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All spoilers regarding the Aincrad, Fairy Dance, Phantom Bullet and Mother's Rosario arcs are unmarked. Examples pertaining to the Alicization, Moon Cradle, and Unital Ring arcs can be spoiler tagged if deemed necessary.

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"I will survive in this world!"
Kirito
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Imagine that gaming has advanced to the point where you no longer watch from the other side of the television screen but are right there in the world, experiencing full immersion of all your senses and controlling your character as easily as your own body.

The first game to fully make use of the capabilities of this technology is Sword Art Online, a fantasy MMORPG created by Akihiko Kayaba, the inventor of the very device used to play it. However, a sinister trap awaits the first ten-thousand players who log into the system: they discover that they cannot log out, effectively trapping them within the game.

Kayaba issues an ultimatum: beat the Final Boss on the 100th floor, and everyone will be allowed to log out. If, however, a player's HP should ever be reduced to zero, then the headset used to play the game will unleash a pulse of microwave radiation to fry their brain, killing them in the real world. The same fate awaits them if anyone in the real world attempts to remove them from the game by force.

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A swordsman player named Kirito is one of the fated ten-thousand. He holds the advantage of having beta-tested the game before becoming trapped, giving him prior knowledge of the game layout and its combat systems, but he struggles to make attachments and prefers being a solo player. Now, he and every other player in Sword Art Online must fight to survive in a virtual world that has become all too real to them, facing not only the various monsters and traps lurking inside the game, but also the player killers that are the worst that Sword Art Online has to offer.

There are currently eight main arcs, with a number of sidestories:

    List of Arcs 
  • Aincrad: The original story, set in the world of Sword Art Online. (Main story in LN Volume 1, fleshed out in Volume 2, side stories in part of Volume 8).
    • Progressive: An ongoing Interquel/Reboot of the Aincrad arc, started in late 2012. The story is about Kirito and Asuna facing the challenges of the first few floors of Aincrad together as a team. It reboots some of the events of the original novel while expanding the world and characters. The first chapter of the first volume, Aria in the Starless Night, which describes Kirito and Asuna's first meeting, was included in the anime even before the volume was published.
  • Fairy Dance: Two months after the "SAO Incident," three hundred players have yet to awaken from their comatose states, including Asuna. When Kirito is sent a blurry screenshot of one of the players that looks "suspiciously like Asuna" in another MMO called "ALfheim Online," he dives into the game to free her from the virtual world once and for all. (LN Volumes 3–4)
  • Phantom Bullet: Set in a game called Gun Gale Online, an MMO that focuses on guns and shooting instead of swordplay and magic, a mysterious assassin called "Death Gun" seems to be murdering players by killing their virtual avatars, and Kirito is called upon to enter the game and solve the mystery. (LN Volumes 5–6)
  • Caliber: Set shortly after the Phantom Bullet arc, Kirito gathers many of his friends from the various games he has played in order to take on one of the most challenging quests in the reborn ALO: recovering the game's Infinity +1 Sword, Excaliber [sic]. (LN Volume 8).
  • Mother's Rosario: Set after the Phantom Bullet and Caliber arc, this one has the particularity that the main character is actually Asuna, instead of Kirito. While playing ALO, Asuna encounters a mysterious swordswoman named Yuuki, whose combat skill is said to surpass even Kirito's. She is recruited to help Yuuki and her guild, the "Sleeping Knights," achieve the feat of soloing one of Aincrad's fearsome floor bosses, an achievement that would immortalize their names on the Monument of Swordsmen. (LN Volume 7).
  • Project Alicization: Kirito awakens in an unfamiliar virtual world (called "Underworld") with no memories of how he got there. He must venture to discover the secrets behind this world and why he has been trapped within it, all while questioning whether he is the real Kirito or merely an Artificial Intelligence in his likeness. Alicization is by far the longest story arc in the franchise, and the only one with subtitles for each volume.note  (LN Volumes 9–18)
  • Moon Cradle: Set immediately after the great war in Underworld, the Human Empire and Dark Territory have made a peace treaty and opened up for trading and transportation. However, an unknown enemy force attempts to start another war, and it's up to Kirito, who became the de facto leader of the Human Empire Unity Council, and Ronye, who just got promoted to an Integrity Knight Apprentice, to stop them. (LN Volumes 19–20).
  • Unital Ring: The latest arc, and the first story arc not to be based off content from the Web Novel. Taking place after the events of Alicization, all VRMMOs built by The Seed are suddenly and forcibly united into one Survival Sandbox game called "Unital Ring" and thus, Kirito and his friends are suddenly involved with the titular game soon after. (LN Volumes 21, 23–??).note 
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    List of Sidestories 
  • Material Editions: A series of doujins which continue to be published by "Fumio Kunori" (the author's pseudonym for the Web Novel). Some tales have a very loose relationship with canon, while others would be later revised or incorporated into the main story.
  • Sword Art Online Alternative: A collection of Spin-Off novels written by other authors.
    • Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online: Set in GGO after the events of the Phantom Bullet arc, centred on a player named LLENN who competes in a new team-based battle royale tournament.
    • Sword Art Online: Alternative Clovers Regret: Set in a Jidaigeki-flavoured VRMMO called Asuka Empire, which appears briefly in the main story and Sister's Prayer.
  • The Day Before: Set shortly after Kirito's proposal to Asuna. (Limited edition bonus content for the anime DVDs)
  • Sugary Days: Set during Kirito and Asuna's honeymoon, compiled from a number of short stories published in various sources. (Limited edition bonus content for season 2 of the anime DVDs)
  • Extra Edition: A special episode of the anime set after the Fairy Dance arc, including a Clip Show and an original story about an underwater dungeon. Has a prose sequel titled Rainbow Bridge included with the DVD/BD release.
  • The Day After: Asuna starts experiencing strange visions while playing ALO. (Limited edition bonus content for the anime)
  • Objectors! VRMMO Development Tragedy: A one-shot about a small 3D modelling business with no relation to the main cast.
  • Caliber SS: A What If? story where the events of the Caliber arc end in failure, with unexpected results.
  • Sister's Prayer: A Prequel to Mother's Rosario from Yuuki's perspective, set in a hospital around the start of the SAO incident. (Limited edition bonus content for season 2 of the anime DVDs)
  • chromatic colors: The cast help an artist named Ceba. (abec Art Works)
  • Celeste Fairy: In the real world, Kirito and Suguha track down the owner of a strange bicycle.
  • Ordinal Scale: A movie revolving around a new Augmented Reality device called the Augma, set between Mother's Rosario and Alicization. Receives occasional nods in later material (such as the Augma showing up in the anime adaptation of the Alicization arc), but doesn't have much impact on the main story.
  • Versus: A Crossover with Accel World set around the start of the Alicization arc. After users of Rath's newest FullDive machine report seeing "ghosts", Kirito is brought in to test it. He finds his avatar somehow transported 20 years into the future, to face off against a robotic figure named Silver Crow. (Accel World LN Volume 10)
  • Dream Game -Crossover-: An Intercontinuity Crossover with The Irregular at Magic High School, in which Tatsuya and Miyuki are somehow transported to the world of Alfheim Online. Part of that series's Dream Game sidestory, and has a sequel in the form of Versus II.
  • Kiss and Fly: Volume 22 of the main light novel publications is a collection of 4 sidestories: The Day Before, The Day After, Sisters' Prayer, and Rainbow Bridge (which is a sequel to the anime-original story from the Extra Edition recap OVA).

The first novel was written between 2001 and 2002 by Reki Kawahara with the intention of competing for the ASCII Media Works' Dengeki Game Novel Prize. However, he surpassed the page limit for the contest, so he instead published it as a web novel under the pseudonym Fumio Kunori. Over time, he added three further volumes and several short stories. Eventually, the light novel got browsing numbers exceeding 6.5 million page views recorded at the personal website. However, it wasn't until after Kawahara won the prize in 2008 with Accel World that Sword Art Online got published and spawned several adaptations:

    List of Adaptations 
  • The anime adaptation, which brought the franchise to mainstream audiences world wide:
    • It started on July 7, 2012, for the Summer 2012 lineup. People from many countries may watch it legally on Crunchyroll. It is also now on Netflix (as of 2020). At New York Comic Con, Aniplex USA announced home video release for the series and announced an English dub. The dub premiered on U.S. television on Toonami on July 27, 2013 and premiered in Australia on ABC3 on June 7, 2014. The first season covers the Aincrad and Fairy Dance arcs, which are Volumes 1–4 as well as some parts of Volume 8 (which are side-stories from Aincrad).
    • In August 2013, Aniplex announced an OVA, titled Sword Art Online EXTRA EDITION. It premiered in Japan on New Year's Eve 2013,note  and the next day in several countries via Crunchyroll and Daisuki. At the very end of the OVA, the second season of the anime, titled Sword Art Online II, was announced.
    • The second season premiered on July 5, 2014, and covers the Phantom Bullet, Caliber, and Mother's Rosario arcs, which are Volumes 5, 6, 7, and 8 (the remaining parts not covered in Season 1) of the light novels. The season can be seen internationally through Crunchyroll and Daisuki. One of the most requested shows for Toonami, it premiered on the block on March 28, 2015.
    • The third season, Alicization, was announced to be underway on October 1, 2017, at the Dengeki Bunko Autumn Festival. It began airing in October 2018 for a 4-cour schedule, with its third cour, Alicization: War of Underworld airing from October to December 2019. The fourth and final cour aired from July to September 2020.
    • At the conclusion of Alicization's finale, an anime movie series adaptation of Sword Art Online: Progressive was announced:
      • The first movie, Aria of a Starless Night, covers the events of the 1st floor of Aincrad but with the story narrated primarily from Asuna's point of view. A new original character, Mito, is added, as well as scenes not present in previous works, functioning as essentially a full-blown Reboot. It was released in Japanese theaters on October 30, 2021.
      • After the end credits of Aria, the film announced a second movie, Scherzo of Deep Night, indicating it will cover the events of the 4th novel of the Progressive series. It was originally planned for release in Japanese theaters on September 10, 2022, but was announced to be postponed on August 22, 2022 until further notice. The new release date was then revealed on September 6, 2022 to be October 22, 2022.
    • On November 6, 2022, to coincide with the story's in-universe date of SAO's launch, a new anime-original movie was announced to be in production. No plot details are available yet.
  • Video games telling an Alternate Continuity from the original story of the light novels/anime. Now with its own page.
  • Mobile games
    • Sword Art Online: Code Register, a role playing tap-and-play battle system.
    • Sword Art Online: Memory Defrag an action RPG mobile game that mix and matches the main anime story with the previous SAO games, along with original story content exclusive to the mobile game.
    • Sword Art Online: Integral Factor an MMORPG mobile game that takes place in the original Aincrad arc, but uses a custom-made player character.
    • Sword Art Online: Alicization Blading/Rising Steel, a turn-based action RPG mobile game primarily focused on the Alicization storyline.
      • Sword Art Online: Unleash Blading, the second season of the above mobile game. The title was changed because the game has gone beyond the events of the Alicization storyline.
    • Sword Art Online: Black Swordsman, an open world MMORPG mobile game.
  • Web Voice drama found here.
  • Various manga series, all written by Kawahara himself, but illustrated by different artists depending on the storyline. So far,note  the arcs are as follows:
    • Aincrad (Complete: Serialized from August 2010 to April 2012, published in 2 volumes as of September 2012note )
    • Fairy Dance (Complete: Serialized from April 2012 to April 2014, published in 3 volumes as of June 2014)
    • Phantom Bullet (Complete: Serialized from April 2014 to December 2021note , published in 4 volumes as of February 2022)
    • Caliber (Complete: Serialized from July 2014 to June 2015, published in 1 volume in August 2015)
    • Mother's Rosario (Complete: Serialized from June 2014 to December 2015, published in 3 volumes as of June 2016)
    • Ordinal Scale (Complete: Published in 5 volumes from April 2017 to April 2020)
    • Project Alicization (Cancelled: Serialized from August 2016 to June 2021, published in 5 volumes as of August 2021)
    • Sword Art Online Progressive: A re-adaptation of the original Aincrad storyline that goes into much greater detail, with the peculiarity that the narrative is from Asuna's perspective. (Cancelled: Serialized from June 2013 to April 2022, published in 14 volumes as of August 2022)
    • Sword Art Online — Girls Ops: A spin-off manga focusing on the adventures of Silica, Lisbeth, and Leafa and a new character Lux. (Complete: Serialized from June 2013 to January 2021, published in 8 volumes as of May 2021)
    • Sword Art Online Alternative — Gun Gale Online: A manga adaptation of the spin-off light novel series. (Cancelled: Serialized from October 2015 to January 2021note , published in 4 volumes as of March 2021)
    • Hollow Realization: A manga adaptation of the video game. (Complete: Serialized from October 2016 to September 2019, published in 6 volumes as of October 2019)
    • Alicization Lycoris: A manga adaptation of the video game. (Cancelled: Serialized from December 2019 to May 2021, published in 3 volumes as of July 2021)
    • Kiss and Fly: A manga adaptation of the 4 sidestories that comprise Volume 22. (In progress: Publication began March 2020)
    • Re: Aincrad (Reboot): A manga re-adaptation of the franchise's first arc published in Dengeki Daioh magazine, which will also include story arcs that were not covered in the anime. (In progress: Serialization began October 2021)
  • Sword Art Online Board Game: Sword of Fellows: A cooperative dice-based battle game.
  • A live-action American TV series was announced in August 2016 by American independent production company Skydance Television, to be developed by a co-writer of Terminator Genisys. Skydance also announced that it was planning a Sword Art Online' virtual reality experience after the television series. In mid-February 2018, it was reported that Skydance was no longer involved and the rights to the adaptation had been sold to Netflix. There has been no further news on this project since then.

The light novels have been licensed in the U.S. by Yen Press for release beginning in April 2014.

Asuna and Kirito were chosen to represent Sword Art Online in the crossover Fighting Game Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax by Sega, with Suguha Kirigaya (Leafa) as one of the support characters; later, Yuuki Konno from Mother's Rosario was introduced as a playable character in the Ignition Updated Re-release, with Karen Kohiruimaki (LLENN) as a support character; with three playables and two support, SAO became the series with the most representation in that game.

For a similar premise, see also .hack and Log Horizon. Also see Accel World, penned by the same author and set in the same universe twenty years later.

Character tropes go on to the Sword Art Online Character page and tropes from specific episodes or arcs go on the Recap page.

Note that this is a long-running series, so beware of potential unmarked spoilers.


Television Tropes Online:

