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  • Acceptable Targets:
    • Perverts in general. In response to the fact that There Are No Girls on the Internet, many male players are depicted as flocking to and hitting on the few females there are, which is often presented as annoying and creepy. This is especially prevalent in GGO, which has a lower female playerbase than most, where many of them make a bunch of pervy comments towards female players and one is outright shown leering at Sinon's body while hitting on her. Even Klein, who's one of the main characters and whose perversion is Played for Laughs, often ends up as a Butt-Monkey whose appreciation of women isn't exactly portrayed as a positive characteristic of his. It's even worse with full on rapists, who are, for very good reasons, often Hate Sink characters who end up dismembered messes by the end. The only real exception is Kyouji, and that because he's more of a Jerkass Woobie as opposed to the Complete Monster that Sugou was.
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    • PKers, or to simplify, players who spend most of their time in online games killing other players, are also not portrayed positively. In the first arc, any and all PKers, some of which even starting a guild dedicated to it, are essentially Serial Killers due to the death game nature of Sword Art Online, with many going on to become Big Bads in other arcs like Phantom Bullet and Alicization. Even in later arcs where the games lack life-and-death stakes, PKers are typically shown to take being G.I.F.Ts to great extremes and are even portrayed as outright creeps, such as the Salamander Players led by Kagemune who are heavily implied to be "Women Hunters", players who take advantage of the combat system to avoid setting off the Anti-Harassment code to harass female players and sometimes derive pleasure from killing them.
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  • Accidental Aesop: The Aesop of the Phantom Bullet arc is meant to be a commentary on the dangers of losing yourself in a fictional world, like Kyouji did in Gun Gale Online. It also could be interpreted as a message in favor of letting characters re-allocate their stats, since maybe Kyouji wouldn't have gone off the deep end if he'd been allowed to change his stats around and invest some points into Strength.
  • Accidental Innuendo:
    • In SAO II Episode 8, Kirito finds Sinon in the BoB. She tries to draw her pistol on him, but he immediately pins both her hands down and presses her back against the ledge. Without context, it could easily be misinterpreted as them making out or Kirito assaulting her.
    • In Alicization Episode 1, a kid Kirito and Eugeo have a tickle fight with each other, but the camera angle is pointed at their rear ends and the excited giggling can be interpreted a lot of ways for those who don't have context.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
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    • Kirito isn't as Oblivious to Love as he appears; he figured out that Lisbeth had feelings for him, and is just acting oblivious so that he doesn't hurt the other girls' feelings. In the case of Asuna, he does have feelings for her, and he recognizes the signals she's sending out, but he's still getting over the trauma of Sachi's death.
    • There's also an in-universe example with Kirito, whose "loner" attitude is interpreted early by many players as a sign of him being a "Beater" and not caring about other players, while in reality it is caused by his Survivor Guilt and fear of losing any more people; if anything, the way he treated Klein and Asuna (he is the one because of whom they started Taking Levels in Badass) and him taking the blame for other beta-testers after the first boss's defeat make it really hard to see him as a selfish type unless this trope is invoked.
    • Keita blaming Kirito for their guild-mates' deaths is in fact a mental defense mechanism for his Survivor's Guilt. In truth, he blames himself for not being there. Yet he doesn't even believe himself, which is why he kills himself right afterward.
    • Is Diavel a well-intentioned leader who's too confident in what he knows as a beta tester, a power-hungry manipulator who would do anything just to be in charge of the Assault Team, or some combination of the two? The former interpretation is somewhat easier to accept in the anime, in which the subplot of Diavel's attempting to buy Kirito's sword through a proxy is removed.
    • Would Deusolbert really not have arrested a child and transported them to the Central Cathedral hanging off his dragon like he did with Alice, or was he simply lying about it? The former seems more likely as he had no real reason to lie due to not having many issues with being killed after his defeat, and there's the definite possibility that he did it under the Influence of the Seal of the Right Eye, which only a few Underworlders are actually aware of.
    • Are Integrity Knights really separate entities from those whose body they're unknowingly using, or are they simply the same person with Laser-Guided Amnesia and brainwashing? While many characters note that restoring the memories would kill the person they become, there are several factors that serve to muddle the issue, namely the fact that the Knights are capable of remembering things from their previous lives and are affected by them in one way or another. Alice remembers her little sister Selka to an extent, Eldrie was driven to protect Alice as she reminded him of his mother to a degree, Deusolbert has constant dreams about someone who was apparently his wife, Renly suffers from severe trauma in regards to fighting after he accidentally killed his Best Friend in a duel, and Dakira's feelings for Fanatio stem from her reminding Dakira of a girl she had a crush on before her Synthesis. There's also the fact that skills they possessed before Synthesis, such as swordsmanship and skills in Sacred Arts, carry over from the Pre-Synthesis self, as evidenced by how the Church had Alice train as a nun to increase her System Control Authority before Synthesizing her. A later scene also has Alice tell Eldrie that as soon as they win the war with the Dark Territory he should go the top of the Cathedral and reclaim his memories, in spite of the fact that, going off the logic that she isn't the real Alice and that restoring the real one's memories would have killed her, this would effectively kill the Eldrie she knows.

      By extension, is child Alice truly the "Real Alice Zuberg" as Kirito, Eugeo, and Alice believed? While it's noted that the unorthodox nature of the Forced Synthesis Ritual caused Alice's memories to gain a FluctLight and become a Literal Split Personality, the fact that Alice Synthesis Thirty can remember certain parts about her past, such as the location of Rulid Village despite having never been there as per the rule that Integrity Knights can't visit where they're originally from, as well the fact that she feels close to Selka, the original Alice's younger sister, despite having no real memory of her, brings into question about whether or not Alice Synthesis Thirty can't simply remember everything on her own without the need of the memory crystal which, if true, would make child Alice an unintentional clone created by the Forced Synthesis Ritual.
    • Going off the previous point, did Eugeo really believe that restoring Alice's memories would kill Alice the Knight and that he and Kirito would have to duel over who they save, or was that just a lie so Kirito wouldn't try and save him, choosing to die out of guilt over becoming an Integrity Knight and fighting him or fearing that Kirito would end up dying in the process?
    • The anime adaptation of Alicization gives Quinella this, as right before her death, she has a vision of her kingdom and smiles, stating that she loved it all. Is Quinella an evil Control Freak who truly does not understand love and only uses it as an excuse of her actions, or does she really believe that love is control and sees herself as a caring mother to her people?
  • Adaptation Displacement: It's most familiar in the West thanks to the anime and its spinoffs. The original books? Not so much.
  • Angst Dissonance: During the Aincrad arc, a lot of players struggled to cope with a truly desperate situation. Later stories feature normal, non-deadly MMOs where the players are still acting like it's the Vietnam War.
  • Angst? What Angst?:
    • Kirito's Survivor's Guilt seems to disappear at times and he'll be back to his cheery Nice Guy self an episode later. This one is justified though. The Phantom Bullet arc reveals that it's not that Kirito no longer feels the pain and trauma, he's just good at hiding it. But scratch the surface and he's still haunted by the horrors he's seen with lapses that are akin to PTSD, such as his flashbacks of being forced to kill members of Laughing Coffin.
    • Asuna seems all too eager to head right back into ALOnote  with her friends, given that she spent months trapped there as the humiliating prisoner of a sadist. Somewhat justified, since not only is it the game that her SAO friends have decided to gather in, she only truly feels alive and in-control of her life as a skilled swordswoman in the virtual world, rather than as the daughter of an overly-strict mother.
    • For Yuuki it's played straight and fully justified. Even though she's terminally ill with AIDS, she lives every day to the fullest, wary of how little time she has left. Rather than spending her days moping at her misfortune, she instead comes off as an eternally happy Genki Girl. It's also subverted when she mentions that she wasn't always this way — Sister's Prayer shows a somewhat less optimistic version of her who gradually gets closer to how she was when she was first introduced.
  • Anti-Climax Boss: Chudelkin. He was built up to be quite a threat with his mastery of the Sacred Arts summoning up a fire golem, but he gets defeated very quickly with Alice blocking his attack and Kirito killing him without breaking a sweat.
  • Arc Fatigue: The Fairy Dance arc as a whole, which has the opposite problem of the Aincrad arc. While people thought the Aincrad arc was too rushed and could have been extended out longer, everyone just wanted the Fairy Dance arc to be over with and the tedious "rescue Asuna" plot to end. This is especially the case in Episode 21 where there's the perfect opportunity for Asuna to escape and she very nearly does. But nope, it has to continue to be dragged out so that Kirito can have the final showdown with the Big Bad, complete with the squick-inducing Attempted Rape scene. The Phantom Bullet and Alicization story arc would feature the same problems.
  • Ass Pull:
    • Aincrad:
      • Kirito is capable of hacking SAO's Operating System within seconds, even if he's never seen it before, and save Yui's code from shutting down forever by placing it in a bauble. Details on this link.
    • Asuna is able to break free of in-game paralysis through The Power of Love to take a blow for Kirito, and then Kirito when loses all of his HP fighting Kayaba, he is able to disobey the System's orders for him to die through sheer willpower, and delays his Fading Away just long enough to return the favor. Some explanation is offered later by Kayaba that the power of the human will overrides the power of the system, but this is never stated as even a possibility before it happens.
    • Fairy Dance: Kayaba's consciousness appears out of nowhere to Kirito and gives him administrator rights to the game's system, which allows him to defeat Sugou.
    • Phantom Bullet:
      • Inside GGO, Kirito suddenly remembers Death Gun's true identity thanks to a borderline Bat Deduction.
      • In the real world, Kirito survives a fatal syringe stab thanks to a fully providential and amazingly well placed Pocket Protector.
      • During the climax, Yui is able to hack a real-life hospital TV screen to show the MMO Tomorrow live streaming of the Bullet of Bullets Tournament. This is quite ridiculous considering that not only does Yui no longer have admin privileges, but some random TV screen doesn't have any connection to the Seed or Kirito's computer. There's also the fact the nurse doesn't appear shocked that their security system has been so easily compromised.
    • Alicization:
      • When Kirito and Alice are blown off the tower and left hanging on using their swords, Kirito manages to get them out of the predicament by showing off some ridiculous gymnastics skills; twirling himself onto a metal bar, balancing on top of it with two feet, then pulling Alice up via a chain while still keeping his balance. They also repeat this over countless floors to scale the tower.
    • At the end of the first half of the arc, Chudelkin is assumed dead by both the characters and the audience, but he revives, activates his Playing with Fire powers, and jumps on Quinella while she's trying to escape, killing them both (albeit by accident). It might have worked had it been set up better, but it comes across as a Shocking Swerve.
  • Author's Saving Throw:
    • The Progressive mini-series addresses to some extent the complains of people who thought Kirito and Asuna's romance was too rushed. One of the main points of this soft reboot is to see them interact in more depth than in the original story, showing the two years between when the "game of death" began and the main story of the first volume. However, since they still canonically get together in the original first novel, they're not supposed to become a couple in the mini-series itself. Whether it succeeds or not in improving their romance (whether you liked it originally or not) is another matter entirely.
    • For the Live-Action Adaptation, Laeta Kaligridis said that Kirito and Asuna will be played by Asian actors and will avoid a Race Lift, given SAO's real-world setting in Japan.
    • The Mother's Rosario arc gives Asuna some independence from Kirito and makes her far less of a Satellite Love Interest, which some had been accusing her of being. After her argument with her mother, she decides not to call Kirito, and while Kirito and Klein buy Asuna and the Sleeping Knights time to get into the boss room, Asuna and Yuuki ultimately play the greatest role in defeating the boss.
    • The Alicization arc seems to be going out of its way to not make Kirito overpowered to start with and shows him with a lot of fumbling and learning. Kirito is overwhelmed in real life by Johnny Black, who stabs him in the heart with a syringe, and this time there's no Pocket Protector to save him. While in the Underworld, Kirito has trouble landing a proper hit with Eugeo's axe on the Great Cedar tree and has to be taught how to posture himself.
