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  • Acceptable Targets: Sword Art Online as a whole became one of the biggest examples of this trope in the anime community. It's generally accepted that people vigorously bashing and hating on it is a sign of having "good taste." In fact it's very rare to find an anime reviewer who hasn't criticized the series at some point. Even those who don't despise the series will often join in the hate train and bash the series for kicks.
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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 SAO II Episode 16, Klein wants to rescue an NPC Damsel in Distress, but all of his friends warn him that "it's a trap". They are technically right, except they weren't aware it's the other kind of trap.
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    • 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:
    • 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' defeat make it really hard to see him as a selfish type unless this trope is invoked.
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    • Keita blaming Kirito for their guild-mate's deaths is in fact a mental defense mechanism for his Survivor's Guilt. In truth, he blames himself for not being there. Yet he doesn't even believe himself, which is why he kills himself right afterward.
    • Is Diavel a well-intentioned leader who's too confident in what he knows as a beta tester, a power-hungry manipulator who would do anything just to be in charge of the clearers, or some combination of the two? The former interpretation is somewhat easier to accept in the anime, in which the subplot of Diavel's attempting to buy Kirito's sword through a proxy is removed.
  • Angst Dissonance: During the Aincrad arc, a lot of players struggled to cope with a truly desperate situation. Later stories feature normal, non-deadly MMO's where the players are still acting like it's the Vietnam War.
  • Angst? What Angst?:
    • Kirito's Survivor's Guilt seems to disappear at times and he'll be back to his cheery Nice Guy self an episode later. This one is justified though. The Phantom Bullet arc reveals 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 rapist.
    • For Yuuki it's played straight and fully justified. Even though she's terminally ill with AIDs, she lives everyday to the fullest, wary of how little time she has left. Rather than spending her days moping at her misfortune, she instead comes off as an eternally happy Genki Girl. 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 had 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 was the perfect opportunity for Asuna to escape and she very nearly does. But nope, it had to continue to be dragged out so that Kirito could 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: One of the biggest critiques towards the first two story arcs is that both end with a Final Battle that is resolved by a blatant Deus ex Machina. To elaborate:
    • Aincrad: Asuna is able to break free of in-game paralysis through The Power of Love to take a blow for Kirito, and then Kirito when loses all of his HP fighting Kayaba, he is able to disobey the System's orders for him to die through sheer willpower, and delays his Fading Away just long enough to return the favor. 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.
    • Earlier in the same arc: Kirito is capable of hacking SAO's Operating System within seconds, even if he's never seen it before, and save Yui's code from shutting down forever by placing it in a bauble. Details on this link.
    • Fairy Dance: Kayaba's consciousness appears out of nowhere to Kirito and gives him administrator rights to the game's system, which allows him to defeat Sugou.
    • Phantom Bullet was also partially guilty of this: first, inside GGO, Kirito suddenly remembers Death Gun's true identity thanks to a borderline Bat Deduction, and second, in the real world, Kirito survives a fatal syringe stab thanks to a fully providential and amazingly well placed Pocket Protector. However, they are not as bad as in the previous two arcs, since they're not what actually resolves either fight. What does resolve them is Sinon's help, both inside GGO and in the real world. In the first instance, Sinon uses the laser sight of her scope-less sniper rifle to distract Death Gun, leaving him wide open to Kirito's attack. In the second instance, she smashes a stereo to the back of the final villain's head.
    • During the climax of the Phantom Bullet arc, Yui is able to hack a real life hospital TV screen to show the MMO Tomorrow live streaming of the Bullet of Bullets Tournament. This is quite ridiculous considering that not only does Yui no longer have admin privileges, but some random TV screen doesn't have any connection to the Seed or Kirito's computer. There's also the fact the nurse doesn't appear shocked that their security system has been so easily compromised.
    • In 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.
  • 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 Rosary arc gives Asuna some independence from Kirito. 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 also was 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.