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    A — B 
  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: In every arc in which he is the main character, Kirito ends up playing for more than fun one way or another:
    • All SAO players are trapped there and can only escape by A) Someone beating the final boss or B) Dying (for real).
    • ALO is just fun for everyone except the 300 players from the previous game trapped there, including Asuna, and a desperate Kirito trying to rescue her.
    • In GGO, Kirito's mission is to discover how people playing a supposedly designed-to-be-safe game are being Killed Off for Real.
    • Even the Caliber side-story is rather serious since Cardinal has drawn on Norse mythology for this quest, and failure results in freaking Ragnarok happening to the world of Alfheim Online. note 
    • The only time this trope isn't in play is in Alicization due to Underworld being a military VR research project rather than a game.
  • The Ace: Ignoring his moments of angst, Kirito is usually this, which is rare for a Light Novel protagonist.
  • Acquainted in Real Life: Suguha met Kirito as Leafa in ALO while trying to get over her crush on cousin/stepbrother Kazuto, and found herself falling in love with Kirito only to be devastated when she realized Kirito and Kazuto were the same person.
  • Acronym and Abbreviation Overload: The series have lots of it:
    • SAO for Sword Art Online.
      • Aincrad for An Incarnating Radius.
      • Some guilds have acronyms they also go by: KoBnote ; DDAnote ; ALFnote ; WWFMnote .
    • ALO for ALfheim Online.
      • OSS for Original Sword Skill.
    • GGO for Gun Gale Online.
      • BoB for Bullet of Bullets.
  • Action Survivor: Klein and Furinkazan are this. Though they spend most of their screen time being Overshadowed by Awesome, they are all badasses in their own right; every member of the guild is a SAO Survivor, despite frontlining difficult boss fights such as the Skull Reaper and contending with the Laughing Coffin murder guild.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The anime has moments of this, simplifying the scenes of the light novel. For example, "Aria in the Starless Night" cuts out most of the interactions between Kirito, Argo, and Asuna in favor of focusing on the boss fight.
  • Adapted Out:
    • The anime adaptation places most Flash Back stories from later volumes back into chronological order, but First Day from volume 8 (and by extension the character of Coper) is skipped entirely.
    • In the light novels, there's an unnamed fourth member of the party consisting of Kirito, Godfrey and Kuradeel. He's killed off even more unceremoniously than Godfrey when Kuradel puts his murder plot into action.
  • A Darker Me: Every game out there seems to feature at least one group of players that go around killing other players and stealing their items — even SAO, where death in-game means death in real life. Lampshaded when Kirito remarks that online players act very different from how they would in real life.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • Mother's Rosario focuses on Asuna, her personal issues, and her budding friendship with Yuuki.
    • Ronye gets her own spotlight in Moon Cradle despite Kirito playing a more active role than in Mother's Rosario. Tiese is later involved in the second half.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • Near the end of Mother's Rosary, a montage of Yuuki's time with Asuna between when Asuna reconciles with her mother and Yuuki's death is shown.
    • Some bonus features of the Mother's Rosary manga expand on various scenes, from Liz, Leafa and Kirito challenging Yuuki to the other girls trying (emphasis on trying) to make a meal for Asuna and the Sleeping Knights
    • During the light novels for the Alicization arc, we learn exactly what PoH was doing in SAOnote , but not how he got into the game in the first place, especially considering the circumstances in which he became a SAO player.note  So even though he was provided with the necessary NervGear and copy of SAO by a third-party, considering when he logged in, how was it even possible? We get an answer in the Sisters' Prayer side-story, covering the story of the Konno twins and one of the Sleeping Knights, Merida. It's here that we find out how PoH managed to log into SAO even when it shouldn't have been possible for him.
    • This is the main purpose of the Progressive light novels. Even in the original LNs, Aincrad was a massively skimmed-over footnote that trimmed out most of the 75 floors to focus on the short stories involving notable events and characters, so Progressive was made to try to go through the entire process and actually explore Aincrad and the involved cast more thoroughly. While it does enact Retroactive Continuity on some details like how Kirito and Asuna really met, the later main series books would go on to reference Progressive where need be, to the point that with Argo's return at the beginning of Unital Ring, you likely wouldn't even remember who the character was without reading up on Progressive or seeing them in the video games.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • Some in the anime, loads in the manga. Want to know how Kirito and Asuna met? Or who those people he keeps flashing back to are? Or where the term "beater" originated? Read the novels or watch the anime.
    • In the anime, the eponymous Sword Arts are this. The book goes into detail on how they're activated, their names, and their role in gameplay. The anime just has the characters mention Sword Arts on occasion and never elaborates.
    • In the anime, Suguha's refusal to pursue her cousin/adoptive brother Kazuto seems to be mainly because she knows he doesn't return her feelings and that he's in love with Asuna. While both are true, the light novel also explains that in Japan, relationships between adoptive siblings are taboo, even if relationships between cousins aren't, so Suguha knows that the rest of her family wouldn't approve of her having feelings for Kazuto.
    • The anime adaptation removes a bit of backstory from the Phantom Bullet arc. Apparently, Endou and her lackeys were previously "friends" of Shino's, having taken advantage of her in order to crash at her apartment. When Shino gets fed up and puts her foot down, Endou retaliates by digging up the incident in which Shino shot the man who threatened her mother, informing the school about it, and using Shino's trauma to extort money from her. It also explains a significant part of Sinon's character- she does want friends, but after having her trust abused, she's hesitant to get close to others.
    • The denouement of the Phantom Bullet arc omits a fair amount of the exposition on Death Gun's motives and arrest. One somewhat significant detail that was cut out was one thing all of Death Gun's targets had in common- none of them were purely AGI buildsExplanation .
    • Alicization greatly shortens and simplifies the backstory of Vassago, particularly when it comes to showing how and why he logged into the SAO death game. The anime simply shows him laying down on a couch and logging in which makes little sense as to how he'd still be alive after two years.
    • Alicization as a whole was frankly appalling at how badly it explained how Incarnation works, the very core of the story arc, which led to massive confusion among anime-only viewers when the ability started coming into far more frequent use in the later parts of the storyline. It was so bad one upset fan had to write an entire essay properly explaining it and showing what the anime had failed to do compared to the novels.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Alicization is guilty of this, perhaps due to its rushed production.
    • In Episode 5, Kikuoka is present at the hospital where Kirito is taken to after he's attacked, and presents Mrs. Kirigaya with the paperwork for his treatment. Then at the end of the episode when Asuna meets him on the Ocean Turtle, he remarks how he's been stuck at sea for over a month. This is because he really was stuck on the Turtle the whole time in the light novel, and never met Mrs. Kirigaya at the hospital.
    • In Episode 6, there's an anime-original scene where Asuna meets with Silica, Liz, Sinon, and Leafa in Alfheim and talks about Project Alicization with them. Which brings up the question of why in the world would the JSDF personnel on the Ocean Turtle ever allow her to disclose information about an extremely classified black project to a bunch of kids over a presumably unsecured connection. Even more questionable is Sinon knowing about the Ocean Turtle and that it's under attack beforehand.
    • The latter half of War of Underworld's anime creates a major plot hole as compared to the light novels. Starting in Episode 39, when Chinese and South Korean players unwittingly enter Underworld, they are easily manipulated by Vassago because he is the only person who can speak Japanese, Mandarin, and Korean. The only person in the good guys who can come close is Siune, who is bilingual in Korean and Japanese. But because the anime uses Translation Convention and makes it so that everyone seemingly speaks and understands Japanese in Underworld, it ends up making the Chinese and South Koreans look really foolish to be blindly following the orders of someone so Obviously Evil. The anime awkwardly attempts to fix this by giving Vassago an Incarnation ability to seemingly speak directly into the minds of his audience, an ability that he never had in the source material, and which further snowballs into another plot hole, as one can ask why doesn't he use this ability on the Japanese players and Underworlders as well.
    • Episode 41 gives us a massive anime-original battle scene with Eiji and Yuuna vs. Vassago. Except the problem is that Eiji uses Incarnation to turn himself into his original "Nautilus" appearance from Aincrad... but he's supposed to be using an Amusphere to dive into Underworld. Incarnation can only be used by a real-world person if he or she is using a Soul Translator to dive. This is on top of the question of just how in the world can Yuuna, an AI, even be in Underworld in the first place. Reki Kawahara attempted to address this on his episodic Twitter commentary: Yuuna was able to be in SAO because she's locked to Eiji's ALO account as a Navigation Pixie, similar to how Pina was able to come into Underworld as part of Silica's account (that was also an anime-original element). And also vaguely insinuated that what Eiji did in the episode was not "true" Incarnation, but was more of the "proto-Incarnation" that we have seen Kirito & Asuna use before in the SAO death game.
  • Agitated Item Stomping: When Kirito initially discovers that the Holy Stone of Returning Souls only works within ten seconds, this is his reaction.
  • A God Am I:
    • The reason why Akihiko Kayaba created Sword Art Online, with all of its "unique" features, in the first place was so that he could have his own little world where he could play God — a game that just is not the same without power over life and death. This even extended to him blocking the program that was responsible for keeping people sane; many of the suicides, murders, and descents into insanity that could have been prevented with Yui happened because she wasn't able to comfort those people as she was designed to.
    • Alicization: A certain character (Quinella) becomes this when she basically learns all the admin commands for the Underworld in the backstory. In quick order, she assumes supreme control of all of the Human Realms and sets up a bunch of Commandments for all to follow.
    • Alicization: Gabriel's end goal is to take over the Underworld and turn it into his tailor-made lab where he kidnaps people from the real world and physically separates their souls from their bodies so he can manipulate them to how he sees fit.
  • A God I Am Not: Alicization — Unlike that certain character (Gabriel) above, when Asuna, Sinon, and Leafa sign on using their superuser accounts as the remaining 3 gods of the Underworld (with all their attributes and powers), they're very quick to point out they're not actually gods, just people. Not everyone believes them.
  • A House Divided: The party that Diabel attempted to put together in Episode 2 nearly falls apart due to his friend Kibaou being very mistrustful of beta testers. After they defeat the first floor boss, the hard-earned celebration is cut short by Kibaou, who accuses Kirito of indirectly causing Diabel's death and again calls for a witch hunt of beta testers. Realizing the rift that Kibaou was causing, Kirito deliberately sets himself up as a Token Evil Teammate to focus the players' anger on himself, protecting other beta testers and keeping the disagreement from escalating any further.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Inverted in the Alicization arc. Scientists create a virtual world in which to grow military A.I.s but discover that they've developed into a utopian society where the concept of harming another is unthinkable. But also Played Straight: one of them discovers the world's built-in cheat system and uses it to gain eternal youth and become a despotic Immortal Ruler who will do anything to stay in power, including enacting laws making any actions that threaten to make one gain too much XP — no matter how seemingly innocuous or how slight the violation — punishable by death and enforcing them absolutely (except in reality, the violators are brainwashed and used as minions; the people are only told they will be executed). According to Cardinal, she also ceases to be human in any sense.
  • Air Jousting: A large portion of battles in Alfheim Online involves aerial fights where players take to the skies with their fairy wings and clash with blades or magic. Kirito has a particularly dramatic one against General Eugene.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: Downplayed by SAO's player cursors; any player who commits a crime gets their cursor turned orange instead of the usual green, regardless if that crime is Player Killing or just transporting a green player to the prison area (including if that green player is just sitting as bait for a guild of orange players). Possibly because of this, SAO players give the nickname "red players" to murderers (it may also originate from the 1997 MMO Ultima Online, where lawful players have a blue tag and minor lawbreaking bestows a grey tag, but serial murderers are identified by their red tag).
  • Alternate Continuity:
    • The video games are this, diverging from the main story line with its own events. See this page for more details.
    • Memory Defrag, the mobile phone game, seems to be a hybrid of these. Though the main campaign follows the original SAO anime, up through the GGO arc, the extra stories seem to follow the other games, with Strea, Philia, Rain, Seven, and Yuuki being common characters, and Ordinal Scale also featuring. Both story lines are treated as canon, leading to unusual scenes like Rain and Seven being involved in Ordinal Scale. Special events and character stories also give completely original story lines exclusive to the mobile game, along with occasional original characters. Notably, Yui is a playable character with one event that changed her avatar to being combat capable. There's also an ongoing quest campaign involving Eugeo and Alice being brought into ALO, meeting the SAO gang early, and questing to retrieve the Divine Objects.
    • Integral Factor, an MMORPG mobile game, follows the Aincrad arc, but with one key difference. The story focuses on a customized Player Character rather than Kirito. The event mostly follows the canon plot (with stories adapted from Progressive), but with the Player Character and their friend Koharu being present, leading to some notable differences and the plot diverging at times. There's much more greater detail explored in SAO as a whole, with Time Skips being averted. Over time it further diverges from canon and seems to take after the game continuity with the introductions of Leafa, Yuuki, and Sinon into SAO, but much earlier so that it is its own standalone continuity.
  • Always Someone Better:
    • Possibly invoked by Yuuki, the Zekken, who even beats Kirito, at least in single-wielding mode. Justified because Yuuki is the Guild Leader of the "Sleeping Knights", a group of terminally ill people, and specifically is the first user of the MediCuboid, which lets them play for an 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.
    • Akihiko Kayaba was the someone better to Sugou, the Big Bad of the Fairy Dance arc, which prompts him to create ALfheim Online and launch his plan.
  • A Million is a Statistic: Downplayed. Two thousand SAO players die in the first month of the game before the front-line fighters cleared the first floor, mostly due to inexperience not only with the game's mechanics but with the concept of actually dying, as three hundred of them were experienced beta testers. Just to rub it in, there's a plinth where the resurrection point in the first town should be, bearing not only the names of the dead but the manner in which they died. By the time the game is cleared, only 6,147 players out of originally 10,000 are left alive. Survivor Guilt is pretty much universal.
  • Amusing Injuries: Kirito is often on the receiving end of these:
    • He receives an Armor-Piercing Slap from Leafa in Season 1 Episode 19, when he teasingly chomps on her hand during a conversation on what it was like for him to transformed into a monster using his Illusion spell, and having chomped on several Salamander players attacking them, and Leafa dared to ask what they tasted likenote . Given the slap appears in the same way recently taken damage does, it was apparently strong enough for Kirito to have taken some HP damage.
    • Kirito receives yet another Armor-Piercing Slap similar to above from Sinon after he reveals his true gender to her in Episode 5 of Season 2. After said slap, the next scene shows a bright red handprint on his cheek as the two walk around the room with the other BoB contestants, although it quickly vanishes afterward.
  • Anachronic Order:
    • Volume 1 proceeds more or less chronologically, while Volume 2 consists of sidestories that take place during the 2 years in SAO. Volumes 3 to 7 proceed chronologically, but Volume 8 adds more sidestories that take place in SAO and a week before Volume 7.
    • Volume 22 "Kiss and Fly," despite coming out one volume after the Unital Ring arc began, is a collection of 4 side stories set long before that arc that had previously been released (The Day Before, The Day After, Rainbow Bridge, Sister's Prayer). This is the first time in the franchise's publication history that an arc in progress was interrupted.
    • Averted by the anime, which seems to be doing its best to proceed in a chronological order by animating the SAO sidestories in Volume 2 and Volume 8 before the rest of Volume 1.
  • Anachronism Stew: Played with a bit in Gun Gale Online. The game is a Cyberpunk style game set on a Post Apocalyptic Earth, (hinted at a theoretical World War III) where humanity has left the desolated planet behind in giant spaceships. The Hub City is formed from one such Star Battle Cruiser Glocken, and still called SBC Glocken, which for reasons not explained returned to Earth. Players even use Energy weapons regular used for hunting regular NPC mobs. But for Player Versus Player, they often use regular bullet shooting guns, all of which are based on weapons in Real Life guns that at the very least reached "working" prototype stages. And even then the stew thickens some more since the real world guns vary wildly. One player, Lion King Richie, uses a Vickers machine gun which in the real world, has long since stopped being made since the 1960s, after about 50-some years of production. Justified though, as being an FPSMMORPG video game, using real world weapons gives a readily available catalog of weapons to make available to players.
  • An Aesop:
    • Never give up on anything that you consider to be worth fighting for.
    • Always own your actions; you cannot compartmentalize who you really are.
    • When people's lives are on the line, speak up, even if they'll hate you for it. Better that than spending the rest of your life knowing, "I could have saved a life that day, but I chose to look the other way."
    • Always honor the memory of those precious to you by being a decent and kind person who reaches out to help others in need, as Asuna does for Yuuki, not to mention Kirito does for both Sachi and Eugeo.
      • Dismissing the memories of anyone, however seemingly inconsequential and unaccomplished, will breed resentment for the loved-ones of those thus neglected. Such is the case of Doctor Shigemura in "Ordinal Scale", who was fully willing to deep-scan (and quite possibly murder) the memories of 5000 SAO survivors to reclaim even a phantom of his daughter Yuna, cruelly forgotten because she was not a frontline warrior.
  • Anatomy of the Soul: The Alicization arc goes very deeply into defining what a soul is. Based on SAO's "Quantum Brain Dynamics" theory, there are light particles that act as a quantum unit of mind called "Evanescent Photons", which exist within the microtubules of a nerve cell. These light particles exist in a state of indeterminism and fluctuate according to the probability theory. A collection of these particles form a Quantum Field, which have been dubbed "Fluctuating Lights" (or "Fluctlight" for short) which is what makes up the human consciousness, or in other words, the human soul.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • After Kirito cleared SAO, a few hundred players, including Asuna, remained comatose, thanks to the devs behind ALfheim Online intercepting their minds and experimenting on them in order to research mind control. Thankfully, by the time it ended, those who received this treatment, except Asuna, did not remember the incident at all.
    • Yui was created to monitor players' psychological parameters and offer them comfort. After the game began, she was not allowed to interact with the players, so for two whole years, she was forced to just watch as some of them went insane and commited suicide.
    • Vassago Casals/PoH is turned into a tree by Kirito and spends 30 years as such in the accelerated underworld before his brain dies in the real world.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Alicization's epilogue has Kirito, Asuna, and Alice getting a call from Rath, logging into UW (which Kirito turned into a futuristic two-planet colony during his 200-year rule), and slaying an overpowered legendary monster with little effort. Oh, and they also met two spaceship pilots, who turned out to be Ronye and Tiese's descendants.
  • And Your Reward Is Clothes: Many quest rewards and drops from monsters are clothing items that can be equipped. The Coat of Midnightnote  was awarded after the first floor boss was defeated, and Kirito quickly donned it to embrace his Beater persona.
  • Androids Are People, Too: Or at least, the AI characters that exist within the various games, to the point Kirito was unwilling to go with a plan to use a town's NPCs as bait to distract a boss. And a good portion of Alicization's supporting cast consists of AI beings.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: The English dub of Episode 22 has Suguha saying "I love you" towards Kirito (real name: Kazuto Kirigaya, and her brother/cousin, hence: Kirito) before telling him to leave her alone due to not taking well of the revelation that he and Kirito are one and the same person.
  • Animation Bump: There's a noticeable step up in animation during episode 13 of the second season during the climax of Kirito and Death Gun's duel, especially right before Kirito slices Death Gun in half.
  • Animesque: Usually averted in the main anime, though they do come up in the Sword Art Offline shorts which are a great deal more Denser and Wackier.
  • Anti-Hero: Kirito starts off as this, choosing to protect only himself while attempting to complete the game. He changes later.
  • Anyone Can Die: Due to the GM making that the new rule, this is in effect, and they're also killed in the real world if their character's HP reaches 0. Even characters that you think are going to be mains because they appear in the opening wind up biting it.
  • Apple of Discord: A particular guild (called, appropriately enough, Golden Apple) found a rare item that granted a substantial stat boost to its wearer. Some guild members wanted to sell it for money, while others believed it would be better to keep it for themselves. The decision was put to vote, and the majority agreed it should be sold. The guild leader went off personally to sell it but died mysteriously. Because of suspicions that the murderer was a fellow guild member, the guild fell apart. In a subversion, it was later discovered that the person behind the guild leader's death had a completely unrelated motive and took advantage of the rare item dispute to avoid suspicion.
  • Archaic Weapon for an Advanced Age: As the Phantom Bullet arc is set within an MMOFPS, guns are the primary weapons, with melee limited to general blade options. There's a Laser Blade Joke Item, but it's so expensive that no-one used it until Kirito waltzed into the Minigame Zone and won a shitload of money from a game where the computer blatantly cheats, combined it with his SAO-honed Implausible Fencing Powers and realized the game mechanics permitted him to turn it into a Lethal Joke Weapon by slicing bullets in half. Afterwards, the Kagemitsu explodes in popularity as players try (with limited success) to replicate his feats. Death Gun also carries an actual physical sword concealed in his sniper rifle, an estoc forged from the armor plating of a battleship, which he uses to engage Kirito in a Sword Fight.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • When Asuna's mother gets on her case about spending time with her friends and going to the SAO rehab school rather than putting all of her efforts into studying to get into a prestigious school:
      Asuna: [To her mother] Do you still feel ashamed about your dead parents, resentful that you were born by a farmer rather than a famous house with history?
    • When Sinon asks Kirito how he became strong:
      "If that gun's bullet could kill the real-world player, and if you did not kill, then either you or someone important to you would be killed, would you pull the trigger?"
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: Twice does Kirito find himself on the receiving end of an open palm strong enough to inflict HP damage:
    • After Kirito turns into a monster to save himself and Leafa in Episode 19 of the anime, she asks him what players taste like. He claims it's like yakiniku before it's burnt, then jokingly bites her hand. She delivers one of these to him as a result, and in the next scene he has a very visible and red hand-print on his cheek. Yui tells him he totally deserved that one.
    • Played for Laughs in episode 5 of season 2 after Sinon discovers Kirito's true gender. Not helped by the fact that Sinon was changing into her battle outfit and was just in her underwear when Kirito decided to reveal it.
  • Artifact Title: The eponymous game and the struggle to clear it are merely the first story arc of the series. Justified because it was originally written as a one-shot series, being continued later. It's also subverted, as every bad thing that happens afterwards can be blamed on the game's existence, thus making it more of an outright Antagonist Title on kin to a Greater-Scope Villain.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Yui looks like a cute little kid, but she's actually an AI created to watch over and take care of the mental health of the players of Sword Art Online called an MHCP...at least, that was her function until the death game started up, upon which her functions were suspended and she could only watch and listen to the players' despair and nearly be driven mad. Thankfully, Kirito and Asuna help her get better.
  • Artistic License – Economics: Limiting the number of available copies at release to ten thousand is utterly ludicrous from a financial standpoint. Today even the average single-player game produced by a major developer will aim for much higher numbers to make back their money. Add to that how SAO would be significantly more expensive to develop than any conventional major MMO due to its use of pioneering technology, light estimates ranging from 400 million dollars that is  to 1.7 billion dollars that is  note , one has to wonder how on earth any investor on the planet would ever agree to such tiny launch numbers for the game.
  • Art Shift:
    • The Light Novels have a more subtle art style compared to the manga, which is Darker and Edgier.
    • The Big Damn Movie, Ordinal Scale, features a much more detailed and solid art style. This style carries over for the Alicization arc.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas:
    • The Christmas event boss, Nicholas the Renegade, promises copious amounts of treasure, including an item that can revive the dead, to whomever can defeat him. This leads to Kirito taking down Nicholas single-handedly while Fuurinkazan holds off the Divine Dragon Alliance. It's in vain.
    • The fight against the 21st Floor Boss of New Aincrad occurs on Christmas Eve. Kirito and Asuna make sure to take part in it so they can buy their old house on the 22nd Floor before anyone else gets the chance.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Played straight in that great warriors are the ones making up the front-line guilds, and leaders are often picked for their fighting talent. This and Authority Equals Asskicking are mixed to create some VERY powerful front-line leaders. For example, Heathcliff is the leader of the game's most powerful guild and is arguably the game's most powerful swordsman, thanks to his incredible reflexes, his impossible speed, his truly invulnerable shield, and his incredible sword. Of course, he turns out to be Akihiko Kayaba in disguise, so that explains a lot. Averted in that Kirito, a solo player, is also arguably the eponymous game's most powerful swordsman and is not the leader of any group outside his own... until he became the "Star King" of UW following PoH and Gabriel's deaths.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Though Kirito can most certainly play things defensively well enough, it's when he starts to go on the offensive that his opponents had better watch out, especially when he's Dual Wielding, as nothing but either their defeat or his own will stop him.
  • Attempted Rape:
    • Sugou comes very close to raping Asuna in the virtual world. In front of Kirito. Afterwards, he plans on raping her in real life while she's comatose.
    • Kyouji tries to rape Shino after the Bullet of Bullets tournament. He did genuinely love her before the Death Gun mess went down, and Shino was even willing to reciprocate once she got over her trauma, but the combination of failing his college entrance exams and being rendered irrelevant in GGO drove him insane, prompting him to form the Death Gun conspiracy. When he comes to congratulate her on winning the Bullet of Bullets Tournament, he expects Shino to make good on her promise, but she's freaked out by his now obvious insanity, so he opts for Plan B: rape Shino and then kill her and himself. Shino manages to escape by struggling and Kirito showing up.
    • Almost happened to Ronye and Teise in Volume 11 when two goons attempt to rape them as "punishment" for defending their friend, only to be stopped by Kirito and Eugeo.
  • Attractive Bent-Gender:
    • Kirito's GGO avatar, colloquially known as Kiriko, who numerous males have shown attraction towards, including Klein.
    • Thor disguised as Freya.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: The leaders of guilds (especially front-line guilds) have the best equipment, which tends to make them more powerful (see Asskicking Equals Authority above). Also, the game's boss monsters seem to play this fairly straight, if you can consider them to have "Authority." This takes a whole new level in Alicization, since "Authority" is how the strength and power of the A.I.s living in Underworld are measured.
  • Author Tract: The proper epilogue of the Alicization arc is one for atheism, pro-AI movement, and Creating Life Is Awesome.
  • Ax-Crazy: Many a villain are like this.
    • After paralyzing Godfrey and Kirito with a poisoned drink he created, Kuradeel develops that look on his face as he gleefully hacks away first at Godfrey, and then nearly kills Kirito while both were helpless.
    • Kyouji comes pretty close too, when his Evil Plan is about to fail and Shino is helpless.
  • Backup Bluff: Kirito does one of these in Episode 20 towards the commander of the Salamander army, stating that he's a Spriggan-Undine ambassador, and that attacking him and the Cait-Sith and Sylph meeting would cause four races to declare war on the Salamanders. The commander doesn't buy it but challenges Kirito to a duel anyway. After Kirito defeats him, one of his men tells the commander that he saw Kirito the other day with an Undine. Said man was the guy Kirito spared after he saved Leafa during their first encounter in Episode 17. The Salamander army then leave peacefully.
  • Badass Adorable: Asuna, Sinon, and Silica all have their moments. They are very good players who usually will show their adorable sides when they are with Kirito or their friends.
  • Backup from Otherworld: In Ordinal Scale, Yuuki's spirit appears alongside Asuna as she executes her Signature Move, Mother's Rosario.
  • Badass Crew: Many of the guilds, particularly Knights of Blood Oath and Furinkazan. Later, the Sleeping Knights defeat a boss with only seven members, and each of them are quite skilled.
  • Badass Longcoat: Kirito loves wearing longcoats ever since the first one he received as a boss drop. They all reach down to his feet and are always black in color.
  • Badass Boast: Sinon delivers a small one in the Episode 1 of SAO II: "1500 meters? That's like tossing a wad of paper in a wastebasket." That range is within the top ten longest confirmed sniper kills.
  • Badass Family: Being some of the nicest kids you'd ever meet, it's very easy to forget that the Kirigaya Family's Mommy and Daddy, Asuna and Kirito, are respectively the greatest warriors of Alfheim and Aincrad; and that their adorable little daughter Yui can hack the laws of the universe itself to destroy any foe in one blow with a giant flaming sword, and then you have Kirito's cousin/stepsister Leafa who is not only more then capable of keeping up with the rest of the family in a fight but was a quarter-finalist in the middle school kendo nationals, and finally Asuna's surrogate sister Yuuki is hands down the World's Best Warrior being the only one Kirito has never been able to beat, despite suffering from the final stages of terminal AIDS.
  • Badass in Distress: In episode 10, Kirito is betrayed and poisoned by a rogue guild member intent on murdering him, but Asuna is able to save him just before his HP runs out.
  • Bad Santa: "Nicholas the Renegade" is a special event boss monster who can only be fought on Christmas Eve.
  • Bag of Spilling: After Kirito converts his SAO character to ALO, he discovers that his SAO equipment isn't compatible and has to discard all of it. It's almost a moot point since he retains his absurdly high stats, and with ALO being a level-less game, he can still defeat most players with just his starter/store-bought equipment. He also gets to keep all the money he made in SAO, which becomes a plot point later on.
  • Bait-and-Switch Gunshot: SAO II episode 9 ends with a Smash to Black and a gunshot. Episode 10 reveals what happened.
  • Bare-Fisted Monk:
    • The American GGO player who won the game's first BoB tournament goes on to win the fourth tournament using this as his build; his main tactic is to use CQC to beat-down opposing players, steal their guns and use them against other players. Kirito suspects he may be an actual Special Forces soldier in real life.
    • Although it's rarely shown in action, Kirito's Unarmed skill is almost completely maxed out.
  • Barefoot Captives: When Asuna is held captive by Sugou in a cage, he dresses her in a very provocative outfit which includes no footwear.
  • Bat Deduction: When hiding out in the cave with Sinon during the BOB tournament, Kirito uses the time to logically break down Death Gun's methods and what that means for the players in the tournament. Kirito spends about ten minutes jumping to conclusions before invalidating the whole discussion by pointing out how many assumptions he has made.
  • Battle Couple: Whenever Kirito and Asuna take to the field together, this is the result. Also, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, Thinker and Yuriel in ALO.
  • Battle Royale Game: "Unital Ring" is this, combined with Survival Sandbox.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Justified within the game worlds, where characters of both genders recover from injuries up to and including dismemberment as their HP regenerates. Subverted in reality, where Kirito reawakens from two years in VR as an emaciated, atrophied husk, and only gets better after months of physical therapy. However, played straight in reality with Asuna, who looks ready to spring straight out of bed and into a fashion shoot in the same circumstances. The only nod to anything being wrong when she wakes up is mentioning her hearing still being shot and later that she has trouble walking. The novel averts this, noting that Asuna went through a grueling regimen of physical therapy just to get to the point where she could attend school.
    • The latter is justified by Asuna's family being rich enough to buy Argus, the company that produced SAO and the NERVgear. After that, the physical therapy necessary to keep her body from atrophying would be a drop in the bucket.
  • Behemoth Battle: The climax of the Caliber arc has the NPC Freyja reclaim Mjolnir and reveal herself to be the Norse god Thor in disguise and promptly engage Thrym, the humanoid giant boss Kirito's party was fighting. Both the NPC and the boss are about fifteen meters tall, and Thor gets to land the killing blow on Thrym.
    • Jotunheim's world-scattered elephantic-jellyfish-versus-humanoid demon fights qualify too, seeing as players hardly come up to the latter's ankles.
  • Berserk Button: Kirito gets seriously pissed off when ANYONE tries to keep him from Asuna. He gets upset when high-level players abuse their experience to troll lower-level players, but he gets downright murderous when people mess with his girl, a great example being the look on his face and the way he acts inside the World Tree. If the guardians could feel fear, they'd be shitting themselves.
    • Similarly, Asuna doesn't take kindly to people abusing their power and position in Aincrad, whether it's Kuradeel creeping outside her house early in the morning, or the Army in the Town of Beginnings. And the look she gives one character, Kuradeel, after his attempted murder of another, Kirito, is enough to shatter ice.
  • BFS:
    • Occurs only briefly, but when Yui decides to fight, she summons a flaming sword more than twice as long as she is tall.
    • Kirito's has one in ALO as the first sword he purchased. It's pretty shoddy gear, but in Kirito's hands it is able to take on Legendary Weapons like Eugene's Demon Gram Sword or Sugou's Excalibur.
  • Big Bad Ensemble:
    • In the Aincrad arc, aside from Kayaba who was the Big Bad, the Laughing Coffin provided the most trouble in the arc due to their Player Killing. It eventually got to the point where their kill count climbed into the triple digits, which led the Knights of the Blood Oath and other Assault Team members to set aside floor clearing and deal with them.
    • In the Fairy Dance arc, Sugou is the Arc Villain but for the most he's an Orcus on His Throne who doesn't act until Kirito is at his front door. For the majority of the arc it's the Salamanders who stir up trouble for Kirito and Leafa where the two are forced to battle them on several occasions. Especially General Eugene who led an ambush on the Sylphs and Cait-Sith alliance, forcing Kirito to take a detour in rescuing Asuna and deal with them first.
  • Big Brother Instinct: It's mostly what drove Kirito to help Silica, who reminds him of his sister, and Leafa, who IS his sister... well, cousin, but raised as brother and sister.
  • Big Damn Heroes: These happen from time to time and usually tend to be quite awesome.
    • In Volume 1, Asuna arrives on the scene as Kuradeel is about to kill Kirito, and schools him completely. In five minutes, she covered a distance that took Kirito's party one hour to travel. See Power of Love below.
    • In the climax of Volume 4, Kirito faces Oberon and gets thoroughly beaten, thanks to the latter's abuse of GM powers to give himself an Infinity +1 Sword and invulnerability. Then, Kayaba's ghost speaks to Kirito and inspires him to find a way to give himself greater GM powers and turn the tables on Oberon.
    • And on any occasion where Kirito pulls this off by himself or with his buddies. A great example is found in Volume 7, where he and Klein face off against a guild that's fifty members strong. By the time the guild defeats them, their numbers are depleted, and the duo have bought Asuna and the Sleeping Knights enough time to win.
    • Kirito pulls off an epic one when he's forced to save Asuna, Furinkazan, and the remaining party members of the Aincrad Defense Force from the level 74 boss and pretty much goes toe to toe with it, trading hits with the boss, and using his unique skill of dual wielding in order to beat it. And he defeats it with just a tiny fraction of his health remaining.
  • Big "NO!": The robot cowboy in Episode 4 of Season 2 does one after Kirito manages to make it to the end and win the jackpot.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Invoked in-universe. In the Phantom Bullet arc, Kirito, in searching for Death Gun, has narrowed the list of competitors in the Bullet of Bullets tournament to three possibilities, based on Sinon not recognizing their character names. Eventually, two are eliminated as suspects. The remaining one's character name is "Sterben," a German word that Asada describes as "a hospital word for death." This tips off Kirito that Kyouji, whom Sinon has mentioned is a doctor's kid, is suspicious.
    • Also inverted since in German itself, "sterben" is just an ordinary word with no particular association with hospitals. The association only exists in Japan because Japanese doctors used to sometimes use German so that the patients wouldn't understand.
  • Bishōnen: Kirito provides an example much more so in Volume 6 where his character kinda looks like Yuri from Tales of Vesperia.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • The Aincrad arc, considering the heavy losses sustained in the course of clearing the game. It's doubtful any of the survivors didn't lose any friends.
    • Red-Nosed Reindeer initially seems like a straight up Downer Ending after the deaths of the Black Cats, but on closer examination, it's this. While Kirito is nearly broken by the loss of everyone in the guild, the light novel indicates that listening to Sachi's recorded message prevented him from becoming a Death Seeker.
    • The Mother's Rosary arc. Yuuki dies, but after succeeding in her goal of getting her and her friends' names on the Monument of Swordsmen (twice, in fact) and leaving a permanent impression on ALO. Her friends in the Sleeping Knights are doing relatively well, with Siunenote  being able to recover and leave the hospital. Asuna reconciles with her mother, and manages to stay at the SAO Survivors' School.
    • Alicization. Alice ultimately managed to be retrieved by RATH to safety and Kirito managed to beat both Po H and Gabriel as well. Yet, not only many artificial fluctlight is dead, Kirito is trapped with Asuna for 200 years inside Underworld and when he finally log out many of their friends inside said server had passed away. He also had to lost Eugeo as well, which will forever haunt him and Kirito never stop grieving for him.
  • Black Swords Are Better: One of Kirito's swords in SAO, Elucidator, is pitch black. His main sword in ALO is also black. He also receives a black sword in Underworld, which took a full year to craft by a master swordsmith and its "priority" rating (read: weapon strength) is actually one higher than Eugeo's Blue Rose sword.
  • Bladder of Steel: In "Unital Ring" logging out will make the player stay in one place before logging in back.
  • Bland-Name Product: The 9-Up advertisement in Agil's bar for 7-Up.
    • The first episode of Season 2 has an "iGlass" presentation given by someone who looks halfway between Steve Jobs and Larry Brin.
    • Ordinal Scale features a WcDonalds.
  • Blatant Lies: Endou has an almost hilariously flimsy pretext for asking for money from Shino, saying that they did karaoke for too long (20 minutes after school let out), and don't have enough money for the train (they have cards), so they need 10,000 yen (Roughly $100). Shino sees through it, but it doesn't do her much good.
  • Bloodier and Gorier: Unlike previous VR environments, Alicization's Underworld averts Bloodless Carnage and the lack of pain meaning losing health and getting injured becomes a more dangerous affair as Kirito learns in a fight with Goblins in Volume 9 when he is injured resulting in a bleeding gouge causing him tremendous physical pain.
  • Bloodless Carnage: It's a game; of course it's bloodless. Averted when it comes to real-world fights like the one outside the hospital. Also averted in the VR environment, Underworld.
    • The anime manages to get away with gore under a technicality because of this trope. The Phantom Bullet adaptation for one gets away with digital amputation, digital shotguns fired point blank into a player's face, and even a player's model getting realistically torn in half from a .50 caliber round and letting us see his 'legs fly into the distance! But hey, there's no blood and it's only a game, so it's okay!
  • Blood Knight: Kayaba must have figured some of the players were, because there's no other reason for a bonus dungeon to exist in a death game.
  • Bloody Hilarious: How this show portrays the dismemberment of rapists; Sugou, Humbert and Raios all fall into pieces the second Kirito (and Eugeo) removes their filthy arms, crying and screeching like little girls as their macho-facade disintegrates in a hysterical crimson fountain. Made even more hilarious in Raios' case as having lost both his arms, he leaps like a spastic-frog to Humbert to beg for the same life-force he refused to give him earlier. Hop to, Stumpy! Shake a leg!
  • Bodyguard Crush: Deconstructed with Kuradeel, one of Asuna's bodyguards in SAO. Not only is he almost twice her age, he uses his responsibility for Asuna's safety as an excuse to stalk her and try to control where she goes and who she talks to. Asuna is completely creeped out by him and ditches him at every possible opportunity. In the end, he proves to be a far greater danger to her than anything he tries to "protect" her from.
  • Body Horror: A chilling example close to the end of Alicization: When Kirito's Angst Coma reaches its worst moment, he starts to remember all the death that he has been witnessing AND commiting ever since the original SAO incident. Due to his Fluchlight being so damaged, Kirito can't take the trauma, guilt, and even shame anymore, and tries to commit suicide... by opening his chest wide open with his bare hands so he can reach and squeeze his own heart to death. And the audience gets to see (and hear. The sound effects are particularly horrifying) everything until Eugeo's memory finally stops him from consuming the act.
  • Bonus Dungeon: Two have been featured in the anime.
    • In Aincrad, one appears beneath the Black Iron Castle on the 1st floor after some of the higher floors are cleared. It features its very own Bonus Boss, the Fatal Scythe, which is far stronger than anything else seen in the game to that point, estimated by Kirito to have the abilities of a boss monster from the ninetieth level, a full fifteen levels above where they actually end up reaching before the game is cleared. Fortunately enough, Kirito and Asuna end up skipping it due to Yui's intervention.
    • Another one appears in Extra Edition in an underwater temple located within the southern Sylph area. Kirito and company don't know it is one until they meet an old NPC who gives them a quest to retrieve an item within the dungeon. Fittingly enough, as soon as they obtain it, the dungeon's Bonus Boss the old man NPC, Nerakk, a.k.a. Kraken the Abyss Lord appears to take it. Though he does give the party a serious beatdown, he is interrupted by yet another Bonus Boss, Leviathan the Sea King.
  • Book Ends: Second episode of the anime, Kirito gives Asuna some cream to eat on the plain roll. She can't stop herself from gobbling it down. At the end of the fourth Light Novel (or first anime season/second anime arc) when they finally make it back to the real world, Asuna specializes in making food... that tastes nostalgically like Aincrad-food.
    • At the end of the first anime season, Kirito uses the World Seed to rebuild Aincrad and add it to ALO. He and both his SAO and ALO friends then resolve to finish what they started and clear all 100 floors. He even resets his stats so he can level them up all over again.
  • Boom, Headshot!: In season 2 episode 9, Dyne gets a wall of buckshot to the face courtesy of Pale Rider during the BoB tournament.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: In the Mother's Rosary arc, Kyouko is right that a good education is important, and the SAO Survivors' School is little more than a way for the government to monitor the survivors. On Asuna's side, she's correct that she has her own vision for the future and is content with attending the school. In the end, Kyouko lets Asuna stay at the school as long as she keeps her grades up.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory:
    • How Death Gun managed to get his L 115 A 3 suppressed sniper rifle, as opposed to Sinon, who was really lucky.
    • Also at the Alicization Arc, Kirito's opponent bribed the guard in charge of weapons to give him a better sword. Not that it helped.
  • Breakable Weapons: Explained in Volume 2. When Kirito finds a blacksmith girl named Lizbeth and needs a new sword to practice on, he is given one, but when he tests it out, it breaks easily, so they go on a quest to slay a snow dragon to get the metal needed to forge a new weapon. This doubles as a Funny Moment because of the look on Lisbeth's face when Kirito effortlessly shatters what she considered her finest work at the time.
    • All weapons in SAO, ALO, and GGO require regular maintenance. Lizbeth has a deal with Kirito and Asuna where she'll maintain their weapons for free in exchange for them endorsing and using her gear, which rivals ultra-rare quest items.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Silica goes through this prior to her first meeting with Kirito. After leaving her party in a fit of pique, she gets lost, uses up all her healing items, and then her familiar Pina dies saving her. Pina gets better with some help from Kirito.
    • Raios and Humbert are two nobles who look down on virtually everyone else, especially Eugeo and Kirito. When they push their luck too far and try to rape Ronie and Teise, this results in Eugeo cutting off one of Raios' arms and Kirito cutting off both of Raios' hands. Raios is reduced to a gibbering wreck who, caught between preserving his own life and not harming Humbert's, dies from his Fluctlight collapsing, while Humbert flees.
  • Breather Episode: In Episode 10, Kirito is lured into a trap, tortured, and nearly murdered by a guild mate, but Asuna shows up to save him at the last moment. They're both very shaken up, finally admit the extent of their feelings for each other, spend the night together and decide to get married. In Episode 11, after a near-death experience, Kirito and Asuna take a break from frontline fighting and go on a vacation to the lower levels.
    • The second season's three-episode take on the Caliber arc is this; taking place after the Death Gun case is resolved, it's just about Kirito and his friends going on a quest in ALO for a powerful sword during the holidays. No murders, mysteries, or any real danger to be had save that if they fail, it kickstarts Ragnarok for the game, but even then, no one will be in any actual danger. Even the opening for the arc plays up the 'game' aspects of the game world to show that time, they're playing it as a game.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: In the Bullet of Bullets and Squad Jam modes of Gun Gale Online, corpses of dead players remain on the field for 10 minutes after deathnote , during which time their bodies are tagged as immortal objects. This of course has led to rather creative uses of indestructible corpses.