    • A meta case happened after the infamous episode 10 of Alicization. After the third Attempted Rape scene in the franchise, which was also the most violent and graphic one up to that point, Reki Kawahara went out on Twitter to explain why he used that plot point that many times, the reason being that the light novels he used to read in middle school just used it quite often too for Catharsis Factor effect, and he imitated them. However, since it had been almost a full decade since he wrote Sword Art Online as a web novel, Kawahara stated that he doesn't find that plot device appealing anymore, and vowed to find other ways to give catharsis to the reader.
    • Midway through Episode 39 of Alicization, a massive force of bloodthirsty Chinese and South Korean players enters Underworld to serve as GDS's reinforcements. This was the most controversial plot point of the light novels, to the point that Kawahara himself admitted in the afterword of Volume 17 that he was very tempted to rewrite this before publication. It was somewhat mitigated thanks to the existence of the Korean player Wol-saeng alias "Moonphase" who had the sense to be suspicious of what was going on but there was no such equivalent for the Chinese faction, who were just a nameless, faceless horde. The anime adaptation specifically created the character of Mei Mei Xiang, who is one of Moonphase's friends and equally as suspicious as him, to give a sympathetic name and face to the Chinese player faction.
  • Awesome Art: Regardless of the many criticisms the plot and character development get, one thing that has consistently been praised for SAO is how spectacular the animation is:
    • The many games the series has featured all have very beautifully drawn landscapes, especially SAO.
    • Kirito vs. the Gleam Eyes. How could one not be awed by this spectacle when seeing Kirito unleash the Starburst Stream? The sheer amount of work put into the animation of the 16/20-hit combo is undeniably epic.
    • The climactic battle with Death Gun was praised even by haters. Particularly spectacular is when Kirito's SAO avatar gets superimposed over his GGO avatar, when he reaches for his gun to shoot Death Gun.
    • Alicization in general is full of detailed scenes due to the Art Shift.
  • Awesome Music: Part of the course considering it has Yuki Kajiura taking care of it. There are so many examples that it has a page of its own.
  • Badass Decay:
    • While Klein was never the equal of Kirito in SAO, he filled an important role in Aincrad as Kirito's loyal friend and foil, even when Kirito didn't believe that he deserved the friendship; by Excaliber he's degraded to comic relief and the butt of the jokes, and yet he's still crucial to its success. Alleviated somewhat in the Mother's Rosario arc, where he's seen swatting dozens of players out of the way with ease, and in Ordinal Scale, where he and his guild are among some of the only players to hold their own against the first Event Boss while Kirito falls flat on his face and needs bailing out, and may have actually won a fist fight with Eiji had the latter not had an additional AR device to read his opponent's movements.
    • Asuna got subjected to this post-Aincrad, with her first being reduced to Badass in Distress before becoming a Satellite Love Interest. The Mother's Rosario arc and Ordinal Scale heavily fix these issues, as Asuna shows how competent of a fighter she is on her own without Kirito backing her. Especially prevalent in the movie, where she actually outshines Kirito for a large part of the film, being crowned the MVP for the first two boss battles (when Kirito is struggling) and showing off her exceptional leadership skills in combat. She only takes a back seat after Taking the Bullet for Silica and losing her memory, forcing Kirito to step in when the game stops being a game, but even then she's still able to pull off a Big Damn Heroes against the Final Boss who had been stomping Kirito's party, before showing off the Mother's Rosario OSS she got from Yuuki to finish the boss off.
    • Sinon gets hit with this for some in the Calibur arc. Despite being introduced as a badass Cold Sniper who isn't weighed down by having a crush on Kirito, she ends up having a reduced role in the arc where many felt she was just another girl in the harem. Though to her credit, she still pulls off a few badass moments in the arc, such as her 200-meter shot to recover the falling Excalibur.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • The Official Couple Kirito and Asuna. Two of the most polarizing heroes in The New '10s anime history. On the broad strokes, some claim that both are a little bit too perfect, thus making them unrelatable, if not downright unlikable. Others find them as perfectly engaging protagonists, specially when they are together as a Battle Couple (See Escapist Character below). To be more specific:
      • For Kirito it mostly has to do with whether or not he is a bland self-insert Wish Fulfillment character as opposed to being a completely legitimate and believably badass lead with a well-formed character. There are a lot of arguments over whether his overpoweredness is justified or completely unreasonable, with detractors stating this simply does not happen in video games and only appeals to those seeking a tasteless power fantasy, while fans point out it's explained In-Universe why he's so strong, such as his tendency to fight solo as opposed to fighting in groups. Detractors also argue that, even leaving aside his "overpoweredness" arguably breaking both the character and the narrative, Kirito's badassery just doesn't work in this setting, as the original appeal of the premise comes from the imminent threat of death, which is negated by him being an Invincible Hero who never has a real risk of dying. His Chick Magnet status and the way the story tends to focus on him instead of on arguably more interesting characters are also huge points of contention. For some, these points make him almost unbearable to watch, to the point that detractors treat him like a Hate Sink character, while others don't mind them and argue they're just blown out of proportion by the detractors, seeing him as a legitimate Escapist Character.
      • As for Asuna, she is either one of the most moe, badass and likable, strong female leads in The New '10s anime history or another typical and run-of-the-mill tsundere Love Interest. Then there was another group who thought she started off brilliantly as a strong female lead with her own independent character, but her appeal decayed after she became all lovey-dovey towards Kirito and began revolving around him, specially after the Aincrad arc, albeit this last part was alleviated by the Mother's Rosario arc, and the Ordinal Scale movie to a lesser degree. It's not uncommon to find those who hate SAO but still find an appeal in Asuna on her own. The way Kawahara tends to put her in the background in arcs like Phantom Bullet despite being the female lead of the franchise also hurts her reputation among detractors. And of course, there's her role in the Fairy Dance arc. For most detractors it utterly broke her beyond repair. Fans on the other hand, while conceding that Kawahara was just disrespectful to her in that arc in general, argue that there were mitigating factors, namely the fact that she almost gets to escape on her own with no help, and even then she manages to give Kirito the means to get to her, and she never sees herself in that situation ever again. Her pampering background is another point of debate, albeit to a lesser degree (to some people, it gives her more depth; to others, it makes her even less relatable).
    • Yui is a Tastes Like Diabetes variation. Fans think that she's adorable and contributed to Kirito and Asuna's relationship. Detractors on the other hand see her as a lolicon-pandering bait and a dreaded moeblob who contributed to the show's Seasonal Rot. There's also the fact that she often serves as a walking plot device, pulling out something from nowhere to further advance the story.
    • Suguha in the Fairy Dance anime adaptation can be either seen as a Deconstruction of Kissing Cousins and Not Blood Siblings or a toxic Little Sister Heroine who repeatedly goes "Kirito-kun" or "Onii-chan" in just about every scene she's in and "steals" the role of the heroine from Asuna. There's also the excessive fanservice that comes with her character, such as the repeated close-ups of her oversized bust. For some, that's an appeal to her character, while for others, it's incredibly annoying pandering to a certain demographic.
    • Silica. To some, she's one of the most interesting and endearing characters in the whole cast, seeing her as Everyones Baby Sister. To others, she's a useless character who contributes nothing to the plot other than being a Token Mini-Moe, especially given how she's often The Load and needs to be rescued.
    • While not discussed as prominently as above examples, Kyouji can be fairly divisive among fans, especially in regards to his role as a member of Death Gun. On the one hand, there are those who genuinely enjoyed his relationship with Shino, sometimes to the point of shipping them (and in some cases still doing so), and were saddened by him being revealed to be a villain and wished for him to make a Heel–Face Turn so that the two could reconcile, with a few understanding that, while not justifying them, he likely had a horrible home life that contributed to him committing his crimes. On the other hand, there are those who despise him either due to viewing his motives as pettynote  and the fact that he's a Stalker with a Crush who nearly rapes Shino or, in the case of anime-only viewers, feeling that he's ineffective as a twist villain due to how obvious the fact that he's Death Gun was to some fans due to lacking the subtlety of the Light Novelnote , or a mix of both.
    • Gabriel, the Big Bad of the War of the Underworld half of Alicization. For some he's a very complex and terrifying Love to Hate villain with a fleshed-out backstory, while for others he's just god-awful scum who needs to hurry up and die. The anime only made this worse with him having rape tendencies added to his character that weren't present in the light novel.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: The Naughty Tentacles scene in Episode 21 that Asuna is subjected to. It comes out of nowhere, adds nothing to the plot, is never mentioned again, and just seems to be done for the sake of invoking the All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles theme. Similarly, the fact that two ALO staff members go around in purple slug avatars for no real reason is discontinued and bizarre enough for it to count as another BLAM.
  • Bile Fascination: There's a fair number of late-coming viewers that jumped in after it became a critic-favorite punching bag in the anime community. In fact, SAO became a "must watch" among the anime community so that viewers can see why it's terrible and allow them to be able to join in the bashing of it.
  • Broken Base:
    • The use of sexual assault in the series, especially the borderline graphic attempted rape in Alicization, has split fans on whether or not seeing the rapists taken out is catharsis due to Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil, or just a cheap shot at it reducing the female characters to damsels for the males to rescue.
    • Whether the anime adaptation is a step down from the light novels, or just as good/bad as the source material. Many light novel fans who followed the series before the hype and its reputation got destroyed state the anime Adapted Out a lot of elements that made the light novels more enjoyable, such as removing many stories that featured side characters like Lisbeth and Silica, Argo being Demoted to Extra, and Kirito's personality being a lot blander with the aversion of his VR-geekery and existential philosophy. However, a lot of detractors state that the anime adaptation is overall very true to the source material and that even adding the Adapted Out elements wouldn't improve on the overall quality, so any blame for its many flaws should all fall to Reki Kawahara. In addition, the pacing problem and large Time Skips from the Aincrad arc are only present in the anime due to the light novels being collections of short stories that don't directly interconnect, but the anime took all of them and arranged them chronologically without trying to iron out inconsistencies or adding needed connective tissue, which makes the arc seem disjointed and rushed.
    • The Phantom Bullet arc as a whole. Did it successfully Win Back The Crowd with its new premise and a likable new female lead, or did it further contribute to the show's decline with its awful pacing, silly plot, and a new girl who is yet another addition to Kirito's harem? The only thing that both sides can agree upon is that it's hands down better than the Fairy Dance arc.
    • There's a bit of discussion about at which point exactly the series pulls off Win Back The Crowd after the Fairy Dance arc (for those who enjoyed the Aincrad arc) or Growing the Beard (for those who didn't like the show in the first place, but got on board later on). As mentioned in the previous point, there are people who consider Phantom Bullet to be this, but there are also those who champion Mother's Rosario, Ordinal Scale, or Alicization instead, each one for different reasons. And of course, there are those who think that the franchise never becomes good at any point, keeping their belligerence against those who think it does.
    • The Wish Fulfillment aspect of the series. For many detractors, it's the number one reason for the series being terrible and cringey, being so over the top that it becomes downright intellectually insulting, particularly in regards to the sexual fanservice of reducing female characters to sexual fantasies way too often. On the other hand, for fans Wish Fulfillment is exactly the main appeal of the series, and they see nothing wrong in enjoying the series because of it rather than despite of it. This is especially considering SAO is far from alone in this aspect and that there are other shows that are arguably even worse in this regard, even among popular ones.
    • Related to the previous point, there's Kirito and Asuna's romance. Detractors feel it completely ruins the story by taking away the focus from the Deadly Game premise and/or for being poorly executed by being too rushed (although the Progressive mini-series alleviates this part), having cringey dialogue in places, and/or being there just to pander to shallow romance fantasies. Fans on the other hand, consider the story to be is at its strongest when their romance is involved, even if you concede the Wish Fulfillment, since their Battle Couple dynamics offer a mix of action and romance that is extremely rare to find anywhere else. Plus, the fact that they get together early on and stay together ever since, no matter how much Ship Tease both parties may have with other characters, and without relying on Will They or Won't They? dynamics nor forced bickering between them, is considered even refreshing in a popular culture where romance stories and subplots almost always end with the couple getting together or are about the couple being in danger of breaking up (see Escapist Character below). Some go as far as to say that Kirito works much better as a character when he's with Asuna than when he isn'tnote .
