely averted due to Sugou getting defeated in Aincrad before he can try anything in ALO.
      • The villains exclusive to the games in general are also considered far more interesting and complex, with many of them playing bigger more active roles, such as Hollow PoH, Seven, Tia, Genesis, and Persona Vabel.
      • Also, fans of Yuuki Konno were pleased to find that she WASN'T Doomed by Canon!
      • And for an in-universe example in Hollow Realization, the SAO Survivors can now play a remake of the game that brought them together without the threat of the death game. An out-universe continuation to this is that in the game... Yuuki can learn Dual Wielding!
    • A case can be made for the mobile game Memory Defrag as well. It's unique position where it treats both the main series and the video game continuity as equally canon offers up many interesting stories and interactions between characters. The side stories exclusive to the mobile game heavily explore the supporting characters (Lisbeth, Silica, Sinon, Klein, Yuuki, Rain), and quite often Kirito is completely absent. This goes for the gameplay as well which offers a wide selection of characters from the main series, the video game continuity, the movie, and Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online. It also shows what the characters are up to in Slice of Life snippets inbetween the major events of the series. There's also the fact the mobile game stories likes to have characters lampshade and make fun of Kirito's overpoweredness, rather than gush at how awesome he is. Plus, a lot of video game tropes/memes are featured in dialogue, which the main series had been criticized for not including due to Kawahara's lack of said knowledge.
    • Integral Factor allowed journeying through the Aincrad arc, not as Kirito, but as yourself. You get to talk and interact with a lot of the side characters that Kirito only briefly interacted with. Each floor is explored without any Time Skips, with many stories being adapted from Progressive.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: The Naughty Tentacles scene in Episode 21 that Asuna is subjected to. It comes out of nowhere, adds nothing to the plot, is never mentioned again, and just seems to be done for the sake of invoking the All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles theme.
  • Bile Fascination: There's a fair number of late-coming viewers that jumped in after it became a critic-favorite punching bag in the anime community. See Snark Bait below.
  • Cant Unhear It: The meaningless vocals in Swordland were interpreted by English-speaking fans/detractors as: COFFEE, SODA, TOFFEE, PASTA, COFFEE, SODA, GIVE ME COFFEE/SEX PLEASE/SOMETHING!
  • Cargo Ship: Kirito and sandwichnote 
  • Catharsis Factor: Kirito bisecting Sugou in half then preceding to impale him through the eye is very satisfying to watch.
  • Complete Monster: See here.
  • Counterpart Comparison:
    • Kirito is this to Guts. Between his dark clothes, his title as a "Black Swordsman", the design of his sword in Alfheim, seeing his girlfriend being (almost) raped by a vastly more powerful character and his supposed "PTSD", he's usually seen as Guts 2.0. Just don't mention this to someone who's actually a big fan of Berserk. On pain of death.
    • Kirito has also been compared with Neo. Both are The Chosen Ones in a virtual world which people are trapped in, both attain overpowered abilities which defy the system, both gained admin privileges at one point, and both become analogues for God.
    • Kirito and Asuna are sometimes thought of as younger looking versions of Takashi and Rei, even though the LN for SAO was written a decade earlier (between 2001-2002) than Highschool of the Dead.
    • Death Gun is one to Darth Vader. It helps that he's a literal Darth Vader Clone with Kirito wielding the equivalent of a lightsaber to face him.
  • Creepy Awesome:
    • Kayaba's debut in the pilot using the hooded "Game Master" avatar. It's immensely creepy where the sky turns red from being filled with "System Announcement" messages, before what appears to be blood drips out from the edges of the popups and pools together into the giant red hooded avatar Kayaba is using.
    • Most members of Laughing Coffin give off this vibe, being a whole guild of Serial Killers, but PoH stands out the most, being garbed in a creepy hood and wielding a meat cleaver as his Weapon of Choice.
    • Death Gun. A Darth Vader Clone with a gun that can One-Hit Kill players and give them heart attacks in the real world. He's also an Implacable Man who never stops hunting his targets, and then it's revealed he's an SAO survivor like Kirito and a member of the Laughing Coffin. Sure the reveal of who he is and how he pulled off the murders diminishes his creep factor, but his presence itself is still pretty unnerving.
  • Critical Dissonance: The franchise was one of the biggest commercial hits of the early 2010s, and still has quite a big fan base. You wouldn't believe it from anime critics, though, who for the most part hate it to a degree comparable to how most film critics hate Michael Bay movies. It's downplayed since there are also a lot of detractors among the audience.
  • Critic-Proof: Sword Art Online as a whole is easily the most controversial anime of the The New '10s, being the most simultaneously loved and hated on. The mere mention of the name is bound to start fights between fans defending it and haters bashing it. Countless YouTube critics have made names for themselves tearing the anime apart to the point where it ended up becoming "cool to hate SAO". Despite the overwhelming hatred it receives, it still performs well and continues creating new seasons, manga, video games, and films years after its debut.
  • Designated Hero: Kirito is heavily subjected to this. His story is more about a personal journey rather than a heroic one, however the story and all the In-Universe characters keep treating him as the legendary hero and the epitome of goodness. The fact he has no obvious flaws and he keeps having power handed to him with little to no effort on his part is another point of contention. There's also the fact that girls keep flocking around him without him even trying.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: Despite having kidnapped and murdered thousands of gamers, Kayaba Akihiko's fans insist he is not evil because he isn't sadistic like Sugou Nobuyuki or Death Gun, despite the fact that Kayaba is directly responsible for the other antagonists being able to pursue their evil goals.
  • Dry Docking: The number of fans who are displeased at Kirito's guts and want him to stay away from ANY female character in the cast so they can have them for themselves is quite high, if we pay attention to the comments about the tie-in games. Fatal Bullet's announcement of the main protagonist being a player-created avatar separate from Kirito completely was met with cries of joy from said fans.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse:
    • Really, all of the secondary female characters have rather big followings, who would rather see them paired with Kirito instead of Asuna... or are actually glad that they don't so they are "available".
      • There's a small number of people who strongly dislike the show but really like Lisbeth. She's overall considered to have a likable personality and consider that her crush on Kirito was fairly well written.
      • Silica as well, a lot of fans are upset that she doesn't get much screen time in the anime across from Episode 4 and her first episode cameo.
      • Sinon herself is also very popular and many people admitted that they enjoyed her character much more than Asuna due to her Establishing Character Moment, her backstory, her development over the course of the story, and her interactions with Kirito (which to some feel much better paced and relatable than Asuna's). Some have even admitted they would have preferred her to be the sole protagonist of the Phantom Bullet arc over sharing the spotlight with Kirito and would love to see her star in her own spin-off.
    • Godfrey, who is killed off after 4 minutes of screentime is this. His bro-ness personality and appearance reminds viewers of another Ensemble Darkhorse: Rider.
    • Klein and Agil are HUGE examples. As two of the most likable characters in the series, a large amount of fans wanted THEM to have their own spin-off and even Kawahara agreed with it. Klein takes the cake for acting like such a bro to Kirito, showing genuine emotion, and being a damn good fighter and guild leader whose entire guild survived from inception to finish.