    C — D 
  • The Cake Is a Lie: Supposedly, in ALfheim Online, the first player to reach the city on top of The World Tree will unlock unlimited flight for their entire race. The city does not exist, and the entrance gate to the top of the tree requires admin rights to open. See Unwinnable by Design below.
  • Call-Back: The first episode of the first season is called "The World of Swords." The second season's first episode is "The World of Guns."
    • Kirito uses the appearance of The Gleam Eyes from SAO as inspiration when using the monster-transformation spell in ALO. The reveal sequence is almost identical, and except for a different color scheme and an extra goatee, their appearances are much the same as well.
    • The fact that Heathcliff was actually Akihiko Kayaba becomes important again when it allows Kirito to one-up Sugou in terms of GM privileges by logging in with that ID.
    • In the second season, Klein and Kirito share the exact same exchange after he reveals his Skill Connect exploit as they did when he first revealed his Dual Wielding in the first season
      Klein: Anyways, what was that just now?
      Kirito: Do I have to say?
      Klein: Of course! I've never seen anything like that before!
  • Call-Forward: In Progressive, after recalling that Joe, a fairly belligerent underling of Kibaou's, was also the person who'd accused Nezha off getting someone killed, laments his failure to recognize him, and noting that "Someday, that was going to put me in danger." In the Phantom Bullet arc, Kirito's inability to recognize Death Gun's identity causes him problems for a while.
  • Calling Your Attacks: Done rarely in the anime, but in the video games characters constantly shout the names of attacks they perform, most notably Kirito's "Starburst Stream!"
  • The Cameo: Kureha and Zeliska from Fatal Bullet appear briefly in the first episode of Alicization playing pool in the main GGO lounge.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Lizbeth to Kirito. She was about to spit it out... and then realized that he's with Asuna.
  • Canon Marches On: For a long time, the Girls' Ops spinoff manga existed in a state of Loose Canon, never being acknowledged by the main storyline. However, as of Volume 25, parts of it have been rendered non-canon because of a single line which reveals Argo never dived into a VRMMO game again after escaping Aincrad.
  • Casting Gag:
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: During Phantom Bullet, Kirito comments on the presence of metal swords in GGO after Death Gun surprises him with an improvised Estoc. Death Gun replies that a player has to custom-make it, and his Estoc is 'as good it gets' and statistically inferior to Kirito's Photon Sword. Neither of them even raises their voice, despite Death Gun being a SAO survivor and ex-Laughing Coffin.
  • The Cavalry:
    • In Episode 23, the Cait-Sith and Sylph forces show up to help Kirito to break through the guardians of the world tree.
    • In SAO II Episode 21 and 22, Kirito and Klein pull a Big Damn Heroes to Hold the Line, buying time for Asuna and the Sleeping Knights to defeat the boss.
  • Central Theme: The entire franchise has the unifying theme of exploring the relationship between the real world and virtual reality. Particularly how people modify their behavior depending on which one they're in, and how they either integrate or compartmentalize their identity between the two.
  • Character Level: It IS supposed to be an MMORPG... Kirito is explicitly referred to as one of the highest-leveled characters in SAO, though he later resets his stats in ALO.
  • Chekhov's Gag: of the Visual Pun variety. In the Alfheim arc, while interrupting the attack on the Slyph / Cait-Sith meeting, Kirito tells the Salamander General that he represents the (non-existent) Spriggan / Undine alliance. Kirito is a Spriggan, and Asuna's (eventual) main avatar is an Undine... meaning the two of them form a Spriggan/Undine alliance of their own.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Subverted with the Divine Stone of the Returning Soul. After finding out that it will only work if used within ten seconds of the player's death, Kirito gives it to Klein and tells him to use it on the next person he sees die. He must have used it somewhere along the line, because it's never seen or even mentioned again, even when a powerful boss one-shots several raid members in a raid containing both Kirito and Klein.
    • Hitting a programmed set-piece displays the message Immortal Object. Logically, this extends to an AI, and it definitely extends to the GM.
      • This also doubles as a Chekhov's Gag, as the first instance seen in the anime is when Kirito is sent tumbling into a pillar by Asuna after a trip to Marshmallow Hell.
    • In Illusionary Avenger (Season 1 Episode 6), Kirito learns that couples married in-game have a shared inventory, and that if one partner dies the other inherits everything. In the light novel, this was the final piece of evidence used to prove that Grimlock had his wife Griselda killed; since she was wearing her guild seal and wedding ring, Grimlock got the rare ring in her inventory. When Asuna dies Taking the Bullet for Kirito during his duel with Kayaba, her rapier becomes available to him, allowing him to use it to defeat Kayaba.
    • The Phantom Bullet arc has a literal gun, Kirito's FN Five seveN. While he generally relies on his photon sword rather than his pistol, he uses it to stop Death Gun from using his Invisibility Cloak at the end of their battle.
      • Related to this, one of the properties of the AmuSphere is that it does not fully cut you off from your real body's sensory signals. During the duel with Death Gun, Asuna grabs Kirito's hand, and the warm feeling reminds him that he has the gun.
    • Due to the anime placing the stories in chronological order, Kirito's mechatronics project becomes this. Kirito intended it to be a way for Yui to interact with the real world, and he shows off a prototype at the finale of the Caliber arc. It's used again in the Mother's Rosario arc to give Yuuki a chance to go to school and see the real world again before she dies.
    • In the Mother's Rosario arc, it's briefly mentioned that Asuna has another account, a Sylph character named Erika, she can use to challenge Yuuki, but she decides against it. She later convinces her mother to use Erika to log in to ALO and see the house that Asuna bought near the start of the arc (another Chekhov's gun), which is reminiscent of Asuna's maternal grandparents' home.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: In a sense, the Gleam Eyes when Kirito uses his illusion magic to turn into him.
    • Kazuto's sister, who is briefly mentioned in Aincrad as a kendo practitioner (with whom Kazuto trained before picking up gaming), is introduced as a major character in Alfheim and beyond.
  • Chekhov's Skill:
    • When Kirito transfers his SAO data to ALO, his stats show One-Handed Swords 1000, Unarmed 996, and Fishing 641. The Unarmed skill comes in handy during the denouement of the Fairy Dance arc.
    • After scouting the boss, Kirito mentions that to fight the level 74 boss, they'd need a couple of Stone Wall characters using shields. Asuna asks him about that, and wonders why he never uses a shield despite only using a 1-handed sword. She mentions that she doesn't use one because it slows her rapier attacks down. It turns out that Kirito doesn't use a shield because he learned how to dual wield, and is forced to utilize it in order to defeat the level 74 boss, which surprises all of the characters around him after he barely defeats it. When Klein asks about how he learned it, even Kirito says he's not sure how he managed to acquire the skill, mentioning it showed up in his skill set about 6 months earlier.
    • Most guns in GGO leave a bullet prediction line before they fire so that they can be dodged. Sinon intentionally projects a bullet prediction line onto Death Gun to distract him and give Kirito an opening he desperately needed.
  • Chick Magnet: Kirito is one. 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 an Ordinary High-School Student or, worse, a loser. Also averts more typical harem tropes in that the Romantic sub plot is finished early on and other girls are not treated as potential rivals thereafter.
  • Cliffhanger:
    • Episode 9 of season 2 ends on one, with Sinon paralyzed by Death Gun, who also fires a shot at her in order to find out if the Kirito in GGO is the same one as in SAO.
    • Episode 13 of season 2, after Shino is attacked in her apartment, and Kirito storms in to knock the attacker off of her.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: A few examples:
    • Non-romantic example with Yui, who declares that the only ones who can hug Kirito are herself and Asuna.
    • Leafa gets a bit jealous in Episode 20 when Sakuya and Alicia, the leaders of the Sylph and Cait-Sith races, get a bit too friendly with Kirito after he saves them from an ambush.
    • Played straight with Lisbeth in Episode 25 after she spots Kirito and Asuna sitting together on a bench outside. Silica tells her to calm down.
  • Clip Show: The first half of the OVA. Kirito talks to a government agent recalling events in the game world through his perspective. Meanwhile, the girls talk about their various interactions with Kirito, which essentially shows important parts where they interacted with him, in-between teaching Suguha how to swim.
  • Code Name: Almost everyone uses one, which protects their real life identity. Averted by Asuna, who, being an MMORPG noob, used her real name as her screen name.
    • Surviving SAO players tend to refer to each other by their SAO screen names.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Inflicted by Kirito to Sugou: he sets the pain absorber to 0, and proceeds to cut his hand off, then cut his whole body in half, before finally impaling him in the head.
  • Cold Sniper: Sinon at first. She defrosts somewhat into a Friendly Sniper later on.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • Aincrad: Green markers denote players, while yellow markers denote Non Player Characters. When players commit crimes, such as attacking other players outside of duels, the markers over their heads go from green to orange. One guild uses members with green markers to lure in victims. Hollow Realization, set in Ainground, adds blue markers in-story, which occur when players attack NPCs.
    • The races in Alfheim Online each have a trademark color. This usually matched their clothes, hair and eye color.
  • Color Motif: Almost all of the core SAO gang have a color associated with them. Kirito (Black), Asuna (White and Red), Leafa (Leaf Green), Sinon (Cyan and Olive Green), Lisbeth (Pink), Klein (Red), Agil (Emerald Green), and Yuuki (Purple), Alice (Gold), and Eugeo (Blue). The only exception is Silica who has variably been given Red, Blue, and Yellow, without any specific fixed color.
  • Combat Medic: Asuna's ALO build, playing as an Undine Healer, but also specializing for rapier sword skills, complementing her experience from SAO. There's a reason she's nicknamed "Berserk Healer."
  • Combos: There are Sword Skills that have more than one strike.
    • The Mother's Rosario arc starts with players being drawn to a challenge issued by a player with a heretofore-unseen sword skill that gives an 11-hit combo, who offers to teach the sword skill to anyone who manages to defeat her.
    • A plot point in the Alicization arc where Kirito's Aincrad-Style is the only sword skill sect that has multi-hit attacks.
  • Competitive Balance: In one episode Kirito mentions that while SAO is horrible, it is essentially fair to all the players and gives everyone a chance to succeed.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Some parts of the light novel are trimmed when adapting to the anime.
    • In the "Murder Case In The Area", arc, the confrontation between Kirito and the top three Laughng Coffin officers is shortened, and the references to chronologically later events are removed. The final confrontation with the killer, Grimlock, has said individual give up immediately, removing the part in which Yoruko proves the person in question's guilt.
    • The scene with Shino and Kyouji in the former's apartment omits some of his exposition about why he was broken to the point of becoming Death Gun, what he plans on doing with her and the part in which she threatens him with a model gun.
  • Continuing is Painful: ALO (and presumably post-ALO games made using the Seed) lacks a level system, instead improving stats with use. When a player dies, they suffer a 'death penalty', which reduces their stats; penalties are worse for self-destructing magic than for simply getting killed. Of course, to SAO survivors, a game where you can die is too easy.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • Lisbeth, Yui, and Silica, who all appear in Volume 2 during the 2-year span of the SAO incident, make their comeback in Volume 3 and Volume 4, still retaining their jobs: Silica is still a beast tamer, Lisbeth is still a blacksmith, and Yui is still an AI.
    • Thinker, leader of ALF, who was the Badass in Distress in Volume 2, appears at the end of Volume 4, along with his assistant/wife Yuriel.
  • Continuity Snarl: The video games have a whole bunch of these. See the entry on this page for more details.
  • 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 Online. 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 Leafa.
    • Of all the handguns Death Gun could possibly have been wielding, he has the exact same model of gun that traumatized Sinon. As with the above example, this is not a coincidence — Kyouji, who's involved in the scheme, has a twisted obsession with the incident, so he chose that weapon to be Death Gun's weapon of choice.
    • The first person Kirito decides to ask for help in GGO just happens to be Sinon, female protagonist of the arc, the top sniper in GGO, and one of Death Gun's targets with the villain being who Kirito is hunting.
    • Played straight with the climax for the Phantom Bullet arc; Kyouji just happens to aim his syringe at a still-connected electrode from his heart monitor.
  • Cool Code of Source/Matrix Raining Code: The anime intro scene to the Aincrad arc starts with something between these two. It's really a pretty cool effect.
  • Cool Helmet: A few GGO players sport these, like Death Gun and Pale Rider.
  • Corporate Conspiracy: Nobuyuki Sugou, the director of RECT Inc.'s research institute, hijacks the minds of 300 of the SAO victims (including his then-fiance Asuna) and traps them in his own game ALFheim Online to conduct experiments on human subjugation via full dive technology, in addition to attempting to take over RCT Progress Inc. by marrying Asuna while she is unconscious. His ambition is to become a god in real life, just as he is in ALO.
  • Corrupted Data: Depending on how you look at it, how Kirito lost nearly all of his Aincrad items or how he kept his stats and one particularly important item when he started ALO. Also, Yui theorizes this might be why he landed where he did when starting ALO instead of in his race's hometown.
  • Cosmic Deadline: In general for the Aincrad arc, the plot undergoes long time jumps in which many floors at once will be skipped, but the plot abruptly and with little forewarning leaps straight to the conclusion after the defeat of Skull Reaper. This is partly because the light novel from which it was adapted started just before the Gleam Eyes battle, and covered Episode 8-14, except for the Yui arc from 11-12.
  • Crapsaccharine World:
    • The world looks relatively pleasant and bright on the outlook, but at the same time there are very shady executives and scientists who are more than willing to use extremely shady methods to achieve their goals, as well as serial killers who use the VRMMOs to target and kill people in real life, and that's before factoring in the SAO Incident, which led more than 10,000 people trapped in the game for years and only around 6,000 making it out alive. Throw in a new secret Arms Race to develop an advanced Artificial Intelligence for use in warfare, and it becomes harder to see this world as wholly peaceful.
    • The Underworld, or at least the Human Realm. It's a virtual reality simulator in which the Fluctlights living there are literally incapable of breaking the law, known as the Taboo Index, so not only is there no murder, but people don't even litter. But High Ranking Nobles, who the Index favours heavily, can abuse loopholes in the rules to cause harm to others should they so desire, while defying these laws for any reason, even accidentally, are punished with death and it doesn't discriminate in regards to age. The civilized lands are ruled by a sociopathic tyrant, and the armies of darkness lie in wait outside of civilization's borders, preparing to strike. Unleash Blading and Alicization Lycoris make this worse with the implication that along with minor invasions from the Dark Territory, there are also monsters roaming around that can attack and kill other people, and only those with combat-related Callings, occupations effectively forced upon you from a young age, have the proper training to combat them while most others are completely defenceless. And while Quinella's death and Kirito taking over as head of the Human Unification Council leads to a lot of these issues being mitigated, such as the laws being reworked to show less bias towards Nobility and even the Dark Territory becoming more peaceful, there are many disgruntled former nobles who are trying to re-establish the former status quo and conspiracies and other darker forces trying to re-instigate conflict and war.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Not only did Kayaba anticipate nearly everything in creating SAO. But this also extends to ensuring that not even the authorities in real life could do anything to intervene.
  • Creepy Crosses: Not physically, but Death Gun crosses himself before he shoots his victims with his handgun to kill them in both GGO and the real world. Kirito later theorizes that this gesture masks the fact that Death Gun is actually checking his wristwatch so he can sync up shooting the player's avatar with one of his two real-world cohorts injecting the player with a drug that stops their heart and kills them.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Kirito's group of friends in ALO is nearly completely devoid of magic, outside a few support spells from Asuna, Leafa and Silica. This leads to problems against physical damage-resistant/immune enemies, where they must rely on Sword Skills' elemental effects, all of which have recovery lag times. They're aware of the problem, but after going through SAO, can't conceive of fighting without their weapons.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Happens when a character dies in any of the games.
    • The game itself downplays this — taking too much damage may cause a player to lose a part of their body, but it's just a status effect and it's automatically healed after few minutes.
  • Cross Player: VRMMORPGs using the NerveGear and Amusphere avert this, as the player's body is scanned into the system to form the avatar (degree of customization varies with each game). SAO's pre-alpha testing found that full immersion and genderswapping didn't really mix comfortably, and that after a significant amount of time logged in, male players began to experience anxiety over the lack of... essential equipment.
    • That said, as Episode 1 and a line in the light novel show, it's still possible. It just doesn't have good longterm effects, hence why Kayaba disabled this option when kicking off the death game.
    • Played with in the Gun Gale Online arc: a glitch causes Kirito's avatar to appear as an incredibly rare avatar that is mistaken for female by most players. It's actually a male avatar, but Kirito nonetheless learns to play the confusion over his gender in-game to his advantage.
  • Crosshair Aware: A major mechanic of Gun Gale Online is that players can see where an opponent is aiming a split-second before the bullet actually fires, allowing players to Dodge the Bullet and, in Kirito's case, Parrying Bullets.
  • Cross-Referenced Titles: The first episode of the Aincrad Arc is titled "The World of Swords". The episode in which Kirito first enters Alfheim Online is titled "The Land of Faeries." The first episode of the Phantom Bullet Arc is titled "The World of Guns."
  • Cue the Falling Object: SAO has a unique spin on this when Kirito shatters Lisbeth's finest blade on his Elucidator. The fallen object doesn't prompt anything; it's after the sword tip shatters and fades out that Lisbeth screams, realizing what happened.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • In Volume 2, Kirito vs orange guild Titan's Hand. He doesn't even bother to attack them, because he regenerates health faster than they can harm him.
    • Also in Volume 2, Asuna against a group of thugs from the Army.
    • Kirito versus Sugou after the latter has been stripped of GM powers. Combined with Eye Scream and Tranquil Fury.
    • Kirito easily defeats his first opponent in the Bullet of Bullets tournament qualifier round in Episode 5 of Season 2. Unfortunately this also draws the attention of Death Gun, who then asks him if he's the real deal after witnessing the fight, and seeing a "Kirito" using a sword to win the battle.
  • Cut Short: Several of the manga adaptations were unceremoniously axed:
    • Project Alicization was canned after 30 chapters, with the last chapter being a heavily rushed conclusion to the Central Cathedral arc and the battle with Quinella and the Sword Golem. A brief epilogue hastily summarized the events of War of Underworld. The author's afterword implies that the cancellation was due to the fact that the magazine the manga was serialized in (Dengeki Bunko Magazine) was discontinued.
    • Alicization Lycoris was cancelled after only 16 chapters and still early in the story. Like the above, it's also likely the reason for the cancellation was due to the magazine it was serialized in (Dengeki PS Magazine) being discontinued.
    • Alternative: Gun Gale Online was cancelled after only covering the first Squad Jam (Volume 1 of the light novels). The author, Tadadi Tamori, made some comments on his Twitter that he made this decision for personal reasons.
    • Progressive: Canon of the Golden Rule was cancelled by its author Mugetsu after only publishing 10 chapters for a little over a year from March 30, 2021 to April 30, 2022. He was quite specific in his announcement of the finale chapter that this was not because of editorial pressure or some executive's decision, but because he felt that the fans were not enjoying the work. He also indicated that it was difficult to accept other manga job offers due to the effort that working on Canon demanded.
  • Cyberpunk: Albeit one that beats with a Heroic Fantasy heart; Sword Art Online is after all, an adventure into the digital world set 20 Minutes into the Future where the nature of reality and the human soul is explored and questioned via digital technology, even if conflicts are almost always ultimately resolved through swordsmanship.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory!:
    • In his duel with Kayaba in Episode 14, Kirito attempts to fight without Sword Skills, because Kayaba knows all the counters to any Sword Skill he'd try to use. He accidentally triggers a Sword Skill that Kayaba easily blocks and counters.
    • Kirito also gets this in Episode 15 after his sparring match with Suguha, where he tries to return his shinai to a nonexistent back scabbard. He also tried to use a Sword Skill, with obvious results.
    • Continues into season 2. When he first buys his photon sword and tests it out, he practices with his trademark flurry of blows before trying to put it into a nonexistent back scabbard. Later, he does this after winning his first fight in the Bullet of Bullets tournament and notes "I did it again."
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Another reason why Kirito avoids guilds and playing with other people is a result of blaming himself for the death of his past guild.
  • Darker and Edgier: How do you make a series about a Virtual Reality MMORPG playing Your Mind Makes It Real to its logical conclusion (i.e., The Most Dangerous Video Game) darker after that?
  • The Darkness Before Death: In the final episode of Alicization, Eugeo calls out for Kirito before he succumbs to his wounds. His eyes were glazed over, indicating he couldn't see anymore. Kirito was by his side the entire time and held him in his arm as he finally passed away, saying he saw him "sparkling in the darkness, just like the stars" through his Reflectionless Useless Eyes.
  • Dark Fantasy: Alicization arc is the closest one for the series to have, with Underworld being filled with many monster like Goblins and Giants from the Dark Territory that outright grotesque and violent and the Human Realm while seemingly looks peaceful on the outside, is actually full of hidden corruptions and crimes everywhere.
  • Dead Man Writing: Sachi recorded a letter via crystal to Kirito to be delivered on Christmas, months after she died. A major Tear Jerker moment, especially when she starts humming a portion of "Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer".
  • Death by Irony: During SAO's first day in the Light Novel, Kirito unexpectedly parties with another Beta Tester named Cooper for a luck-based quest. But once Kirito gets the quest item, Cooper aggro's the monsters (Nepent) then goes into hiding. Kirito silently praises him for the MPK tactic, but finds a flaw in the plan. Some monsters also use senses other than sight, enabling the Nepents to find Cooper's hiding spot, killing him.
  • Death Is Cheap: Played with. Death in-game is death in real life in SAO. In the other SAO-inspired MMOs, while it's not going to kill you in real life, it is implied to be Continuing is Painful.
  • Death Seeker: Kirito goes through a phase of this after his first guild is destroyed.
    • His actions at the end of the Aincrad arc could be interpreted this way as well. When Heathcliff/Kayaba offers Kirito the chance to duel him and clear the game early, Asuna begs Kirito not to, but he goes through with it anyway. He then says what sounds a lot like Last Words to Agil and Klein, and asks Kayaba to make sure Asuna can't commit suicide if he should lose, almost as if he was expecting to die.
  • Declaration of Protection:
    • Kirito promises this to the new guild he joins, the Black Cats, and especially to Sachi. Unfortunately when they're ambushed by a very large group of monsters, he's only able to save himself, despite his efforts to protect them.
    • This trope kicks in again in Episode 9 after Asuna does a Leeroy Jenkins to save some players from the floor 74 boss. Kirito starts to remember his previous failure, and does everything he can to keep anyone else from dying pointlessly again. The boss is wiping out members of the Army and he, Asuna, and Klein aren't enough to defeat it. Wanting to prevent another Black Cats-like incident from ever happening again, he's forced to utilize his secret skill, dual wielding, and goes toe-to-toe with the boss, defeating it with only a sliver of HP left. Asuna cries on his shoulder for a long time at the thought of having almost lost him.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Asuna is this, initially wanting to beat the game by any means necessary and get back to her life as it was. Being around Kirito, and his by-comparison lackadaisical attitude, helps her take in a lot of the beauty of Aincrad.
  • Depending on the Artist:
    • The physical appearance of Cat Pina varies between the manga and Hollow Fragment.
    • The Norse Gods look very different in Lost Song compared to Memory Defrag.
  • Descended Creator: In-universe example: Akihiko Kayaba played SAO as Heathcliff.
  • 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.
    • Kirito strongly suspects that various militaries are interested in VRMMO gaming because it provides a substitute to real world training due to the immersion factor.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After Kirito defeats General Eugene in a duel, he wins his respect and Eugene decides to call off the attack on the Sylph/Cait-Sith treaty signing. He leaves saying that he would like to cross blades with Kirito again the future.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The leader of the guild that Kirito joins commits suicide by falling off a balcony over a very high cliff upon hearing that all of his friends were killed in an ambush. Though Kirito doesn't kill himself, the loss of the people he promised to help protect weighs heavily on him.
  • Deus ex Machina:
    • In the Extra Edition, where Kirito retells what occurred during the first and second arc, the person he is telling the story to suspects that it was the will of Kayaba that had Asuna and Kirito not die. Meaning, he might've interfered with the game's coding so as to not send a signal that they died so the NerveGear wouldn't fry their brains.
      • Although, there is a possible alternate explanation: We know from the revival item that there's a 10 second delay between a player's death and the deletion of his/her avatar (and subsequent real world death). It may have been the author's intent that Kirito defeated Heathcliff within 10 seconds of Asuna's "death", while the system's "game cleared" flag had priority over the "avatar deletion" flag, thereby saving them on a technicality.
    • The second arc has a modernized classical example. Kayaba grants Kirito Super-Admin access through the Heathcliff username. Given the setting, it's similar to a god granting a hero divine power.
  • Difficulty Spike: invoked
    • SAO players note that Aincrad dungeons and monsters are a lot more difficult since being ported to ALO, compared to the original SAO incarnation.
    • In SAO, there is a massive Difficulty Spike for the Floor Bosses from the 74th Floor and onwards. Not only are they a lot stronger than previous Floor Bosses, but their rooms are sealed from the outside and are Crystal Traps. This means that crystals like healing and teleportation are useless, making it impossible to escape and thus obtain intel and making each fight a battle to the death. On the 75th Floor Boss, they lose so many people that Kirito takes a massive risk on testing his suspicions about Heathcliff, because there is a high chance they won't be able to make it to the 100th floor.
    • It's speculated by the characters that every 25 floors (25th, 50th, 75th) have an especially difficult boss that is far stronger than a "normal" boss should be.
  • Digital Avatar: Nearly everyone who uses the Full Dive technology, especially VRMMO players.
  • Disappears into Light: The death animation in SAO.
    • In ALO, depending on the in-game race, different elemental effects before leaving behind a "Remain Light" which also disappears after a minute.
  • Distressed Woodchopping: The Alicization arc has Eugeo being assigned to be a woodcutter as his Calling and the tree he's supposed to cut down is the Gigas Cedar (which hasn't been able to be cut down for over 300 years of woodsmen hacking away at it). After getting traumatized by Alice getting kidnapped, which he views as My Greatest Failure, he channeled his grief into spending the rest of his life hacking away at the impossible task, until Kirito got dropped into the Underworld and meets him and not only pulls him out of his funk, but eventually devises a more efficient way to get the tree cut.
  • Diving Save:
    • Pina performs one to save Silica, dying in the process. This kickstarts the events of "The Black Swordsman".
    • Kirito does this to save Asuna from Kuradeel, after his faked surrender catches her off-guard.
    • Later, Asuna takes a mortal blow from Kayaba to protect Kirito, which eventually gives him the final push to defeat Kayaba.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Yui is always barefoot, both in human form and pixie form.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Haruka Tomatsu, Asuna's voice actress, performs ED1 of Season 1 ("Yume Sekai"), OP2 of II ("Courage"), and OP1 of War of Underworld ("Resolution").
  • Downer Ending: The second volume of the light novels focuses on side stories that happen during Aincrad (correlating with episodes 3-4, 7, and 11-12 of the anime). The last two stories are Morning Dew Girlnote  and Red Nosed Reindeernote 
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Happens to Gabriel after his death at Kirito's hands. Alice, the Alice he murdered when he was a child, shows up to personally escort him down.
  • Driven to Suicide: Happens to a few people:
    • The leader of the Black Cats of the Full Moon, after the guild members are annihilated and Kirito reveals he was a beta tester. Kirito, himself, contemplates this for a bit after the guild's destruction.
    • Yuuki's mother nearly falls to this, after she's diagnosed with AIDS from contaminated blood.
  • Dual Wielding: Only Kirito gets this skill in SAO. He later recreates his style from sheer effort and virtual muscle memory in ALO.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Kirito in GGO. He accidentally (at least initially) abuses this to get help from the nearby Sinon, and later starts to use it deliberately to get help from other players.
  • Duel Boss: The Final Boss of SAO, Heathcliff (AKA Akihiko Kayaba), is fought by Kirito and Kirito alone.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: Kirito displays some in Episode 3 after he manages to retrieve the rumored revival item. Unfortunately it's of no use to him, and he gives it to Klein. Said item has to be used within 10 seconds of a player's death, and Sachi has been dead for months by this point.
  • Dungeon Bypass: When Kirito and Asuna are looking for a house on Floor 22 to buy, they stumble onto Argo and a Wizard of Oz-inspired Quest. Since their levels are miles above that floor's, the three of them use shortcuts like jumping on balconies that they aren't supposed to be able to reach.
  • Dungeon Crawling: A prerequisite for clearing each level of Aincrad. Each level's stairway-dungeon has 20 floors, and the final floor has the boss that must be defeated to clear the level.
  • Dynamic Entry:
    • Kirito's crash landing when he first meets Leafa, which causes the pursuing Salamanders to halt their attempt to kill Leafa and re-target to him.
    • Asuna does this in her big damn heroes moment. Kirito describes her arrival as a red and white wind.
    • Kirito does one in the real world in episode 13 of season 2 after a crazed man Kyouji, with a mix of Crazy Jealous Guy and If I Can't Have You… attacks Sinon in her apartment.