    • Asuna's lesser prominence in later arcs is another point of divisiveness. For those who consider Asuna generic and uninteresting, it's actually refreshing to see her step out of the picture to make way for other companions Kirito comes across. For those who do like Asuna as a character, having less of her is a reason to stop watching due to her being one of the main appeals for them. To a lesser extent, this also extends to all of the girls of the harem as a whole, with some wanting to see more of them and others feeling their presence ruins the series.
  • Cant Unhear It:
    • As per the norm with the usual Subbing vs. Dubbing arguments, the majority of SAO fans consider Yoshitsugu Matsuoka the true voice of Kirito, to the point that they can't help but think about Kirito when they hear Matsuoka voicing other characters in other shows. Although Bryce Papenbrook is overall well liked among fans of the English dub, his involvement in other shows like Attack on Titan or the Fate franchise makes him feel less associated with Kirito.
    • An odd case in the European Spanish dub with Darío Torrent for Kirito and Eva Bau for Asuna. Although Spaniard fans also vastly prefer the Japanese VO in this franchise, and despite the fact that both of them have dubbed other popular anime series before and after SAO, Torrent and Bau are often nicknamed "Kirito and Asuna's voice actors" by Spaniard anime fans when they appear in other showsnote 
    • A similar case happens in the Latin American Spanish dub with the same characters and their voice actors, Luis Leonardo Suarez (Kirito) and Alejandra Delint (Asuna), except that, unlike Spain, both actors and their performance are wildly beloved, despite that both actors were basically unknowns before SAO.note 
  • Cargo Ship: Kirito and sandwichnote .
  • Catharsis Factor:
    • Kirito bisecting Oberon, then preceding to impale him through the eye, is very satisfying to watch.
    • Similarly, Kirito and Eugeo rescuing Ronye and Tiese from the filthy clutches of Humbert and Raios and turning them into red-fountains with their swords will have you clapping and cheering. Gets better in Rising Steel, where you not only get to beat the crap out of them yourselves, but can fight them using Ronye, Tiese, and Frenica.
    • In Alicization Awakening, Suguha chopping off the arms of her assaulter Dee Eye Ell who had tied her up and attempted to life-drain her with leech tentacles, then one-shotting her with a single attack that turns her into a bloody paste on the field.
  • Complete Monster: See here.
  • Creepy Awesome:
    • Kayaba's debut in the pilot using the hooded "Game Master" avatar. It's immensely creepy where the sky turns red from being filled with "System Announcement" messages, before what appears to be blood drips out from the edges of the popups and pools together into the giant red-hooded avatar Kayaba is using.
    • Most members of Laughing Coffin give off this vibe, being a whole guild of Serial Killers, but PoH stands out the most, being garbed in a creepy hood and wielding a meat cleaver as his Weapon of Choice.
    • Death Gun. A Darth Vader Clone with a gun that can One-Hit Kill players and give them heart attacks in the real world. He's also an Implacable Man who never stops hunting his targets, and then it's revealed he's an SAO survivor like Kirito and a member of the Laughing Coffin. Sure, the reveal of who he is and how he pulled off the murders diminishes his creep factor, but his presence itself is still pretty unnerving.
  • Critical Dissonance: The franchise was one of the biggest commercial hits of the early 2010s, and still has quite a big fan base. You wouldn't believe it from anime critics, though, who for the most part hate it to a degree comparable to how most film critics hate Michael Bay movies. It's downplayed since there are also a lot of detractors among the audience.
  • Critic-Proof: Sword Art Online as a whole is easily the most controversial anime of the The New '10s, being the most simultaneously loved and hated on. The mere mention of the name is bound to start fights between fans defending it and haters bashing it. Countless YouTube critics have made names for themselves tearing the anime apart to the point where it ended up becoming "cool to hate SAO". Despite the overwhelming hatred it receives, it still performs well and continues creating new seasons, manga, video games, and films years after its debut. To say nothing of the light novel sales, which have hit over 20 million copies sold globally as of 2019 and are still going strong.
  • Designated Monkey: Silica. She gets being put through humiliation hell usually by virtue of Naughty Tentacles or strong monsters. Except she's depicted as a moe Little Sister Heroine whom everyone in-universe and out dotes on and is protective towards.
  • Die for Our Ship:
    • Alice gets this treatment among strong Kiriasu shippers, due to her being the only girl out of the main cast making a move on Kirito despite him being in a relationship when the others have backed down for Kirito and Asuna's sake. See Unintentionally Unsympathetic below for more details.
    • There are times when Asuna is a literal victim of this, with some fanfic writers writing stories that either kill her off before or during the story so that Kirito can get together with their character of choice.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: Despite having kidnapped and murdered thousands of gamers, Kayaba Akihiko's fans insist he is not evil because he isn't sadistic like Sugou Nobuyuki or Death Gun, despite the fact that Kayaba is directly responsible for the other antagonists being able to pursue their evil goals. Even more nonsensical is that he still has fans in-universe, such as Asuna and Kirito.
    • Quinella also gets this treatment to a much lesser extent. While the novels are ambiguous over whether or not her sociopathy is the result of merging her soul with Cardinal or if she always was one and can now express it completely, it doesn't change the fact that she's hugely selfish and seems to relish in the misery she causes others. Even the anime gets in on it by giving her a somewhat sympathetic sendoff where she dies content and with a smile on her face.
  • Dry Docking: The number of fans who are displeased at Kirito's guts and want him to stay away from any female character in the cast so they can have them for themselves is quite high.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Now has its own page.
  • Epileptic Trees: A very popular fan theory is that Kuroyukihime from Accel World (also by Reki Kawahara, set in the same Shared Universe two decades into the future) is Kirito and Asuna's daughter. Furthermore, her real name is theorized to be Sachi Kirigaya, due to her nickname being Sachan. This was officially debunked in Unital Ring with the introduction of Kuroyukihime's mother, who is not Asuna.
  • Escapist Character: Basically, the appeal of both Kirito and Asuna for their fans. Apart from the obvious escapist possibilities that they offer separatelynote , they are somewhat unique in that they also offer an escapist fantasy for couples. As in living a great adventure with your significant other with both of you kicking ass together in pretty much equal measure. A type of fantasy that is actually quite uncommon, not only in anime, but in popular media in general. Especially to this degree and especially without being hindered by Will They or Won't They? dynamics, which SAO refreshingly never relies onnote . This applies mostly to the Aincrad arc, obviously, and it's a big part of the reason why it's still the most popular arc... and why the Fairy Dance arc is so hated, for that matter, since it pretty much throws this fantasy out of the window in the worst way possible. Also the reason why the film Ordinal Scale, which focuses on their relationship, not only was very well received by fans, but also managed to recover some fans that had dropped the series (signaling that the creators are fully aware of this situation). Couples cosplaying together as Kirito and Asuna in tandem is a pretty common view in anime conventions because of all of this.
  • Evil Is Cool:
  • Evil Is Sexy:
    • Rosalia an Evil Redhead with Peek-a-Bangs.
    • Quinella. There's those who like her for being a brilliant villain, and then there's those who like her for being one the sexiest females period. She spends the majority of her appearances completely naked with nothing but Godiva Hair to cover up.
      • This applies even more so in universe, where she's seen as the World's Most Beautiful Woman. Even Eugeo and Kirito acknowledge that her appearance is "perfect," to the point of making Alice and Asuna look plain in comparison, despite seeing her as the Complete Monster she is.
    • Some Chubby Chasers find Ilfang the Kobold Lord to be a Big Handsome Man.
  • Fandom-Enraging Misconception:
    • Calling the Fairy Dance arc (Season 1 Episode 15-25) "Season 2". Fans get very irritated when people get it mixed up with the actual Season 2 titled "Sword Art Online II".
    • Saying Kayaba was never given a reason behind trapping thousands of players in SAO, due to his line saying that he forgot the true reason. Fans will adamantly point out it was literally explained right after that he wanted to create a real virtual world and that he had fulfilled that dream.
    • Calling Underworld a "game" despite the story making it very clear it is a top-secret virtual simulated environment populated by AI, being used for a government experiment funded with a black budget. Yet the misconception continues to persist.
    • Due to Alicization being split into two halves, there's the tendency of people referring to War of the Underworld as Season 4. Though this one does have some justification as the production does tend to bill them as separate seasons and get listed individually rather than together. One could even get away with saying that the anime turned them into separate seasons even if they weren't in the light novels.
    • It is very common for anime-only watchers to make comments like "I haven't read the manga" or "where does the anime leave off in the manga?" Due to this franchise's status as a Gateway Series, a lot of newcomers to the anime scene are not familiar with Light Novels and how they have become so prominent as source material for so many anime starting in the 2010s, and think the show is based off a manga like other popular 2010s anime gateway series such as Attack on Titan and My Hero Academia.
  • Fandom Rivalry:
    • There has been one with Log Horizon, due to the similar premise. Interestingly enough, many Log Horizon supporters seem to be former SAO fans that dropped the series at some point (normally when the focus of the Aincrad arc shifted to romance, or when the Fairy Dance arc started).
      • Hilariously, Hollow Realization has you in a massive single floor area, instead of a tower, with the player characters the only ones who can't die, while Non Player Characters who go into battle die for real... EXACTLY like Log Horizon
    • To a lesser extent, there's also one with Accel World, which is written by the same author.
      • ...which has got several crossover elements with Sword Art Online in the video games.
    • Berserk fans have also not taken well to the fact that "The Black Swordsman" is now more commonly associated with a 16 year old gamer instead of an adult who actually wields a sword. It doesn't help that Kirito's sword in Alfheim is nigh-identical to the Dragonslayer or that both series author's use rape a lot (partially justified in Berserk's case for being a Seinen whereas SAO is NOT.)
      • Hollow Realization introduces a character, Genesis, with that moniker as a nickname, who bears a much closer resemblance to the original Black Swordsman. Ironically, HE is seen as the pretender in-universe, in exactly the same way that the Berserk fanbase saw Kirito as the pretender to that name.
    • Many .hack fans are also resentful of the fact that SAO is considered to have an original set up. Both works were created the same year, but SAO didn't become mainstream until it was formally published 7 years later.
    • It has five in the form of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, Kamen Rider Zero-One, Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS, Gundam Build Divers, and Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE, as many people call them "SAO with Kamen Riders" (while the latter show calls them "Alicization and Accel World with Kamen Riders"), "SAO with card games", and and the last two being "SAO with Gundam models" respectively.
    • With KonoSuba and Overlord, due to the similar premises as well as being the most commonly cited series that haters champion as being superior. With KonoSuba it helps that it did not Follow the Leader after SAO like most isekais did and completely deconstructed the cliches, along with the fact that KonoSuba has a memetically good reputation while SAO has a memetically bad reputation. While with Overlord the claims are that it took the same core concepts and ideas, such as an overpowered main character trapped in a video game but executed them correctly.
    • With JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, with said fandom constantly picking fights with the SAO fanbase, whenever SAO performs better in popularity polls. It's a reoccurring trend for JoJo fans to raid areas occupied by SAO fans and champion their show as the superior series.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: A portion of fans of the anime see Aincrad as the only Arc, due to the many problems "Alfheim" had. There's also another portion which would do so too, were it not for the Arcs after it. Even the series itself doesn't really ever bring up Asuna as Titania afterwards, despite SAO being referenced plenty of times.
    • The last episode of Season 2 and the ending of Volume 7 is this for those who were fans of Yuuki and didn't like the fact she died, to the point that many prefer the video games for sparing her from this fate.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple:
    • Eugeo/Alice. Rather than the Ship Tease between Eugeo and various other girls or Alice as another member of Kirito's harem, nearly all fans support this couple. Even merchandising and Reki seems to get in on this, with a lot of official or promotional art depicting them together, sometimes with Kirito and Asuna in what looks like a double date, and the If You Were Here and If You Wish It side-stories giving them some Ship Tease with Kirito appearing to be a Shipper on Deck.