    • Argo is easily considered one of the most interesting characters and one of the biggest examples of wasted potential in the series. Her presence in the light novel gives her a very colorful personality of sarcasm and greed as a Knowledge Broker. She's also loved for endlessly trolling Kirito and Asuna. The anime had her Demoted to Extra and only appearing in a brief scene for one episode.
    • Alicia Rue the Cait Sith Lord. A very perky girl who cheekily flirts with Kirito. Quite memorable as a character despite her limited scenes.
    • Among the villains, Kayaba is the most charming of the bunch. It also helps that he's an Affably Evil Crazy Awesome Badass Bookworm VR junkie with high moral standards.
    • While not really a true character, Kirito's feminine looking GGO avatar or "Kiriko", is extremely popular in the fanbase. Expect any AU with a genderflipped Kirito to use said appearance and even name. Some fans even jokingly claim Kiriko to be their favorite SAO girl.
    • Death Gun is often considered to be one of the best villains of the series. Unlike his predecessors he isn't a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing or an Orcus on His Throne and actively serves as a constant threat throughout the arc, with the mystery of who he is and how he does what he does. There's also the sheer Creepy Awesome theatrics that's put into his character which makes him visually intimidating. Further delving into his character actually reveals a very deep and fleshed out motivation behind why he killsnote , unlike Kayaba who's motivation was never explained or Sugou who was just one-note and generic.
    • Yuuki, the Deuteragonist of Mother's Rosario, is proven to be insanely popular within the fanbase, mainly due to her deep friendship with Asuna and being one of the few characters who can beat Kirito in a fair fight. This is further reinforced and lampshaded by Kirito himself, who noted that she would've been an Invincible Hero if she had learned Dual Wielding in SAO. Sadly, she's Too Cool to Live and many fans are mourning over her passing, although she did survive in Lost Song and later comes back in Hollow Realization thanks to her Popularity Power.
    • Alice and Eugeo, to the point where fans wanted them to replace Kirito and Asuna as the main characters of Alicization. Even more so with the latter, who is Kirito's answer to Asuna's Yuuki. A lot of fans have rejoiced at their addition to the character rosters for Hollow Realization and Millennium Twilight as DLC characters.
    • Many of the video game exclusive characters like Strea and Philia have huge fanbases for their colorful personalities and interesting backstories, with many wishing they could get introduced into canon.
    • Kuro/Lux from the Girls Ops spin-off manga, who is a Distaff Counterpart and Identical Stranger to Kirito. However she's much more warmly received than Kirito for her more complex personality and sympathetic backstory.
    • The two players from the pilot who are revealed to be a G.I.R.L. and an overweight male, with the G.I.R.L. wearing the female armor in all his subsequent appearances. For a pair of unnamed characters with a few scattered cameos, they get a huge amount of attention in the fandom. Their possible Relationship Upgrade was pretty well received, as is their reunion in real life where they embrace upon meeting for the first time. Integral Factor finally provides their names with the G.I.R.L. named Miyurin and the fat guy named Ulrik.
    • The one particularly psychotic Laughing Coffin member, seen during the Knights of the Blood Oath's raid on Laughing Coffin HQ. He manages to kill three members despite being surrounded and his HP already reduced to red. He was an especially memorable character for how brutal and batshit crazy he was, giggling madly as he stabbed others to death, with lots of viewers commenting on him and singling him out.
    • The Gleam Eyes is fondly remembered as one of, if not the most, iconic bosses of Sword Art Online. It was one of the most brutal boss fights shown, and forced Kirito to unleash his Dual Wielding unique skill to put an end to its threat, resulting in a truly spectacular visual display.
    • Tonkii the elephant-jellyfish hybrid from the Caliber arc that Leafa befriends is quite loved among the fandom.
    • A small niche of fans (and some non-fans, ChubbyChasers, and furries/scalies) tend to like Illfang the Kobold Lord due to his design.
  • Epileptic Trees: A very popular fan theory is Kuroyukihime from Accel World (also by Reki Kawahara, set in the same Shared Universe two decades into the future) is Kirito and Asuna's daughter. Furthermore, her real name is theorized to be Sachi Kirigaya, due to her nickname being Sachan.
  • Escapist Character: Basically, the appeal of both Kirito and Asuna for their fans. Apart from the obvious escapist possibilities that they offer separatelynote , they are somewhat unique in that they also offer an escapist fantasy for couples. As in living a great adventure with your significant other with both of you kicking ass together in pretty much equal measure. A type of fantasy that is actually quite uncommon, not only in anime, but in popular media in general. Especially to this degree and especially without being hindered by Will They or Won't They? dynamics, which SAO refreshingly never relies onnote . This applies mostly to the Aincrad arc, obviously, and it's a big part of the reason why it's still the most popular arc... and why the Fairy Dance arc is so hated, for that matter, since it pretty much throws this fantasy out of the window in the worst way possible. Also the reason why the film Ordinal Scale, which focuses on their relationship, not only was very well received by fans, but also managed to recover some fans that had dropped the series (signaling that the creators are fully aware of this situation). Couples cosplaying together as Kirito and Asuna in tandem is a pretty common view in anime conventions because of all of this.
  • Evil Is Cool:
  • Evil Is Sexy:
  • Fandom Berserk Button: An interesting one with .hack, since both franchises are this to each other's fan bases. When SAO became mainstream in 2012, a lot of .hack fans were displeased by its popularity, arguing that SAO totally ripped off the premise of CyberConnect2's franchise. However, this accusation's became in return a Berserk Button to SAO fans, who argue that the original novel was released the same year as .hack//AI Buster, so it couldn't possibly be a rip off. Let us say, neither side wants to budge on this debate and leave it at that.
  • Fandom Heresy: Saying anything positive about the Fairy Dance arc, particularly about its villain Sugou, will turn even fans of the franchise against you.
  • Fandom Rivalry:
    • There has been one with Log Horizon, due to the similar premise. Interestingly enough, many Log Horizon supporters seem to be former SAO fans that dropped the series at some point (normally when the focus of the Aincrad arc shifted to romance, or when the Fairy Dance arc started).
      • Hilariously, Hollow Realization has you in a massive single floor area, instead of a tower, with the player characters the only ones who can't die, while Non Player Characters who go into battle die for real... EXACTLY like Log Horizon
    • To a lesser extent, there's also one with Accel World, which is written by the same author.
      • ...which has got several crossover elements with Sword Art Online in the video games.
    • Berserk fans have also not taken well to the fact that "The Black Swordsman" is now more commonly associated with a 16 year old gamer instead of an adult who actually wields a sword. It doesn't help that Kirito's sword in Alfheim is nigh-identical to the Dragonslayer or that both series author's use rape a lot (partially justified in Berserk's case for being a Seinen whereas SAO is NOT.)
      • Hollow Realization introduces a character, Genesis, with that moniker as a nickname, who bears a much closer resemblance to the original Black Swordsman. Ironically, HE is seen as the pretender in-universe, in exactly the same way that the Berserk fanbase saw Kirito as the pretender to that name.
    • Many .hack fans are also resentful of the fact that SAO is considered to have an original set up. Both works were created the same year, but SAO didn't become mainstream until it was formally published 7 years later. See Fandom Berserk Button below.