    E — H 
  • Early-Bird Cameo: From Episode 1 of the anime:
    • Klein is seen from the "MMO Stream" news video covering the SAO release before meeting Kirito for the first time as described in the original novel.
    • Suguha is briefly heard and seen running off to practice before Kirito enters SAO.
    • Asuna, Lisbeth (before dyeing her hair pink), and Silica are seen among the players in the plaza.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending:
    • It takes four volumes (of the first two arcs), but after going through a lot of shit and never giving up, Kirito and Asuna are reunited in the real world.
    • Repeated in some ways and turned up to eleven throughout the whole Alicization saga, as myriad things inside and outside of Underworld conspire against the heroes, and just keep piling on and on, giving seemingly hopeless situations, followed by hope and some victories, only for even more seemingly hopeless situations to pop up, over and over until the climax (especially in War of Underworld.
    • This is also a general theme with the various main story arcs as a whole.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Aincrad's 75th floor boss, The Skull Reaper. A terrifying skeletal centipede thing that's the size of a building, moves very fast, hits very hard, and has four red eyes.
  • Establishing Shot: A pretty one from episode one, of the Tokyo skyline. It's also used quite often afterwards — this series loves its scenery porn quite a bit.
  • Everyone Can See It: When Klein first meets Asuna, he catches on very quickly that she has feelings for Kirito, and asks Kirito if they're lovers. Kirito's fervent denial is greeted with knowing smiles from all of Furinkazan and Asuna.
  • Evolving Credits:
    • In the opening for the Fairy Dance arc, there is a part where Sugou steps away from a window. After his identity in ALO is revealed you can see Oberon in his reflection at this point.
    • Happens again in the opening credits to season 2. After Death Gun is revealed to have been a former member of Laughing Coffin in SAO the credits change from seeing the gun in his hand dissolving to the just-barely visible Laughing Coffin tattoo hidden under the bandages on his arm.
    • The trend continues when the Caliber arc gives way to the Mother's Rosario (which is noted in the credits), where the second opening slightly changes to include a few shots of Yuuki and the rest of the Sleeping Knights. However, the next episode after that, the credits change again, to feature only Yuuki, Asuna and the rest of the Sleeping Knights in place of Kirito's group during the Excalibur quest, with Yuuki taking Kirito's place in all of the opening scenes that had featured him.
    • "Resister" by ASCA in the Alicization arc cycles through three versions, gradually making changes as Kirito & Eugeo make their way up the Central Cathedral of the Axiom Church. The first version shows them fighting the three major Integrity Knights in the tower: Deusolbert, Fanatio, and Alice, then the second version changes these scenes to show Eugeo fighting Bercouli. The third version of the opening features the most significant changes, including Kirito & Alice fighting the Sword Golem, as well as Kirito fighting Quinella, while also adding more scenes of Alice and a number of major visual effects improvements in general.
    • "Resolution" by Haruka Tomatsu for War of Underworld also cycles through several versions, though only one has significant changes. The first two are very similar to each other with the only difference being that the subtitle changes from Alicization Invading to Alicization Exploding once it reaches that point in the story. The third version has the major changes, as it swaps out the scenes of Eldrie, Deusolbert, and Fanatio fighting with Renly, Sheyta, and Bercouli, and also changes the scene of Bercouli vs. Shasta with a scene of Alice & Asuna fighting Vector together (which never happens in the story). The fourth and final version changes the subtitle to Alicization Awakening.
    • "Anima" by ReoNa changes as of Episode 42: the subtitle changes from Alicization Awakening to Alicization Lasting, Kirito's eyes when he awakens are now the golden "Incarnation eyes" he has throughout the series, a shot of Alice in Tokyo substitutes for the previous group shot of Alice, Kirito, and Asuna, and the last frame changes from a NerveGear on a table to an image of the Underworld's planet and a hand reaching out for it. Another smaller change happens in Episode 45 when this time, Kirito is surrounded by a fiery Incarnation aura in his scenes.
  • Excuse Plot: An in-universe example: according to the author's own live commentary, the backstory for GGO is that humanity settled other planets and eventually descended into an apocalyptic war, resulting in all the ruined cities. The monsters in-game are a product of genetic manipulation.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Kayaba a.k.a. Heathcliff had planned to do this on the 100th floor, but did not get the chance, thanks to Kirito's Sequence Breaking.
  • Facepalm: Implied to be Kirito's reaction to Klein's Honor Before Reason moment.
  • Face Plant: Happens to Kirito to the point of becoming a Running Gag in the early episodes of the ALO arc, including a rather spectacular one where he falls from several hundred feet in the air and impacts the ground so hard that his head is stuck for several moments.
  • Fake Memories: This franchise seems to like this, as well as Laser-Guided Amnesia, more than you would expect.
    • Sugou performs experients that include manipulation of memories, and some of these are almost certainly implanting fake ones. He also wants to brainwash Asuna into loving him in this way.
    • Though not exactly memories per se, in "Alicization", Integrity Knights in Underworld have their real memories taken away and are told fake pasts, in order to help make them more obedient to Administrator. One could also consider the memories gained through the Soul Translator to be this, although it's a little different, in that people using it have a normal sensory experience of the things they come to remember; it's just that these things don't happen in the real world, but then the same can be said for any VR experience.
  • Fanservice: We get to see every major female character in their undergarments one way or the other.
    • There's also quite a bit of "look at the detail of that butt" shots in the episode "Murder in the Safe Zone".
    • Suguha is a favorite target of the camera here. Boob shot while she's sleeping? In the first episode she appears. Panty shot? Check. Shot of her undressing to underwear? Check. Shots of her bathing, with Censor Steam? Check. It's no surprise that her avatar gets the same treatment, either.
    • Sinon is introduced setting up an ambush while sniping from a prone position. The camera gives us a very generous view of her derrière.
    • Ordinal Scale has a scene of Asuna taking a bath, with generous Sideboob. When she climbs out, her rear-end is in full view, and for the sharp-eyed, a nipple just briefly.
  • Fantastic Measurement System: The Underworld society uses "millicels," "cels" and "mels" in place of millimeters, centimeters, and meters.
  • Fantastic Racism: A surprisingly large number of cases, considering it's a series about online gaming.
    • In SAO, there were heavy levels of discrimination against Beta-Testers, largely due to the belief that they abandoned new players to die while they hogged all the good farming sports. However while this is true to an extent, this didn't apply to every Beta-Tester, with Argo and possibly a few others working together to create a guidebook to help all the new players survive, and in spite of that many players died anyway. While the revelation of who wrote the book causes it to die down somewhat, the circumstances of Diavel's death reignites the flames when Lindnote  accuses Kirito of being a Beta-Tester who withheld information about the boss and was practically threatening to ignite a Beta-Tester Witch Hunt, forcing Kirito to act like a worse Beta-Tester, a "Beater"note , in order to shoulder all the hatred and prevent Beta-Testers from being hunted and persecuted, at the expense of suffering a great deal of distrust throughout SAO's early floors. Even late in SAO where it's implied that a lot of this hatred has died down, there are certain players who will often use the "Beater" excuse to be be an ass to other players, such as Kuradeel in regards to Kirito.
    • Due to the multiracial nature and the fact that PvP is encouraged this is sadly very prevalent in Alfheim Online, with even the nicest player you’d meet likely to be at least casually racist towards another race.
      • This often goes both ways with Salamanders, especially between them and the Slyphs who they are at war with in Fairy Dance, partially due to their territories being right next to each other and causing resource wars. In general, this is largely due to a majority of the Salamanders lording the fact that they’re considered the “strongest race” and taunting everyone else for not having that honor, with other races understandably viewing them as Jerkasses who like to flaunt their power. The fact that some of the ones shown on-screen act as bandits, attack others with little provocation, make a hobby of killing female players for some kind of sexual thrill, and the biggest obstacle Liz faces when trying to recruit help to save the Underworld is a Salamander Commander doesn’t exactly help paint them in a good light.
      • Spriggans seem to be looked down upon by pretty much every other race due to the game’s combat heavy nature, with many viewing their illusion magic as useless in a fight. Even when people party with a Spriggan, they seem to have no problems with insulting the race and their illusion magic despite them standing right there.
      • Leprechauns aren’t innocent of this either. Girls' Ops Volume 6 reveal that due to being the Blacksmith Race, they are are the only race capable of making rare and powerful equipment and generally look down on other race’s blacksmiths since they are incapable of doing so. As shown by Adie, a Cait Sith member of the Elves and Shoemakers Leprechaun guild, non-Leprechaun players can find themselves getting picked on by Leprechaun members and are generally given less privileges than members who are actually Leprechauns.
    • In the Underworld, Demi-humans get this a lot. Despite making up half of the Council of Ten and likely making up the majority of their army, the black iums(humans) of the Dark Territory look down on them for varying reasons and, when the war actually breaks out, they act as the first line of offense because they're seen as more disposable, something that the leader of Mountain Goblins suspects and is proven right when 300 Orcs are heartlessly sacrificed by the Dark Mage guild to power a spell under Vecta's orders. While not largely touched upon, the briefly mentioned Kobolds appear to have this the worst, not having a tribe of their own and being regulated to manual labor such as cleaning. This is made all the more tragic when you consider that fact that, technically, they are all essentially humans who have just been put in different bodies as opposed to actually being seperate races.
    • While many MMO players and gamers seem to face IRL discrimination, being seen as societal freeloaders and some people believing that military conscription should be brought back to force them into work, SAO Players have it particularly bad. Due to the unknown affect their two years may have had on them, the government treats pretty much all of them as potential criminals, placing all the school age ones in a special school to monitor them, subjecting them to constant therapy even if it proves unnecessary, and even forcing them to take therapeutic drugs even if they're not needed and could have negative affects on them, on top of everything mentioned for regular MMO players. They also have it bad in-game, where basically most other players view them as arrogant stuck-ups due to having more VR experience than them and usually sticking into closely-knit groups with other survivors, clearing having No Sympathy for the fact that they were forced to fight for their lives for up to two years and that their real lives were severely compromised as a result.
    • Artificial Fluctlights seem to be shaping up to be victims of this. When RATH introduces Alice to the world a lot of reporters make some insensitive comments towards her, such as one asking her to prove she's an AI by opening her head. When the discussion moves onto the rights of Artificial Fluctlights, which Rinko wants to establish to prevent past issues that propped due to discrimination such as slavery or wars, one reporter is vocal about them not getting any out of paranoia that they'll eventually try and kill other humans unless they're put on a leash and claiming that, since they were made by humans, humans have a right to use them as servants. When Alice disappears from the Rath building, Kirito worries that if she's found she could be targeted by people who don't see her as human or extremists who disagree with the creation of A.I.s in general.
  • The Fellowship Has Ended: The Sleeping Knights plan on disbanding the guild in March 2026, and want to defeat a floor boss in Aincrad as just a party so that all their names will be inscribed on the Monument of Swordsmen as proof of their existence. The real reason is because the members are all terminally ill patients, with two of their members not expected to survive past March. After they successfully defeat a floor boss and Yuuki passes away, the group disbands and its members part ways.
  • Female Gaze: As the franchise eventually expands to appeal to female audiences, equal loving attention is payed on the handsome and muscular masculine forms of Beurcoli the Integrity Knight, Klein, Aegil, and once in a while even Kirito and Eugeo.
  • Fictional Currency:
    • Cor in SAO.note 
    • Yrd in ALO.
    • Credits in GGO.note 
    • Shia in Underworld.
  • Final Boss Preview: Technically, Kirito's duel with Heathcliff in the arena is this due to the latter being Akihiko Kayaba himself.
  • First Girl Wins: Asuna is the first girl introduced to readers of the light novels and viewers of the anime (though the situations are slightly different), and the first love interest Kirito meets.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing:
    • When Kirito, Godfrey and Kuradeel stop to take a break and eat, Kirito notices that Kuradeel isn't drinking his water seconds before the paralytic poison kicks in, immobilizing Kirito and Godfrey.
    • When Kirito and Eugeo meet Fizel and Linel, the anime briefly shows the daggers on their belts. The fact that they're armed is suspicious enough, but Kirito notices that the wood used in the scabbards is used for poisoned weapons. They also mention that all the monks and apprentices were ordered to stay in their rooms, and orders are literally almost impossible to disobey for artificial Fluctlights (Eugeo is the only one who did so, and he lost his right eye for it), which hints that they aren't subject to those rules.
  • Flash Step: Too many times to count, usually by Kirito. Actually, the sword skill Sonic Leap may actually be invoking this trope. Asuna uses this to travel an impossible distance in five minutes, Kirito leaves behind a sonic boom from his first attack in ALO...
  • Flight: A main feature in ALO. Under the control of RECTO, there is is a limit for flight such as: height limit, cool down time to charge with sun or moonlight, and inability to fly in dungeons with the exception of Imps. The main quest at the time has the races trying to reach the top of the world tree to have an audience with Oberon to be reborn as a higher-order fairy, the Alf. After Recto sells its rights to it, all races have no time limit in flight.
  • Foil:
    • Sinon to Kirito: A fellow PTSD sufferer traumatized by the memory of killing in self-defense.
    • Suguha to Asuna: Gets into VRMMORPGs out of curiosity, becomes attracted to Kirito, and journeys through a game with him.
    • Spiegal to Recon: Invites a classmate whom he has a crush on to join him in a VRMMORPG and confesses his love to said classmate after she has a messed-up encounter with Kirito.
    • Spiegal/Kyouji to Sugou after the climax of the Phantom Bullet Arc: Once it becomes clear that he'll never have his crush, he decides to just rape her instead.
    • Kikuoka to Sugou: Both worked on weaponizing Full Dive technology. The difference is that Kikuoka is doing this out of patriotism, whereas Sugou wants to sell it to the highest bidder.
    • Kayaba to Sugou: Both created virtual worlds, but whereas Kayaba created SAO to live out a fantasy of creating a living breathing virtual world, Sugou created ALO for illicit mind-control experiments and played himself up as a god.
    • Kirito to Death Gun: Both are SAO survivors who migrated to GGO and use swords in a gun game, while refusing to let go of the past.
    • Yuuki to Red-Eyed XaXa: Both are sickly and feeble in the real world, but XaXa forsook the real world and its ethics to become powerful in VR, equating the lives he takes (both in SAO and as "Death Gun") as power. Yuuki, on the other hand, decided to live her life to the fullest in VR, becoming one of the most powerful swordswomen in ALO, but also one of its kindest and most beloved players.
    • Asuna isn't truly a foil to anybody, but she serves as a foil to Sachi and Keita during the climax of the Aincrad Arc, when after they learn that the 75th Floor boss fight will be held inside an anti-crystal zone and tells Kirito that she would kill herself if she stayed out of the fight and Kirito didn't come back from it.
  • Food Porn: From Asuna's sandwiches to the incredibly rare (and coveted) ragout rabbit meat, the food in Aincrad always looks tasty.
  • Forced to Watch: During the climax of the Fairy Dance arc, Sugou rips the clothes off Asuna's avatar, pins Kirito down by impaling him with a sword, and forces him to witness poor Asuna being sexually harassed in the Virtual World. He then threatens to repeat the "performance" with her real (comatose) body later and comes very close to successfully raping her in-game before Kirito manages to free himself.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The town bell of the Starting City of the 1st floor rings when the players of SAO are forcibly teleported to its central plaza.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Sister's Prayer, a story about Yuuki and her sister meeting Merida for the first time. The three found the Sleeping Knights together, but Ran, Merida and eventually Yuuki, all succumb to their illnesses.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • As Kirito himself put it in his battle with Heathcliff, he was fighting at his maximum ability, making it impossible for anyone to counter him at that particular moment, yet Heathcliff defeated him rather soundly. It's because he's Akihiko Kayaba himself, and he designed the very settings of the battle and player movements.
    • The opening credits for season two at one point show Kirito trying to reach Death Gun while surrounded by a purple triangular void with three laughing silhouettes growing out of each of the three points which foreshadows that "Death Gun" is actually three people, one whom controls the "Sterben" avatar in GGO itself and sets up the murders by shooting other avatars with a handgun and two others who operate in the real world, using a heart attack-inducing drug to actually kill people.
  • For the Evulz: Kayaba entrapped the people playing SAO until they can finish the game by defeating the ultimate boss, but in truth he wants to see a society in a different light and he's the ultimate boss.
  • For Want of a Nail: Caliber Failure Side explores one such outcome to the Caliber sidestory. Kirito convinces the party to abandon Freya (without knowing she's actually a disguised Thor). As a result, they're unable to defeat the Big Bad before time runs out. Not only do they fail the quest, Kirito loses his chance to get Excaliber, and the Big Bad succeeds in deploying an army massive enough to destroy Alfheim and Aincrad.
  • Found the Killer, Lost the Murderer: Inverted in "A Murder Case In The Area." Kirito uncovers who hired Laughing Coffin to murder Griselda, but the Laughing Coffin members withdraw from their confrontation with Kirito.
  • 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.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Multiple times in the "Sleeping Knights" arc. Whenever the Monument of Swordsmen is given a close-up view, you can see the names of familiar characters having cleared previous floors. Kirito, Asuna, Leafa, Klein...
  • Freudian Slip: Yuuki does this twice in episode 21 in season 2. She calls Asunanee-chan, or "sister" in Japanese, when battling the floor 27 boss with Asuna and the Sleeping Knights. Asuna initially thought it was just a term of endearment. Later she mentions it again at the wall of names of players or guilds who first defeated each floor boss. When Asuna mentions it to her, Yuuki suddenly develops an Oh, Crap! look in her face, and quickly logs off. Asuna is given no explanation as to why this was from Yuuki or her guildmates. Episode 22 reveals that Yuuki had a twin sister who had succumbed to AIDS. Yuuki herself is also dying of it, and the other members of the Sleeping Knights also have terminal illnesses and didn't want Asuna to get too attached lest she be saddened by them dying.
  • Future Society, Present Values:
    • In Volume 10, Kikuoka mentions that Japan is prohibited from exporting weapons abroad. The story arc takes place in July 2026, and the volume was originally published in 2012. However, in April 2014, the Abe administration removed the laws prohibiting weapons exports, and the JSDF has moved to become a major arms exporter as of 2015. When the Alicization anime came out in 2018, this entire conversation was Adapted Out.
    • The throwaway mention about how America bans VR games with violent dismemberment due to rampant terrorism screams the 2000-2008 era moral panic, where it wanes down in 2011, as video games are declared First Amendment and any direct links between video games and real violence are often dismissed.
    • The subplot involving the Chinese & South Korean MMO players in Alicization Awakening raises a lot more eyebrows at the time of its anime adaptation in Summer 2020: the story that the GDS mercenaries feed to the Chinese and Korean players is that Japanese hackers are attacking a high-tech, next-generation VR project that was jointly designed by American, Korean, and Chinese developers. While U.S.-Korean and Chinese-Korean relations remain relatively stable, U.S.-China relations have almost completely collapsed as of the late 2010s due to various factors such as the trade war, the status of Hong Kong, and the COVID-19 virus, which has resulted in a pseudo-Cold War between the two countries with actions such as tariffs, sanctions, consulate closures, and most importantly for the purposes of this story, bans on using each other's technology. Barring a diplomatic miracle that occurs before 2026, there is no way American and Chinese programmers would collaborate on a project of this scale, which would make GDS's cover story instantly discredited.
  • Gamer Chicks: Most of the girls Kirito knows. They are trapped in a video game, after all.
    • Notably not Asuna, though, until after they escape SAO. Her brother was supposed to get trapped in SAO instead of her, and SAO is actually the first game she's ever played.
  • Genre Savvy: Kirito tends to be quite genre savvy about common interpersonal anime cliches, such as the Crash into Hello.
    • In Volume 8, when meeting trapped female NPC Freya, and noticing she has an HP bar, Kirito is convinced that she'll transform into a powerful Elite Mook once she's released, and that she's designed to appeal to male players; he's seen this before a few times. He's also not surprised at all when Klein falls for it. At the same time though... see Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Genre Shift: While first and foremost a Cyberpunk series with a Heroic Fantasy heart, Sword Art Online undergoes noticeable shifts in tone and genre between each Arc and corresponding Game/Digital World.
    • The Aincrad and by extension Progressive arcs that sets the emotional core of the Saga is an arrow-straight Heroic Fantasy tale about overcoming adversity and despair through sword and skill, courage and hope.
    • Fairy Dance amps up the magic, scale of action and sense of majestic wonder and shifts the story into High Fantasy mode. The storming of Ygdrasil The World Tree, complete with storms of Spells and Heroic Dragon Riders battling swarms of winged mooks would be a moment not out of place in Dragonlance.
    • Phantom Bullet, as an open love letter to Star Wars is a Space Opera with occasional nods to After the End sci-fi like Mad Max.
    • Calibur, the light hearted Breather Episode, is Norse Myth infused Fantastic Comedy with a dash of Arthurian Myth in the form of Excalibur itself for flavoring.
    • Mother's Rosario is a heartwarming Wuxia Drama about an Once-In-An-Era Master Swordswoman Prodigy who strives to leave behind a Legacy of Hope, and to pass down her School of Swordsmaship onto a worthy successor and friend.
    • The Ordinal Scale Motion Picture, with its emphasis once more on overcoming despair with courage and friendship, sword and hope, once again shifts the story back to a Cyberpunk Heroic Fantasy.
    • Almost coinciding with the more mature Art Shift since Ordinal Scale, the Alicization arc throws the saga kicking and screaming into the savage violence and brutal sexuality of the Sword and Sorcery genre.
      • And while no less bloody and dark, the scale, graundeur and increased magical-pyrotechnics (and power level) in War Of The Underworld Arc that follows returns the series once more into the realms of High Fantasy.
  • Gilded Cage: "Titania's" (Asuna's) prison in ALO. Quite literally.
  • G.I.R.L.:
    • With the exception of a one-off gag at the beginning of the anime, this trope is averted due to everyone's SAO avatars reverting to each player's true appearance. In later post-Aincrad volumes of the Light Novel, the author discusses and deconstructs parts of this trope, mentioning that wearing a VRMMO avatar of the opposite gender for extended periods of time could become very uncomfortable and psychologically distressing, as sensory input mappings for the opposite gender would be different. On the other hand, as the AMUsphere and NERVgear read your brainwaves to calibrate for gender, sometimes a person's thought patterns could be "close enough" to the opposite gender, such that they receive a "surprise" when they enter the VRMMO, though this does quite handily solve the issue of transgender players and allows them to play by their true gender.
    • Kirito's avatar in GGO appears female. Naturally, guys hit on him in the game, and Sinon also assumes he's a girl at first. He plays along with the latter since he is lost at the time and needs directions in the game.]
  • The GM Is a Cheating Bastard: Heathcliff, a.k.a. Akihiko Kayaba abuses his admin powers in order to progress through the game disguised as a regular player.
  • Godlike Gamer:
    • Kirito is the perfect example, being depicted as a virtual reality MMORPG prodigy, who spent a large portion of his life gaming as a form of escapism. Upon being trapped in Sword Art Online, he quickly ascended the ranks to become the World's Best Warrior and the destined hero to take on the Big Bad. This also applies to any game he tries, where even if he's a complete newbie, he'll be a top player within days and known by everyone there.
    • Yuuki, who is Kirito's Distaff Counterpart. To date, she's the only player able to best him in a fair fight. Yuuki's VR talents are unparalleled as she practically lives and breathes the virtual world. She arrives in Alfheim Online and immediately wins 77 consecutive duels. She also created her own 11-hit Original Sword Skill which is stated to be a very difficult task.
    • Asuna is deemed to have The Gift when it comes to VR gaming, possessing impossibly high speed even back when she was a complete newbie, with Kirito feeling she was a natural despite the fact she lacked the most fundamental knowledge about the game interface. When she actually set her mind to it, she easily became the second strongest player in all of SAO after Kirito.
  • Good-Guy Bar: In the real world, Dicey Cafe, owned by Agil, which ends up becoming a hangout for the main cast. Agil also runs a cafe and item shop in ALO, which serves the same function.
  • Go Out with a Smile: Despite the grim reality the players face, some of them do go out with a smile.
    • Yuuki logs into ALO as she's dying, giving Asuna her Limit Break and saying one last farewell to her friends. The last image is of her and Asuna standing together, smiling.
    • Sachi does this in Episode 3 as well.
    • A light-hearted version. Sinon suggests to Kirito they end the Bullet of Bullets tournament in a draw. Sinon then takes a grenade, pulls the pin, and tosses it to Kirito before hugging him with a smile as it goes off. Kirito wasn't expecting her to do that, but nonetheless gives an awkward smile.
  • Graceful Loser: Kayaba/Heathcliff. Not only does he honor his word that everyone will be able to log out once the game is cleared, but he even smiles as he watches Kirito overcome his own in-game death to run him through.
    • Also General Eugene, who does not hold a tiniest bit of grudge after Kirito defeats him.
  • Gratuitous English:
    • English seems to be the official language of Sword Art Online, given that all the game messages are in English. Episode 15 also has Kirito receiving an email from Agil written in Japanese, with the subject "Look at this!!" written in English.
    • In spoken dialogue, "Beta tester" and "Sword Art Online" are always said in English; the former seems to be a loanword and the latter is probably because the game's official language is English. For a straighter example, after beating the first floor's boss, Kirito says "Good job" to Asuna and Agil says "Congratulations" to Kirito, both in English.
    • Kirito and the girls will sometimes drop English words during conversation such as "Switch", "Okay", "Stop", or "Good job".
    • The robotic cowboy in the shooting game Kirito plays in Episode 4 of Season 2 is chock full of these lines, though it does speak Surprisingly Good English with an appropriate accent (it's dressed as a cowboy and talks in a Southern drawl). Justified, since GGO, the VRMMO that Kirito is playing at the time, was made in America.
    • In Episode 19 of S2 during Asuna and Yuuki's duel, Lisbeth's Japanese voice actress says "What!?" in English.
  • Great Offscreen War: We learn in Moon Cradle that shortly after Alice is logged out of Underworld, Kirito and Asuna formed the Human Unification Council to try and reform the system of nobility and royalty to make the Human Empire a more equal society and cut down on abuse committed by the nobles. The four emperors did not take kindly to this and rose up in rebellion against the Council, causing a great civil war among the Human Empire only a year after the War of Underworld was concluded. We only see the final battle of this war in the beginning of Volume 20 when Ronye and Tiese cut down Emperor Cruiga of Norlangarth in his palace.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Fatal Scythe boss is basically this. It lives up to its name, too, until Yui takes it down.
  • Guest Fighter: The game Lost Song features Kuroyukihime from Accel World.
  • Guest-Star Party Member: In Caliber, Freyja is actually Thor in disguise. What happens when Kirito's party chooses not to free Freyja is covered in Caliber SS.
  • Guide Dang It!: Deconstructed and Played for Drama. A large number of the players end up dying, not just from inexperience, but from a lack of information about things that aren't even mentioned in the game and would be known from an outside source (such as other players). For example, The Black Cats of the Full Moon (sans Kirito) get killed because they didn't know side areas in dungeons tend to block off teleportation and make the players suffer waves of monsters that usually surpass their levels.
  • Gun Kata: In the Death Bullet arc, Kirito is shown a gambling game where the player tries to touch an NPC while dodging bullets fired from it. He watches someone play it and the way it's described sounds very similar to this if only for the defensive aspects.
  • Gun Porn: Somebody working on the anime must be doing their research on the loads of guns available in GGO. There are several full screens of many guns and, at one point, an entire selection of at least twenty individual handguns, scrolling across the marketplace all accurately designed and labeled. Even Sinon goes into long bouts of her favorite guns, one of them being the famous FN Five-seveN.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: when Death Gun prepares to shoot Sinon, he pulls back the slide and keeps his hand on it as it moves forward. Automatic pistols are designed around the tension of the spring, and this could cause it to jam. Though it did add to the drama.
  • Hate Sink: Has it's own page.
  • Happily Married:
    • Kirito and Asuna in SAO, after their Relationship Upgrade. This is also their real-world goal.
    • Thinker and Yuriel, both in SAO and the real world.
    • Agil and his wife; when he was trapped in SAO, she singlehandedly kept his cafe running and in the black while waiting for him to come back.
  • Hard Work Hardly Works: Averted. Kirito is able to more or less recreate his Dual Wielding skills through sheer hard work, and he's only able to chain one-handed sword skills after a lot of effort and failures.
    • As a whole, there are no shortcuts in SAO; players who want to level up will need to put in the effort.
    • Played straight during the Fairy Dance arc when Kirito first enters ALO and outside getting used to the controls, he himself knows he is a cheater in this case. ALO also puts less emphasis on stats and gear than player skill.
  • Heel Realization: Seems to happen to Grimlock when Asuna tells him that he didn't really love his wife Griselda, and killed her because he wanted to control her rather than let her be a strong, independent woman. As she tells him this, he seems to suffer from both My God, What Have I Done? and a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Heal It with Water: The Undines are water-based fairies who specialize in healing magic.
  • Here We Go Again!: In episode 13 of season 3, Cardinal tells Kirito and Eugeo that the Administrator's room is on the 100th floor of the tower. Kirito's response; "ugh".
  • Hero Academy: Kirito ends up in one along with his partner, Eugeo, during the Alicization arc.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: It's noted that most SAO players who migrated to ALO tend to dump all their points into sword skills and ignore magic, because they believe their weapons are proof of their existence.
    • This actually leads to two different classifications among players in ALO: "Fairies," who use magic, and "Swordsmen," who only use weapons.
  • Heroic BSoD:
    • Kirito suffers one when Asuna performs a Heroic Sacrifice. It debilitates him so badly that he can't bring himself to do more than slowly and feebly swing his swords at Heathcliff for a few seconds.
    • Kirito has another one when he encounters Death Gun and realizes that not only is he a survivor of SAO, but also a member of Laughing Coffin, the murder guild comprised of all red-cursored PKers. All of Kirito's repressed memories of the purge against that guild return and leave him in such a wrecked state that Sinon is worried by his nonresponsiveness.
    • Sinon suffers one during the BoB tournament when she is confronted by Death Gun who tries to kill her using the same model of gun that Sinon used in the real world five years ago to kill the robber, an event which caused her to become severely traumatized. After Kirito rescues her, and they are fleeing Death Gun on a buggy, Sinon suddenly finds she can't bring herself to pull the trigger on her rifle, even though Death Gun is baring down on them on a robot horse. It takes Kirito offering to pull the trigger with her that allows her to fire and escape Death Gun, but even then, Sinon is still extremely shaken up by what she's gone through.
  • Heroic Fantasy: Though the narrative is driven by technology and is set in Next Sunday A.D., at its heart Sword Art Online is still fundamentally a fantasy of heroic warriors (and later, wizards) crusading across mythical lands, fighting for justice, honor and making the world a better place with swords and spells in their hands, courage and love in their hearts.
  • Heroic Resolve: Asuna and Kirito both break the ''laws of reality'' at least once, in order to rescue the other. Comes in as a Moment of Awesome every single time.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Yui invokes her GM powers to save Kirito and Asuna from a high-level boss. Unfortunately, since she disobeyed her programming, this results in her getting flagged for deletion. Thankfully, Kirito manages to preserve her heart before she's fully deleted.
    • In Episode 14, Asuna overcomes complete paralysis with The Power of Love to get up and take a killing blow for Kirito, dropping her own health bar to zero to save him.
    • During Kirito's second run on ALfheim Online's Grand Quest, Recon performs an extremely powerful dark magic spell that instantly kills him while clearing a massive hole in the Guardian swarms. A downplayed case, though, since death in ALO won't kill you in the real world like in SAO. However, Leafa does note that the Death Penalty for Self-Destruct is rather steep.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Kirito at the start doesn't interact with other players due to past trauma. Agil gives off the impression of being a stingy merchant, but it turns out much of the in-game currency he earns goes to support the lower-leveled players.
  • Hilarious Outtakes: The English dub's bloopers, which are largely valued by fans... and even a significant number of haters.
  • Honor Before Reason: Though the protagonists avoid this for the most part, this pops up from time to time:
    • In Volume 2, Thinker walks into an obvious ambush unarmed, because his treacherous 2nd-in-command said he wanted to talk privately without weapons. Yuriel and Asuna lampshade this.
    • In Volume 8, Klein frees an imprisoned NPC that he and everyone agree is probably a trap and will likely turn on them, because that's his warrior code. The party can't decide if he's being an idiot or being cool. Amusingly, the NPC is a trap... just not the expected kind. See Attractive Bent-Gender above.
    • A unit of players from The Army are met by Kirito, Asuna, and Klein's guild, and their leader asks for the map for the level. Kirito agrees to it but tells him they should avoid fighting the boss, as they don't have enough players, and his troops look rather worn out. He decides to go straight towards the boss, and promptly gets killed for it, forcing Asuna and Kirito to attack the boss in order to save the surviving players.
  • Hopeless Suitor: Liz, after having joined a party with Kirito to find a rare material to forge a sword with, is seemingly ready to declare her love for him since he risked his life to save hers and was a Nice Guy as well. Then Asuna drops by, and Liz begins to read between the lines. You can almost see her heart get torn in two as she realizes this trope is being applied to her. She tries to brush it off with her usual Genki Girl face, but wanders off to secretly cry.
    • Suguha/Leafa in Episode 22, when she hears Kirito mention trying to reach Asuna, and realizes that Kirito is her brother/cousin (to whom she was already a hopeless suitor, knowing that the rest of her family wouldn't approve of her being in love with him and that he had a girlfriend, making her this trope twice over). Like Liz, she doesn't take this information very well.
    • Really applies to any girl not named Asuna who falls in love with Kirito. Goes doubly for the additional girls in the games based on the anime, including Strea and Premiere.
  • Hope Spot: After Sachi dies, Kirito learns of an ultra-rare item that can resurrect a dead player. It doesn't quite work out, since the item has to be used within ten seconds of the player's death, but by the time Kirito gets it Sachi has already been dead for six months. He gives the item to Klein instead, hoping that it'll be of some use to him.
  • Hypocrite: Kuradeel, who has the gall to call Kirito a murderer after Kirito kills him when he is a member of Laughing Coffin.