    • Arguably more popular than that is the Foe Yay pairing of Eugeo/Quinella, which got a huge boost after the anime. It helps that in the anime, she is not already nude when he enters her chambers, and takes the time to unlace her dress right in front of him.
  • First Installment Wins: Despite the story spanning at least four different MMOs, with the titular Sword Art Online only appearing in a single novel and 14 episodes, the Aincrad arc is widely considered the best arc and the one the series is most associated with. A lot of fans felt the series should have ended there and disregard anything that comes after. The majority of merchandise and promotional material use the characters' Aincrad appearance.
  • Fountain of Memes: Kirito himself. Polarizing as he may be, he has spawned countless memes in the anime community, both affectionate and derogatory.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment:
    • Klein struggling against the boar is played for laughs, but at the time, he and Kirito didn't know that dying in the game kills them in real life. If Kirito wasn't there to teach Klein, the latter would have died at the start of the game. Worse yet, Klein isn't the only one new to the game and not everyone had the good fortune of meeting a beta tester.
    • It's really hard to laugh when Kirito accidentally grabs Asuna's right breast after seeing Asuna nearly getting raped much later.
    • Shinichi's occasional creepiness trying to win Suguha's heart is funny because he's harmless. On the other hand, Kyouji turns creepy right before he tries to rape and murder Sinon. Before this, the two were very similar.
  • Gateway Series: For many western viewers, Sword Art Online is not only the gateway series for the isekai genre but for anime in general, being The New '10s equivalent of Dragon Ball Z. As much as many people hate to admit it, SAO was what got them into anime to begin with.
  • Genius Bonus: System Call and Code 871note  are actual computer terms which programmers may recognize. A System Call is when a program tries to interact with the operating system, while Code 871 is when a program tries to modify something it does not have access to.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: The franchise is surprisingly popular in Mexico. This is especially worth mentioning here for a myriad of reasons since no one, not even their fans, expected SAO to be popular there, partly because, unlike other very popular anime franchises popular in both Mexico and other Latin American countries, like Saint Seiya, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball and even cult stuff (in Latin America) like My Hero Academia, Naruto or Bleach, SAO is not based on a manga (despite having one later on), but on a light novel, a genre which is even more niche in Mexico than Manga or Anime, due to its ties with regular literature, considering Mexicans aren't known for reading books at all.note 
  • Gotta Ship 'Em All: One solution fans have to the Harem Genre in the series, is to pair the many members of the harem up with each other, with Lisbeth/Silica and Leafa/Sinon being popular pairings.
  • Growing the Beard:
    • In regards to the anime, while the series starts off pretty strong, it's the two-parter in episodes 5 and 6 where they really get the comedic timing down and solidified Asuna's characterization. The light novels are a different story due to the anachronistic nature of the first two volumes. Episode 8 is also considered as such, due to dropping the independent episodic story format in favor of a continuous flowing narrative.
    • After the extremely controversial Fairy Dance Arc, the Phantom Bullet Arc is widely considered to have redeemed the show with its increased focus on storyline and Character Development, while keeping the continuous flowing narrative as opposed to the episodic stories in the first half of the Aincrad arc. Mother's Rosario also follows suit by giving Asuna some much needed depth after many had considered to be undeveloped.
    • The Alicization arc is extremely highly regarded among fans and praised as Kawahara's best work for SAO. It features a very compelling story line that avoids the rushed pacing issues of its predecessors, giving focus to many characters other than Kirito (with Asuna eventurally taking up the role of Deuteragonist once again), and delving very deeply into existential philosophical of human nature. It also introduces Alice and Eugeo, possibly the two most popular SAO protagonists (aside from Sinon and Yuuki).
  • Harsher in Hindsight: One of Sugou's many vile acts was being a sexual sadist. An already dark moment gets depressing after his voice actor in the English dub, Todd Haberkorn, got hit with a rape allegation in January of 2019 by Jessie Pridemore note .
    • The subplot about how Koreans being left off from The Seed Nexus (which is the basis of the VRMMO after Aincrad) and how it incensed at least several player including one particular POV character during one chapter of "War of the Underworld" arc becomes quite relevant after increasing tensions between Korea and Japan due to trade restrictions for high-tech materials in July 2019.
  • He Really Can Act: For anyone with complaints about Yoshitsugu Matsuoka using nearly the same voice for all his characters, he really makes up for it in Alicization. Not only is he voicing Kirito as a kid, but he's also evolved the now older Kirito's voice making it noticeably deeper than the Kirito introduced in Season 1.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight:
    • Kirito's statement at the end of the Aincrad arc that "there's nothing more boring than watching someone else playing an MMO". Back in 2002, when the novel was written, most people would have agreed to that. Fastforwards a bit over a decade later, the success of "Let's Play" videos and gaming streaming has made that statement not age well.
    • The fact that there is an arc called, "Mother's Rosario." Kirito's birthday is the Feast of the Rosary.
    • The titular sword arts, as described in the novel, are special attacks where the system briefly takes over limb control, activated by specific arm movements. In other words, waggle controls five years before the Wii popularized them.
    • One on the dark humor side for Fairy Tail fans who enjoy the English dub. Asuna and Oberon are voiced by Cherami Leigh and Todd Haberkorn, respectively. In other words, Lucy and Natsu. Let us say, NaLu fans may not be able to unsee it when they see Asuna and Oberon's interactions in SAO.
      • The European Spanish dub has the exact same situation with Eva Bau (Lucy/Asuna) and Enric Puig (Natsu/Oberon).
    • Christine Marie Cabanos voicing Silica (the number one victim of Naughty Tentacles) becomes pretty funny when considering she's the voice of Squid Girl.
    • Another one for the English dub. Alicia Rue is a Cat Girl who tries to woo Kirito. A few years later Kirito is a Cat Boy trying to win the heart of Alicia Rue.
    • The Berserk fandom has been known to treat Kirito as the pretender "Black Swordsman" to Guts. In Hollow Realization, the Big Bad is Genesis who physically resembles Guts more than Kirito does, but is treated In-Universe as the pretender to Kirito.
    • After Episode 3 of Alicization aired, this makes it the third 2018 fall anime to feature goblins, joining the ranks of Goblin Slayer and Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken.
    • Episode 10 of Alicization and the above-mentioned Goblin Slayer aired on the same day, and in a truly ironic coincidence, Alicization was the serious, intense episode that featured (attempted) rape and buckets of blood, while Goblin Slayer was a calm and slow-paced episode devoted to character development and relaxation. Jokes abounded about how the two shows must have gotten their scripts mixed up.
    • Kirito amasses quite a harem throughout the series, being a Nice Guy Chick Magnet (though he is an Official Couple with Asuna.) Come 2019, some of the more well-known female English cast members(Including Cherami Leigh, Christine Marie Cabanos, and Sarah Williams) would lend their voices to the Updated Re Release of the Role-Playing Game Affectionate Parody of the harem genre: Conception PLUS: Maidens of the Twelve Stars.
    • During The Girl of Morning Dew Kirito tells Asuna a ghost story. Coincidentally, they find a ghost in the forest, who turned out to be a girl named Yui. It was later revealed that Yui was an Artificial Intelligence. Hmm... A ghost that turned out to be an AI. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
  • Ho Yay:
    • Oodles between Kirito and Klein. Many fans even include Klein as part of Kirito's Supporting Harem.
      • Starting in the very first episode. In the Japanese version of the first episode...
    Klein: Kirito! ...Ah... Hey, Kirito. You were actually pretty cute. That's my type.
    Kirito: And that unkempt face of yours suits you ten times better.
    • Kirito and Eugeo. Kirito describes Eugeo, his "partner" throughout his adventures in the Underworld, as one of the few very close male friends he's had, and hopes to introduce Eugeo to his friends. Eugeo's death hits Kirito very hard, leaving him broken in spirit for quite some time. In fact, he takes Eugeo's death in some ways worse than he took Sachi's back in Aincrad.
    • There's even more in the gameverse, see this page for more details.
  • Hype Backlash: SAO is one of the biggest examples in the entirety of fiction. It garnered excessive attention and for a while became the most hyped anime of its time. However many came out of the experience with negative opinions, especially the Fairy Dance arc. In fact one of the main reasons people started rigorously hating on it was because of its popularity and the belief that it was undeserved. And then the critics got their hands on it and thoroughly destroyed its reputation, where SAO went from the darling of the anime community, to its favorite punching bag.
    • The Alicization arc, which was heavily hyped as the best SAO story before its anime adaptation began, also got hit by this to an extent. The opinions from fans were overall positive, but a significant amount of them don't consider it the best arc, due to a relatively slow beginning, the sidelining of the supporting cast (although they think Eugeo and Alice makes up for it) and the story moving away from the video game setting being a somewhat divisive move. And of course, at the end of the day, it didn't manage to sway the opinions of detractors, some of them being former fans, who think that Alicization does nothing to fix the flaws of the franchise, as they found instances of illogical plots and plotlines, underdeveloped characters (not even Alice and Eugeo escape this criticism), yet another use of Attempted Rape as a plot point, and the use of sexual fanservice, particularly with Quinella.
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks!: Sword Art Online was one of the first Gateway Series of The New '10s, being one the most hyped series at the time of its release. However its surge in popularity and introduction to a wider audience was what contributed to it becoming a critic-favorite punching bag. The wider audience allowed its flaws to become more pronounced, which then escalated as more and more people jumped on the hate bandwagon leading it to became trendy to hate SAO. In fact its the popularity of the series itself which is in part what leads to the extremely vocal hate, with the detractors stating the series does not deserve such popularity.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Kyouji Shinkawa, one of the three who plays the role of Death Gun. He's an accomplice to several murders, but has a troubled real life- he's been bullied at school, his grades suffer to the point at which he can't possibly meet his parents' expectations for him to go to medical school and become a doctor, and he's implied to be not entirely mentally well. As such, he thinks of the game world as an escape far beyond what is healthy, and when AGI builds get nerfed, rendering him unable to be the strongest in the virtual world, that essentially breaks him.
    • Nezha from Progressive is a blacksmith who's party to a scheme to con players out of their weapons by making them think they had broken. He also suffers from a Full-Dive Nonconformity that essentially leaves him legally blind in the game, and is partly working so that his friends will be able to keep pace with the Assault Team, feeling guilty that his friends fell behind while trying to help him. When Kirito and Asuna find out about his scam, Nezha's nearly Driven to Suicide, and after becoming The Atoner and pulling a Big Damn Heroes entry to save the parties fighting the second floor's boss, he nearly gets killed in revenge as a result of a (possibly unsubstantiated) report that he'd indirectly caused another player's death, and until the very last second, everyone believes that his "friends" will abandon him and let the other players execute him.
  • Just Here for Godzilla: You'd be surprised how many people say they don't like the series and only watch it to see Sinon.
  • Launcher of a Thousand Ships:
  • Les Yay:
    • A strange example happens early on in Phantom Bullet, when Sinon is significantly friendlier to Kirito when she thinks he's a fellow female player.
    • Asuna and Sinon. In the light novels, it's said that shortly after meeting Asuna, Sinon decided to try to overcome her trust issues and give friendship a chance. The two are on a First-Name Basis by the end of their first meeting; compare that Shino being on a Last-Name Basis with Kyouji, whom she's known for some time. By the start of Alicization, not only has Asuna started using the Affectionate Nickname of "Sinonon" on Sinon, but she also invited Shino over to her house.
    • Asuna and Yuuki during the Mother's Rosario arc. When Asuna suggested Yuuki marry someone, Yuuki jokingly considered marrying Asuna. In her dying moments, Yuuki also said Asuna was the person she loved.