  • Awesome Art: Regardless of how panned the plot and character development are, 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 was 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 new Art Shift.
  • Awesome Music: Part of the course considering it has Yuki Kajiura taking care of it. There's so many examples it has a page of its own.
  • Badass Decay:
    • While Klein was never the equal of Kirito in SAO, he filled an important role in Aincrad as Kirito's loyal friend and foil, even when Kirito didn't believe that he deserved the friendship; by Excaliber he's degraded to comic relief and the butt of the jokes, and yet he's still crucial to its success. Alleviated somewhat in the Mother's Rosario arc, where he's seen swatting dozens of players out of the way with ease, and in Ordinal Scale, where he and his guild are among some of the only players to hold their own against the first Event Boss while Kirito falls flat on his face and needs bailing out, and may have actually won a fist fight with Eiji had the latter not had an additional AR device to read his opponent's movements.
    • Asuna got subjected to this post-Aincrad, with her first being reduced to Damsel in Distress before becoming a Satellite Love Interest. The Mother's Rosario arc and Ordinal Scale heavily fix these issues, where Asuna shows how competent of a fighter she is on her own without Kirito backing her. Especially prevalent in the movie where she actually outshone Kirito for a large part of the film, being crowned the MVP for the first two boss battles (when Kirito was struggling) and showing off her exceptional leadership skills in combat. She only takes a back seat after Taking the Bullet for Silica and losing her memory, forcing Kirito to step in when the game stops being a game, but even then she's still able to pull off a Big Damn Heroes against the Final Boss who had been stomping Kirito's party, before showing off the Mother's Rosario OSS she got from Yuuki to finish the boss off.
    • Sinon got hit with this for some in the Calibur arc. Despite being introduced as a badass Cold Sniper who wasn't weighed down by having a crush on Kirito, she ended up having a reduced role in this arc where many felt she was just another girl in the harem. Though to her credit she still pulled off a few badass moments in this 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 (See Snark Bait below), while others don't mind them and argue they're just blown out of proportion by the detractors, seeing him as a legitimate Escapist Character.
      • As for Asuna, she is either one of the most moe, badass and likable, strong female leads in The New '10s anime history or another typical and run-of-the-mill Tsundere Love Interest. Then there's another group who thought she started off brilliantly as a strong female lead with her own independent character, but her appeal decayed after she becomes all lovey-dovey towards Kirito and begins revolving around him, 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 finding 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, albeit even they concede that Kawahara was just disrespectful to her in that arc in general, argue that there were mitigating factors, namely the fact that she almost gets to escape on her own with no help and even then she manages to give Kirito the means to get to hernote , and she never sees herself in that situation ever again. Her Spoiled Sweet background is another point of debate, albeit to a lesser degree (to some people, it gives her more depth; to others, it makes her even less relatable).
    • Yui is a Tastes Like Diabetes variation. Fans thought that she was adorable and contributed to Kirito and Asuna's relationship. Detractors on the other hand saw her as a lolicon pandering bait and a dreaded moeblob who contributed to the show's Seasonal Rot. 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.
  • 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 memers 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. See Snark Bait below.
  • Broken Base:
    • 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 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 was it was hands down better than the Fairy Dance arc.
    • 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. While for fans Wish Fulfillment is exactly the main appeal of the series, and 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 that the story 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 .
  • Can't Un-Hear 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 to be 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 .
  • Cargo Ship: Kirito and sandwichnote 
  • Catharsis Factor:
    • Kirito bisecting Sugou in half then preceding to impale him through the eye is very satisfying to watch.
    • Similarly, Kirito and Eugeo rescuing Ronye and Teise from the filthy clutches of Humbert and Raion and turning them into red-fountains with their swords will have you clapping and cheering.
  • 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.
  • 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 who everyone in-universe and out dotes on and is protective towards.
  • 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 was 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 was hugely selfish and seemed to relish in the misery she caused 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 it's own page.