    I — M 
  • I Believe I Can Fly: Alfheim Online's most famous feature is allowing players to fly through the air as a fairy race.
  • Idiot Ball: Sugou, running highly unethical human experiments on a public server — no matter how ostensibly secretive those involved are — which is still debugging from the transition from a previous incarnation, in which several characters get an Old Save Bonus when they transfer, was not your brightest move.
    • Shino is able to load and fire a Colt M1911 (well, an airsoft copy) thanks to her experience in GGO.
    • Kirito manages to match his sister in a kendo sparring match with his SAO skills (it should be noted that she's a national level competitor), dodging a blow that reportedly had never been successfully blocked by either her coaches or tournament opponents, and later beats a knife-wielding madman barehanded, though the latter is justified as the madman was currently suffering from phantom injures dealt by Kirito inside ALO, particularly a bad case of depth perception. It's all but stated that Kirito would have lost had his opponent been in tip-top shape.
      • Another thing about the kendo match: despite it being a month after his escape from SAO, we still need to remember that it's ONLY a month, so his body is still both severely physically weakened from muscle atrophy and from malnutrition. They both pretty much come to the conclusion that had he been healthy at the time he would have won (the only real reason he lost is because his arms had atrophied so much that when he tried to block one of her strikes she just blew straight through and hit him. That, and he tried to use a Sword Skill with predictable results.)
  • Image Song: Several for several of the major cast members.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • One of the Salamanders ambushing Kirito and Leafa in the cave gets impaled on monster!Kirito's fingernails and hangs there in the air until he dies.
    • In Episode 22 of Season 1, this happens to Kirito in a scene very, very reminiscent of Asuka's death in The End of Evangelion.note 
    • Two episodes later Kirito kills Sugou's Oberon avatar by tossing him up and letting him fall onto Kirito's sword in a pose strikingly familiar to the iconic Last Shooting scene in Gundam.
    • Moments before that, Sugou impales Kirito with his own sword, just after altering the pain absorber to make the experience even worse for him.
    • Kirito does this to the first opponent he fights in the Bullet of Bullets tournament in Episode 5 of Season 2 once he manages to get close enough to use his energy sword.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: The entire skill system in SAO is based on swordsmanship. Not a single spell to be found. Hand Waved as an attempt to raise immersion.
    • Kirito can cut bullets in midair easily in Gun Gale Online. When he gets back to ALfheim Online, he uses the same skill to cut magical spells. Nobody, not even Asuna, Leafa, or Klein, who're the closest players to his skill level, can do that. (And also comments that even the fastest spell is slower than a particular kind of rifle, implying that those spells he cut apart were slow.)
  • Impossible Task: The "Grand Quest" of ALO.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Not an issue in SAO and ALO 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.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Shino scores a headshot on The Behemoth after jumping from a skyscraper while dodging a minigun in midair.
  • Incapable of Disobeying:
    • In the Alicization arc, the artificial souls that make up the population of Underworld live under a "Taboo Index" that enforces Underworld's Fantastic Caste System with absolute authority. An example of its effect on its people is when Eugeo tries to stop the attempted rape of two girls he and Kirito were mentoring. The act Eugeo wants to stop is not a violation of of the Taboo Index, but the fact that it's being performed by a noble, where Eugeo is a simple commoner, means that trying to stop it is. As a result, Eugeo can, at first, only watch helplessly, unable to move or act in anyone's defense. When Eugeo manages enough Heroic Resolve to resist the Taboo Index and fight back, the effort and backlash of doing so causes his eye to explode from its socket.
    • From the same arc, while fighting their way through the Cathedral, Kirito and Eugeo meet Linel and Fizel, a pair of apprentice nuns who snuck out to see the intruders after all the non-Integrity Knights were ordered to lock themselves in their rooms. This trope is one of the factors in Kirito's realizing they weren't what they claimed to be, since if such an order had been given, then the girls could never have stepped outside their rooms. Because of this, Kirito is able to turn the tables on their sudden but inevitable betrayal.
  • Inside a Computer System: The "partially attached" variety. VRMMOs use the "Full Dive" system to completely immerse the player in a virtual world, controlling all five senses.
  • Inverted Portrait:
    • Asuna in the Closing Credits of the Aincrad arc.
    • Shino in the Closing Credits, and her in-game alter ego Sinon (along with Death Gun) in the Title Sequence, of the Phantom Bullet arc. Twice over in the former, in fact: once as her present self, then again as her 11-year­-old self, when she shot and killed a would-be bank robber.
    • Leafa in the Caliber arc's Closing Credits.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Death Gun uses one. It helps him sneak around on the battlefield and is also used to spy on people when they enter their real-life details, including home addresses, in order to register for tournaments in GGO.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • Kirito starts chanting "hayaku"note  whenever he's caught up in an intense fight, two of which has been against Heathcliff. Nearly every time he's done so it hasn't ended well for him.
    • "Sorry, this area is currently off-limits." Said by Kirito to a Jerkass guild member, echoing another guild member's words to the Sleeping Knights.
    • Also in Episode 24 of Season 1, "Hurts, doesn't it?" Also said by Kirito to Sugou/Oberon when he slices his cheek after turning the situation in his favor, echoing Oberon's words when he was in control of the situation when he lowered the pain absorber on Kirito.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Kuradeel tries this when Asuna beats him to within an inch of his life bar. He feigns asking for mercy/forgiveness, but then immediately tries to kill Asuna with a cheap shot before being taken down by a recovered Kirito. He even lampshades the fact that she fell for it!
  • Japanese Christian: Yuuki's family, and Yuuki herself. This is apparently why Yuuki names her Original Sword Skill "Mother's Rosary."
  • Japanese Honorifics: Most characters respectively use honorifics when addressing others.
    • Asuna heavily uses these, which is unsurprising given her upper-class upbringing. She refers to everyone but her very closest friends with an honorific, even her husband/boyfriend Kirito is addressed as "Kirito-kun" and her daughter Yui as "Yui-chan". The only exceptions are Lisbeth and Sinon, who she refers to by nicknames "Liz" and "Sinonon", along with Yuuki who she addresses by a first name since the two are close enough to be surrogate sisters.
    • Silica and Yui are known to use honorifics for everyone. Given how much younger they are in comparison virtually everyone gets addressed with a "-san", even Kirito who is usually addressed as "Kirito-kun" gets called "Kirito-san" by Silica, or Lisbeth who prefers going by a nickname gets called "Liz-san".
    • Kirito averts this, rarely ever using honorifics and addressing his peers simply by their gamer name or their first name if he knows it. He only appears to use honorifics when the situation requires him to be respectful such as when addressing his elders. Asuna once calls him out on how rude he was being before she gives him permission to only call her by name. Amusingly, Kirito will only ever call her "Asuna-san" whenever he knows he's in trouble with her. Surprisingly enough, he uses "-san" on Quinella.
    • Lisbeth, being very casual and carefree also generally avoids honorifics among her friends, calling Kirito, Asuna, and Silica by name. Kirito gets mildly annoyed that she starts off using yobisute on him, but generally tolerates it.
    • Leafa/Suguha, unlike her brother, is quite adamant about addressing others respectfully with honorifics- "-san," in most cases, since said individuals are older than her. The one exception is Shinichi/Recon, which is attributed to her being annoyed by him, and she's the one who keeps insisting he refer to her as "Kirigaya-san" and not as "Leafa-chan" or "Suguha-chan".
    • Sinon seems to be a mix of this. She respectfully calls her Only Friend in real life (at the time) Kyoji as "Shinkawa-kun", but all of her in-game friends generally get addressed without an honorific.
    • Yuuki being very informal by nature is virtually never seen using honorifics, with the exception of individuals she doesn't know and needs to show respect to. That said, she does start out using "-san" on Asuna, but stops when Asuna says she doesn't need to.
    • Argo is an odd example given she loves to nickname everyone. She does use honorifics, but very unorthodox ones that seem to make her peers seem younger, such as Kirito as "Kii-bou" or Asuna as "A-chan".
    • Alice uses the extremely respectful "-dono" on senior Integrity knights, but uses yobisute on the people closest to her(Kirito, Eugeo, Eldrie and Selka). Asuna gets rather annoyed when she hears Alice using yobisute on Kirito.
  • Jerkass: At least one in every arc.
    • The Fairy Dance arc has Sugou as the primary jerkass, with practically no redeeming qualities, unlike Kayaba from the first arc.
    • To a lesser degree, there's Sigurd. He bosses Leafa around in spite of the fact that her agreement with him gives her flexibility as far as partying with him goes, and when Kirito sticks up for her, Sigurd tries to kill him, since Kirito's in an enemy race's capital and can't fight back. He ultimately sells out his faction in hopes of rerolling as a race that he heard was going to be at an advantage in a later patch.
    • Endou from Phantom Bullet. She's a bully who exploits Shino's trauma to steal her money, and it's revealed that Endou and her sidekicks were taking advantage of Shino the entire time they were "friends."
    • In Mother's Rosario, a guild uses a spell to spy on Asuna and the Sleeping Knights' first attempt on the boss. When Asuna and her friends come back for another try, they find the other guild sitting in front of the door, not yet ready to face the boss but refusing to let anyone through.
    • In Alicization, Raios and Humbert are two arrogant nobles who look down on Kirito and Eugeo and try to make their lives miserable, from cutting the buds off Kirito's flowers to trying to rape Kirito and Eugeo's valets in order to provoke them into violating the Taboo Index.
  • Joke Weapon: The Lightsaber is considered this in Gun Gale Online, which makes a certain kind of sense as it's an MMOFPS.
  • Karma Houdini: Although they were all placed in a separate building from other SAO survivors for rehab/observation purposes, none of the players who committed murder in SAO are publicly revealed nor receive justice for their actions, as all blame is placed on Akihiko Kayaba. This leads to repercussions in future arcs.
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch:
    • Kayaba gives Kirito the means to defeat Sugou, a man who's even more despicable than the SAO creator (you know, the one that caused thousands of deaths for a childish dream).
    • And then there's what Kirito did to PoH in the Alicization arc.
  • Kissing Cousins: One-sided on Suguha's part. She slowly falls in love with her cousin Kirito (who was raised as her brother); however, since he already has Asuna and Kirito isn't really into that stuff, he doesn't reciprocate. Suguha also knows her parents would never approve and tries to get over her feelings.
  • Kissing Discretion Shot: Sometimes when Kirito and Asuna kiss.
  • Lady of War: Sakuya, guild leader of the Sylphs, who wears a katana.
  • Lampshade Hanging: In the Light Novels, at least, Kirito thinks that he looks like a typical manga protagonist. Also, in the Light Novels, when Asuna breaks free from an unbreakable paralysis to save Kirito, Akihiko Kayaba points out that "This is really surprising. Isn't it just like a standalone console RPG scenario? It should have been impossible for her to recover from the paralysis... So things like this really do happen..."
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: This franchise seems to like memory manipulation plots quite a bit. See also Fake Memories.
    • In the "Fairy Dance" arc, Sugou threatens to erase Kirito and Asuna's memories; erasing her memory of Kirito would most likely help in brainwashing her to love only him (though how well it would actually work is another matter). He is also, more generally, working on experiments involving manipulating memories, which might include this trope.
    • Ordinal Scale has the Augma, which, while marketed as safer than even the AmuSphere, is in reality a modified NerveGear that can even secretly do full dives, and helps the villain steal memories of SAO from its survivors, whenever they are defeated by the special event bosses.
    • In Alicization, the Soul Translator is programmed to block Kirito's memories of being in Underworld while he is in the real world, and vice versa. Additionally, in Underworld itself, Integrity Knights have all of their life memories stolen away, being told they were called from the heavens, and that memories of that have been blocked. Administrator does a similar thing to Eugeo after he is captured.
  • Laser Sight: In GGO, the Ballistic Prediction Line (Bullet Line) is an inverse example, as it appears only to opposing players, though sniper rifles don't project a line until they've fired a shot (and in which case the line disappears after a minute). Normally, this gives opposing players a chance to dodge incoming gunfire, but Kirito takes it up a notch by using these lines to deflect gunfire with his light saber. Not that he needed those lines to guess where the bullet was coming to anyway.
  • Laser Blade: GGO has "Photon Saber" weapons.
  • Lethal Joke Weapon: The above mentioned weapon's damage output is incredibly high, but its short range and limited battery life relegates it to Joke Weapon status... but in the hand of a skilled player it has the ability to block everything up to and including ''a sniper bullet''and ''a sword made of the strongest material in the game''. Naturally, Kirito no-sold every shooter with it. After he becomes the co-winner of the third GGO in-game tournament, more players begin trying to emulate him apparently to no success, as they lack Kirito's incredible reflex and his ability to guess bullet lines.
  • Level Grinding: In SAO, Kirito does a lot of this off-screen. In fact, in SAO it's not considered safe to explore a floor until you are at least 10+ levels higher. Kirito himself does a massive power leveling after Sachi dies, in order to solo an event boss monster to obtain a rumored One-Time Revival item to bring her back to life.
  • Light/Darkness Juxtaposition: Kirito gains this dynamic with the first two Big Bads, Heathcliff/Kayaba and Oberon/Sugou, with Kirito being Dark Is Not Evil while the villains being Light Is Not Good. Kirito is The Hero who always dresses in black, earning him the name the "Black Swordsman" and has swords named after dark themes like "Dark Repulsor" and "Night Sky Sword". Heathcliff is a paladin with his attacks including the "Holy Sword" and "Spiritual Light". Meanwhile Sugou made himself into the King of the Fairies and the God of Alfheim Online, giving himself a divine appearance with blonde hair and ornamented with gold.
  • Lighter and Softer: The Calibur Arc serves as a bit of a Breather Arc, following up on the previous arcs which all involved very high stakes such as death. This arc is more of a Slice of Life away from immediate danger, with Kirito and friends having a lot of fooling around.
  • Lighthearted Rematch: The SAO survivors who migrated to ALO treat the return of Aincrad as this, intending to clear all hundred levels for fun, instead of a matter of life or death.
  • Light Is Not Good:
    • Kuradeel of the holy-based guild Knights of The Blood Oath turns out to be working for Laughing Coffin.
    • Heathcliff, Leader of the Knights of The Blood Oath, has light-based skills and turns out to be the Big Bad Kayaba.
    • The Guardian Knights that guard Oberon's Fortress are all clad in white and have white wings, and they're preventing Kirito from reaching Asuna.
  • Lightning Bruiser:
    • Kirito is this no matter what game he is in due to having Super Reflexes.
    • Asuna is this in SAO, doing less raw damage but attacking and moving more quickly. More than once she's taken down opponents who've given Kirito trouble.
  • Little Bit Beastly: The Cait-Sith, one of the nine playable races in ALO, are basically an entire nation of cat-people.
  • Lock-and-Load Montage: There's a short one in Caliber, just before the heroes set out to challenge the quest and grab Excalibur.
  • Locked Room Mystery: The short story "Murder Case in the Area" is about figuring out how someone was killed in a town — a safe zone, in which players are normally immune to damage.
  • Logical Weakness: Kirito's fighting style in Gun Gale Online, in particular using his lightsaber to deflect incoming fire, relies entirely on being able to see bullet lines, and even predict when they'll appear, in order to figure out where and when to put his blade into position to allow him to deflect incoming fire. This of course means it can be countered, for example, by players firing sniper rifles from concealment at range, as they don't generate a bullet line if the weapon had not been fired for the past 60 seconds. But what about for weapons that don't get a free first shot from concealment, or for snipers who've already fired and are either still waiting on the 60-second timer to expire before they can get the free shot again, or are forced to continue engaging the enemy and unable to break contact? Head over to the Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online page for more details on a method for those types of scenarios.
  • 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.
    • In Progressive, the leaders of the rival factions ALS and DKB spend a great deal of time trying to pressure Kirito and Asuna into joining their guilds (one for each, as a compromise of sorts).
  • Look Behind You: In Intermission: Reason for the Whiskersnote , Kirito says this to Kotarou and Isuke from the Fūmaningun guild who cornered both Argo and himself. They don't believe him at first, thinking it's a trick, but it isn't because a Trembling Ox just spawned behind them.
  • Loophole Abuse:
    • Towns are safe zones, where players cannot be killed except in a duel. PKers discover that if you challenge someone to a duel while they're asleep, you can manually move their hand to accept, and then kill them without retaliation.
    • Several people are killed in a town, without anyone seeing the duel victory symbol appearing, so everyone is confused as to how it's being done. Some of the victims think it's a ghost of vengeance, but Kirito and Asuna assume it's just a system exploit. It turns out to be neither. The "victims" were faking their deaths to terrorize the man who murdered their guild leader. They took advantage of the fact that players can't be harmed in cities, but items (including armor) can, and a destroyed item Disappears into Light in the same way a dead player does. So they just stabbed themselves, faked being in pain, and when their armor was destroyed, teleported away.
  • Loose Canon: The Girls Ops manga spinoff. Given that it isn't written by Reki Kawahara, it's never really acknowledged in the main storyline but for the most does nothing to contradict it either. Though issues of Unital Ring have created continuity errors with Argo being revealed to have never played Alfheim Online like she's shown doing in the spinoff. Though it's still up in the air if Girls Ops is outright non-canon or not.
  • Loot Drama: In-Universe example, played seriously. One early episode revolves around a younger character being bullied by a crooked guild trying to rob her of a rare item that could revive her familiar, and later in the season, several Player Killing incidents revolve around a guild that crumbled after a disagreement over how to use a rare ring that dropped from a mob.
  • Lord British Postulate: There are a number of areas in ALO that are locked simply by placing enough powerful enemies that no one should be able to pass. The quest to enter the World Tree is this. The enemies themselves are on the low-end of the power scale, but they spawn infinitely. And if you do manage to get past them, the door will not open for anyone but a GM.
  • Love Confession: Recon gives an awkward one to Leafa in episode 23. She seems to reject it with a Megaton Punch, but it also seems to snap her out of her funk.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Kyouji became part of Death Gun because of his crush on Sinon.
  • Luminescent Blush: Kirito has a tendency to provoke these unintentionally.
  • Magic Skirt: Averted, thanks to the physics engine which simulates gravity. Silica learns this the hard way.
  • Male Gaze: Unsurprising considering the Shounen demographic this franchise was intially catered to; two or three lingering camera angles on backsides in the first and second season notwithstanding, onscreen nudity is usually minimal and tasteful to accentuate a character's emotional vulnerability during heartwarming moments; the modesty of the girl in question is preserved with long-and-beautiful Godiva Hair, the conveniently present Modesty Bedsheet, or a generous amount of Censor Steam and opaque water in bath sequences.
    • When sexual-violence and cruelty is enters the equation, such as Asuna/Royen/Tiese's infamous Attempted Rape scenes, and Quinella's inhuman indifference to her own nudity, however, this trope is always Played for Horror.
    • As the demographic eventually expands to a growing female audience, equal loving attention is paid upon muscular masculity of handsome men such as Buercoli, Klein, Aegil and once in a blue moon even Kirito and Eugeo.
  • Manly Tears: Happen from time to time, usually from Klein.
  • Marry Them All: In the Noncanon Gaiden X2, which takes place at the end of the Underworld arc, basically all of Kirito's somewhat Unwanted Harem decide to just marry him in-game, and both Kirito & Asuna agree, making the Battle Harem "official", at least for around 5 years of accelerated time. Non-canonical, since Word of God confirms it, and Ronye wasn't part of the harem (though Alice was).
  • Massive Race Selection: There are nine playable fairy tribes in ALO. Four of them are based on the Alchemic Elementals:
  • Mass Monster-Slaughter Sidequest: In ALO Archduke Þjazi gives one to kill beast-type Evil Gods in order for players to receive Excaliber but in actuality the prize is Caliburn and for Jötunheimr to spread to Alfheim.
  • Meaningful Name: "Unital Ring" also refer to how the game is basically all the Seed-based VRMMO forcibly united into one single game by an unknown force.
  • Meaningless Villain Victory: During the aftermath of Fairy Dance, it is discovered that even if Sugou had managed to perfect his Mind Control research, it would have only worked with the (now-defunct) first-generation NERVgears.
  • Mechanical Horse: One of the modes of transportation in GGO.
  • Meditation Powerup: In SAO, Meditation is a mental concentration skill that increases the rate of HP recovery and reduces the remaining time of negative statuses. However, due to its low efficiency and lame pose, not many players use it.
  • Mercy Reward: Naratively it could be said that Yui is this to Kirito for doing his best at invoking Video Game Caring Potential within the Death Game even going so far as to duel Asuna to prevent her from invoking Video Game Cruelty Potential against the NP Cs, however since by the time Yui shows up Asuna is firmly on Kirito's side but still in need of a lesson on the humanity of AI's resulting in Asuna bonding with the AI who calls her mommy only to watch helplessly in anguish as she's nearly deleted only for Kirito to get this trope again with him having just enough time to save her, albiet as an in-game object attached to his nearvgear.
  • Metal Slime: The Ragout Rabbit in SAO. They are very hard to find, and though it doesn't offer high EXP, their meat can be sold for a somewhat high mount and they make for some of the best meals for anyone with a high enough Cooking skill to prepare it.
  • Million Mook March: When they first reach the inside of the World Tree, it doesn't seem to be very well-guarded. However, once Kirito attempts to break through, they start showing up en masse. After Leafa and Recon try to help, the numbers grow even bigger, to the point that all you can see up there is a wall of guardians.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: Kayaba gives every player of SAO an item called "hand mirror", which forces the player avatars into the players' real-world appearance.
  • Modesty Bedsheet: Asuna uses one after the Relationship Upgrade.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • In-universe. Kirito and Asuna's Relationship Upgrade. Asuna prepares to go all the way... and Kirito explains that he meant they should stick together to watch out for assassins. It's a while before he can placate an embarrassed, raging Asuna, and the romantic mood is completely destroyed. Not that they let that stop them...
    • Kirito's first meeting with Leafa and first ALO PvP encounter keeps jumping between "Laugh out Loud" and "Let's Get Dangerous!."
    • Episode 21 of the anime has Asuna sneaking around the top of the World Tree interspersed with scenes of Kazuto and Suguha... well, being brother and sister, which itself alternates between funny and heartwarming.
    • In the first episode of the anime, Ominous Latin Chanting accompanies Kirito's departure from the Starting City, his mind in turmoil and anguish... and then the hopeful determination of the OP kicks in.
  • Mook Horror Show: Episode 19 has Kirito transforming into an appearance very similar to The Gleam Eyes and summarily wiping out a group of Salamanders pursuing him and Leafa. One gets impaled on his fingernails, one gets eaten by Kirito, one gets eaten by underwater high-level monsters when attempting to escape...
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: The Alicization arc. Once again, Kirito and his friends are the heroes, starting out trying to make sense of the situation, and eventually fighting to defend Alice and the Underworld. Kikuoka is morally gray, with him running an experiment to create A.I.s that can fight in wars, while the U.S., with cooperation from the JSDF, wants to stop him in order to maintain the East Asian power balance. The Integrity Knights start off as antagonists while fighting for the Pontifex, but are ultimately trying to defend the human realms against the forces of darkness. The inhabitants of the Dark Territory avert Always Chaotic Evil, since they're composed of several different factions, some evil and others not so much. The human players who fight for them are Unwitting Pawns who got tricked by the main villains. The main antagonists of the arc- Quinella, PoH, and Gabriel Miller, as well as lesser antagonists Raios, Humbert and Chudelkin, are all truly despicable and have no redeeming characteristics.
  • The Most Dangerous Video Game: This is the entire premise of the Aincrad arc and, for 300 people, the Fairy Dance arc.
  • Most Gamers Are Male: Demonstrated a few times in group shots, particularly in the opening and during raids, but it's most obvious when Akihara scrolls down a list of players and only one of around 15 is female. Particularly interesting because this trope is averted in Japan.
  • Mundane Utility: Some players use VRMMOs to do homework, as it can display a lot more screen data than would be possible at home and allows for players to gather despite real world distances.
  • Muscles Are Meaningless: Occurs a lot in VR worlds. It's discussed often, as well as in spin-offs like Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online, that there can be some weird dissonance between the appearance of a player's avatar and what their stats dictate they're capable of. A prime example of this would be Kirito, who like looks like a skinny teenager both in-game and IRL, but also focuses on STR for his stat build, giving him a good deal of strength in-game to lift heavy swords effortlessly.
    • This generally also applies in the Underworld, as in most cases strength is largely about your self-image manifesting as your strengthnote . In Moon Cradle, it's stated that Ronye was able to effortlessly beat her younger brother in an arm wrestle, with him not even moving her arm half a cen, despite her not being depicted as particularly muscular.
  • Musical Theme Naming: Each story arc in the Progressive light novel series is named after a musical composition style (with the only exception being the Interlude chapter in the first volume):
    • Aria of a Starless Night
    • Rondo of a Fragile Blade
    • Concerto of Black-and-White
    • Barcarolle of Froth
    • Canon of the Golden Rule
    • Rhapsody of the Red Blaze
  • Mutual Kill:
    • Kayaba deals Kirito a mortal blow, but he lasts long enough to return the favor.
    • How Shino and Kirito end up as co-winners of the BoB tournament.
  • 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.