    • Asuna and Alice when they first meet in the Alicization arc. Each one has a lengthy inner monologue in the light novel (which were Adapted Out in the anime) with a fawning description of just how beautiful the other girl is (for Alice's part, she's trying to figure out why Asuna's simple presence instinctively irritates her):
    (Asuna's perspective): She gasped in shock. An astonishingly beautiful knight with snow-white skin, roughly the same age as her, was glaring at Asuna. Her sapphire eyes emanated an animosity that seemed to crackle like electricity. Her golden hair, seemingly fashioned from the element itself, billowed in the air. Her hefty armor and smooth longsword both gleamed a flaxen yellow.
    (Alice's perspective, a little later): Or was it because Asuna was so extraordinarily beautiful that just looking at her made you sigh? An exotic face without even the slightest tinge of austerity, as though it were the embodiment of the word “exquisite” itself. The bonfire brightly illuminated her white skin and her soft, billowing chestnut hair, which looked to be top-quality strands of silk braided together. The Guard Leaders' eyes all revealed intoxicated gazes of admiration. If Asuna had called herself Goddess Stacia, they would have believed her without question.
  • LGBT Fanbase: The series has a surprisingly large fanbase in the transgender community due to Kirito's GGO avatar, in how he's a boy who looks like a convincing girl.
  • Love to Hate:
  • Magnificent Bastard:
    • Akihiko Kayaba is a brilliant programmer desiring a fully-immersive Virtual Reality simulation and creator of Sword Art Online, the world's first VRMMORPG: trapping 10,000 players within and setting it so they die in real life if they do in the game while preventing authorities from stopping his game. Disguised as Heathcliff, a charming leader of a group of players within Aincrad, Kayaba reveals himself when hero Kazuto "Kirito" Kirigaya deduces his identity and duels the latter, releasing the players and seemingly killing himself when beaten but in reality sending his Fluctlight to continue existing on the internet. Reappearing out of disgust for the next season's Arc Villain, Kayaba assists Kirito in defeating the antagonist and entrusts Kirito with his final invention: made to allow others to create their own virtual reality games and have it shared with the world. Returning once more in the Alicization arc, Kayaba helps save the virtual reality world the heroes are within by taking control of a robot in the setting, proving himself Kirito's most honorable foe.
    • Seijirou Kikouka masquerades as Kirito's benefactor but in reality is a JSDF lieutenant colonel leading RATH, the creators of the virtual reality world Underworld. Swindling Kirito into working for him, he hopes to use the artificial Fluctlights of Underworld as soldiers to avoid human casualties in war and when Kirito is hospitalized, Kikouka has him connected to the virtual reality world, hoping to save his mind out of genuine concern. When attacked, he helps fight the sociopathic Gabriel Miller and through the series learns to value the AIs he once sought to use as Cannon Fodder to save human soldiers, successfully escaping after showing Japan's potential at the arc's end.
  • Memetic Badass:
    • Kirito in a rare derogatory example of this trope. His Plot Armor is said to be unparalleled and he can never die no matter how unlikely survival is.
    • The Gigas Cedar/Demon Tree, the most powerful boss Kirito has ever faced!note 
  • Memetic Loser:
    • Klein. Everyone has more screentime than him, even Sandwich-kun.
    • Kirito himself tends to get this from the periphery hatedom, who will endlessly bring up the fact he's a loner gamer with no social life and is only so strong because he endlessly grinds like a loser, rather than the badass swordsman the show makes him outnote . Furthermore, pretty much every versus topic that features Kirito will have the majority of people rooting for the opposition and coming up with every possible way to make Kirito seem weak and lose, regardless of whether or not it makes sense in the fight.
  • Memetic Mutation: Has its own page.
  • Memetic Troll:
    • Argo. Kirito and Asuna are pretty much her play things. She will go to great lengths to embarrass Kirito and it's absolutely hilarious. The fact she's an Knowledge Broker who's Only in It for the Money has led her to exploit the most sensitive and personal of information and sell it off for cash, or the lows she will stoop to getting said information in the first place. Then there's the fact she keeps insinuating Kirito has a thing for her, mockingly treating every one of his attempts at being friendly to be flirting.
    • Lisbeth is known to notoriously troll Kirito and Asuna. She loves putting the lovey-dovey couple in awkward situations, while she's most likely the one to kill the mood by telling them to Get a Room!. She's also not afraid to get physical with other girls, or snuggling up to Kirito despite the fact he's in a relationship.
  • Moe
    • Silica, The Baby of the Bunch who everybody treats like a fragile little sister.
    • Yui, Kirito and Asuna's sweet, innocent, little daughter who they treasure more than anything in the world.
    • Leafa/Suguha, Kirito's real life sister/cousin who he's extremely protective over.
    • Asuna herself during the Fairy Dance arc when she was held captive.
    • Sinon in real life, a Broken Bird who's constantly dealing with PTSD and the social stigmas that come with it.
    • Eugeo, who endears many for being an adorkable shy boy who overcomes his cowardice to become greater.
    • Tiese and Ronye, the valets of Eugeo and Kirito, who look up to and are eager to please their senpais.
    • Cardinal, a Little Miss Badass who is Wise Beyond Her Years but just wants a hug.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Has its own page
  • More Popular Replacement:
    • Sinon serves as the Arc Hero of the Phantom Bullet arc, where she takes over from Asuna as the female lead much like Leafa did. However unlike Leafa who ended up being a Replacement Scrappy, Sinon ended up being a welcome change and would go on to become a Breakout Character. Fans praised her for her compelling personality, her much deeper backstory, having a more realistic motivation for taking up gaming, as well as being the first female protagonist who is not defined by having an interest in Kirito. There's a large group who wish Sinon was the solo protagonist of the GGO arc without having to share the limelight with Kirito.
    • Alice, who might just be the most positively received female lead yet. While she's loved for being a similarly strong heroine much like her predecessors, she avoids the flack that many of the past SAO girls get by not being dependent upon Kirito and prove to be formidable and badass completely on her own.
    • Quinella to Sugou. While all of the villains that came after him were more popular due to Sugou being reviled by the fandom, special mention goes to Quinella who might very well be the most popular SAO villain to date. She's deemed a far more complex villain and a far bigger threat, while Sugou was extremely one-dimensional and pathetic. She also has a very large following due to her invoking Evil Is Sexy.
  • Most Wonderful Sound:
    • The VR starting sound effect after someone says "Link Start!"
    • Kirito's photon sword in Phantom Bullet hums just like a lightsaber.
  • Narm: Enough to have its own page.
  • Never Live It Down: Plenty of it.
  • Nightmare Retardant: Sugou/Oberon. He's ticked every box to be as awful a person as possible, but he's so ridiculously cartoonishly evil that he comes off as annoying rather than intimidating.
  • No Yay: Anything from Sugou/Oberon.
  • Obvious Judas: Sigurd from the Alfheim arc. He quickly establishes himself as a Jerkass when he tries to boss Leafa around outside of the scope of their original agreement, and when Kirito calls him out on it, Sigurd threatens to kill him when he can't fight back. As such, it's not especially surprising that he's the traitor in the Sylph faction, even if the twist is more about there being one than who it is.
  • Older Than They Think: While the light novels began publication in 2009 (with the anime not starting until 2012), Reki Kawahara actually started writing SAO related stories as early as 2001 with the intention of competing for the 2002 ASCII Media Works' Dengeki Game Novel Prize. After being rejected for surpassing the contest page limit, he published it on the internet immediately after and kept adding new stories in that format until 2008 (with Alicization specifically written from January 2005 to July 2008), going as far as completing the Alicization arc and writing the beginning of the Moon Cradle arc. The light novels are edited versions of those original stories, with certain moments (i.e. Kirito and Asuna's first time) Adapted Out while also toning down some other elements (such as Asuna originally being the one to kill Kuradeel in Aincrad, or Eugeo being too late to save Ronye and Tiese from being raped for real in Alicization). Many fans, especially those who got interested in the series because of Alicization, are surprised to find out the source material for the anime was already over a decade older than its debut in October 2018.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Argo in the anime, who only has one brief scene in episode 3 despite the fact that she's far more prominent in the novels.
    • Pale Rider. He gets to show off his impressive acrobatics and takes down Dyne in an epic battle. Pity he gets killed by Death Gun immediately afterwards.
    • Episode 1 of Alicization has a lot of these in the form of characters from other SAO media having cameos.
      • Kureha and Zeliska from Fatal Bullet can be seen at the bar playing pool. While both Kureha and Itsuki's names can be seen on the 5th BoB rankings.
  • Paranoia Fuel: The thought of being trapped in the new video game you just purchased and dying because you died in said video game. You'll be playing MMOs gingerly for awhile.
    • And there is always the possibility that when Deep-Immersion Gaming is invented in a decade or two that it won't be as safe as it was intended to be. There are a bunch of ways to die with a Nerve Gear that DON'T involve product tampering. The fact that you're completely paralyzed means that if there was some emergency, such as a fire, you would be completely helpless because you'd have no way of knowing that you were in danger.
    • The concept of Death Gun, a Serial Killer who can somehow kill people in a video game despite that being seemingly impossible without NerveGears, is already plenty disturbing but The Reveal of exactly how Death Gun kills people is equally disturbing. After stalking players in GGO and finding out their personal information, including where they live, Death Gun's accomplice breaks into the real life house and waits for the Death Gun in the game to shot the target before injecting the victim with a lethal drug overdose. Sinon herself almost has a complete Freak Out when she realises that there is a deranged Serial Killer quietly watching her unresponsive real life body waiting for the moment he can kill her.
    • The disappearance of PoH's body from the Ocean Turtle with no explanation. Despite the fact that Kirito turned him into a tree in the Underworld to ensure he can never leave, his body mysteriously disappears from the STL room between Critter discovering him and Gabriel's corpse and the other GDS soldiers going there to recover Gabriel, with none of them ever finding his body.
  • Overshadowed by Controversy: The rape scenes in Sword Art Online are considered to be the most controversial aspect of the light novels. Episode 10 in the Alicization arc had a rape scene was so graphic and disturbing that the episode was censored by Aniplex USA and the light novel's author even personally apologized to the voice actresses of the two characters who were raped in that scene and gave a full explanation as to why he wrote the rape scenes in his work.
  • Portmanteau Couple Name: KiriAsu or Kirisuna (Kirito x Asuna).
  • Relationship Writing Fumble: Episode 38 of Alicization ends with the souls of Bercouli and Quinella flying off into the sunset on his dragon right after they exchanged a rather heartfelt conversation about their long lives before she softly takes his hand and sits in his lap to ride off with him. The last bit was a change from how the light novel portrayed it, as in the novel, Bercouli flew off on his own without Quinella. The anime's version of the scene apparently got enough people to start mistaking it as a shipping moment that Reki Kawahara himself had to debunk it on his Twitter by denying there was any romantic feeling to it and comparing it to more of an awkward boss and subordinate relationship.
    • Debate has raged since the Phantom Bullet arc on whether or not Sinon has romantic feelings for Kirito, not helped by how frustratingly ambiguous she acts in a lot of scenes when she's around him. Episode 39 of Alicization brought this to a head when Sinon reveals to Alice exactly what Kirito is to her. Viewers noted that Sinon uses language that could be interpreted in a pretty romantically-charged manner when she says "I like (好き suki) Kirito... I like (大好き daisuki) him so very much. That's the same for Asuna and the others. And we're all worried about Kirito." Again, more insight had to be gained from Kawahara's Twitter commentary on the episode which explained that 好き suki in this case isn't supposed to mean feelings of "like" or "love" (and he specifically used English for those two words in his tweet) and that even an interpretation of it as "partner" or "comrade" still isn't quite accurate. In his mind, it's more of a case of a bond between souls that have overcome heavy burdens together.
  • Replacement Scrappy:
    • Leafa was initially hit by this, due to taking over Asuna's role as the female lead during the Fairy Dance arc, where there were Squick elements due to the fact she is in love with Kirito while being his real life biological cousin and adopted sister. It doesn't last in later arcs, however, once the romance aspect is dropped and she goes back to being Kirito's supportive Little Sister Heroine.