    • Has gotten three in the form of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS, and Gundam Build Divers, as many people call them "SAO with Kamen Riders", "SAO with card games", and "SAO with Gundams models" respectively. In the case of VRAINS, however, since it has just started out, we have to wait and see.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: A portion of fans of the anime see Aincrad as the only Arc, due to the many problems "Alfheim" had. There's also another portion which would do so too, were it not for the Arcs after it. Even the series itself doesn't really ever bring up Asuna as Titania afterwards, despite SAO being referenced plenty of times.
    • The last episode of Season 2 and the ending of Volume 7 is this for those who were fans of Yuuki and didn't like the fact she died, to the point that many prefer the video games for sparing her from this fate.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple:
    • Asuna/Yuuki is very popular with lots of people preferring this over Kirito/Asuna.
    • Kirito/Sinon. Sinon is frequently considered to be more interesting than Asuna and with shippers wishing she ended up with Kirito instead.
  • First Installment Wins: Despite the story spanning at least four different MMOs, with the titular Sword Art Online only appearing in in a single novel and a handful of short stories, the Aincrad arc is widely considered the best arc and the one the series is most associated with. A lot of fans felt the series should have ended there and disregard anything that comes after. The majority of merchandise and promotional material use the characters' Aincrad appearance.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • Klein struggling against the boar is played for laughs, but at the time, he and Kirito didn't know that dying in the game kills them in real life. If Kirito wasn't there to teach Klein, the latter would have died at the start of the game. Worse yet, Klein isn't the only one new to the game and not everyone had the good fortune of meeting a beta tester.
    • It's really hard to laugh when Kirito accidentally grabs Asuna's right breast after seeing Asuna nearly getting raped much later.
    • Shinichi's occasional creepiness trying to win Suguha's heart is funny because he's harmless. On the other hand, Kyouji turns creepy right before he tries to rape and murder Sinon. Before this, the two were very similar.
  • Grow the Beard :
    • In regards to the anime, while the series starts off pretty strong, it's the two-parter in episodes 5 and 6 where they really get the comedic timing down and solidified Asuna's characterization. The light novels are a different story due to the anachronistic nature of the first two volumes. Episode 8 is also considered as such, due to dropping the independent episodic story format in favor of a continuous flowing narrative.
    • After the extremely controversial Fairy Dance Arc, the Phantom Bullet Arc is widely considered to have redeemed the show with its increased focus on storyline and Character Development, while keeping the continuous flowing narrative as opposed to the episodic stories in the first half of the Aincrad arc. Mother's Rosario also follows suit by giving Asuna some much needed depth after many had considered to be undeveloped.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: Yuuki's eventual death for what may have been Too Cool to Live reasons can feel like this when one considers Kirito didn't have any real world help during most of the Alicization arc, which could easily be the last arc like in the web novels, giving less reasons for her to die. The lack of a user for the Moon Goddess Lunaria super-account during said arc even seems to say the role could have easily been filled by her.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
  • Ho Yay: Oodles between Kirito and Klein. Many fans even include Klein as part of Kirito's Supporting Harem.
    • Starting in the very first episode. In the Japanese version of the first episode...
    Klein: Kirito! ...Ah... Hey, Kirito. You were actually pretty cute. That's my type.
    Kirito: And that unkempt face of yours suits you ten times better.
    • In Hollow Fragment, Kirito can date and bridal carry Klein, along with any male player.
    • Also in Hollow Fragment, Kirito encountered an event that scored a couple's compatibility. After failed attempts from all of the harem with Kirito, Klein get scored as a perfect couple with him.
    • In Fatal Bullet, when Klein first sees Kiriko (Kirito's canon girly GGO avatar) he immediately wonders if Kirito's face always looked this cute.
  • HSQ:
    • STARBURST STREAM!
    • The Reveal that Heathcliff is Kayaba.
    • Kirito turns into a Gleam-Eyes using an Illusion Spell.
    • How Kirito deals with General Eugene. Creating a giant smokescreen allowing him to grab Leafa's sword, asking himself with sun as he dives at Eugene, then using this second blade to block Eugene's Infinity +1 Sword where Kirito then goes Dual Wielding on him without system assist.
    • Sinon diving off a building, getting her leg shot off and still landing a Boom Head Shot on Behemoth.
  • Internet Backdraft: The divisiveness of the series and its target as Snark Bait, has gotten to the point where bringing it up nearly anywhere on the internet will result in some form of argument or flame war. Haters will beat on fans for having no taste, while fans accusing haters of having nothing better to do than endlessly bash a show. While there is certainly no shortage of legitimate reasons to criticize SAO, the vast majority of the overwhelming level of hatred the series comes from people jumping on the hate bandwagon and bashing it for the fun of it.
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks!: Sword Art Online was one of the first Gateway Series of The New '10s, being one the most hyped series at the time of its release. However its surge in popularity and introduction to a wider audience was what contributed to it becoming a critic-favorite punching bag. The wider audience allowed its flaws to become more pronounced, which then escalated as more and more people jumped on the hate bandwagon leading it to became trendy to hate SAO. In fact its the popularity of the series itself which is in part what leads to the extremely vocal hate, with the detractors stating the series does not deserve such popularity.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Kyouji Shinkawa, one of the three who plays the role of Death Gun. He's an accomplice to several murders, but has a troubled real life- he's been bullied at school, his grades suffer to the point at which he can't possibly meet his parents' expectations for him to go to medical school and become a doctor, and he's implied to be not entirely mentally well. As such, he thinks of the game world as an escape far beyond what is healthy, and when AGI builds get nerfed, rendering him unable to be the strongest in the virtual world, that essentially breaks him.
    • Nezha from Progressive is a blacksmith who's party to a scheme to con players out of their weapons by making them think they had broken. He also suffers from a Full-Dive Nonconformity that essentially leaves him legally blind in the game, and is partly working so that his friends will be able to keep pace with the clearers, feeling guilty that his friends fell behind while trying to help him. When Kirito and Asuna find out about his scam, Nezha's nearly Driven to Suicide, and after becoming The Atoner and pulling a Big Damn Heroes entry to save the parties fighting the second floor's boss, he nearly gets killed in revenge as a result of a (possibly unsubstantiated) report that he'd indirectly caused another player's death, and until the very last second, everyone believes that his "friends" will abandon him and let the other players execute him.
  • Launcher of a Thousand Ships:
    • Kirito. Most of the girls from his Supporting Harem are shipped with him to some degree. Aside from Asuna, popular choices include Lisbeth, Sinon, Silica, and believe it or not himself.
    • Asuna. Outside of her Official Couple status with Kirito, she's been shipped with Lisbeth, Yuuki, and Yuna to name a few.
  • Les Yay:
    • Asuna and Yuuki during the Mother's Rosario arc. When Asuna suggested Yuuki marry someone, Yuuki jokingly considered marrying Asuna. In her dying moments, Yuuki also said Asuna was the person she loved.
    • In Hollow Fragments, during the Pizza Roulette game, both Strea and Asuna win by getting the spicy slice, allowing them to pick a person to do what they want. Strea chooses Kirito and orders him to kiss her, however Asuna is having none of that and demands Strea kiss her. Strea obliges and makes out with Asuna passionately. After going at it for a while, Strea leaves satisfied, while an ashamed Asuna asks Kirito if he still wants her as his wife.