    N — R 
  • Naked People Are Funny: While hardly seen in the main series, and even then it's largely Downplayed due to characters ending up in their underwear at worst, side stories will often use this for the sake of both humour and Fanservice.
    • After both survive an attack from Kuradeel, Kirito suggests that he and Asuna spend the night together to better watch out for assassins, but the the way he phrases it makes it sound that he wanted to continue off from their Big Damn Kiss. So after dinner, Asuna strips to her underwear and demands he do the same, at which point Kirito realizes his screw-up and explains what he really meant. Cue an embarrassed Asuna hitting him with an unarmed Linear, with him getting protected by the safe-zone's protection system.
    • History Repeats when Kirito meets Sinon, who mistakes him for a girl due to his feminine avatar and him playing along to avoid her assuming that he's trying to flirt with her. When they both sign up for the BoB and enter what Kirito doesn't realize is a changing room, she's quick to strip off her casual clothes to get into her combat gear in front of him. Embarrassed, he bows in apology and shows her his menus profile to reveal his true gender to her. After taking some time to process this and realize that she stripped in front of some random guy, Sinon gets pissed and slaps him hard enough to bypass the safezone's protection and leave a red imprint on his face!
    • During Unital Ring after the mysterious merge, Kirito unequips his gear in hopes that it would allow him to equip his insanely heavy sword to cut logs with. The sword doesn’t become any lighter, at which point he realised that there’s a grace where players are unaffected by the weight of currently equipped items, which ends after a set time or if anything they have on their person is unequipped. Meaning Kirito ended his grace period early is stuck in only his boxers until Liz comes by and is able to give him new armour. Naturally, he becomes the victim of Asuna, Alice and later Leafa pointing out the sorry state he’s in and frequent hard slaps to his unprotected back.
    • The "One Thousand and One Nights" Quest that Kirito does in the Aincrad: Night of Kirito manga sub-series, requires him to avoid getting into bed with the female associates that are summoned, or else they will lose all of their clothing and armour. Meanwhile, they instead think they're on a quest to get in bed with the "princess", which the system has them see Kirito as. And to prevent him from simply explaining the situation to the girls to make things easier, he himself will suffer the same penalty if any of the summoned participants figure out his true identity. While largely played for Fanservice, a lot of the humour derives itself from how utterly ludicrous the scenarios themselves are.
      • On the 1st night, Asuna is the visitor. Kirito is almost tempted to get in the bed with her because of her natural kindness and how enamoured he is with her, even composing a short poem in his head. He's able to resist, which prompts Asuna to hug him from behind... before German suplexing him onto the bed. Kirito then reverts to his original appearance, during which he covers his eyes awaiting her wrath, while Asuna gets stripped and becomes utterly embarassed.
      • You knew it was gonna be bad when Strea appeared on the 3rd Night. While she's not able to actually force Kirito into the bed, her mentioning of the "Queen of Serpents"note , her equipment was changed to a Modesty Towel.
      • On the 4th night, Yui actively tries to force Kirito into bed with Asuna out of worry about his "cheating" throughout the quest, one attempt involving a "yes or no pillow". While Kirito is able to avoid it, Asuna is reverted to the state she was in after her first visit while still holding the pillow, creating a provocative image that catches Kirito and Lisbeth (who came along) off-guard.
      • On the 6th night, Klein and Agil appear after they're mistaken for female players for cross-dressing as Asuna and Leafa, and he's able to use his girl Avatar to get free items from them. Klein however is able to figure out that it's him based on what he asked for and his general behaviour, which, under the rules of the quest, reverts him back to his male appearance and leaves him naked in front of them and Yui, much to his mortification. Fortunately, the system recognizes the error and gives him his stuff back by Night 7.
      • On night 7, Leafa and Sinon are summoned, with Kirito hoping that they can actually use the wait it out tactic he thought they would on the 4th night. However, Yui feels left out and wants to also get in the same bed as Kirito, which he refuses to for... obvious reasons. In response she tries seducing him, clearly not knowing what it actually means, and tries doing this by dressing up as other characters, which Sinon uses to distract her when Yui tries imitating her and asks for her advice. It seems like they've managed to dodge the bullet... before Leafa trips and lands on Kirito, causing her to lose her equipment with Kirito unintentionally groping her, prompting Yui to react with horror and go on about he could be arrested and sent to court, with Sinon unhelpfully chipping in.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Player-Killer guild "Laughing Coffin", though they're not that powerfulnote . Any AI opponent whose name starts with "The" is a boss. Not something you want to try fighting alone, or even with your six best friends well, unless you're Kirito. "The Skull Reaper" does double-time for fearsomeness, and more than lives up to that name in combat. "The Fatal Scythe" does triple-time until killed by Yui.
  • Necessary Evil: In Progressive, Kirito, along with his neutral companions, seem to view the rivalry between the Aincrad Liberation Squad and Dragon Knights Brigade as this. It's acknowledged that it's one of the major contributors to the Frontline's divided status and that their drive to one up the other may eventually lead to someone getting hurt or killed, which does happen when the Infamous Floor 25 boss fight causes the ALS to drop out of the Frontlines due to their massive casualties, and that something like a third, equally or more powerful guild would be required to keep them in check. However, the reason it's necessary at the time is because not only does the Frontlines get plenty of players fighting for it as a result, but that the same drive to best the other motivates the players to train and fight hard in the Boss Fights. The "Necessary" part is emphasized on Floor 5, where Morte informing the ALS, through Joe, that the Floor Boss drops the Flag of Valor, a special item that that provides a buff to all stats to players in the same guild as the wielder, creates the very real risk of the DKB dropping out because they Can't Catch Up in light of this powerful advantage and would more than likely refuse to merge with the ALS due to ideological differences, which would cause a dramatic drop in numbers.
  • Nerves of Steel: Kirito has his moments of angst but usually when it hits the fan, he's the one least visibly freaked out.
  • New Life in Another World Bonus: Kirito's hugely boosted stats in the VR game are explained by his having been a beta-tester for the game, in effect getting a head start compared to other players. The GGO arc also has Kirito discovering that the developers used the same engine as Sword Art Online for their game and his avatar's insane power level carries with him as an unexpected Old Save Bonus.
    • His real cheat is the ability to rapidly pick up new games in absurdly short times at the highest level. This is best demonstrated in his ability to defeat the previous The Ace in a game he just logged into.
  • Never Bring A Bow To A Sword Fight: Subverted. Sinon's first appearance has her cherry tapping a boss using a sniper rifle, and she catches a sword at twice the listed range of her weapon, so it's more a case, when facing her of...
  • Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight: Defied by Kirito. In GGO, a gun-based MMO, Kirito chooses a light saber as his primary weapon despite it being viewed as useless by practically every other player because of its poor range. He makes it work.
    • Although her ALfheim Online character is an Undine Healer, Asuna still carries her rapier, and she's only gotten better since her Sword Art Online days.
  • Never Sleep Again: It turns out some player killers challenge people to duels and attack them while they're asleep.
  • New Game Plus:
    • What Kirito finds out about his avatar after he logs into ALO for the very first time. Because ALO uses a slightly earlier version of the same system as SAO, all of his skills that are common to both games and his money from SAO transfer over to his freshly-made character, though his HP, Items, and Equipment do not.
    • When he later transfers from the revived SAO to GGO, he does much the same thing, though he arranges to store his items and equipment with Agil's shop so they won't have to be deleted. Because of the Seed forming the basis of all the new generation games, characters are increasingly capable of transferring from game to game, though incompatible items and such are still deleted.
  • News Travels Fast: After Kirito defeats the 74th floor's boss with Dual Blades, which until then had been a secret, word quickly gets out, and he's eventually known as the player who possesses this rare skill.
    • Kirito lampshades this when Argo sends him an apologetic congratulatory message, after the 1st level boss is defeated.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Kirito believes he did this when the Black Cats of the Full Moon was mostly wiped out.
  • Nintendo Hard: The beta testers for SAO only made it to the tenth floor over a one-month period, and it took players two months after the official launch just to clear the first floor's boss.
  • Nobody Poops: Volume 20 reveals that the denizens of Underworld literally never have to use the bathroom. Asuna is a bit perturbed at this.
  • No Export for You: In-universe: Apparently only Japan (and by extension, USA if Zaskar is really based on the USA) got the full functionality of The Seed Nexus, neighboring countries did not, which is enough to aggravate a POV character in later chapters of Alicization.
  • Noisy Guns: This trope is actually lampshaded by Reki Kawahara in his live commentary of SAO II. The Type 54 pistol Death Gun uses, in reality, is a very tightly-fitted gun that would not be making random clicking noises when he brandishes it. Kawahara himself apologizes on behalf of any irritated viewers, as this is an Omnipresent Trope in visual media.
  • Non-Indicative Name: SAO players who commit crimes have their player cursors go from green (civilian) to orange (criminal). The term "red player" is used to describe murderers, but their cursors are still only orange; red cursors highlight monsters.
  • Noodle Incident: Kirito's last black longcoat was custom-made by Ashley, the renowned #1 tailor of SAO and who is very beautiful. Lisbeth suspiciously notes that Ashley will only take requests on custom-made items that interest her. Kirito nervously dodges the question, and we never do find out exactly how Kirito got Ashley to create his longcoat.
    • How Kirito and Argo met and learned that each other was a beta tester.
  • Normally, I Would Be Dead Now/Last Breath Bullet: Kirito's health is reduced to zero during his fight with Kayaba, and the game gives him the "You are dead," message, but he uses the lag between his health hitting zero and him vanishing into light to deliver a blow to wipe out Kayaba's HP.
  • Not Disabled In VR: The Sleeping Knights is a Guild entirely composed of terminally ill players. Exaggerating it even further, their leader is Konno Yuuki, who is dying of AIDS and has been voluntarily living in a virtual environment 24 hours a day for three years — a whole year longer than the victims of the SAO incident were trapped in the game. It's pointed out that the Medicuboid, the device that Yuuki is testing, is meant to dull the feelings of pain in real life, serving as a tool for palliative care, although in Yuuki's final moments, she barely has the strength to speak, even online.
  • Not the Intended Use: Outside System Skills, skills and abilities players use that are not programmed in the game. Notable ones are:
    • Switch: A player switches with their partner after attacking the enemy, offsetting it, and the partner does a follow-up attack so the former can recuperate.
    • Skill Connect: In ALO, Kirito discovers he can chain One-Handed Sword Skills in order to compensate for not having the Dual Blades skill in the game. He uses One-Handed Sword Skills and controls his left and right arms separately. He has to be sure the timing of the next move is precise or it fails.
    • Arms Blast: Kirito attacks the weakpoint of the opponent's weapon to destroy it.
    • Spell Blast: In ALO, where Sword Skills also have magic attributes imbued, Kirito can cut magic spells. His inspiration comes from his slicing bullets in GGO.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: This is the reason why Liena chose Kirito as her page, seeing his unorthodox Aincrad Style to be similar to her family's Serlut Style. This ends up working out in the long run for her, since seeing Kirito score a tie against Volo with his Aincrad Style gives her the motivation to finally best him.
  • Oblivious to Love: Sorta Justified for Kirito since he already has a girlfriend so he doesn't really pay attention to other girls. It initially appeared that he was quite oblivious to Asuna's feelings for him, despite Furinkazan's knowing smiles, but quickly wises up after Kuradeel tries to kill them.
  • An Offer You Can't Refuse: Kirito attempts to refuse Kikuoka's offer to help him investigate the deaths of certain high-ranking GGO players in Episode 1 of Season 2, stating he doesn't want to risk getting killed after hearing about the unusual circumstances surrounding said deaths. However, Kikuoka says that if they can't get to the bottom of this and solve the mystery, the government may start to restrict access to online games, which goes against what Kayaba was hoping to promote when he gave Kirito "the seed" from season 1. Kirito reluctantly agrees to help him out by playing GGO.
  • Official Couple: Asuna Yuuki and Kazuto Kirigaya (despite his growing list of fangirls).
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Two are used in Episode 3 of the first season:
    • The first is when Klein and his guildmates hold off some members of the Holy Dragon Alliance to buy Kirito some time so he can find a seasonal event boss. Kirito later returns to find them exhausted but victorious despite having been outnumbered.
    • The second occurs shortly after the first one, when Kirito rushes towards Nicholas the Renegade. He later returns to Klein, and gives him the item he received for defeating the boss monster. What makes it fit the trope is the fact that this boss was supposed to take a group to defeat, and Kirito manages to solo it.
    • A later example occurs during the Phantom Bullet arc's Bullet of Bullets tournament. After agreeing to work together to track down Death Gun, Kirito and Sinon split up to track down one of the two remaining Death Gun suspects, "Gunner X". However, shortly after splitting up, Sinon is paralyzed by the real Death Gun who is about to kill her. Well, fortunately, in the two or three minutes in which all of this occurs, Kirito finds "Gunner X," who is actually a female player named "Musketeer X," duels her and defeats her, and then proceeds to use her gun and smoke grenades to drive Death Gun off, saving Sinon. We're only ever treated to a shot of what Musketeer X looked like, as well as her avatar's corpse, and not the actual fight itself.
    • In the Mother's Rosario arc, Yuuki straight-up beats Kirito in a fair duel, which largely happens offscreen in the light novel version. In the manga, however, there's an extra chapter showing Yuuki's first duel with Kirito, and in the anime, the last part of their second duel is briefly shown.
  • Oh, Crap!: Quite a few happen throughout the series:
    • Kirito in Volume 1, upon realizing that he's in a Crash into Hello situation with Asuna, and his hand has been automatically groping her, and he can't remember any of the placating statements he prepared in case he ever got into this situation.
    • Kirito and Lizbeth, upon realizing that the cave they took shelter in is the nest of a high-level dragon boss... and it's coming home for breakfast (i.e. them).
    • A Titan's Head player, upon realizing that the swordsman escorting the low-level Dragon Tamer they're targeting is none other than the Black Swordsman.
      • It's compounded when the guild realizes, to their terror, that not only does Kirito outlevel them by a significant degree, his healing factor counteracts all damage they do to him.
    • Kirito again, when Sugou attempts to knife him in the real world.
      • And consequently, Sugou when he realizes Kirito could do the same to him not a minute later.
    • Level Bosses also tend to cause this reaction — prominent examples are Kirito & Asuna's reaction to seeing the Level 74 boss, and when the Level 75 boss casually oneshots several clearers.
    • In Episode 2 of Season 2, Sinon and her pug crew shit themselves when they realise the unknown target they'd dismissed is the well known mercenary player Behemoth, who's packing a minigun.
      • Even better, Sinon herself wanted to snipe him first over the guy packing a light machine gun (FN Minimi) specifically due to the fact that he was an unknown.
    • Kirito once again has this look in Episode 5 of Season 2 after he wins his first match, and is approached by Death Gun. The latter, aside from looking very frightening and being way too close for comfort to Kirito, also asks some unusually specific questions to him, such as his name and use of a sword in his match. Kirito surmises that Death Gun is someone he knew in SAO, a fellow survivor, but isn't sure who it is. Death Gun's Laughing Coffin tattoo narrows it down a little for him, but he's still not sure who that guy is.
    • Kirito has another moment of this when he realizes one of the three Death Gun suspects in the Bullet of Bullet tournament, a guy named Pale Rider, isn't Death Gun [[spoiler because he's about to be killed by the real Death Gun instead]]. He immediately starts yelling at Sinon to shoot before Pale Rider is killed.
    • Asuna has a small moment when, after refusing an Arranged Marriage from her mother, learns that her mother is fine with it, as long as it's not someone from her school, and she's horrified that her mother knows about Kirito.
  • Ojou: Asuna happens to be the daughter of the CEO of RECTO, which later on becomes the only producer of the improved version of NERVgear called Amusphere.
  • Old Save Bonus: When he starts playing ALO, Kirito discovers that the game is a slightly earlier version of SAO, so all of his previous skills and stats that are in both games are converted over (his equipment, however, is corrupted and has to be discarded). Since he was one of the highest level players in SAO, and having nearly maxed many of his skills, he's automatically one of the strongest players in ALO and can defeat most players with just starter/NPC equipment.
    • Becomes an official ability for any player, with the launch of "The World Seed". As all games run on the same software, players can transfer, and convert their characters between games, with the games calculating the equivalent stats, but have no access to any items or currency from the other game.
  • Older than They Look: Perhaps not the case for Kirito, as he was a beta player for SAO, but Asuna initially assumes this is the case due to Kirito's experience in the game, only to be shocked that she is actually a year older than him.
  • One-Hit Kill: What makes the Skull Reaper truly terrifying is its ability to do this.
  • One-Man Army: All the integrity knights in Alicization. 50 of them can basically intimidate the entire dark kingdom, at least before Vector shows up. Especially the higher order knights and their ultimate weapon skills, which can range from a laser in the form of concentrated sunlight to a storm of sword particles.
  • Orphaned Etymology: Lampshaded in Moon Cradle. Asuna notices that there are some phrases that the people of the Human Empire use that they really should not even know about, such as "shit" (because Nobody Poops, they should have no concept of what excrement is) and "swing and a miss" (a phrase derived from baseball when no such equivalent sport exists). The simple answer is that Underworld was created by people from the real world who ostensibly let slip in some popular phrases used in real life.
  • Our Kobolds Are Different: The first boss from the second episode, Illfang the Kobold Lord, is a hulking, muscular, large-bellied kobold with greyish (in the manga) or red (in the anime and games) fur and a kangaroo-like design.
  • Our Pixies Are Different: The world of Alfheim Online features Navigation pixies like Yui, who have the appearance of winged humans and are small enough to perch on one's hand. They also typically wear a flower dress.
  • Out of Focus: Asuna is built up as Kirito's partner and Love Interest in the first arc, but then reduced to a Distressed Damsel for the second arc and all but Put on a Bus for the third, both of which bring in new girls to fill her place (not romantically, though). Then inverted in the fifth arc where she's the protagonist. She continues to have a large role in the sixth arc.
  • Override Command: Occurs throughout the series:
    • In the SAO arc, Akihiko Kayaba, playing as the character "Heathcliff", uses his Administrator rights to be treated as an Immortal Object once he hits 50% HP. To further protect the illusion, an Auto Block trait activates, meaning no matter what, he will automatically move to position his shield perfectly to block any attack for no damage received. When his identity is revealed, Kayaba turns both off but inflicts the paralysis status on everyone else but Kirito for a final duel.
    • ALO: Nobuyuki Sugou/Oberon uses his admin powers to use an over-powered Gravity spell that was still in beta testing to prevent Asuna and Kirito from moving, then uses it to generate Excalibur, the strongest sword in the entire game and decreases the safety levels on the pain inhibitors. Kayaba's uploaded consciousness doesn't take kindly to such tactics, though, and gives Kirito his top-level Administrator access to turn the tables on Sugou. This allows Kirito to enjoy a Catharsis Factor moment by showing just how weak Sugou really is without his false power to help before starting a Curb-Stomp Battle with their own actual skill levels at fighting, and the pain limiter set to Zero.
    • Yui, being a high level A.I. of the Cardinal system, likewise has unique powers at her command. As all full versions of the Cardinal systems were designed to be self-sufficient, with minimum input needed from a human game master, including fixing bugs and glitches, automatically adding quests and updates, Yui likewise has access to a number of features her self. She can override parts of the system when needed, or provide information to Kirito, Asuna, and the others as needed as to how the game is behaving.
    • A number of players, especially Kirito and Asuna, have managed to exceed normal limitations of the system. These "Outside System Skills" are often plausible, typically using game skills in ways the devs didn't mean for them to be used, such as Kirito using Sword Arts to target an enemy's weapons or spells to destroy them, or timing their use so that he can activate multiple Sword Arts in a row with two swords, switching between them, so that while one's cooldown is in effect, he can swing with the other. Others are using their own human abilities and skills, such as concentrating intensely to listen for someone moving through some bushes while ignoring the normal natural sounds of the wind, or using a sword to block bullets by using a prediction line to know where to hold the sword.
      • There are other Outside System Skills, though, that go beyond the bounds of both using loopholes in game rules and even human ability, completely overriding them. Kirito has developed an ability known as "Hypersense" that can detect a player's "killing intent" before he's even seen or heard them, allowing him to react to ambushes. Asuna has been able to break games' Movement Speed caps, going faster than theoretically possible through any logical means, even managing to break out of supposedly unbreakable Paralysis status effects to take a fatal blow for Kirito in-game. How these are possible is not yet understood. The series introduces the theory of a Quantum Field, known as Fluctuating Lights (Fluctlight for short), specifically a person's consciousness or soul. If it's strong enough, the NERVgear or Amusphere headset reads it as an unusually strong mental command input, causing the game to temporarily override normal gameplay limits to comply with said input.
  • Player Killing: Though very rare, it does happen. There's an entire guild dedicated to it. Some of these incidents are due to the perpetrators not believing that killing another player would also kill them in real life, though it's noted that during the first year, despite there being around 1000 players choosing to become bandits in SAO, there was never a single incident of player killing. In later games, when players are no longer Killed Off for Real, PK becomes a core mechanic. In some, like ALO, PKing is the main point of the game.
  • Plot Hole: Minor one. Shino strikes Kyouji with a portable stereo. Not ten seconds later, it's back on the table where she grabbed it from. Considering a minor focus was made on the stereo when she went for it, you'd think they'd have paid a little more attention to its magical return to the table.
  • Plucky Girl: Silica is amoung the younger players and yet she manages the upper middle floors with spunk and her dragon familiar.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: Character data in VRMMOs powered by "The Seed" is transferable between games. Kirito takes advantage of this when he transfers his play data from ALO to GGO: while items are non-transferable, his stats are, giving him an edge.
  • Pocket Protector:
    • In season 2, episode 14, Kirito narrowly avoids being poisoned by Kyouji because he hastily disconnected himself from the monitors at his Dive station and neglected to disconnect one of the electrode pads. Kyouji proceeds to inject him right on top of the pad, and although the needle has enough force to go through two layers of clothing it doesn't have enough force to go through two layers of clothing plus an electrode pad.
  • Police Are Useless:
    • The (Liberation) Army by the end of SAO is seen as ineffectual, inept and corrupt.
    • Subverted however with the real life authorities. Although unable to do much in response to what happened with SAO, the government nonetheless steps in and guarantees the safety (and sanity) of the survivors. Not to mention assisting Kirito whenever possible afterwards.
  • Post-Victory Collapse: Happens to Kirito after he defeats a floor boss in episode 9.
  • Power of Love:
    • Asuna's explanation for how she was able to pull her Big Damn Heroes moment, covering in five minutes a distance that took a full hour for Kirito's party. Granted, they weren't exactly sprinting, but still.
    • Can also be considered during Kirito's final fight with Heathcliff; his HP had already been reduced to zero, his body was disintegrating, and he still pulled out Asuna's sword and stabbed Heathcliff in the chest. Similarly during Kirito's fight against Oberon, where he recovered from feeling the pain of swords rammed through his body without the usual pain-reducing technology and got up, gained GM privileges, proceeding to kick the ever-living daylight out of Oberon.
      Heathcliff: So, things like this really do happen.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: When Endo (trying to solicit money from Shino) is forced to exploit her PTSD with a finger gun, she lowers her demands from "Pay our train fare" to "Give us what you've got" due to Shino being about to vomit.
  • Pre-existing Encounters: In all VRMMOs, although some enemies have some ways to conceal their presence in order to ambush players.
  • Protagonist-Centered Morality: This is seen more in comparison of Kirito's feelings towards Kayaba and those towards Sugou. Kayaba trapped 10,000 people in Aincrad so he could live out his Blue-and-Orange Morality dream of being the Big Bad and fighting the top player, which is a very nebulous and abstract goal, but one Kirito has a grudging respect for, given how everyone reacts upon Aincrad's reinstatement in ALO without its death game commitments. Kayaba's actions affected everyone trapped, but it wasn't personal towards anyone. Sugou is tarred with a much blacker brush, as he is engaged to Asuna in real life, thinks nothing of conducting mind control experiments on Asuna and 300 other SAO survivors trapped in ALO, and clearly has an obsession with breaking her spirit at the end of the "Fairy Dance" arc, coming very close to raping her in front of Kirito. Sugou is nothing but personal to Asuna and Kirito, so the audience hates him more completely than they do Kayaba, despite Sugou's crimes being much smaller in scale than Kayaba's.
  • Psychopathic Man Child: In his final conversation with Kirito and Asuna, Kayaba reveals that his main motivation for everything he did was to make the play world that he had always imagined as real as possible. He seems for the most part to be largely blind to the moral or ethical implications of what he has done.
    • The same could be said for Oberon/Sugou, a physically weak and morally spineless coward who puts up a respectable front but really just wants to slobber all over Asuna, both in-game and over her comatose body in real life, and throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way. The difference between Kayaba and Sugou is the former doesn't seem to see the inherent problems in his actions, and the latter knows and revels in the knowledge that he can do all the things in ALO that would see him ostracized in real life.
  • Rain of Arrows: Sinon does this in ALO, in addition to acting like a Cat Girl Legolas.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Those who victimize helpless children in the world of Sword Art Online are also cackling lunatics and animals with no respect for human life and dignity, just like the cast of Game of Thrones... but thankfully, rapists in the world of Kawahara Reiki always get what's coming to them... painfully, bloodily and messily.
  • Real After All: Episodes 5 and 6 deal with an apparently impossible murder, and players are led to believe that it was done by Griselda's ghost. Kirito and Asuna discover how it was really done, but afterwards they catch a glimpse of Griselda at her grave.
  • Real Is Brown: The trope is played in a subtle way: the environments of the battlefields in GGO are all a drab brownish color. Contrast with the much more vibrant and bright colors of SAO and ALO. It's certainly an accurate reflection of the usual color schemes FPS games use in Real Life vs. RPGs.
  • Recap Episode: About once a season.
    • The OVA, Sword Art Online EXTRA EDITION is a 1h 40 min. feature film. The first 80% of it is the characters remembering the events from the first season, framed by the simultaneous plots of a government agent interviewing Kirito for information about what happened in SAO (since, apparently, the data accessible from outside is extremely limited) and slightly Fanservice-y scenes of the girls teaching Suguha how to swim.
    • In the second season, the fifteenth episode (though it's officially called episode 14.5), "Debriefing," is a more traditional recap episode where a voice-over from Sinon summarizes the Phantom Bullet arc over clips of recycled footage. However, it has a different opening and closing (in terms of visuals only) from the rest of the arc.
    • The 19th episode ("18.5"), "Recollection", of Alicization has Kirito summarizing for the main female lead what happened in the arc so far. Again, has different opening and ending visuals from the rest of the arc. This one is also interesting in that in the following episode, the same exchange, in which Kirito agrees to tell her what is going on, plays out again (as if the recap episode didn't actually happen), but he says different things in place of the recap.
    • Alicization: War of Underworld has a recap at the start of each of its two seasons: "Reflection" for the first Alicization season and "Reminiscence" for the first War of Underworld season.
  • Recognition Failure: The SAO incident would have been the largest human-caused loss of Japanese life since WWII and the most people killed by a lone actor ever. By all logic, Kirito should be an A-list celebrity in Japan, and a GOD to its gaming community, but no one seems to recognize him, despite the re-use of his SAO avatar's name and appearance.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: It's like .hack in its initial premise. Interestingly, both were written more or less around the same time.
    • The Aincrad arc is basically a Sci-Fi Western in virtual reality instead of space. 10,000 people find themselves in a frontier with no means of communication to the outside world, and they must struggle to survive amid a world full of hostile beasts and outlaws. The hero is the sheriff who brings order to this frontier, relying on his strength and a small posse.
  • Red Baron:
    • Kirito gets titled as "The Black Swordsman," and is pretty well-known in SAO.
    • Asuna is known as "The Lightning Flash," due to being one of the fastest players. In one case, she covers a distance in five minutes that took Kirito's party one hour to travel to save Kirito from an Ax-Crazy guildmate no less. She's less keen on her ALO nickname, the "Berserk Healer."
    • Sinon is also known as "Hecate" in GGO, both after her anti-material rifle, the 'PGM Ultima Ratio Hecate Ⅱ,' and for the Greek goddess associated with the underworld.
    • Other characters get similar titles mentioned, though they're not often brought up. Kirito mentions to Sinon that Lisbeth is known as the "Swindlin' Blacksmith", and professional GGO player Yamikaze is infamous as the "Run-Gun Demon".
  • Red Herring: The series leads you to believe that "Phantom Bullet" refers to Death Gun's bullet, but it actually refers to Sinon's sniping ability.
  • Redshirt Army: The (Liberation) Army. A massive guild comprised of mostly low- to mid-level players with the intent of assisting the thousands of SAO players not on the front lines. They were influential to the game until they lost a staggering amount of their best players in the 25th floor boss battle. By the end of SAO the Army is 1/6th of the remaining players but is regarded as mostly ineffectual and often corrupt.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • How does Kirito prevent the leader of the Salamander army from assassinating the leaders of the Cait-Sith and Sylph factions? He shows up, declares himself ambassador of the Spriggan-Undine Alliance, and warns the Salamander general that if he attacks, he'll be at war with four races, not just two.
    • It's also hilarious in hindsight when the reader recalls that Asuna's ALO race is Undine (although at the time he said it, she wasn't). From a Certain Point of View, Kirito is representing a Spriggan-Undine Alliance... all two members of it.
    • From the Material Editions, in SAO, while trying to defend Argo from two "ninja players" from the Fūmaningun guild, Kirito claims that he is a secret agent of the government. Another hilarious in hindsight due to him working with the government to investigate the "Death Gun" rumors in GGO years later.
  • Rewrite: The light novel version of SAO is actually a polished paperback remake of the original web novels.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted in Episode 14. After Asuna's Heroic Sacrifice to save Kirito from a killing blow, she falls in Kirito's arms as her health bar hits zero and she disappears. After some despair, he slowly picks up Asuna's sword to use as his new off-hand sword, and stands up to renew his fight with Heathcliff as if he's going to get his revenge, but instead he's fallen into a Heroic Blue Screen of Death. His swing falls weakly, slowly, and with no technique. Kirito has no fight left in him. He is completely broken.
    • Played mostly straight in the second arc. Although not exactly roaring, Kirito has no qualms about savagely killing Sugou's avatar Oberon when he sexually molests Asuna and gloats about his intent to rape her, both in-game and in the real world. Kirito cuts off one of his arms, then slashes him in half, and then throws his upper half in the air and lets him fall, impaling him through the eye onto his sword—all of this with the pain absorber set to 0, which means that not only can Sugou feel all of this but also his real body is affected.
  • RPG Mechanics 'Verse: Plenty of MMORPG terms are used, which makes sense since the cast are MMORPG gamers, after all. For instance, whenever characters fail at a strong effort of will, Kirito describes it as failing a saving throw.
  • The Rule of First Adopters: It appears the SAO developers expected this, given that avatars are anatomically correct, and VR sex is actually possible, and practiced in-game. Note Coitus Ensues in the YMMV tab.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The first-monsters slain onscreen by major-protagonsits almost always are reflections of their personality. Kirito and Mito's first kills are both Dire Wolves, powerful and dignified loners who are loyal to a fault and defends those whom they love with terrifying fury. Asuna's first kill (in the Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night Motion Picture) is a Yellow Wasp: Swift, Elegant and will rush headlong with unstoppable momentum if given the right motivation. Klein, on the other hand, slays a Wild Boar, which like him seems crass and crude on the outside, but is headstrong, gentle and nurturing on the inside.
  • Running Gag: Kirito's general approach towards awkward male-female interpersonal relationships is to run away. This includes to making his escape when Asuna invites him to stay overnight at her house... and meet her parents.