    • Sugou is this to Kayaba, who is basically the polar opposite of his predecessor, taking away anything likable about Kayaba (read: Hate Sink), such as being a Smug Snake and Dirty Coward.
    • Gabriel is this to Quinella. While Quinella is beloved as a Love to Hate villain and had a huge fan following, Gabriel became a very polarizing Base-Breaking Character with some considering him to be a worthy replacement to Quinella, while others thoroughly despise him and wish Quinella stayed around.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap:
    • The Mother's Rosario arc saved Asuna in the eyes of many of her detractors. She ends up getting a fair amount of Character Development in gaining the same confidence she had in SAO in real life, and at one point, even passes up an opportunity to call up Kirito so that she can deal with her own problems.
    • Leafa/Suguha fights off her detractors after the Fairy Dance arc where her Kissing Cousins aspect gets dropped and she goes from love interest to Little Sister Heroine. She has it even better in the gameverse where it overlaps with Better Than Canon, as the romance plot is avoided altogether as she knows straight from the beginning that Kirito is her brother.
    • Kirito gets this treatment for quite a few in the Phantom Bullet arc doing this for Kirito, due to his effeminate avatar in GGO. This version of Kirito dubbed Kiriko, is incredibly popular both for design and adding an interesting twist to Kirito’s personality and character. It's not uncommon for people to declare that Kirito is best girl. And then Kirito further gets this in the Alicization arc with many of his past detractors deeming him much greatly improved as a character due to his Bromance with Eugeo, which fleshed Kirito out as a character.
  • Ron the Death Eater:
    • Kirito is heavily subjected to this by critics and reviewers who try hard to make him look like an awful person that is selfish, narcissist, manipulative, and hurts people close to him like the girls that are part of his harem. For instance one meme has Lisbeth telling Kirito she loves him and he replies on how he loves himself too.
    • Asuna's mother, Kyouko Yuuki, also gets this treatment. Despite being, at worst, a concerned but ignorant and overbearing mother who has a point on Asuna's limited education prospects and resents VR and her daughter's fascination in it for good reason, most fanfictions tend to depict her as being more antagonistic and controlling of Asuna, as well as more abusive. And while a lot of them keep her Heel–Face Turn, some outright make her the Big Bad who resorts to shady means of getting what she wants.
    • An likely unintended and non-malicious variant often occurs with Sinon. In canon, Shino was willing to forgive Kyouji for his role in Death Gun and trying to kill her, and was determined to try and save him as person by visiting him and giving her support to his rehabilitation, with the first volume of Alicization revealing that she's succeeding in this regard. Most fanworks however tend to depict her as outright fearing or hating Kyouji and not willing to give him a chance, likely due to the writer's own feelings on the character or feeling that there's no chance they could ever be friends. This is especially prevalent stories that pair Shino with Kirito or an OC where he appears as an antagonist for Kirito/the OC to save her from, wherein she often treats him like garbage and makes no attempts to reason with him despite her canon actions in regards to him implying that she would be more sympathetic and plead for him to make a Heel–Face Turn, and many fics adapting Phantom Bullet tend to leave out her asking to visit him to help in his rehabilitation.
    • Due to how the Illfang boss was adapted from the Progressive Vol 1 to the anime, Kiboau is heavily subjected to this. In the Light Novel/Manga canon, Kiboau was something of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold who was often comparatively more reasonable than his rival Lind, who was the the actual person who drove Kirito to becoming Beater by accusing him of causing Diavel's death. The anime making him a Composite Character for Lind, making him the one to accuse Kirito of letting Diavel die instead of the Adapted Out Lind, turned him into an outright Jerkass who lacked the Hidden Depths he originally possessed. As a result, whenever he's written into any stories taking place in Aincrad he's presented as outright antagonistic, even ones that closely follow Progressive. It doesn't help that many official materials, such as the Rising Steel mobile game, tend to follow the anime's canon and keep in him in his Composite Character role.
    • The other girls are sometimes depicted negatively by fans depending on who they pair Kirito with, with the girl they choose being presented as the best option for him while the others(especially Asuna if it's not her) are often Clingy Jealous Girls or outright Yanderes, despite the fact that a lot of them, with the exception of Alice, are shown in canon as trying to move on from him and let him and Asuna be happy together. Not helping matters is that the game's canon tends to depict them as exactly that, actively having them ignore the fact that Kirito's already in a happy relationship to pursue him personally while treating Asuna's understandable aggravation with this as part of the humor.
  • Scapegoat Creator:
    • Reki Kawahara himself, being a rare instance where it's the author of the source material and not a production member of an adaptation who's subjected to this. Critics are very harsh on Kawahara, with widespread insults of him being a terrible writer and putting virtually all of the blame of Sword Art Online's flaws on him, given that the anime stayed fairly faithful to his original work. Kirito is frequently accused of being Kawahara's own Self-Insert Fic Wish Fulfillment character, which has been confirmed in a passing mention.
    • Tomohiko Ito, the director of the first two seasons of the anime adaptation. Light novel readers hold a lot of disdain towards him and accuse him of pressing his own interpretations of the characters as well as adding in of some of the more controversial anime original scenes. For instance while Sugou was a bastard in both versions, some of the graphical aspects like his Lecherous Licking of Asuna are only present in the anime. The countless unnecessary butt shots, especially of Sinon, are also Ito's doing.
  • The Scrappy:
    • Nobuyuki Sugou, who is widely attributed to be the number one reason for the show's decline from decent/average to outright terrible for its hatedom, and even manages to be the only negative point about the series where both fans and haters agree unconditionally. While it's obvious that hating him was the Intended Audience Reaction, his over-the top cartoon evilness, stupidity, multiple attempts to manhandle Asuna and general lack of any sort of character other than being monstrously evil, resulted in most viewers wanting to see him get off the screen and never come back, instead of wanting to see him get what was coming to him.
    • Chudelkin due to being an Anti-Climax Boss that gets a major Ass Pull in the form of somehow surviving and then activating his fire powers to burn, kill and borderline rape Quinella to be Together in Death did not endear him to a large portion of the fandom, especially Quinella fans who would have wanted her to escape and encounter Kirito in the real world.
  • Seasonal Rot:
    • The Fairy Dance Arc is widely deemed to be the low point of the series by fans and haters alike, with reasons ranging from the treatment of Asuna, the series changing the Death Game premise to "save Asuna", the series becoming more like a harem, Yui's role change from mysterious adopted daughter to being a moe Ms. Exposition, the Kissing Cousins element brought by Leafa crushing on Kirito, and Sugou as the most ridiculous and hateable villain, among others. Some fans even refuse to acknowledge the entire arc and go straight from Kirito waking up from SAO to meeting Asuna (freed from ALO) in real life for the first time.
    • To a lesser extent all of the post-Aincrad arcs get subjected to this to some degree because Sword Art Online stopped being about the titular game and instead kept bringing in new games. It's a very common view among fans that Aincrad should have been the only arc in the series, and instead expanding that out to the whole 100 floors. This ended up getting done in the video game continuity, although it still continues past Aincrad.
  • Ship Mates: As noted in Ship-to-Ship Combat below, those who ship Asuna/Yuuki and Kirito/Sinon tend to support the other for effectively getting the other in the canon pairing of Asuna/Kirito out of the way without issue.
  • Ship-to-Ship Combat: Although Kirito and Asuna are the franchise's Official Couple, and they are extremely popular together (See Broken Base and Escapist Character above for details), there are other possible pairings with their fair share of followers who prefer them over the canon pairing.
    • Asuna/Yuuki is extremely popular, with Yuuki being a fan-favorite and Asuna being deemed at her best when she's with Yuuki, with lots of people preferring this over Kirito/Asuna. It's not hard to see the ship fuel from the sisterly bond the two share and the scattering of Les Yay moments between them including Yuuki jokingly considering marrying Asuna.
    • Kirito/Sinon. Sinon is frequently considered to be more interesting than Asuna and with shippers wishing she ended up with Kirito instead, there's also the fact she and Kirito are more alike than Asuna, with both of them being stoic and burdened by Survivor's Guilt.
    • Kirito/Eugeo. The Bromance these two share at times appears to reach far more than merely being Best Friends and more akin to significant others. In an official poll, Eugeo ended up scoring as the second most popular member of the "Kirito Harem" right behind Asuna.
      • Eugeo now finds himself caught between three major shipping factions. Those are Kirito/Eugeo, Eugeo/Quinella and Eugeo/Alice. Even after his death there are plenty of fics involving him getting with one of the three, with varying degrees of spite towards rival ships.
    • Kirito/Sachi. Despite it being obvious Sachi was never meant to be the female lead, a lot of people wanted this relationship to happen. Unlike Kirito's relationship with Asuna, which many felt was rushed and came abruptly, Kirito and Sachi were given proper reasons for developing feelings for each other.
  • Shocking Moments:
    • Aincrad arc:
      • STARBURST STREAM!
      • The Reveal that Heathcliff is Kayaba.
    • Fairy Dance arc:
      • Kirito turns into a Gleam-Eyes using an Illusion Spell.
      • How Kirito deals with General Eugene. Creating a giant smokescreen allowing him to grab Leafa's sword, asking himself with sun as he dives at Eugene, then using this second blade to block Eugene's Infinity +1 Sword where Kirito then goes Dual Wielding on him without system assist.
    • Phantom Bullet arc:
      • Sinon diving off a building, getting her leg shot off and still landing a Boom Head Shot on Behemoth.
      • Kirito's final battle with Death Gun, where his SAO avatar gets superimposed over his GGO avatar, with his two iconic swords taking the place of his photon sword and pistol.
    • Mother's Rosario arc:
      • Asuna and Yuuki's duel.
    • Alicization arc:
      • All of the SAO gang playing Gun Gale Online, with different looking avatars to the ones they had in Fatal Bullet, Asuna even has a Photon Sword!
      • Kureha and Zeliska appearing in canon, being seen in a bar playing pool.
      • The entirety of Episode 10, to put it lightly.
      • Episode 21-23 is chock full of instances.
      • Kirito Dual Wielding his and Eugeo's Swords against Quinella, while using Incarnation to manifest his Black Swordsman outfit.
  • Slow-Paced Beginning: To some, the beginning of Alicization in the light novels. The series begins with a young Kirito in a virtual world with Eugeo and Alice, with no explanation of what he's doing there. After a scene at the Dicey Café that includes some exposition, there's the Wham Episode-worthy twist of Kirito being attacked by Johnny Black, resulting in him suffering brain damage and having to be put into Underworld again, but it takes a few episodes/until the next volume for readers to learn what exactly happened.
  • Squick:
    • The Fairy Dance Light Novel reveals that during Leafa's confrontation with the Salamanders before Kirito saves her, there are certain types of players called "Woman Hunters" who take advantage of how the Anti-Harassment Code doesn't apply in Pv P in order grope female players and, in some cases, derive some kind of sexual thrill from killing them.
    • The infamous tentacles scene Asuna is subjected too, which was the point where a lot of people gave up on SAO. It invokes All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles that's a better fit for a hentai genre.
    • The attempted rape on Asuna. The act itself was already bad enough to Squick a lot of fans, even to the point of making them drop the show. But it's even worse in how it's portrayed: The way Kirito saves her is seen by many as an empowerment fantasy. Even people who don't mind the Wish Fulfillment aspects of the show think that Kawahara went way too far in that scene.
    • Unsurprisingly, Sugou (the perpetrator of the act) was squicking the audience since his very first appearance. Just the way that he sniffed Asuna's hair in the hospital with that sick smirk on his face is enough proof that his Complete Monster label was never meant to be a surprise reveal.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: "Swordland" is by far the most iconic theme from the series, but many detractors immediately point out the similarities to another theme previously composed by Yuki Kajiura: "Rule The Battlefield", from Fate/Zero. To be precise, the first few notes of the main riff are pretty much the same. This can be better heard with "In You Past", one of the variations of "Swordland", which has a closer tempo and tone to "Rule the Battlefield", and thus the similarities become much more obvious. While this only applies to the first few notes and then both themes diverge from one another, a lot of people consider this more than enough to call "lazy" on Kajiura, and to consider the theme yet another reason to mock the anime.note 
  • That One Boss: As a series based on video games, there are lots of In-Universe examples of this trope.