  • Love to Hate:
    • Death Gun is a depraved Serial Killer with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but he's so theatrical and intimidating that many fans want to see more of him before his eventual defeat.
    • Quinella is one of the most loved Big Bads in the series. Despite how monstrous she is, she's just so much fun to watch.
  • Magnificent Bastard: SAO designer Akihiko Kayaba, a pioneer in the field of Virtual Reality (VR), traps 10,000 players inside his game, killing them in the real world if they die in the VR one. Disguising himself as Big Good Heathcliff and guiding the players through the dungeon floors of Aincrad, Kayaba intends to betray and kill them in the last dungeon, acting as the Final Boss of his own game. When Kirito is able to deduce "Heathcliff's" true identity, Kayaba praises the boy for his observance before challenging him to a duel, promising to end the game of Kirito wins. Keeping his word and freeing the players, Kayaba seemingly commits suicide, though actually copying his Fluctlight onto the internet to continue existing. Reappearing in the next arc, Kayaba helps Kirito defeat the Arc Villain, Sugou, whom even he finds repellent. Entrusting Kirito with his last invention, Kayaba encourages him to go on to share it with the world, leading to the creation of many innovative VR games. Though utterly sociopathic, Kayaba never strayed from his strict moral code and stood out as one of Kirito's most noble foes.
  • Memetic Badass: Kirito. It overlaps with the sarcastic comments such as "Jesus-kun" and "Our Lord and Savior", but Kirito is no stranger to this treatment with people claiming he can beat anyone from any franchise simply because of his Plot Armor and favoritism. Taken Up to Eleven in the Alicization arc where he's literally God.
  • Memetic Loser:
    • Klein who often gets the Yamcha treatment among the SAO fandom.
    • Kirito himself tends to get this from the periphery hatedom, who will endlessly bring up the fact he's a loner gamer with no social life and is only so strong because he endlessly grinds like a loser, rather than the badass swordsman the show makes him out to be.
  • Memetic Mutation: Has it's own page.
  • Memetic Troll:
    • Argo. Kirito and Asuna are pretty much her play things. She will go to great lengths to embarrass Kirito and it's absolutely hilarious. The fact she's an Knowledge Broker who's Only in It for the Money has led her to exploit the most sensitive and personal of information and sell it off for cash, or the lows she will stoop to getting said information in the first place. Then there's the fact she keeps insinuating Kirito has a thing for her, mockingly treating every one of his attempts at being friendly to be flirting.
    • Lisbeth is known to notoriously troll Kirito and Asuna. She loves putting the lovey-dovey couple in awkward situations, while she's most likely the one to kill the mood by telling them to Get a Room!. She's also not afraid to get physical with other girls, or snuggling up to Kirito despite the fact he's in a relationship.
    • Strea from the game continuity. Stalks Kirito, constantly hits on him, spontaneously hugs him, loves putting him through Marshmallow Hell, and to top it off she thinks of him as her daddy.
  • Moe
    • Silica, The Baby of the Bunch who everybody treats like a fragile little sister.
    • Leafa/Suguha, Kirito's real life sister/cousin who he's extremely protective over.
    • Asuna herself during the Fairy Dance arc when she was held captive.
    • Sinon in real life, a Broken Bird who's constantly dealing with PTSD and the social stigmas that come with it.
    • Premiere from the game continuity. Kirito is especially protective of her and sees her as vulnerable due to her naive nature.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Virtually anything Kayaba Akihiko a.k.a Heathcliff does, such as trapping 10,000 innocent people inside a game for TWO YEARS, over which time 4000 of these people died, just to satisfy his game master fantasies. Even worse, he positions himself as the leader of the strongest guild in the game, earning the trust and admiration of many of the people he trapped, with the full intention of betraying them once they neared the end of the game. Kirito even thinks that the guy is a monster during their fight, after seeing how he felt nothing in spite of being responsible for thousands of deaths.
    • Sugou almost immediately crosses the line when he reveals to Kirito he is the one who trapped Asuna in-game as a prisoner and will force her into marrying him. For those willing to overlook that, he unquestionably hit irredeemable territory when he uses his admin privileges to subject Kirito to Cold-Blooded Torture before forcing him to watch as he attempts to rape Asuna.
    • Most of the members of Laughing Coffin probably crossed this in when they killed players in SAO, even though they knew they would die. However, XaXa and Johnny Black definitely manage to cross this by creating the legend of Death Gun just so they could continue to kill. Additionally, Johnny Black crosses this further by attacking Kirito and Asuna on the street whilst on the run from the police, ultimately resulting with Kirito being poisoned, hospitalized, and then dumped into UW by Rath, setting up the events of the Alicization arc.
  • Most Annoying Sound:
    • Yui's English dub voice can come off as this. It does not sound like a child's voice at all and more like a older female trying to sound like a child.
    • Whenever Sugou/Oberon starts screaming his words out it can become extremely ear-grating.
  • Most Wonderful Sound:
    • The VR starting sound effect after someone says "Link Start!"
    • Kirito's photon sword in Phantom Bullet hums just like a lightsaber.
  • Narm:
    • Every single fight scene that has Kirito making some distorted facial expressions.
    • Using "Beta Tester" as some sort of derogatory term. Even worse is when it gets mixed with cheater to make "beater", which... sounds like something else. Also, their reasons for hating "Beta Testers" make them come off as overly-vocal scrubs more than anything given the MMORPG setting.
    • A lot of people consider that the anime takes itself too seriously. Yes, they're all facing death, but for these people it doesn't match well the MMORPG setting. This gets worse in latter arcs where death in real life is not an issue, specially during the "Calibur" mini-arc, where the characters are just playing the game normally, and yet they treat the whole thing as Serious Business note .
    • Related to the previous point is that some people consider a few death scenes too melodramatic to be taken seriously. And that's during the Aincrad arc. This gets Up to Eleven during the ALO arc, since it maintains the melodramatic tone, except that this time people don't die in real life, so such melodrama feels odd, to say the least.
    • The opening for the Fairy Dance arc has Suguha pushing Kazuto into the middle of a road, which many people have joked or memed that he could have been hit by a car.
    • Kirito vs barrier. As soon as Kirito learns that Asuna really is trapped at the top of the World Tree, he goes into a blinding rage and flies straight at the World Tree, where he promptly repeatedly slams headfirst into the barrier put in place to prevent players from flying higher. The scene is supposed to show Kirito's despair that he had kept bottled up, but it's hard not to laugh at this display of watching Kirito smack his head into an invisible wall.
    • In Episode 22 of Season 1, during Kirito's first try to beat the World Tree battle. He starts having flashes of his memories with Asuna as he fights. Eventually, he starts calling Asuna's name in his mind again and again, sounding more and more desperate every time he says it. Yoshitsugu Matsuoka manages to turn this into a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in the Japanese version with his performance. Bryce Papenbrook in the English version, on the other hand, makes it unintentionally funny. Which is a shame considering that apart from this moment, Papenbrook nailed the rest of the scene.
    • The scene where Kirito frees Asuna from her chains, after killing Sugou in-game. It's meant to be a heartwarming reunion, but many fans can't get over the fact that Kirito hugged Asuna and cried on her shoulder while she's topless. Unlike similar scenes from other series, Kirito never gives Asuna his jacket and the two of them don't seem to care about her state of undress. Plus from the position Kirito is in, he's basically pressed his face against her bare boob.