    S — T 
  • Saintly Church: Which takes care of the younger players in SAO.
  • Satiating Sandwich: Asuna's sandwiches are this for Kirito. In episode 25, he begs Asuna for a sandwich after she teases him with one. Just look at them!
  • Scenery Porn: OH YES! Several places of the game are deemed as such.
  • Schmuck Bait: A hidden door in a dungeon leading to an empty room with a single treasure chest at the end. Sweet, free loot! Lets just ahead and open it because nothing bad could possibly happen, right?
  • Scope Snipe: A sniper duel between Death Gun and Sinon results in the latter receiving this, while the former gets his rifle smashed. Luckily, Sinon moved her head to check the result of her shot, and narrowly missed Death Gun's bullet destroying her scope and where her head would have been. So did Death Gun.
  • Scrub: In-Universe. Any players with an attitude against Beta testers mentioned they saw them as unpunished cheaters who have an unfair advantage in terms of knowledge and getting a head-start can give off this vibe.
  • Secret Level: In-Universe: There is a dungeon below the first floor of Aincrad that houses incredibly powerful monsters that don't typically appear until the 90th floor. The leader of the Aincrad Liberation Front, Thinker, gets trapped in this dungeon because of a power-play by Kibaou, who used the dungeon to grind levels in secret.
  • Secret Test of Character:
    • In ALO, while exploring the most dangerous region in the game where flying is impossible and raid-boss-level monsters abound, it's possible to encounter two raid-bosses fighting one another, with one boss clearly winning. Normal player behavior would be to watch and then either flee or attack and kill the bosses while they're preoccupied for their drops. However, should the player(s) choose to help the losing monster, it is revealed that it's actually a secret event and will carry the player(s) to another location, where it will drop them off and stop moving. Should the player(s) actually choose to defend it against other players hunting it, it will carry them and start flying above a tower, revealing the location of legendary sword Excaliber, the most powerful sword in the game.
    • The second part of the quest line also has several events that tests the party's character:
      • They discover a beautiful NPC woman locked in a cage begging for help. Savvy players will note that the NPC has an HP bar, and thus there is a high chance that the NPC will turn hostile and betray the party. The NPC really is an ally and is necessary to successfully complete said quest.
      • Even after securing Ex caliber, it isn't added to the player's inventory, and is incredibly heavy. When the dungeon starts collapsing, the player finds that they cannot make the final jump to safety because Excaliber is too heavy, and is testing the player's greed and obsession about whether or not they're on this quest for the legendary sword or to save Alfheim.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Recon does one in Episode 23. He casts a self-destruct spell which opens up a considerable gap between the guardians in an attempt to allow Kirito to break through. Unfortunately, the gap closes itself within moments, although to be fair they had no way of knowing that.
  • Serial Escalation: Each arc becomes manlier, gorier and darker than the last, with the exception of the side story arcs and Mother's Rosario, and introduces more villains who are really nasty, each worse than the last. To wit, the Big Bad of Aincrad is what amounts to a Psychopathic Manchild who traps several thousands of people to test out his game, Fairy Dance's Big Bad is a hedonist who wants to rape the protagonist's love interest, Phantom Bullet's Big Bad is a Serial Killer who has several accomplices to carry out his killings, and Alicization's Big Bads consist of a narcissistic caligula and a batshit insane sociopath with an obsession with souls who comes dangerously close to succeeding.
  • Sequel Hook:
    • The first season ends with Aincrad being restored in ALO and everyone from both SAO and ALO that appeared in the series flying towards it in order to try and conquer it. This scene seems all but designed to have even those who have not read the Light Novels begging for a second season.
    • Ordinal Scale ends with Shigemura being taken away by Seijiro Kikuoka to work for Rath, teasing at Alicization.
  • Sequence Breaking: After the battle to defeat the 75th level boss, Kirito confirms his suspicion that Heathcliff, leader of the Knights of Blood, is really Akihiko Kayaba. Kayaba notes that he eventually intended to reveal himself as the level 100 boss and decides that since the secret is out, he'll just head to the top now, but oh hey, he'll give Kirito the chance to fight him now, for all the marbles. Kirito wins, breaking the sequence, and the remaining 25 floors are never explored... until ALO!
  • Sexy Cat Person: The Alfheim Online game features a race of feline humanoids called the Cait Sith. The only two major characters of this race are both sexy girls.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Kirito and Asuna are about to have sex in chapter 16 and at the end of Episode 10. The scene is cut off by a Fade to Black in both the officially published novels and the anime. However, there is an infamous chapter detailing the scene in graphic detail... and questionable quality.
    • They make love again in Chapter 16.6, the difference this time being that the author opts not to describe the scene.
  • Sex for Solace: Happens twice throughout the saga:
    • The first time is played heartwarmingly straight after Kirito and Asuna survive being murdered by a Laughing Coffin agent who has infiltrated the Knights of Blood, and the two warriors' emotional bond is cemented that night as husband and wife.
    • A decidedly darker variation of this occurs in Alicization, wherein Quinella seduces Eugeo in his Moment of Weakness, stripping naked and offering tender unconditional love and kindness, allowing her to coldly brainwash him into an Integrity Knight as they made "love."
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: After Sachi dies, Kirito learns of a resurrection item and goes through a lot of trouble to get it, with Furinkazan's help... and finds that the item has to be used within ten seconds of death. Sachi died six months ago. He ends up giving it to Klein, and resolving to never join a guild again.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Kirito, despite being good at hiding it. Not only does he still blame himself for the deaths of the Black Cats of the Full Moon, but he also harbors quite a bit of guilt over killing three Laughing Coffin members in self-defense.
  • Show, Don't Tell:
    • The treasure room that the Black Cats guild finds themselves in during Episode 3 of Season 1. They all find out that their teleportation crystals don't work in the room. This has implications later for when Kirito, Asuna, and Klein's guild find the Army trying to fight the level 74 boss in a room that they also can't escape from. Asuna then rushes into the room in a vain effort to try and save the surviving members, which draws Kirito and Klein into the room as well.
    • The cowboy game played in Episode 4 of Season 2. Though Sinon explains the basics to Kirito, another player happens to try it out at the time, so he's able to watch said game in action. With Sinon's explanation and watching the game, Kirito is able to win it.
    • In episode 9 of season 2, Pale Rider, one of the contestants in the BoB tournament, is seen getting hit with paralyzer dart by Death Gun, then suffering a hit from the latter's signature gun. The shot takes about a quarter of his health off, then he gets back up and points his shotgun at Death Gun. However, he then drops the gun and grasps his chest as if suffering a heart attack, then is disconnected from the game. Sinon then also suffers from this same attack at the end of the episode, and a gunshot is heard as the episode ends with Death Gun using her as a sacrificial lamb to find out if the Kirito in this game is the same as the Kirito from SAO by seeing if her death will launch him into an Unstoppable Rage.
  • "Shut Up" Kiss: Kirito does this to Asuna after his near-death experience with Kuradeel. She was in the middle of explaining why she needed to stay away from him for his sake, and this proves to be an effective counterargument.
  • Signature Move: In ALO, sometime after Sword Skills are implemented, Original Sword Skills are introduced where a player makes their own Sword Skill. The most notable OSSs are Salamander General Eugene's 8-hit "Volcanic Blazer," Asuna's 5-hit "Starry Tear," and Yuuki's 11-hit "Mother's Rosario", which she teaches Asuna. Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax sees the move done by both Asuna and Yuuki, reflecting the latter being the move's creator.
  • Single-Attempt Game: The titular game is the world's first Virtual Reality MMORPG in which the creator tries to increase its realism by taking out magic and also adding the fact that if you die in game, your headset will microwave your brain making death final. The story ends with about 4000 people dying. The protagonist survives due to having been a part of the non-lethal beta tests and therefore has more experience than most everyone else.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Kirito does this to a wolf at the end of the first episode when he rushes off to the next village shortly after Kayaba tells the players they're stuck in the game. He also does this consecutively to two Salamanders right after he first arrives in ALfheim Online.
  • Skewed Priorities: Back in SAO, it seemed as though most of the veteran MMO players, even Kirito at times, suffered this to an extent. Despite the clearly outlined life-or-death stakes at play, that didn't stop many players from applying regular gaming habits or mentalities towards their situation even when it proved impractical. This can include guilds opting to compete as opposed to work together on clearing the game, an obsession with being the strongest further igniting these impractical competitive tendencies, obsessing over owning rare items even if they wouldn't be able to make good use of it or if it would require them to risk their lives or attack other players, and even doing quest events that would leave you completely vulnerable to PKers.
  • Slasher Smile: Kuradeel has one in Episode 10 as he hacks away at Godfrey and then slowly stabs Kirito in his arms and legs to prolong the suffering.
  • Sleep Cute: Volume 7 opens with Yui sleeping on top of Pina, who is curled up and sleeping on top of Kirito's chest, while he's sleeping in his rocking chair. The scene is so d'aww, Asuna and every other girl in the room feels sleepy and thinks of joining them.
    • Also, Asuna sleeping next to Kirito in "A Murder Case in the Area".
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Sinon is described as having a doll-like avatar. She wields a 'PGM Ultima Ratio Hecate Ⅱ.'
  • Snow Means Love: It's snowing during Kirito and Asuna's first meeting in the real world.
  • Solid Gold Poop: A particular in-game dragon dropping is a rare ore used to make very good weapons.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Leafa/Suguha figures out Kirito is Kazuto when he finally mentions the person he's trying to save is Asuna.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: In the Lost Song video game, at the end of Asuna's quest, we find out Yuuki's condition is starting to improve and instead of dying in a few months, she'll be in her own words "around for quite a while to come" and she'll be attending school regularly thanks to the interface on Asuna's shoulder. This carries on to the sequels, where Yuuki is a party member, and her health is no longer a concern.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": In SAO, Boss monsters have "The" in their name.
  • Spider-Sense: In SAO, there is a hypothetical Outside System Skill called Hypersense, or feeling the presence of an enemy before you can actually see or hear them. It's hypothetical because since the skill is not listed in the database, no one can prove that it even exists. However, numerous characters have been shown to possess it, including Kirito, Klein, and XaXa.
  • Spinoff:
    • Sword Art Online — Girls Ops, which takes place during the Phantom Bullet arc. While Kirito and Asuna are busy dealing with GGO, the events of this story focuses on the adventures of Lisbeth, Silica, Leafa, and a new character called Lux.
    • Sword Art Online Alternative — Gun Gale Online, which takes place in GGO, but with completely different characters that are unrelated and unaffiliated with Kirito at all.
  • Spiritual Successor: Fatal Bullet has been described, gameplay-wise, as Freedom Wars but with more emphasis on guns and RPG Elements.
  • Spoiler Opening:
    • Lots and lots of info is revealed in the anime's opening, like Kirito's Dark Repulser and his eventual relationship with Asuna.
    • The opening for Sword Art Online II reveals Kirito's GGO avatar and his use of a beam saber and foreshadows Death Gun's true identity (one of them at least).
    • The opening for the Mother's Rosario arc hints at the fact that Yuuki had a twin sister.
  • Squee: Kirito's reaction to getting Excaliber, first when Shino manages to trickshot it into her hands, and then when he officially gets it as a quest reward.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Asuna attracts a lot of these, all of whom are very dangerous. Shino has Kyouji.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Asuna is unfortunately subjected to this by the hands of Kuradeel. She is tougher than him, and likely could have broken free without help; Kirito simply intervened before this happened.
  • Star Scraper: Castle Aincrad is so big, it's essentially a world within a world (though it's actually the entire playable world of the in-universe SAO game). The largest floor is 10 kilometers in diameter, and each one is 100 meters high. Given that there are 100 floors, that makes it 10 kilometers high.note  But then, that's not counting the fact that it all floats in the sky. The anime also depicts a massive structure extending almost as far down, below the first floor.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: In the prologue of the Alicization arc, a kid being trained for the task of spending his entire life trying to cut down an enormous tree asks the elders why their ancestors bothered founding a village in a place where an enormous tree that they had every reason to believe would take centuries to cut down was blocking expansion and casting shade over most of the places they could grow crops. Rather than thinking about moving the village to someplace where the tree wouldn't be a problem, they reprimand the kid and continue the way they always have.
  • The Stinger:
    • After the credits roll in the first episode, a list of names is shown. Some are them are gradually crossed out, while a text reads that two thousand players died in the first month alone, and floor 1 had yet to be cleared. The name under Kirito's is then crossed out.
    • At the very end of Extra Edition, Kazuto's phone gets a call from Kikuoka, most likely concerning the Phantom Bullet case.
    • The credits for Ordinal Scale have still images that recap the movie, but there are also a few more images. Also, there is a scene at the end of the credits.
  • Suggestive Collision: In episode 8, Asuna falls on top of Kirito after teleporting into his zone, quickly resulting in a Thanks for the Mammary moment.
  • Super Prototype: Nerve Gear is noted by former SAO players to be able to create a much more realistic virtual world than AmuSphere. This is due to the numerous safety precautions that were added to AmuSphere's design.
  • Super Reflexes: Kirito has the best reflexes in SAO, which Kayaba explains is why he received the Dual Blades skill. This carries on into other games using The Seed (SAO's engine): in GGO, for example, he can dodge bullets.
    • Zekken Yuuki has even faster reflexes than Kirito; he suspects that if she'd been in SAO, she would have gotten the Dual Blades skill instead of him.
  • Super Speed: Kirito can move very fast, as his enemies find out. Asuna can even exceed that, as she isn't called "Lightning Flash" for nothing. Yamikaze in GGO is known as the "Run 'n Gun Devil" because of how fast he can run. Alice can snap from one spot to another so quickly it looks like a Flash Step.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes:
    • Happens a few times to Kirito in the anime, usually as a means to showcase how absolutely committed he is to a task (coming Back from the Dead to kill Heathcliff, or trying to reach the top of the World Tree amidst the Guardians' attacks).
    • Yui gains one when using her ability as a Navi Pixie in her Human form after getting through the door in The World Tree.
  • Supreme Chef: Asuna in SAO. She tries to replicate real world tastes in-game, since the in-game food is mostly horrible. And succeeds in taking weird ingredients and putting them together to create delicious food. In Episode 9, she mentions combining abilba seed, sagleaves, and oola fishbone to create something that tastes exactly like soy sauce. Ratsel Feinschmeker would approve.
  • Supporting Harem: Thanks to Kirito and Asuna being the Official Couple from the first volume/first half season 1, all of the feelings of Kirito's other admirers remain unrequited.
  • Survivor Guilt:
    • Kirito, the only survivor of the Black Cats of the Full Moon guild. Made worse because as a Clearer, 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.
    • This becomes a critical plot point when Asuna asks Kirito why he was always a solo player up until this point. He talks about the deaths he could have prevented of his previous guild, and how after that incident he felt that it was easier on his own. He does admit that he is reaching the limits of what a solo player can accomplish, so joining her guild isn't all bad for him.
    • Shiune of the Sleeping Knights ends up making a miraculous recovery and laments on being unable to keep her promise with Yuuki, Yuuki's sister, and her friends, that they will always be together.
  • Taking You with Me: How Shino ends the BoB tournament in episode 13 of season 2. She hands Kirito a live grenade, then hugs him so it will blow them both up. They die simultaneously and so both end up being the winners of said tournament.
  • Talking Is a Free Action: Very blatant near the end of the Alicization arc, where both the heroes and the Big Bad are apparently willing to let each other power up attacks and monologue for minutes on end despite supposedly trying to kill each other.
  • Tempting Fate: Episode 3 is filled to the brim with this. When talking to Sachi, Kirito keeps saying, "you'll survive," "you won't die," "you'll get out," and even when they're in the dungeon, one party member mentions how this will be a piece of cake. Cue Total Party Kill.
    • After Kirito joins the Knights of the Blood Oath, Godfree takes him an Kuradeel on an assessment for the beater's "reaction to danger". Kuradeel turns out to be Laughing Coffin, and paralyzes them so they can't react to danger — namely, the danger of being hacked to death by a "red player".
  • Thanatos Gambit: Kayaba expected everything in the game and also that he would be defeated by the player Dual Sword Skill user, but never imagined that Kirito would catch up to his Heathcliff disguise quite so early on.
  • Theme Music Power-Up:
    • Invoked any time "Swordland" or any of its remixes play.
    • Asuna has her own theme in the form of "Luminous Sword", which noticeably returns (albeit remixed) in her battle against Yuuki.
    • Sword Art Online: Extra Edition uses Season one's second opening theme, "INNOCENCE", as this for the Big Damn Heroes moment during Kirito's second attack on the World Tree.
  • There Are No Therapists: Played with. The AI that controls Aincrad created a program to monitor and repair the players' psychological states. However, said program was then forbidden from interacting with the players in any way. On launch day, when the creator announced that they were all trapped, and anyone who died died for real, the conflict between the program's core programming to help the players and the orders to not interfere created errors. She eventually appeared in the game as a little girl named Yui, in order to become the daughter of two of the only happy players in the entire game: Asuna and Kirito.
  • There Is Only One Bed:
    • Kirito has to sleep on the floor while Silica gets the bed.
    • Strangely played straight AND subverted in Episode 3 with Sachi. Both of them get in the same bed, but absolutely nothing happens. However, Kirito didn't know anything could happen. This was over a year before he found out about the option to turn the Ethics Code off.
  • There Is No Kill like Overkill: Kirito shrugs off his wounds during his first assault on the World Tree until he gets a greatsword thrown through his chest. And then four more.
  • The Talk: Played hilariously straight in the adorable Blu-Ray/DVD gag short Sword Art Offline Episode 4, where Yui innocently asks Kirito, Asuna and Kline "Mommy said she wanted lots of children; how do you make children?" Asuna tried to be frank ("You see dear, when mommies and daddies want babies they go to the bottom of the menu and turn off the Morality-Code..."), to be bluntly stopped by Kirito ("When Mommies and Daddies get married, it unlocks a quest where the stork brings a baby from the cabbage patch"); when Yui starts crying that she's not really Kirito and Asuna's daughter, Klien dodges the bullet by telling her "Actually Yui, we're all really just cabbage people", which to the trio's relief she happily accepts.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: As shown in a Freeze-Frame Bonus of the Aria of A Starless Night Motion Picture, the exact fateful moment that Asuna logs into Sword Art Online (as shown in her HUD interface) is 13 Minutes Past 1, or more ominously in 24-hour-time, 13:13 Hours.
    • Having survived the death-game and emerged from it two years later married to the love of her life, as a mother to a kind and adorable littler daughter no less, Asuna for her part considers this accident to be the luckiest thing that has ever happened to her.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: Kirito says this when he discovers that the quest in ALO for granting unlimited flight is a lie and Leafa/Suguha's dream would not come true.
  • Three-Point Landing: Kirito as a Spriggan fairy in ALO, complete with Badass Longcoat, pulls one off as he assaults the World Tree for the first time as shown in the anime adaptation.
  • Three-Strike Combo: The One-Handed Sword Skill "Savage Fulcrum", whose strikes resemble tracing the number "4"note .
  • Those Two Guys: The "couple" that wound up being a pair of guys (one of whom was cross-playing and the other having lied about his age) are subsequently seen in a number of background shots in the anime, including being among the 300 players whose brains had been hijacked for Sugou's experiment.
  • Time Skip: Between different arcs.
  • Title Drop
    • The series is named after the first VRMMORPG featured in the series.
    • Phantom Bullet: Kirito describes the prediction line from Sinon's rifle, used to distract Death Gun and give Kirito the advantage needed to defeat him, as a "phantom bullet".
    • Calibur: At the end of the arc when the gang are discussing the Excalibur sword, Sinon remembers reading about the mythology of the sword where it was named "Calibur".
    • Mother's Rosario: Yuuki names her Signature Move "Mother's Rosario" before passing it on to Asuna.
    • Memory Defrag: The conclusion of the "Eternal Bond: The Story of the Stars" quest campaign involving Alice and Eugeo in ALO, finally reveals the origin of the phrase. After a long campaign of collecting the Divine Objects under instructions from Urdr, the Gods of Alfheim took the Divine Objects and merged with them. Now empowered to unbeatable levels, they proceeded to rampage across Alfheim seeking to kill every player, in an attempt for Cardinal to perform a "memory defrag" that resulted from Alice and Eugeo's foreign presence in the system.
  • Title In: Literally every episode (and this goes double for the opening of arcs) of the Anime contains an example of this, usually to establish the series as properly 20 Minutes into the Future. Used explicitly with an Establishing Shot.
  • Too Awesome to Use: In the manga and light novel, everyone is shocked when Heathcliff casually uses a Corridor Crystal to open a portal to the 75th floor boss. A Corridor Crystal is an incredibly rare item that can only be found in dungeon chests or a monster drop; it's not something to be wasted. This is one of the clues that Heathcliff is actually Kayaba, since as the GMPC, he can call forth any item and thus cannot understand the true value of the item he just wasted.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Korbatz. He decides to take on a boss with his exhausted army, despite being warned against it. Even while being beaten by it, he refuses to retreat. He predictably dies from his stubbornness.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Well, it is an RPG, and everyone's basically fighting for their lives.
    • Asuna goes from being a scared girl who hides in an inn to the second-in-command of the strongest guild in Aincrad.
    • Klein starts the game as a helpless noob who can't kill the weakest in-game enemy, but over time turns into the leader of a Badass Crew.
  • Tournament Arc: Volumes 6 and 7, the Phantom Bullet arc, is one giant tournament arc where Kirito enters the Bullet of Bullets.
  • Tragic AIDS Story: The "Mother's Rosario" arc is about Yuuki Konno, a girl who was born with AIDs due to an infected blood transfusion given to her mother before she was born. Her whole family contracted HIV and had passed away, leaving her as the only one left alive (which included losing her twin sister). She goes on to form a guild called the Sleeping Knights with several other kids who are also terminally ill, where they go on to play lots of VRMMOs together with their numbers dwindling as they succumb to their illnesses. When Yuuki debuts in the story, she and her friends decide to join the most fantastical game they can find (ALFheim Online) and permanently leave their mark. While there Yuuki made gained fame as the World's Best Warrior and recruited Asuna to help them defeat a Boss for a highscore. Upon succeeding, Asuna finally manages to discover the truth behind Yuuki and finds her in the clean room of a hospital using a medicuboid VR device 24/7. No longer able to keep it a secret, Yuuki confesses her last wish is to attend a normal school, which Asuna arranges via a portable probe that allows her to see the real world without having to leave the hospital. Eventually Asuna is informed that Yuuki's condition has deteriorated and log into ALO one last time. Yuuki passes on her Original-Sword-Skill as a parting gift before collapsing into Asuna's arms, as thousands of players come to visit her and honor her last moments.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: A variant. The opening shows Kirito and Asuna beating the monster they're shown fleeing in terror from in Episode 9.
  • Tranquil Fury: Kirito, once he gains administrator privileges in ALfheim Online, proceeds to off on Sugou with application, remaining perfectly calm, until the very last blow.
  • Trapped in Another World: While this series isn't technically an Isekai, most pieces of media that run on the trope nowadays take cues from how this series handled something akin to it. To that end, this series can be considered the Trope Codifier, and this series' success is largely considered to be one of the biggest factors to the popularity of the Isekai genre. Though the scenarios of the Aincrad and Alicization arcs do resemble this trope quite a bit, as Kirito is stuck in SAO/Underworld respectively.
  • Truce Zone: You can’t hurt anyone fatally in towns in SAO. This generally serves to prevent player kills, though it's still possible to knock people out if specific circumstances are met. The only exception is if both players agree to a Duel to the Death.
    • Asuna's wooden house on level 22 of the revived Aincrad is unofficially this for ALO players. Which causes some awkwardness when the leaders of opposing factions drop in for dinner...
  • True Companions: Kirito and his friends became this after the SAO arc.
    • The Sleeping Knights all met in the Serene Garden, which is a VR hospice for terminally ill patients, and partied together from VR game to game afterwards.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The series is certainly this, though when the novel was written this future was more distant — as of late 2014 virtual reality technology is steady in development, and while Full Dive technology might not be available within the next decade it's becoming increasingly more feasible — it isn't unreasonable to assume the development of technology on the timescale the show provides, granted we make a few significant breakthroughs before 2022.
  • Two Girls and a Guy: Kirito, Asuna, and Suguha.