  • Epileptic Trees: A very popular fan theory is Kuroyukihime from Accel World (also by Reki Kawahara, set in the same Shared Universe two decades into the future) is Kirito and Asuna's daughter. Furthermore, her real name is theorized to be Sachi Kirigaya, due to her nickname being Sachan.
  • Escapist Character: Basically, the appeal of both Kirito and Asuna for their fans. Apart from the obvious escapist possibilities that they offer separatelynote , they are somewhat unique in that they also offer an escapist fantasy for couples. As in living a great adventure with your significant other with both of you kicking ass together in pretty much equal measure. A type of fantasy that is actually quite uncommon, not only in anime, but in popular media in general. Especially to this degree and especially without being hindered by Will They or Won't They? dynamics, which SAO refreshingly never relies onnote . This applies mostly to the Aincrad arc, obviously, and it's a big part of the reason why it's still the most popular arc... and why the Fairy Dance arc is so hated, for that matter, since it pretty much throws this fantasy out of the window in the worst way possible. Also the reason why the film Ordinal Scale, which focuses on their relationship, not only was very well received by fans, but also managed to recover some fans that had dropped the series (signaling that the creators are fully aware of this situation). Couples cosplaying together as Kirito and Asuna in tandem is a pretty common view in anime conventions because of all of this.
  • Evil Is Cool:
  • Evil Is Sexy:
    • 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 ChubbyChasers 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.
  • 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.
    • Has gotten three in the form of Kamen Rider Ex-Aid, Yu-Gi-Oh! VRAINS, and Gundam Build Divers, as many people call them "SAO with Kamen Riders", "SAO with card games", and "SAO with Gundam models" respectively. In the case of VRAINS and Build Divers, however, since it has just started out, we have to wait and see.
    • 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.
  • 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:
    • The Alicization arc premiered on the 7th of October, Kirito's birthday.
    • 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.
  • 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 once again taking up the role of Deuteragonist), 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 .
  • 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:
    • 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.
    • During the Calibur arc the party finds a trapped beautiful woman who begs them to release her. Everyone except Klein sees it as an obvious trap but still Klein releases her. Turns out it was a trap, just not the kind they were expecting
    • 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 heart-pounding 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.
  • 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.
    • There's even more in the gameverse, see this page for more details.
    • 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.
  • HSQ:
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • Internet Backdraft:
    • The divisiveness of the series and its target as Snark Bait, has gotten to the point where bringing it up nearly anywhere on the internet will result in some form of argument or flame war. Haters will beat on fans for having no taste, while fans accuse haters of having nothing better to do than endlessly bash a work of fiction. While there is certainly no shortage of legitimate reasons to criticize SAO, the vast majority of the overwhelming level of hatred for the series comes from people jumping on the hate bandwagon and bashing it for the fun of it, as it can to be regarded to be "cool to hate SAO".
    • If there's one thing that is guaranteed to set the internet on fire, it's SAO's infamous rape scenes, which detractors will viciously tear apart and beat on for ruining the series and one of the biggest Never Live It Down topics.
    • For the anime adaptation of Alicization, Episode 7 caused uproar among light novel readers, for cutting out the Zakkaria Tournament arc. Light novel readers immediately attacked the anime for being a poor and unfaithful adaptation. It got to the point that Kawahara himself had to step in and apologize on Twitter for the removal of the content while explaining it was done to fit the entirety of Alicization into four cours.