    • The Gleam Eyes, which was the first boss to force Kirito to unleash his secret unique skill Dual Wielding, and even then it reduced Kirito's health to critical.
    • The Fatal Scythe, which borderlines on being a Hopeless Boss Fight. It took off half the HP of both Kirito and Asuna in one hit. Kirito estimates that it could be of an equivalent level to the 90th Floor Bosses. It was only defeated by Yui using admin privileges to delete it.
    • The Skull Reaper, which could One-Hit Kill players and causing 24 casualties before being defeated. It took Kirito and Asuna's combined efforts to merely block its scythes alongside every other player flanking it to bring it down.
    • Ordinal Scale's Final Boss, "An Incarnation of the Radius" required the combined efforts of EVERY ally to ever appear in the series, along with all the major characters using their SAO avatars at peak power to unleash all of their ultimate attacks to kill it.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: The infamous episode 10 of the Alicization saga. Aniplex USA decided to censor a rape scene zooming and cutting those parts altogether. No matters worse is that Aniplex put a warning message before the episode. Fans in America, Nordics and France are not happy about that.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Another common complain about the series is how Kawahara sets up characters that, at the very least, have quite a potential. Yet he squanders them way more often than not.
    • Klein is another big one. He's introduced in the first episode as a new player who Kirito somewhat befriends. The two separate by the end but instead of making use of Klein by having him possibly act as a Foil to Kirito (mainly because Kirito fails to save the first guild he joined, Klein protected his whole guild through SAO), and him being an active ally in the series, instead Klein serves mainly as a comic relief character with not much characterization beyond being "Kirito's buddy".
    • Argo is one of the biggest examples. Thanks to Progressive turning her into the series' biggest Ascended Extra, she's much more prominent in the light novels as an information broker who Kirito frequents, and is known for to love endlessly trolling Kirito, but because the anime predated Progressive, it had her Demoted to Extra and only appearing in one episode for a couple minutes for a minor scene. Fortunately the manga and non-canon games give her a lot more time to shine and uses her potential where the anime failed to do so. However, her reappearance at the end of volume 21 and her status as a New Transfer Student implies that she's finally being reintegrated into the main cast properly after years of What Happened to the Mouse? since Aincrad, so now only time will show if it was worth bringing her back.
    • Rosalia. Fans became quite interested in her for her Evil Is Sexy clothing designs and her Faux Affably Evil manipulative nature. This led many to expect she would be a decent match for Kirito with their combat skills, however she ends up losing to him because of her Vanity which bites her in her ass and as she's about to be marched up to the Black Iron Palace, she begs Kirito to form a party with her which he rejects making her a pathetic Starter Villain.
    • Asuna falls into this after the Aincrad arc. While initially a strong female lead with a lot of focus and her own character, she gets reduced to a Badass in Distress in the Fairy Dance arc, while the subsequent Phantom Bullet arc has her staying away from the main action. Though this does get largely amended with the Mother's Rosario arc which has Asuna taking over as The Protagonist which fleshes out her character and gives her a lot of development. Something cemented further by her prominence in the movie Ordinal Scale, where she's the Deuteragonist once again to the same extent she was in the Aincrad arc.
    • Akihiko Kayaba, or rather the fact he was given no clear motivation for trapping thousands of players in SAO. When he's point-blank asked about it, he doesn't go into detail besides him basically saying "I did it cause I could". The fact that, before going into his rant, he just says "I forgot the reason a long time ago" doesn't help, since a lot of people take that line at face value, and consider Kawahara just didn't care about giving him a motivation. However, the subtext and the voice actor's delivery in the rant that comes after that line heavily imply that there could be other reasons. Likely him having some sort of God complex; not in the sense of having absolute power, but rather in the sense of being the creator of a living world out of his imagination, and he was obsessed with having his vision made (virtual) reality. Unfortunately, the series never explores this.
    • Yuuki Konno has the reflexes and skill to be Kirito's equal or even better, is lauded in-universe as the "Absolute Sword", and even Kirito states upfront that if she had taken part in the death game, she'd be the one who would have been given his Dual Wielding skill that he got... and she dies after one arc. To make matters worse, the very next arc introduces a perfected Brain Uploading technology that could've saved her.note  For obvious reasons, people prefer the videogame adaptations, where she DOESN'T die after her storyline, and instead is given the chance to shine as her fans feel she was meant to.
    • Many people complain that Reki Kawahara never used Eugeo to the fullest of his potential. When we first meet him, we realize that Eugeo has more innate skill than Kirito, the beater and hero of Aincrad ever had, and that he has a crush on Alice Zuberg, who was kidnapped by the knights of the Axiom Church and brainwashed, taking away her soul, memories, and old feelings, which is his motivation for going to Centralia and trying to become a knight. In the end, while Eugeo does play a huge role in Kirito's development even after the arc, Kawahara just kills him off.
    • Alice Zuberg is another source for such complaints. When we meet her in volume 9 as a child, she is one of the most vivacious characters to ever bless the franchise and seems to have somewhat of a crush on Eugeo as a kid. Flash forward to her teenage years after her memories have been taken away from her and her old personality trapped in a golden cube— we meet her as a knight skilled beyond even Kirito and Eugeo in not just magic (which she was a prodigy in even as a kid), but she can easily match the two at the same time. She had a great deal of potential that was wasted in making her just another love interest for Kirito.
    • Ronye. While she and Tiese were introduced together as the valets to Kirito and Eugeo respectively, it is Tiese who gets virtually all of the focus and significance in Eugeo's Character Development, while Ronye largely remains unseen and her relationship with Kirito barely touched upon, despite how important a part she should have played in Kirito's life as his valet. Some go as far as to say the only part she played on the plot was to be victim to Attempted Rape at the hands of Humbert.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: This is one of, if not the most recurrent criticism the series receives from its detractors. Most people agree the premise is extremely powerful and full of possibilities, but Kawahara never comes close to realize that potential. On the broad strokes, they see the execution underwhelming due to crucial plot contrivances and underdeveloped characters (See They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character above). Another huge point of contention is that, rather than exploring his otherwise good concepts, Kawahara seems to unabashedly focus on Pandering to the Base and Wish Fulfillment to a degree that detractors find alienating at best, and offensive at worst.
    • Kirito's Zero-Approval Gambit as a Beater in Episode 2 had a lot of plot potential and one of the more interesting directions his character was taken in, but it promptly gets dropped by the next episode where a Time Skip shows he's gotten sick of being a solo player and joins a guild, abandoning the characterization that had established in the previous episode. This gets resolved in Progressive which shows what happened during the Time Skip and Kirito keeps up the Beater act for far longer and leads him to be ostracized by nearly all players, who consider him a powerful asset to the Assault Team but almost no one trusts him.
    • Another case due to Kirito. One of the main appeals of the series was the fact it was a death game set in virtual reality, where characters could supposedly die at any time. However this is mitigated by the fact that the story focuses on Kirito, who is an Invincible Hero where it's made apparent there is no true chance of him dying in SAO. Suggestions on how the series could have been improved was if the story did not have Kirito as The Protagonist, either making him a side character or not present at all. Alternatively, the story could either have Klein as main character or an Ensemble Cast focusing on a guild. Integral Factor explores this very idea, allowing players to experience the Aincrad arc, not as Kirito but as yourself. Kirito's still there, but he's an NPC that's not the focus of the story.
    • The biggest example would be not exploring all 100 Floors of Aincrad, instead stopping at Floor 75 with the arc only spanning 14 episodes/ a few books rather than a whole season. The video game continuity amends this by featuring all 100 Floors, while Ordinal Scale has the characters being able to see what would have been on the 100th Floor which they face as a Final Boss. Progressive also makes amends by actually showing Kirito and Asuna's adventures during the venture up.
    • The Phantom Bullet arc featured Gun Gale Online, a sci-fi themed shooter, which was vastly different from the fantasy settings of the previous two games introduced. However the game's full premise remains largely unexplored, focusing almost entirely on the BoB tournament and Kirito facing the Big Bad. Fatal Bullet and Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online alleviate this to a degree by fleshing GGO out and giving full exploration of what the game is like away from Kirito.
  • Too Cool to Live: Yuuki Konno. So powerful that she completely dominated even Kirito, the World's Best Warrior of SAO. She was pretty much invincible in virtual world, but sadly not so much in the real world.
  • Tough Act to Follow:
    • The Mother's Rosario arc is widely considered the best arc of the series, due to its heavy usage of Character Development, especially for Asuna, and extremely emotional story line. As a result, the feature film Ordinal Scale had a lot to live up to, as well as any subsequent arcs that follow.
    • Ordinal Scale itself was one of the most acclaimed anime films of 2017, which puts a lot of expectations on the third season of Sword Art Online featuring the Alicization Arc.
    • For that matter, Alicization is this trope as well, being the arc that takes up a good chunk of the original series' overall content and was the Grand Finale of the web novelnote , alongside establishing well loved characters like Eugeo, Alice and Quinella and giving Kirito some much appreciated development. Unital Ring has a lot to live up to.
  • Unexpected Character:
    • Down-played in the sense that they are background cameos, but still Kureha and Zeliska surprised everyone by showing up in Episode 1 of Alicization, being the first instance of video game characters showing in the main continuity where it was previously believed that the game characters were Exiled from Continuity. As proof that it's Kureha and not an Identical Stranger, her name is seen in the list of the 5th BoB rankings.
    • Argo makes a surprise appearance in Volume 21 of the Unital Ring arc, marking her first appearance since the Aincrad arc and finally giving a canonical confirmation she survived SAO.
    • In Episode 11 of Alicization: War of Underworld during the gathering ALO players, two characters who appear to be Eiji as a Spriggan or Imp and YUNA as a Navigation Pixie appear just as Lisbeth gives her "World of Cardboard" Speech to the gathered players to convince them to help.
  • Unfortunate Implications:
    • Mother's Basement had some choice words about Asuna's two sexual assaults, calling them unnecessary in the context of the plot and pointing out how uncomfortable it was to play her Attempted Rape for Fanservice.
    • Megan Peters has also criticized the series’ repeated use of Attempted Rape of female characters by the villains as a plot device to motivate the male heroes, saying that the women are "[left] to suffer for misogynistic silence".
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Asuna's mother in the Rosario arc is portrayed as being out of touch with the way the post Aincrad incident world has been, and being too stuck up about her daughter's future, with her even taking a jab at Kirito for not being a good possible partner. While she is rather cold to Asuna, and Asuna has a completely fair point about her mother being distant from her, she comes across as fairly reasonable given the circumstances. For starters, her concern over Asuna's future is justified; Asuna was just trapped in a video game for nearly three years, something that resulted in her needing months of time to recover from physically, so Asuna's focus on playing games comes across as rather irresponsible for someone like that, which Asuna does understand. Her comments about the school Asuna attends also has a fair basis: the school is basically a place to watch survivors of the Aincrad incident and barely even counts as a real school, something again Asuna concedes is fair. Even her jab at Kirito has some basis in being understandable; Kirito is just a random boy Asuna met in Aincrad, and the fact Asuna is so dedicated to him at her age is irresponsible from an adult's perspective, especially since her mother can't reasonably understand her feelings since she wasn't there. The fact that Asuna paints her negatively for all these, because it prevents her from playing with her friends, comes across as her being a bit more childish than intended.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic:
    • Really, MMO Players in general can be this at times. A recurring theme is that all MMO players are Not So Different from one another, in that they all desire to be stronger, use VR to escape the stresses or real life and are ultimately decent people deep down. While there are multiple instances that enforce this, such as the existence of a Clearing Force in SAO risking their lives to save everyone or multiple players attending Yuuki’s in-game passing, there are just as many or maybe more instances that can paint them as selfish G.I.F.Ts only out for themselves, with there being at least one example in each arc even if you ignore all the Player Killers who act as Antagonists.