    • Kirito's visualization in the anime of Death Gun killing someone in real life through a game. That is to say, he imagines a bullet traveling through a phone line and then launching out of it to land square in the forehead of a victim. The fact that this moment is played completely seriously, complete with a dramatic music swell, and as some sort of horrified idea of how dangerous the situation is on Kirito's part is a complete Mood Whiplash to how ridiculous it is.
    • "The name I share with this weapon... Death Gun!" Yes, he named himself after his weapon, and it isn't a name you could say with a straight face. To be fair, this one applies mostly to native English speakers. For people of other languages, this doesn't have the same impact. Considering the original novel was first written in Japanese (but the name was written in English), with no plans for an English translation at the time it was created, it can be argued that this was a case where some Woolseyism was needed, but the localizers just chose not to.
    • When Kirito and Sinon are theorizing on how Death Gun commits murders, Kirito figures out that when there is more than one player behind him. So that when one Death Gun members them kills a player in-game the second Death Gun member kills the person in real life. This is immediately accompanied by visual symbolism of a scorpion killing a lizard. This motif is so ridiculous it completely flips the seriousness of the scene and invokes laughter. Even Bryce Papenbrook made fun of this bit in the bloopers.
    • During the climactic battle between Kirito and Death Gun, when Death Gun tries to cloak himself, Kirito draws his pistol in slo-mo and shoots Death Gun while leaping forward so he's in the air. Once Death Gun gets uncloaked he panics and slashes Kirito about twenty times, all the while Kirito is still airborne and slowly spinning in midair before his feet finally touch the ground. Given Death Gun was able to get in that many attacks in the time it took Kirito to drop to the ground, it's fair to assume that Kirito must have been lagging.
    • The leader of Laughing Coffin, the guild of Player Killers, is known as "PoH". While it stands for the appropriately intimidating "Prince of Hell," it's said to be pronounced, "Pooh".
    • Fatal Bullet has cutscenes almost entirely animated in CGI. This leads to some very weird and amusing character animations, such as female characters lifting up their left hand to rest just above their chest (sometimes with two characters doing it simultaneously!) which can be quite funny to watch.
  • Never Live It Down: Some people who like the series argue that the critics are blowing some flaws out of proportion. Namely:
    • The series definitely has Supporting Harem elements to it, but if you were to believe the detractors, Kirito spends at least 50% of his screen time picking up chicks without even trying, or worse, being a pimp. The reality is that this particular aspect of the series doesn't have nearly that much of a relevance outside a couple of filler episodes and one or two scenes where it's Played for Laughs. There are also several examples of female characters that don't show any hint of attraction towards Kirito, like Yoruko. It doesn't help that Reki Kawahara likes to joke about this, like when he said that he feels incapable to write a female character in this series without making her fall for Kirito. The fact that the merchandising is heavily focused on the girls, like in a regular harem show, doesn't help matters either.
    • Kirito's personality. Detractors will endlessly criticize Kirito for having no characterization outside of being a Nice Guy who's edgy and really really strong. This is ignoring the fact that his stoic attitude is justified and heavily explored due to a result of Survivor's Guilt, while later arcs show more sides to his personality like his frequent adorkable moments, his love of harmlessly teasing, or his Undying Loyalty to Asuna. There's also Kirito's existential philosophy over whether the virtual world and the real world are different or the same, which is a heavy part of his character. But in the hatedom, regardless of what gets added to Kirito's character, haters will always insist he's as dull as a brick.
    • On a similar note, Asuna's Tsundere traits. Albeit they're definitely there, they are prominent only between episodes 5 and 8. Afterwards, she always shows her sweet side, and very rarely goes back. Not to mention her He's Not My Boyfriend attitude (one of the most infamous Tsundere traits) only lasts for one episode. However, a lot of viewers talk about her as if she was anime!Naru Narusegawa 2.0. To be fair, she got some problems in the adaptation due to her Characterization Marches On in the light novels (see her entry in the Character page for details).
    • Chapter 16.5, especially the quip about "two years worth of semen." An infamous exercise in Ikea Erotica that was only posted on the original website's now-defunct fanfic section. The way some are quick to bring it up at the mere mention of the series, you'd think it made for the entirety of the franchise.
    • A lot of people only see Suguha as the girl who was in love with her cousin and adoptive brother Kazuto. There are many other aspects to her character, such as her passion for Kendo and the joy she feels when flying in ALO.
    • Despite Asuna's active role in the Caliber arc and being The Protagonist in Mother's Rosario, and actively contributing to her own rescue in addition to an independent escape attempt, haters will never let her forget the time she was a Damsel in Distress during Fairy Dance.
    • Sugou. Haters constantly bring him up as being a terrible villain who was one-note, generic, and cartoonishly over-the-top evil. Fans actually agree on this one, but thing is he was only around for one arc (10 episodes) and is never seen again. But haters make it sound like like he's an Overarching Villain who's featured for the whole series.
  • No Yay: Anything from Sugou/Oberon.
  • Obvious Judas: Sigurd from the Alfheim arc. He quickly establishes himself as a Jerkass when he tries to boss Leafa around outside of the scope of their original agreement, and when Kirito calls him out on it, Sigurd threatens to kill him when he can't fight back. As such, it's not especially surprising that he's the traitor in the Sylph faction, even if the twist is more about there being one than who it is.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Argo in the anime, who only has one brief scene in episode 3.
    • Pale Rider. He gets to show off his impressive acrobatics and takes down Dyne in an epic battle. Pity he gets killed by Death Gun immediately afterwards.
    • Yuuki in Hollow Fragments, having one surprise appearance as a Post-Final Boss, but one of the most memorable moments in the game.
    • Eugeo and Alice get brief DLC appearances in Accel World VS Sword Art Online, but are nonetheless very memorable.
    • The Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online characters: LLENN, Fuka, Pitohui, and M, who appear in short scenes in Fatal Bullet, but all of them extremely memorable.
  • Paranoia Fuel: The thought of being trapped in the new video game you just purchased and dying because you died in said video game. You'll be playing MMOs gingerly for awhile.
    • And there is always the possibility that when Deep-Immersion Gaming is invented in a decade or two that it won't be as safe as it was intended to be. There are a bunch of ways to die with a Nerve Gear that DON'T involve product tampering. The fact that you're completely paralyzed means that if there was some emergency, such as a fire, you would be completely helpless because you'd have no way of knowing that you were in danger.
    • The concept of Death Gun, a Serial Killer who can somehow kill people in a video game despite that being seemingly impossible without NerveGears, is already plenty disturbing but The Reveal of exactly how Death Gun kills people is equally disturbing. After stalking players in GGO and finding out their personal information, including where they life, Death Gun's accomplice breaks into the real life house and waits for the Death Gun in the game to shot the target before injecting the victim with a lethal drug overdose. Sinon herself almost has a complete Freak Out! when she realises that there is a deranged Serial Killer quietly watching her unresponsive real life body waiting for the moment he can kill her.
  • Portmanteau Couple Name: KiriAsu or Kirisuna (Kirito x Asuna).