  • It's Popular, Now It Sucks!: Sword Art Online was one of the first Gateway Series of The New '10s, being one the most hyped series at the time of its release. However its surge in popularity and introduction to a wider audience was what contributed to it becoming a critic-favorite punching bag. The wider audience allowed its flaws to become more pronounced, which then escalated as more and more people jumped on the hate bandwagon leading it to became trendy to hate SAO. In fact its the popularity of the series itself which is in part what leads to the extremely vocal hate, with the detractors stating the series does not deserve such popularity.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Kyouji Shinkawa, one of the three who plays the role of Death Gun. He's an accomplice to several murders, but has a troubled real life- he's been bullied at school, his grades suffer to the point at which he can't possibly meet his parents' expectations for him to go to medical school and become a doctor, and he's implied to be not entirely mentally well. As such, he thinks of the game world as an escape far beyond what is healthy, and when AGI builds get nerfed, rendering him unable to be the strongest in the virtual world, that essentially breaks him.
    • Nezha from Progressive is a blacksmith who's party to a scheme to con players out of their weapons by making them think they had broken. He also suffers from a Full-Dive Nonconformity that essentially leaves him legally blind in the game, and is partly working so that his friends will be able to keep pace with the clearers, feeling guilty that his friends fell behind while trying to help him. When Kirito and Asuna find out about his scam, Nezha's nearly Driven to Suicide, and after becoming The Atoner and pulling a Big Damn Heroes entry to save the parties fighting the second floor's boss, he nearly gets killed in revenge as a result of a (possibly unsubstantiated) report that he'd indirectly caused another player's death, and until the very last second, everyone believes that his "friends" will abandon him and let the other players execute him.
  • 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: 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.
  • Love to Hate:
  • Magnificent Bastard: This duo of genius programmers show that programming isn't their only talent.
    • Akihiko Kayaba is a genius that desires a complete virtual reality. Becoming the creator of Sword Art Online, the first VRMMORPG in existence, Kayaba traps 10,000 players inside it, killing them in the real world if they die in the game, while ensuring that the authorities in the real world can't do anything to intervene. Disguising himself as Heathcliff, the charismatic leader of the Knights of Blood, and guiding the players through Aincrad, Kayaba intends to betray them in the last dungeon, acting as the Final Boss of his own game. When Kirito is able to deduce "Heathcliff's" true identity, Kayaba praises him before challenging him to a duel, promising to end the game if Kirito wins. Keeping his word, Kayaba frees the players before seemingly committing suicide, though actually copying his Fluctlight onto the internet to continue existing. Reappearing in Fairy Dance, Kayaba helps Kirito defeat the despicable Sugou and entrusts Kirito with his last invention, encouraging him to share it with the world, leading to the creation of many innovative VR games. In Alicization, Kayaba secretly helps to save the virtual world of Underworld and takes control of a robot to save his former companions.
    • Initially presented as Kirito's eccentric and annoying benefactor, Seijirou Kikuoka is revealed to be much more. Actually a lieutenant in the JSDF, he leads RATH, creators of the virtual world Underworld, which is inhabited by highly developed AIs known as "Artificial Fluctlights". Convincing Kirito to work in the Project Alicization while hiding its morally dubious aspects from him, Kikuoka intends to use "complete Fluctlights" as combatants, hoping to avoid human casualties in warfare and showing Japan's potential to the world. After Kirito is hospitalized and suffers from brain damage, Kikuoka takes him from the hospital to the Ocean Turtle and connects him to the Underworld, hoping to save his mind out of genuine concern and affection. After the Ocean Turtle is attacked by Glowgen Defense Systems, Kikuoka helps to defend it, sends Asuna to the Underworld to save Kirito and stop the sociopathic Gabriel Miller, and is injured while trying to protect his companions. Initially willing to sacrifice infinite AIs for one single human, Kikuoka learns to value the Underworld and promises to protect it. Having helped Kirito and Asuna one last time, he successfully fakes his death after showing Japan's potential, completely avoiding any punishment.
  • 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.
  • 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 life, Death Gun's accomplice breaks into the real life house and waits for the Death Gun in the game to shot the target before injecting the victim with a lethal drug overdose. Sinon herself almost has a complete Freak Out when she realises that there is a deranged Serial Killer quietly watching her unresponsive real life body waiting for the moment he can kill her.
  • 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 of America 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).