      • In the Aincrad and Progressive Arcs, major clearing guilds can be seen as being more concerned with their personal power and petty rivalries as opposed to actually clearing the Death Game and freeing everyone, with guilds like the Divine Dragon Alliance being obsessed with getting rare loot, often insisting that they get the Last Attack Bonus in all the boss fights even if it’s just not possible and some even stooping to attacking other players for a shot at hoarding rare items and equipment.
      • In Fairy Dance, some of the Salamander players shown are Jerkasses and outright creepsnote , while one of the biggest obstacles in the arc is a Sylph planning to betray his own race because he doesn’t like being on the losing side.
      • In Phantom Bullet, literally the whole plot could have been avoided if Death Gun’s first victim, XeXeeD, didn’t commit a scam that resulted in a great deal of GGO’s players accounts becoming practically unusable for the sake of winning a tournament, leading to Kyouji, one of his victims, killing him after being manipulated by his brother. And that doesn't even go into how perverted most of the male players shown in GGO generally come off as.
      • In Mother’s Rosario, the closest thing there is to an antagonist is a boss clearing guild that has been manipulating the Sleeping Knights so they can learn a boss’ attack patterns using a Peeping Spellnote  and fight it immediately after for an easy win, which is just as dickish as it sounds. And while they’re likely unaware of the fact that the Sleeping Knights are terminally ill patients IRL, the narration notes multiple times that their actions, such as monopolizing areas that all players should have access to, are rather scummy.
      • It's noted multiple times that the American VR players, and later the Korean and Chinese ones, who are unknowingly drafted into the War of the Underworld have no idea that they're killing Artificial Fluctlights, who are established to be essentially real people, and are being manipulated by Gabriel and PoH. While both of these points are true, the majority of them take being the G.I.F.T. to so much of an extreme that it's really hard to say they're completely guiltless, attacking the obvious heroes along with seemingly Obviously Evil group, attacking people while they're down, several of them making very messed up comments about the fact that this "game" has realistic gore and outright taking prisoners of war for seemingly no more than petty sadism. Only one player, a Korean going by Moonphase, is suspicious of the whole thing and even after watching PoH beat up Kirito, who at the time can be easily mistaken for a cripple due to needing a wheelchair and barely moving, only about half of them actually start getting suspicious about the whole thing as well, while the rest just keep going along with PoH's cruelty simply because they're prejudiced against Japan. In the end, it's hard to pity the fact they, or at least the still unconvinced half, are being manipulated and hard not to cheer when Kirito wakes up and puts them on ice. Not to mention, with Alice's reveal to the world displaying the potential Fantastic Racism Artificial Fluctlights will face, there is some doubt about whether or not they'd actually feel guilty if they learned what they did.
      • While the Salamander Commandernote  makes good points on why Liz's request for the assembled players to help protect the Underworld can come off as unreasonable and that they should just refuse, the fact that one of his arguments involves him having Fantastic Racism against SAO Survivors, who by the way were essentially kidnapping victims with a gun to their head 24/7, due to them having more VR experience than most other players makes him come off as more childish and petty than intended, even if Liz does concede that he's got a point about how she and other survivors tend to hang around each other more than regular MMO players.
      • And finally, in Unital Ring, after Kirito and the group feed a group of fellow playersnote , said group are quick to turn on their saviors after they learn that they’re elite players and that they could take advantage of the fact that they currently have lower quality gear than theirsnote  to kill them for a better shot at winning whatever Unital Ring is.
    • In the second arc of Girls' Ops, Gwen is revealed to be an Evil Former Friend of Lux's, and claims that Lux betrayed her; Back in SAO, Gwen was The Leader of one of Laughing Coffin's subsidiary guilds and she struck up a friendship with Lux, learning about her guilt over joining Laughing Coffin and trying to comfort her a bit and going grinding with her. After one of these excursions, they happen to come back to the Clearing Forces' attack on Laughing Coffin, to which Lux suggests that they turn themselves so she can finally be free of Laughing Coffin. Gwen, who enjoys SAO because it gives her freedom, tries to talk Lux out of it before they're both discovered by KoB members, who attack Gwen due to her red cursor and think Lux is a hostage due to her green onenote . When Lux hesitates to confirm that she's also with Laughing Coffin when questioned, Gwen decides to take this as sign of betrayal and flee, sending a message to Lux calling off their friendship. While the fact she led a guild associated with Player Killers is bad enoughnote , the childish way she acts in regards to the whole thing doesn't help in winning her sympathy, claiming that the entire thing was Lux's fault despite the fact she knew full well how guilty she felt about being in Laughing Coffin and denying any fault she had for letting her desire for freedom get in the way of their friendship. The fact that Lux agrees with her accusations and has to be the one to reconcile with her, as well as the fact that Gwen never apologies for both that and trying to ruin Lux's new friendships fails to get reader to empathize with her too much.
    • Alice's feelings for Kirito are supposed to come off in a similar way it did with the other girls in his Unwanted Harem, in that fans either view it as cute and gain a degree of support for them or sympathize with the girls' Unrequited Love and find them commendable due to trying move on from them to let him be with Asuna, with examples such as Liz backing out of confessing to Kirito after she figures out that Asuna likes him and Leafa trying to move on from him after realizing that he truly loves Asuna. However, Alice's feelings for him tend to garner more animosity than support and sympathy due to how possessive and aggressive she comes off as because of them, namely trying to prevent Asuna from meeting with him even after all the effort she made to see him again, referring to Kazuto's dad as "father"note , and in the "Brides of your Dreams" Event in Memory Defrag, being quick to accuse Asuna of being Kirito's Ex-Wife by clinging onto her past tense when she said they were married, a move that surprises even herself. Not helping matters is one scene where she comes close to kissing him while he was in the middle of his Angst Coma and therefore can't do anything to stop her, which came off as rather creepy to some viewers. Those who do seem to support the pairing often dislike Asuna, either portraying her as the Clingy Jealous Girl or just having Kirito act as if he doesn't love her anymore.
  • Values Dissonance: Sinon's treatment in the second series. The backstory goes that when she was eleven, she and her mother were caught up in the middle of a bank robbery and Sinon managed to kill the robber with his own gun. This would be traumatic enough on its own, but it's also shown that she's been stigmatized and ostracized by just about everyone for this, including her own mother, who mentally regressed due to the intensity of the incident. This even extends to the therapists who learned of the event, so she has a case of untreated PTSD so intense that a schoolyard bully can set off a panic attack simply by pointing a finger at her and saying "bang". American viewers on the whole, regardless of their own individual views on guns and gun control, found this treatment utterly nonsensical and downright cruel, with many pointing out that if something like this were to happen in the USA, Sinon would be considered a hero across the board. Even in several countries in Europe, many of which are far more in line with Japan than America in their attitudes about guns, she would almost universally have been seen as a victim who was just acting in self-defense and did nothing wrong.
    This mostly touches on child-adult relations in Japan, rather than what Americans typically assume is some sort of gun issue (which are admittedly intense in Japan - gun laws are so strict that a firearm costs more than a luxury car). In Japanese society, children are viewed as relatively innocent, and dependent upon adults (which makes the events of SAO seem even harsher by Japanese standards). What is really at issue, is that to Japanese society, a child is thought to be incapable of killing - that Sinon is able seems to create the presumption that she has the mindset of a cold-blooded killer (the fact that her actions were done in self-defense being irrelevant). Which does not excuse what happened to her, merely better explain it.
  • Vanilla Protagonist: Leaving his abilities and controversial Wish Fulfillment aspect aside, character-wise Kirito is largely considered to be this in the anime. All of the VR-geekery and existential philosophy that he has in the light novels is adapted out. This is also a big part of his lack of appeal for his detractors, specially since the story still focuses on him instead of giving more dedication to the more colorful supporting characters that normally would stand out next to him. Many fans agree that Sword Art Online would be a lot better if Kirito either wasn't in the story or wasn't The Protagonist.
  • What Do You Mean Its Not For Kids: The original light novel, manga, and anime caters to the seinen demographic, and despite the massive merchandising making it easily recognizable also likeable, pretty, and adorable main cast and supporting characters, most of the villains are really, really nasty also the latest arc, Alicization, is Bloodier and Gorier (although if light novels are any indication, Unital Ring seems to be Lighter and Softer). The video game storyline is considerably tamer since it lacks the aforementioned nasty villains (and those who exist had their worst personality toned down), but they have a lot of pillow talk scene (which is basically the T-rated counterpart of Mass Effect romance scenes) in every single game (except Memory Defrag and Integral Factor).
  • What an Idiot!: Has its own page here.
  • Wheelchair Woobie: Kirito in the second half of the Alicization arc. Due to the grief of losing Eugeo combined with the power surge damaging his brain, this leads Kirito to have an extreme Heroic BSoD that leaves him an Empty Shell for a large portion of the war. In this state he loses his ability to speak, most of his awareness of his surroundings, and most of his mobility. He requires intense care from either Alice or whoever is looking after him and requires being wheeled around in a wheelchair.
  • Win Back The Crowd:
    • The Phantom Bullet arc breathed new life back into the series coming off the tail of the heavily despised Fairy Dance arc, with a new female lead who had a very appealing personality and a tragic backstory, while the premise of a shooter game was very refreshing from the fantasy elements that the series had been known for.
    • For those not won over by the Phantom Bullet arc, the Mother's Rosario arc certainly did this. It received acclaim due to the intense emotional journey it takes viewers on and improving Asuna as a character.
    • Sword Art Online: Progressive, which is a re-imaging of the Aincrad arc, easily the most iconic arc of the series. It greatly fleshes it out by showing what happened on each floor (without any major Time Skips) and slowly developing Kirito and Asuna's relationship so their eventual getting together makes more sense. It also features more ongoing plots rather than collections of short stories like the original light novels. Even many haters and critics of the series are interested in an anime adaptation of Progressive.
    • Ordinal Scale did this for a lot of fans by addressing several issues that had been brought up over the years, an original story which had not been explored before by the light novels, and overall better handling of characters than the anime had done.
    • The Alicization arc is held highly among light novel fans and often considered the best written arc Kawahara has done for this series. Featuring the most creative storyline the series has explored, it touches upon philosophical implications of what it means to be human, raising the stakes back to being Trapped in Another World and fighting for ones life, genuinely terrifying villains, and the introductions of Eugeo and Alice. The anime adaptation followed suit and is by far the most praised arc of the entire series. Even the fiercest of SAO critics have begrudingly admitted it's a huge improvement and can even pass for being good (which, considering how viscerally these people hate the series and everything it stands for, it's one hell of a statement).
      • Though ironically despite being well received among those who only watched the anime, it ended up becoming a case of Hype Backlash among light novel readers due to the anime cutting content, notably the Zakkaria Tournament which only received a five minute flashback in Episode 7.
  • The Woobie:
  • Woolseyism:
    • In the Calibur arc, as Kirito proudly tells the other members of the group to be thankful for the long set of stairs providing them a shortcut to Jotunheim, Sinon snarks at him for acting like he built those stairs. In the original, he says "Thanks for the tsukkomi" before pulling her tail, a reference to a primarily Japanese comedy routine. In the dub, Sinon calls him "a pain in the ass," whereupon he says "I've got your pain in the ass right here," and grabs her tail.
    • After Suguha becomes a main character in the cast, in the Japanese version, she will typically refer to Kirito as "onii-chan", a common affectionate term for "brother". All other characters call him Kirito. There isn't really a direct translation of the term that doesn't come across as an obvious translation, so in the english dub, she instead is the only character who exclusively calls him by his real name, Kazuto, instead of his in-game nickname, which serves the purpose of conveying a familial familiarity.
    • In the Alicization arc, Alice is surprised to hear Fanatio, who'd used a helmet to hide her gender, talking in a feminine tone. The localization of the light novel instead has Fanatio making a friendly greeting to Alice, even though they don't exactly get along.

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