  • Replacement Scrappy:
    • Leafa was initially hit by this, due to taking over Asuna's role as the female lead during the Fairy Dance arc, where there were Squick elements due to the fact she is in love with Kirito while being his real life cousin. It doesn't last in later arcs, however, once the romance aspect is dropped and she goes back to being Kirito's supportive Little Sister Heroine.
    • Inverted with Sinon, who for the most was received better than Asuna. Fans praised her for her much deeper tragic backstory and more realistic motivation for taking up gaming, as well as being the first female protagonist who is not defined by having an interest in Kirito. There's a large group who wish Sinon was the solo protagonist of the GGO arc without having to share the limelight with Kirito.
    • Also inverted with Alice, who might just be the most positively received female SAO protagonist yet. While she's liked for being a similarly strong heroine, she avoids the flack that all the past SAO girls get for not being dependent upon Kirito and can carry the story on her own.
    • Once again inverted with Quinella on the villains' side. In the eyes of the fandom, Quinella is essentially Sugou done right.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap:
    • The Mother's Rosario arc saved Asuna in the eyes of many of her detractors. She ends up getting a fair amount of Character Development in gaining the same confidence she had in SAO in real life, and at one point, even passes up an opportunity to call up Kirito so that she can deal with her own problems.
    • Suguha, in the games, due to averting her Kissing Cousins aspect and knows Kirito is her brother from the beginning. See Better Than Canon above. Her anime self also loses most of her criticism after the Fairy Dance arc, as she's relegated from love interest to Little Sister Heroine.
    • Yui in the games. While she's often considered an annoying moeblob in the anime who's only there to be cute, the games greatly flesh out her character. She tries to learn about the real world and humans, while having a habit of putting her parents into embarrassing situations due to her naivety and/or trolling. Also in Accel World Vs. Sword Art Online, anyone who had gotten sick of Yui changed their mind after seeing her as Persona Vabel, where's she's become a Future Badass and a Tragic Villain.
    • Sugou, of all characters, managed to have this done for him in the games. Where he's no longer an Orcus on His Throne who spends the entire arc sexually assaulting Asuna or screaming his alleged godhood every minute. Instead he's an active threat throughout the story, and no longer an Invincible Villain that could only be beaten via Ass Pulls. While he's still a bastard, his hamminess and smugness have been toned down. At least until he reappears in Accel Worlds VS Sword Art Online, where the canon Oberon version of Sugou shows up and he's pretty much back to being the lecherous creep obsessed with Asuna.
  • Scapegoat Creator: Reki Kawahara himself, being a rare instance where it's the author of the source material and not a production member of an adaptation who's subjected to this. Critics are very harsh on Kawahara, with widespread insults of him being a terrible writer and putting virtually all of the blame of Sword Art Online's flaws on him, given that the anime stayed fairly faithful to his original work. Kirito is frequently accused of being Kawahara's own Self-Insert Fic Wish Fulfillment character, which has been confirmed in a passing mention.
  • The Scrappy: While the Fairy Dance Arc is considered to be the low point of the story, these selected few are deemed to be widely hated by fans alike:
  • Seasonal Rot:
    • The Fairy Dance Arc is widely deemed to be the low point of the series by fans and haters alike, with reasons ranging from the treatment of Asuna, the series changing the Death Game premise to "save Asuna", the series becoming more like a harem, Yui's role change from mysterious adopted daughter to being a moe Ms. Exposition, the Kissing Cousins element brought by Leafa crushing on Kirito, and Sugou as the most ridiculous and hateable villain, among others. Some fans even refuse to acknowledge the entire arc and go straight from Kirito waking up from SAO to meeting Asuna (freed from ALO) in real life for the first time.
    • To a lesser extent all of the post-Aincrad arcs get subjected to this to some degree because Sword Art Online stopped being about the titular game and instead kept bringing in new games. It's a very common view among fans that Aincrad should have been the only arc in the series, and instead expanding that out to the whole 100 floors. This ended up getting done in the video game continuity, although it still continues past Aincrad.
  • Snark Bait: By now, SAO has become one of the biggest ones in the entire anime community.
    • It's particularly vicious among critics, where SAO is one of the biggest Acceptable Targets, and it's difficult to find one who doesn't loathe the franchise to some degree. The range goes from critics who throw occasional, but consistent jabs, like Arkada or The Anime Man (although they also acknowledge its strengths when they see it due and admit it's a perfectly good watch), to critics who absolutely despise it and dedicate lengthy, often also hateful essays about why the series sucks too much to warrant its ridiculous popularity, like Digibro or Mother's Basement.
    • There are a few ones like Gigguk who consider it So Okay, It's Average, but they seem to be a minority. And even then, they tend to like to mock the franchise from time to time for comedic effect, even if it's more to capitalize on the show's infamy rather than personal contempt.
    • Hateful criticism to the franchise has become so popular at this point that there is no shortage of people who hate it with a burning passion, but kind of look forward to new installments just to watch this kind of critics to tear it apart.
    • Kirito is a Snark Bait all of his own. The level of hatred towards him is incredible, especially considering he's The Protagonist. Merely bringing up his name up on the internet can cause Internet Backdraft. In fact the hate for him is so widespread and he's so consistently mercilessly mocked, that casual observers would be forgiven for believing he's a Hate Sink character. Outside of fans of the series, any other character comparison will always have Kirito be the worse character, while detractors delight in hypothetical Versus battles where Kirito gets killed.
  • So Okay, It's Average: Ultimately Sword Art Online can being boiled down to being a fairly average series that came at the right time, riding on the appeal of the gaming industry at the time of release with its unique setting to garner a lot of attention early on, before being slandered on by critics for being overrated and undeserving of its popularity where it would gain the status of being one of the biggest Snark Baits in the anime community. Among those who don't aggressively hate on it or defend it, there are those who deem it as a series with flaws, but still can be enjoyable and give it an average rating.
  • Squick:
    • The infamous tentacles scene Asuna is subjected too, which was the point where a lot of people gave up on SAO. It invokes All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles that's a better fit for a hentai genre.
    • The attempted rape on Asuna. The act itself was already bad enough to Squick a lot of fans, even to the point of making them drop the show. But it's even worse in how it's portrayed: The way Kirito saves her is seen by many as an empowerment fantasy. Even people who don't mind the Wish Fulfillment aspects of the show think that Kawahara went way too far in that scene.
    • Unsurprisingly, Sugou (the perpetrator of the act) was squicking the audience since his very first appearance. Just the way that he sniffed Asuna's hair in the hospital with that sick smirk on his face is enough proof that his Complete Monster label was never meant to be a surprise reveal.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: "Swordland" is by far the most iconic theme from the series, but many detractors immediately point out the similarities to another theme previously composed by Yuki Kajiura: "Rule The Battlefield", from Fate/Zero. To be precise, the first few notes of the main riff are pretty much the same. This can be better heard with "In You Past", one of the variations of "Swordland", which has a closer tempo and tone to "Rule the Battlefield", and thus the similarities become much more obvious. While this only applies to the first few notes and then both themes diverge from one another, a lot of people consider this more than enough to call "lazy" on Kajiura, and to consider the theme yet another reason to mock the anime.note 
  • That One Boss: As a series based on video games, there are lots of In-Universe examples of this trope.
    • The Gleam Eyes, which was the first boss to force Kirito to unleash his secret unique skill Dual Wielding, and even then it reduced Kirito's health to critical.