    U — Z 
  • UltimateGamer386: Common for each of the story arcs, as they all take place in a virtual world. Most notable in SAO, where both Heathcliff and Kirito become this.
  • Underestimating Badassery: This happens to Kirito a lot in Volumes 2–7, though it's justified as Volume 2 involves interactions with people who haven't heard of him, and in ALO and GGO, he doesn't have the same rep he had in SAO and is an unknown quantity. Ironically, the top-level players in ALO know who he is, but the middle to lower players have never heard of him.
  • Unsettling Gender-Reveal:
    • Played for Laughs in the first episode of the anime — see Those Two Guys for details.
    • "Freya," to Klein. Unsettles everyone else present as well.
    • Kirito to Sinon in episode 5 of season 2. The latter assumed he was a girl due to his very feminine appearance, until he shows her his stat info. She doesn't take it too well, as she's stripped down to underwear at the time.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: After getting a glimpse of the Floor 74 boss, The Gleam Eyes, Kirito and Asuna start thinking strategy; tanks in the front row, keep switching, and at least 10 shield users. Then the Liberation Army captain tries to take it on with a single exhausted party; Kirito, Asuna, and Furinkazan barely manage to survive, but take the boss out.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Silica enters this momentarily after Pina's Heroic Sacrifice, in the light novels. Subverted in that it turns out to be quite stoppable.
  • Useless Useful Non-Combat Abilities: Many of the skills in SAO are utterly unrelated to dungeon crawling. Some of them are indirectly useful (such as creating/maintaining equipment), and others aren't. When they first meet, Kirito wonders why Asuna would waste the time needed to grind the Cooking skill to the maximum level, although he changes his tune pretty quickly after tasting her food. After they marry, he gives up the two-handed sword skill (which he probably didn't use much anyway after picking up dual-wielding) to learn the Fishing skill.
  • Unwinnable by Design: In ALO (while it was still under control of RECTO), the lore says that the first race to reach the top of the World Tree and go to the city in the sky will become Alfs (Alves?). The boss monsters that the players would have to pass/defeat have a ridiculous spawn rate and the door won't open for anyone without Admin privileges. This is because Nobuyuki Sugou and his team are using the tree to hold and experiment on the 300 minds they captured from SAO.
  • Video Game Caring Potential/Video Game Cruelty Potential: Kirito, especially after his first year or so in Aincrad, deliberately invokes the former and avoids the latter. Before they become friends, he even fights a duel with Asuna to protect NPCs from being used as distractions to the Boss in the upcoming Boss Fight. He discusses the latter trope with Silica in Episode 4 and with Leafa in Episode 19.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Does Asuna wants to defeat a boss by sacrificing NPC townpeople as part of her plan, much to Kirito's chagrin? Well, let's her to get emotionally attached to a AI program that call her "Mommy" and then observe, with impotence, as that program is subjected for deletion by the GM system, much to her suffering. Fortunately, there's Kirito to save the day, partially though.
  • Villain Ball: The villain of the second arc, from his first appearance. You just looked straight at a guy who spent two years saving six thousand people and outright told him that you convinced his girlfriend's parents to exploit a legal loophole and force her to marry you while she's helpless and comatose. And you don't think this is going to blow up in your face?
  • Villain Respect: Akihiko Kayaba is genuinely impressed that Kirito and Asuna were able to actually defy the physics of his game through sheer force of will. In his mind, this essentially proves the tenacity of humans — which was what he was trying to study all along.
    • Comes up in ALO where Kirito, defeated by Sugou's GM powers, is visited by Kayaba's ghost, who is confused by how Kirito has seemingly given in to Sugou's power. He then gives Kirito his admin access to level the playing field.
  • Virtual-Reality Warper:
    • Kirito himself has often displayed an uncanny ability to defy the system with his Heroic Willpower, which later was identified as an ability called Incarnation.
    • Any Game Masters with administrator privileges, such as Kayaba or Sugou are this by design. Kayaba is capable of freezing the world around him as well as giving himself Complete Immortality so there is no chance of him being killed, though he later turns this off to fight Kirito fairly. Sugou is even more notorious, using his GM powers to be a Gravity Master who can summon items out of thin air, as well as subjecting Kirito to Cold-Blooded Torture by turning off the pain absorber.
    • In the Underworld, this exists as an ability of the world itself, where characters with strong enough willpower can reshape reality using their imagination, which ranges from materializing objects, converting objects, or healing damage.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: When Shino pukes during her panic attack during Season 2 Episode 3, the camera helpfully gives a view of the floor of the room she just vacated.
  • Wanted Meter: In SAO, players have a colored indicator above their avatars indicating their moral standing. Green is the default color for players who are within the bounds of the law. Players who violate the law, typically by attacking or killing other players, have orange indicators. Orange players are prohibited from entering towns by NPC guards until they turn back to green again, which is accomplished either by waiting for it to turn back on its own, or undertaking a quest to turn it back to green. The quest's difficulty depends on the number and severity of the player's crimes: petty thieves are given simple quests, while those who attacked or killed other players will have significantly harder quests, and serial player-killers will be permanently branded with an orange cursor.
  • Warp Whistle: Crystals in SAO, which allow you to instantly return to the level's town area. Unfortunately, certain dungeons have anti-crystal fields.
  • The War Sequence: The Grand Quest in ALfheim Online can be considered this; a motley crew of players (or maybe even a solo player) fighting their way through hoards of Guardian enemies. Kirito fails the quest on his first attempt, but succeeds later with help from Leafa, Recon, and the Sylph/Cait-Sith alliance as backup.
  • Weirdly Underpowered Admins:
    • In the Aincrad Arc, admin Akihiko Kayaba sets up Sword Art Online to trap several thousand players from around the world in The Most Dangerous Video Game as an insane social experiment. Problem players such as Laughing Coffin, a guild whose members deliberately hunt and murder other players for their own enjoyment, don't get removed because the whole point of the thing is to see how people behave. Kayaba himself is playing the game as Heathcliff, the leader of the top guild Knights of the Blood, and uses his admin powers to put himself in permanent God Mode so he can watch to the end as the players try to beat the game so they can get back to real life.
    • In the ALO Arc, Alfheim Online admin Nobuyuki Sugou has the full suite of admin powers and uses them to full effect to torture Kirito and Asuna, until Kayaba, who has uploaded himself onto the Internet, hacks the game and transfers the admin powers to Kirito, partly out of a liking for him and partly as a screw-you to his former underling Sugou for stealing his life's work (ALO uses SAO's engine) just to have Asuna for himself.
    • In the Gun Gale Online arc, two people are coordinating a Player Character in the game and a person in the real world to murder high-ranking players. Once Kirito figures this out, and since he's working for the Japanese police this arc, you'd think the next step would be to subpoena the account details from the game company. However, said company is overseas and not providing any contact information, making it impossible to do this in anything close to a short enough time.
    • The second half of the Alicization Arc revolves around an attempt to steal data from an Artificial Intelligence project. The good guys for some reason have to have Kirito get Alice to a particular place in Underworld so she can be retrieved IRL and kept away from the thieves, can't lock the attackers out of the system, can't order the in-game "Final Load Test" (The War to End All Wars between the humans and demons) stopped, and left the Player Character account for the Demon King in God Mode and unprotected.
  • Wham Episode: Sigh... Even an MMORPG anime can have it!
    • Episode 1: At first this was like your typical MMORPG until the rules unexpectedly changed. No logging out until you clear the entire game, which will take ''years'' even for the best player. Also, if you die in the game, you die in real life.
    • Episode 14: Heathcliff is Kayaba.
    • Episode 17: Sugou is playing ALO as Oberon the Fairy King. Sugou is the one keeping Asuna and the other 299 players prisoner. ALO is nothing more than a front for Sugou's experiment in using the Full Dive technology for mind control.
    • Season 2, Episode 5:Kirito comes face-to-face with Death Gun, and not only is he another SAO survivor, he was part of Laughing Coffin, and he has a grudge against Kirito.
    • Season 2, Episode 11: The reason Death Gun can kill is because he has an accomplice in the real world, and said accomplice has broken into Shino's apartment, ready to kill her.
    • Season 2, Episode 13: Kyouji is Death Gun's "other hand", and he's completely snapped and wants to go ahead with killing Shino anyways.
    • Season 2, Episode 22: Asuna learns more about why Yuuki and the other Sleeping Knights suddenly tried distancing themselves from her when she attempted to join their guild. The guild is made up of terminally ill people, and the reason it's disbanding is because Yuuki is dying of her terminal illness. Which is AIDS. Despite finding out the truth, Asuna still wants to spend what little time Yuuki has left to help her Go Out with a Smile.
    • Alicization Part 1: Kirito is attacked in the real world, injected with poison, resulting in him nearly dying, suffering brain damage and ending up in the Underworld.
    • Alicization Part 3: Kirito accidentally kills Raios by chopping his arms off, which ends with him and Eugeo being kicked out of the Academy and handed over to the Integrity Knights. And Alice is later revealed to be working for Quinella.
    • Alicization Part 5: The Synthesis Ritual is actually a form of brainwashing or giving amnesia on the Integrity Knights. To make things worse, Eugeo is forcefully Synthesized into an Integrity Knight by Quinella by the time Kirito and Alice met him again.
    • Alicization Part 6: Quinella kills Eugeo and the GDS' attack on Ocean Turtle puts Kirito in a Heroic BSoD and Angst Coma.
    • Alicization Part 7: Alice is revealed to be the MacGuffin Girl Gabriel and the GDS are looking for.
    • Alicization Part 9: Gabriel's Army is almost winning and PoH, who manipulated the foreign players into attacking the Human Empire Army earlier, beats up a still paralyzed Kirito in front of the heroes.
    • Alicization Part 10: Alice's departure from UW is successful, but at the expense of the World End Altar being rendered unavailable. Kirito and Asuna are now stuck in UW for the next 200 years as a result, forcing Alice to adapt into the RW on her own.
    • Unital Ring Part 1:
      • New Aincrad is crumbling apart due to ALO being merged with the other VRMMOs built by The Seed into the titular game. But that's not the only problem: Kirito, Asuna, and Alice found out that the ALO’s box menu system have been replaced with a new one, their Friends List and messages are gone, they can't contact Yui (who is nowhere to be seen, but is later revealed to be with Silica and Lisbeth), and all of the players' stats have been reset back to Level 1, including theirs. The only saving graces are they can still logout from the game and the OSS Yuuki gave to Asuna back at the end of Mother's Rosario remains intact.
      • In the real world, Asuna had an encounter with Shikimi for the first time, while Kirito had an unexpected reunion with Argo.
  • Wham Line: From Episode 23, Kirito fights his way past the hordes of enemies to the door to the top of the World Tree. Once there, Yui gives him this news:
    Yui: Players were never meant to open this door.
    • From Season 2, Episode 18, the group discusses whether Zekken, someone strong enough to defeat Kirito, is a fellow SAO survivor- Kirito had asked whether Zekken was a "full-time resident" of virtual reality, but didn't get an answer:
      Lisbeth: [quoting Kirito] "If Zekken had been in that world, rather than me, the Dual-wielding skill would have been awarded to them."
    • Season 2, Episode 22- Dr. Kurahashi reveals why Yuuki's in the Medicuboid.
      Kurahashi: Human immunodeficiency virus... HIV, for short.
    • From the very first episode:
    Klein: "Huh? Where'd the log out button go?"
    • Chapter 10 of Volume 7 ends with "That was when Dr. Kurahashi sent Asuna a message saying that Yuuki's condition had taken a turn for the worse." In Episode 24 of Season 2, you see the message itself, which says, "Yuuki-san, Konno-san's condition has deteriorated. Can you come immediately?"
    • In Volume 10, while Asuna's talking with Kikuoka and Rinko Kojiro about their research, she suddenly announces that she's realized its true purpose, to create an AI that can kill enemy soldiers in a war.
    • In Volume 11, the Integrity Knight sent to arrest Kirito and Eugeo for violating the Taboo Index reveals her name- she's Alice, the Childhood Friend Eugeo has wanted to find for years.
    • In Episode 15, one of the twins stabs Eugeo and introduces herself as an Integrity Knight.
      "My name, sinner, is Linel Synthesis Twenty-Eight."
    • In Volume 20, two familiar names come up among the list of new church apprentices- Frenica Cesky (Tiese's friend from the Imperial Swordcraft Academy) and Selka Zuberg(Alice's younger sister)- and immediately cause an uproar in the meeting.
    • From Volume 21:
      Kirito: “Um.. who are you?”
      New Transfer Student: How rude. I came all the way here to transfer, you’ve forgotten about onee-san already?”
      Kirito: "Eh? No, but..."
      (Kirito recognizes the New Transfer Student as Argo)
      Kirito: "Aaaaah!! A-Argo...!? Why... How come...!?"
      Argo: "It’s been a while, Kii-bou."
  • Wham Shot:
    • Season 2, Episode 4 has one when Kirito sees the Laughing Coffin brand peeking out from Death Gun's arm-wrapping.
    • Season 2, Episode 22: When Asuna finally meets Yuuki in the real world, she sees her in a sterile clean room, her body ravaged by AIDS and hooked up to a VR device that she has been using continuously for years.
    • At the end of Season 3, Episode 20, Kirito is glad to see that Asuna and Alice logged out of the Underworld, but falls to his knees and cries at the thought of spending 200 years in the Underworld alone. He then sees a shadow approaching him, looks up and sees Asuna, who chose to stay behind.
    • The new girl Asuna met in Volume 21: Shikimi Kamuranote .
    • Volume 24 introduces Eolyne, who looks suspiciously similar to the late Eugeo.
    • Kirito mentioned in the epilogue of Alicization that Selka went into suspended animation. The final illustration of Volume 25, however, reveals that Ronye and Tiese did the same thing off-screen as well.
  • What Could Have Been: Invoked by Akihiko Kayaba aka Heathcliff when Kirito exposes his identity. Apparently the plan was to continue leading the players until about 10 floors before the final floor and betray them rather publicly, revealing himself to be the final boss to await the rest of the players at the final floor. Needless to say, this doesn't happen.
    • Supplemental material shows that Silica's dragon Pina would have become his mount and a sub-boss.
  • What If?: The side story Caliber SSnote  retells the events of Caliber but with the twist of Klein not freeing Freya. It shows how different the events unfold from their slight slip-up. The Big Bad wins, but there's a bit of hope: the system generates a Defense of the Realm event, calling all players to defend ALO from the Frost Giants.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human??:
    • On the 56th floor, Asuna, Kirito, the Knights of Blood, and various other players were debating on the strategy they would use to fight the floor boss. Asuna proposed to use the nearby NPC villagers as a distraction while the players attacked the boss. Kirito refused to help, saying that the NPCs are alive and that they should choose another way. Everyone in the KoB laughed at him, but in the end, Asuna believed that he was right.
    • This forms the core theme in the Alicization arc. Kirito deems the A.I.s that were created in the Underworld to not be programs, but souls without bodies. They can even be given physical bodies in the real world which allows them to enter.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In ALO, Leafa learns that the Salamanders are preparing to ambush the leaders of the Sylph and Cait-Sith races at their conference place. Leafa tells Kirito that it's in his best interest to cut her down and join the Salamanders, because if they successfully kill both leaders they'll obtain so much money that they should be able to successfully start challenging the World Tree. She even tells him that she understands and won't hold any grudge against him, but thinks to herself that she will likely never play ALO again if that happens.
    Leafa: This is a game after all, so anything can happen. If you want to kill, then you can kill; if there is something you want, then you can steal it.
    Kirito: ...People who've said that, I have met too many of them. On one level, that is true, and I used to think that way too. But it isn't right. Especially in a virtual world, there are some things that you must protect, no matter how stupid you look. I was taught that by a person very important to me... VRMMOs are called games, but this is a contradiction; splitting the player and the role is not a good idea. If you take on traits in this world, your personality in the real world will reflect those changes. Players and their character are one. I like Leafa, and I want to be your friend. No matter what the reason, I will not kill you to further my own self-interests, absolutely not!
  • Win to Exit: Unless the final boss of SAO is defeated, players will remain trapped in the virtual world until they die one way or another.
  • World of Jerkass: While there are certainly good and heroic individuals in it and even those that aren't can be good people deep down, the combination of the Taboo Index and one of the humans to raise the first group of Artifical Fluctlights spreading self-serving ideals among them has largely turned the Underworld into this, namely between the nobility and commoners.
    • On the Noble's side, the privileges the Taboo Index gives them turn them into Spoiled Brats and Upper-Class Twits who look down on commoners and take advantage of their status, as well as some Loophole Abuse, to do whatever they want with no consequence. Stand out examples being Raios and Humbert, 3rd-Rank Nobles who frequently bully Kirito and Eugeo for no other reason than the fact that they're commoners and do whatever they can to make their lives hell as well as sexually harassing Humbert's page Frenica so that Ronye and Tiese would step up to her defense, which they then paint as the two of them, 6th-Rank Nobles, insulting them and decide to punish them by raping them and having Kirito and Eugeo live with guilt and horror, even waiting for the latter to show up to their room so they can force him to watch and do nothing since he would be arrested if he tried stopping them. And when Eugeo does retaliate, cutting off Humbert's arm, Raios more or less tells him to suck it up and takes sadistic glee in the fact that he now has free reign to murder Eugeo since breaking the Taboo Index labels him as a criminal, one of the few exceptions to the rule dictating you can't attack or kill others.
    • Commoners on the other hand, due to being less privileged, often turn into self-centered Opportunistic Bastards obsessed with money. Orick, Eugeo's father, mainly saw his children, including Eugeo, as potential labor workers for his farm and was incredibly disappointed when Eugeo's Calling ended up being as the Gigas Cedar cutter, which by law prevents him from helping with the farm. Orick responds to this by showing Parental Favouritism to his older sons and taking all the money Eugeo earns from his calling for himself, which not only leaves Eugeo with sub-par food for lunch but also gives Jink, Eugeo's childhood bully who gets to keep all the money he earns, more fuel to pick on him with, despite the whole thing being out of Eugeo's control. This borderline unfair and abusive parenting is likely what led to Eugeo's very skewed definition of love. Come the War of Underworld Arc, and Rulid Village shows themselves at their worst; Alice's father denies her entry into the village and orders Selka to not interact with her, various farms around the village use Alice for cheap labor, and some grown men steal the Blue Rose Sword from Kirito, who at the time is essentially a paraplegic who can't even speak properly, not caring that they knocked him over in the process and mockingly claiming that he said they could borrow it. It's so bad that Alice wonders if there was any real point to protecting these people.
  • World Tree: The setting of Volume 3 has one, which holds the goal of the game, called Yggdrasil. Unsurprising, since its setting heavily relies on Nordic terminology.
  • Worth Living For: Kirito, when paralyzed and being stabbed by Ax-Crazy Kuradeel, thinks of Asuna and moves his hand to try to stop the blade. That doesn't work. But Asuna pulls a minor Reality Warper with the Power of Love to come in and save Kirito with an antidote/healing crystal.
  • Worthy Opponent: Many of Kirito's opponents, such as General Eugene, become this. Kirito usually doesn't hold any grudges, either.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: In the "Caliber" sidestory in Volume 8, thanks to his experience as a gamer, Kirito fully expects NPC Freya, who's conveniently locked in a cell while looking for her treasure in the Frost Giant castle, to double-cross them. Except that the quest is based on Norse Mythology, specifically a legend in which Thor infiltrates the Frost Giant stronghold disguised as Freya, to retrieve the stolen Mjolnir; NPC Freya becomes party ally NPC Thor when they fight the final boss.
    • Well, in a way he was right. Freya certainly was a trap.
  • Wuxia: From Fairy Dance onwards, and in particularly the Mother's Rosario and "Alicization Arcs, Sword Art Online steadily begins to adopt elements from the Wuxia Genre. These include Dedicated Schools of Martial Arts, Inter-Sword-School Rivalries, Young Prodigies seeking challenges in a Worthy Opponent, Striving To Leave A Legacy of Hope, Rivals Bound By Honor fighting side by side as Brothers in Arms, Ancient Techniques passed down as legacies of friendships, the Training Montage, Close and Loving Friendships Between Sworn Brothers and Sisters, not to mention elegant and balletic sword-battles reminiscent of those choreographed by Kung Fu Film Luminary Yuen Woo-Ping. "Phantom Bullet" is more of a tribute to the post-apocalyptic cyberpunk genre and Star Wars, the latter of which is itself a Wuxia saga Recycled IN SPACE!.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: In A Murder Case in the Area we learn the story of Griselda, a sweet House Wife who was caught in the game alongside her husband Grimlock, then rose to the challenge of becoming a guildmaster. Bad thing? Grimlock has a Freak Out due to both the stress and seeing that she was more successful and independent than he thought she was, so he killed her.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: In Volume 9, beginning the Alicization arc, Kirito has a part-time job as a beta tester for a new VRMMO that uses time acceleration: several weeks in-game are a weekend in the real world... at least at first. In the non-canon sidestory after Alicization ends, Kirito and his harem spend fifty thousand hours (5 years 8 months) on an in-game honeymoon, while five hours pass in the real world.
    • However even those 5 years pale in comparison to the Two Hundred years Asuna and Kirito spend in the Underworld at the conclusion of Alicization, with an FLA of 5 million.
  • You Are Too Late:
    • In the (non-canon) bonus side story Caliber SS (Failure Side), the characters follow the events of Caliber and miss an important Event Flag, which results in their being unable to stop Alfheim from being attacked by the Frost Giants. It does, however, imply they will go on to battle the Big Bad before he can bring any more destruction and hopefully restore the world in the process.
    • Also played tragically straight in "Red-nosed Reindeer", when Kirito tries to find a rare mob that drops an item that can revive a dead player around Christmas time. He does, and manages to get it, but finds out that the item can only be used within 10 seconds of the player's death, about 6 months too late to save Sachi, who died back in June. He gives it to Klein in the hopes that he can save someone in the future.
      • On that note, the death of Sachi and the other Black Cats of the Full Moon. Kirito is fighting through the hoard of monsters with all his might, striking them down as fast as he can, but one by one, his comrades are killed in front of him, with Kirito just out of reach to save them.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: In-game pain inhibitors prevent players from feeling anything but an uncomfortable tingling sensation when their avatar is injured. If the pain inhibitor is turned down too low, or disabled, it can lead to real-world effects on the player's body. Sugou finds this out the hard way when Kirito disables his pain inhibitor and cuts him asunder, causing him to suffer from severe pain and blindness in one eye.
  • You Shall Not Pass!: These incidents happen from time to time, and are usually awesome.
  • Zerg Rush: The guardians of the World Tree employ this tactic. Yui later mentions after Kirito's first encounter with them that although individually they're rather weak, the sheer amount of them means they're as tough as an elite boss.
  • Zero-Approval Gambit: Kirito protects the other beta testers from being ostracized by taking all the hatred on himself. A fragmented playerbase wasn't going to kill any bosses.


"What's the difference between the real world and the virtual one?"
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