    • The Fatal Scythe, which borderlines on being a Hopeless Boss Fight. It took off half the HP of both Kirito and Asuna in one hit. Kirito estimates that it could be of an equivalent level to the 90th Floor Bosses. It was only defeated by Yui using admin privileges to delete it.
    • The Skull Reaper, which could One-Hit Kill players and causing 24 casualties before being defeated. It took Kirito and Asuna's combined efforts to merely block its scythes alongside every other player flanking it to bring it down.
    • Ordinal Scale's Final Boss, "An Incarnation of the Radius" required the combined efforts of EVERY ally to ever appear in the series, along with all the major characters using their SAO avatars at peak power to unleash all of their ultimate attacks to kill it.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Another common complain about the series is how Kawahara sets up characters that, at the very least, have quite a potential. Yet he squanders them way more often than not.
    • Klein is another big one. He's introduced in the first episode as a new player who Kirito somewhat befriends. The two separate by the end but instead of making use of Klein by having him possibly act as a Foil to Kirito (mainly because Kirito fails to save the first guild he joined, Klein protected his whole guild through SAO), and him being an active ally in the series, instead Klein serves mainly as a comic relief character with not much characterization beyond being "Kirito's buddy".
    • Argo is one of the biggest examples. She's much more prominent in the light novel as an information broker who Kirito frequents, and is known for to love endlessly trolling Kirito, but the anime had her Demoted to Extra and only appeared in one episode. Fortunately the manga and non-canon games give her a lot more time to shine and uses her potential where the anime failed to do so.
    • Asuna falls into this after the Aincrad arc. While initially a strong female lead with a lot of focus and her own character, she gets reduced to a Damsel in Distress in the Fairy Dance arc, while the subsequent Phantom Bullet arc has her staying away from the main action. Though this does get largely amended with the Mother's Rosario arc which has Asuna taking over as The Protagonist which fleshes out her character and gives her a lot of development.
    • Akihiko Kayaba, or rather the fact he was given no clear motivation for trapping thousands of players in SAO. When he's point-blank asked about it, he doesn't go into detail besides him basically saying "I did it cause I could". The fact that, before going into his rant, he just says "I forgot the reason a long time ago" doesn't help, since a lot of people take that line at face value, and consider Kawahara just didn't care about giving him a motivation. However, the subtext and the voice actor's delivery in the rant that comes after that line heavily imply that there could be other reasons. Likely him having some sort of God complex; not in the sense of having absolute power, but rather in the sense of being the creator of a living world out of his imagination, and he was obsessed with having his vision made (virtual) reality. Unfortunately, the series never explores this.
    • Yuuki Konno has the reflexes and skill to be Kirito's equal or even better, is lauded in-universe as the "Absolute Sword", and even Kirito states upfront that if she had taken part in the death game, she'd be the one who would have been given his Dual Wielding skill that he got... and she dies after one arc. For obvious reasons, people prefer the videogame adaptations, where she DOESN'T die after her storyline, and instead is given the chance to shine as her fans feel she was meant to.
    • Many people complain that Reki Kawahara never used Eugeo to the fullest of his potential. When we first meet him, we realize that Eugeo has more innate skill than Kirito, the beater and hero of Aincrad ever had, and that he has a crush on Alice Zuberg, who was kidnapped by the knights of the Axiom Church and brainwashed, taking away her soul, memories, and old feelings, which is his motivation for going to Centralia and trying to become a knight. However, Kawahara never gives him much character; in fact, he's practically just a blank sheet with none of the imperfections that give humanity to people. In the end, Kawahara just kills off Eugeo.
    • Alice Zuberg is another source for such complaints. When we meet her in volume 9 as a child, she is one of the most vivacious characters to ever bless SAO and seems to have somewhat of a crush on Eugeo as a kid Flash forward to her teenage years after her memories have been taken away from her and her old personality trapped in a golden cube: We meet her as knight skilled beyond even Kirito and Eugeo in not just magic, (which she was a prodigy in even a kid) but she can easily match the two at the same time. She had a great deal of potential that was wasted in making her just another love interest for Kirito.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: This is one of, if not the most recurrent criticism the series receives from its detractors. Most people agree the premise is extremely powerful and full of possibilities, but Kawahara never comes close to realize that potential. On the broad strokes, they see the execution underwhelming due to crucial plot contrivances and underdeveloped characters (See They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character below). Another huge point of contention is that, rather than exploring his otherwise good concepts, Kawahara seems to unabashedly focus on Pandering to the Base and Wish Fulfillment to a degree that detractors find alienating at best, and offensive at worst.
    • Kirito's Zero-Approval Gambit as a Beater in Episode 2 had a lot of plot potential and one of the more interesting directions his character was taken in, but it promptly gets dropped by the next episode where a Time Skip shows he's gotten sick of being a solo player and joins a guild, abandoning the characterization that had established in the previous episode.
    • Another case due to Kirito. One of the main appeals of the series was the fact it was a death game set in virtual reality, where characters could supposedly die at any time. However this is mitigated by the fact that the story focuses on Kirito, who is an Invincible Hero where it's made apparent there is no true chance of him dying in SAO. Suggestions on how the series could have been improved was if the story did not have Kirito as The Protagonist, either making him a side character or not present at all. Alternatively, the story could either have Klein as main character or an Ensemble Cast focusing on a guild. Integral Factor explores this very idea, allowing players to experience the Aincrad arc, not as Kirito but as yourself. Kirito's still there, but he's an NPC that's not the focus of the story.
    • The biggest example would be not exploring all 100 Floors of Aincrad, instead stopping at Floor 75 with the arc only spanning 14 episodes rather than a whole season. The video game continuity amends this by featuring all 100 Floors, while Ordinal Scale has the characters being able to see what would have been on the 100th Floor which they face as a Final Boss.
    • The Phantom Bullet arc featured Gun Gale Online, a sci-fi themed shooter, which was vastly different from the fantasy settings of the previous two games introduced. However the game's full premise remains largely unexplored, focusing almost entirely on the BoB tournament and Kirito facing the Big Bad. Fatal Bullet and Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online alleviate this to a degree by fleshing GGO out and giving full exploration of what the game is like away from Kirito.
  • Too Cool to Live: Yuuki Konno. So powerful that she completely dominated even Kirito, the World's Best Warrior of SAO. She was pretty much invincible in virtual world, but sadly not so much in the real world.
  • Tough Act to Follow:
    • The Mother's Rosario arc is widely considered the best arc of the series, due to its heavy usage of Character Development and extremely emotional story line. As a result, the feature film Ordinal Scale had a lot to live up to, as well as any subsequent arcs that follow.
    • Ordinal Scale itself was one of the most acclaimed anime films of 2017, which puts a lot of expectations on the third season of Sword Art Online featuring the Alicization Arc.
    • Fatal Bullet has set the bar the high for SAO games. Despite the overall So Okay, It's Average verdict from reviewers, it's received generally positive reviews from fans. The game is praised for its solid game mechanics, versatile choice of weapons and equipment in combat, and being a refreshing change from the RPG style of previous SAO games.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Kirito generally manages to avoid this, but there are still a couple of instances where he briefly steps into this territory.
    • In the climax of the Fairy Dance arc, Kirito set Pain Absorber at level zero. and he brutally tortures Sugou until he's wailing in terror and agony, doing such things as cutting off his arm and stabbing him in the eye. He's clearly suffered serious damage from it, as shown in the next episode when he encounters Kirito in the hospital parking lot. The show interprets this action as heroic; Asuna and Yui don't even look remotely disturbed by Kirito's brutal actions. Even if the victim is a Complete Monster, the show looks like it's endorsing torture and violence as instruments of justice, a message that can be just plain disturbing. Fortunately, Kirito steps back into sympathetic territory by the next episode, when he refrains from killing Sugou and leaves him to the cops instead.
    • Even more so in the Alicization arc when Kirito, who Came Back Strong after his worsened brain damage has been completely diminished, turns PoH into a tree without any remorse whatsoever. In his defense though, he thought that he wouldn't be able to face Leafa and Sinon for all the troubles they've been through if he regretted doing it.
  • Unexpected Character:
    • Yuuki appearing as a Post-Final Boss in Hollow Fragments was not expected, as she hadn't even made a voiced appearance in the anime at that stage.
    • Black Lotus had a surprise appearance in Lost Song. This was well before the crossover game Accel World VS Sword Art Online had come out.
    • Alice and Eugeo appearing in Hollow Realizations and Accel Worlds VS Sword Art Online as DLC, shocked everyone. With the former, it was before the Alicization arc of the anime had even been announced.
    • Yuna showing up in Accel World vs Sword Art Online was a big shocker to everyone.
  • Unfortunate Implications: Mother's Basement has made the argument that Asuna's two attempted rapes, in addition to being totally unnecessary (as Sugou's moments where he stroked her face and smelled her hair were sufficient to make him creepy and loathsome), were made morally repugnant by being played for fanservice and titillation, ending up as borderline pornographic.
  • Values Dissonance: Shino Asada attacked a bank robber who was about to shoot her mother, and manages to kill the full-grown man with his own gun - years before the events of GGO, in which she was sixteen.
    • In America, that Crowning Moment of Awesome would make her a hero of nation-wide acclaim. In Japan, Shino winds up being stigmatized. She is ostracized by just about everyone, including her own mother, who mentally regressed due to the intensity of the incident. This even extends to therapists who learned of the event, so she has a case of PTSD so intense that a schoolyard bully can set off a panic attack simply by pointing a finger at her and saying "bang".
    • This mostly touches on child-adult relations in Japan, rather than what Americans typically assume is some sort of gun issue(which are admittedly intense in Japan - gun laws are so draconian that a firearm costs more than a luxury car). In Japanese society, children are viewed as relatively innocent, and dependent upon adults (which makes the events of SAO seem even harsher by Japanese standards). What is really at issue, is that to Japanese society, a child is thought to be incapable of killing - that Sinon is able seems to create the presumption that she has the mind set of a cold blooded killer (that her actions were in self defense being irrelevant). Which does not excuse what happened to her, merely better explain it.
    • European reactions would lie somewhere in between. Shino would unquestionably be seen as her mother's saviour and the criminal she killed would be viewed as having brought his fate upon himself. However her actions would be likely be painted as tragic, rather than heroic. The killing would be ultimately presented as a necessary evil and, above all, as a sad loss of innocence.
  • Vanilla Protagonist: Leaving his abilities and controversial Wish Fulfillment aspect aside, character-wise Kirito is largely considered to be this in the anime. All of the VR-geekery and existential philosophy that he has in the light novels is adapted out. This is also a big part of his lack of appeal for his detractors, specially since the story still focuses on him instead of giving more dedication to the more colorful supporting characters that normally would stand out next to him. Many fans agree that Sword Art Online would be a lot better if Kirito either wasn't in the story or wasn't The Protagonist.
  • Vocal Minority: Hard as it is to believe given how widespread the hatred for the franchise is, the hatebase for show is still the minority. The majority of ratings for the series still swing in a positive direction despite all the flack it gets. The haters for Sword Art Online may be extremely loud and vocal, but at the end of the day they're still the minority, which is why the series keeps on going years after its debut.
  • What an Idiot!: Has its own page here.
  • The Woobie:
    • Asuna is revealed to be one, having no-one else but Kirito in her life. And beyond that, was one of three hundred unfortunate players who never woke up after the SAO ordeal, being forced to be with Sugou, then proceeds to be nearly raped by him. Someone help this poor girl out!
      • Her backstory is expanded in later novels and the manga, which reveal that the reason why she's alone in the world before knowing Kirito is because of her high class family. To be precise, her mother, who originally came from a lower class family and was extremely strict, putting unrealistic expectations on her future. On top of that, she expected her to marry a wealthy man, but not to become a housewife, but to have financial stability so she could develop a successful career (thus having the worst aspects of BOTH sides of the Career Versus Man dilema). She's also caught in a rivalry between certain parts of the extended Yuuki family, and realizes that while her cousins feel bad for her, they also no longer see her as a rival. It is heavily implied that the reason she started to play VRMMO games was in part to escape from all that pressure.
    • Kirito isn't much better. Although he woke up, he discovers that his love never woke up, still comatose, only to find out that it had been planned.
      • And before that, the emotional pain he went through after Sachi, his previous love before Asuna, dies.
    • Sinon has PTSD from killing an armed robber in self-defense. She was bullied by nearly all her classmates because of this. Her therapists reinforced her PTSD instead of treating it. Thieves have learned to exploit her PTSD to extort money from her. She's constantly being sexually harassed, though she treats it as an annoyance at best. Then, the only friend she's had for years tries to rape and murder her. Someone give that poor girl a hug!
    • Yuuki probably has one of the saddest stories. She was born with AIDS and had to endure it and all the social stigma that came with it. By the time of Mother's Rosario, she's the only one in her family still alive, she has to remain logged into the Medicuboid 24/7 (to the point where her time in virtual reality exceeds SAO players), and she doesn't have much time left herself. In fact, she dies at the end of the volume, after becoming great friends with Asuna.
  • Win Back the Crowd:
    • The Phantom Bullet arc breathed new life back into the series coming off the tail of the heavily despised Fairy Dance arc, with a new female lead who had a very appealing personality and a tragic backstory, while the premise of a shooter game was very refreshing from the fantasy elements that the series had been known for.
    • For those not won over by the Phantom Bullet arc, the Mother's Rosario arc certainly did this. It received acclaim due to the intense emotional journey it takes viewers on and improving Asuna as a character.
    • Ordinal Scale did this for a lot of fans by addressing several issues that had been brought up over the years, an original story which had not been explored before by the light novels, and overall better handling of characters than the anime had done.
    • Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet seems to have done this even for SAO detractors, due to the player being a custom character and not Kirito. It scored further points in the fandom for its entirely original story that wasn't merely an adaptation of the Phantom Bullet arc. Kirito facing Death Gun is still there for any diehard fans who want it, but the main campaign is centered around the Player Character and their journey through GGO.
    • The Alicization arc is held highly among light novel fans and often considered the best written arc Kawahara has done for this series. Featuring the most creative storyline the series has explored, it touches upon philosophical implications of what it means to be human, genuinely terrifying villains, and the introductions of Eugeo and Alice. The anime adaptation has very high expectations to live up to.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/SwordArtOnline