  • 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.
  • Rescued from the Scrappy Heap:
    • Some consider the Phantom Bullet arc doing this for Kirito, due to GGO giving him a girly avatar. Aside from the immense popularity of Kiriko, a lot of people felt that making Kirito into a trap made his otherwise generic personality a lot more interesting. It' 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, [[Didn'tThinkThisThrough stupidity]], multiple attempts to manhandle Asuna, and general lack of any sort of character other than being monstrously evil, resulted in most fans, instead of wanting to see him get what was coming to him, wanting to see him get off the screen, never to come back.
  • 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/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.
  • 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.
  • Snark Bait: By now, SAO has become one of the biggest ones in the entire anime community.
    • It's particularly vicious among critics, where SAO is one of the biggest Acceptable Targets, and it's difficult to find one who doesn't loathe the franchise to some degree. The range goes from critics who throw occasional, but consistent jabs, like Arkada or The Anime Man (although they also acknowledge its strengths when they see it due and admit it's a perfectly good watch), to critics who absolutely despise it and dedicate lengthy, often also hateful essays about why the series sucks too much to warrant its ridiculous popularity, like Digibro or Mother's Basement.
    • There are a few ones like Gigguk who consider it So Okay, It's Average, but they seem to be a minority. And even then, they tend to like to mock the franchise from time to time for comedic effect, even if it's more to capitalize on the show's infamy rather than personal contempt. While even rarer are ones like Lost Pause who openly admit to being fans of it but still acknowledge its flaws.
    • Hateful criticism to the franchise has become so popular at this point that there is no shortage of people who hate it with a burning passion, but kind of look forward to new installments just to watch this kind of critics to tear it apart.
    • Kirito is a Snark Bait all of his own. The level of hatred towards him is incredible, especially considering he's The Protagonist. Merely bringing up his name up on the internet can cause Internet Backdraft. In fact the hate for him is so widespread and he's so consistently mercilessly mocked, that casual observers would be forgiven for believing he's a Hate Sink character. Outside of fans of the series, any other character comparison will always have Kirito be the worse character, while detractors delight in hypothetical Versus battles where Kirito gets killed.
  • Squick:
    • The infamous tentacles scene Asuna is subjected too, which was the point where a lot of people gave up on SAO. It invokes All Anime Is Naughty Tentacles that's a better fit for a hentai genre.
    • The attempted rape on Asuna. The act itself was already bad enough to Squick a lot of fans, even to the point of making them drop the show. But it's even worse in how it's portrayed: The way Kirito saves her is seen by many as an empowerment fantasy. Even people who don't mind the Wish Fulfillment aspects of the show think that Kawahara went way too far in that scene.
    • Unsurprisingly, Sugou (the perpetrator of the act) was squicking the audience since his very first appearance. Just the way that he sniffed Asuna's hair in the hospital with that sick smirk on his face is enough proof that his Complete Monster label was never meant to be a surprise reveal.
  • Suspiciously Similar Song: "Swordland" is by far the most iconic theme from the series, but many detractors immediately point out the similarities to another theme previously composed by Yuki Kajiura: "Rule The Battlefield", from Fate/Zero. To be precise, the first few notes of the main riff are pretty much the same. This can be better heard with "In You Past", one of the variations of "Swordland", which has a closer tempo and tone to "Rule the Battlefield", and thus the similarities become much more obvious. While this only applies to the first few notes and then both themes diverge from one another, a lot of people consider this more than enough to call "lazy" on Kajiura, and to consider the theme yet another reason to mock the anime.note 
  • That One Boss: As a series based on video games, there are lots of In-Universe examples of this trope.
    • The Gleam Eyes, which was the first boss to force Kirito to unleash his secret unique skill Dual Wielding, and even then it reduced Kirito's health to critical.
    • The Fatal Scythe, which borderlines on being a Hopeless Boss Fight. It took off half the HP of both Kirito and Asuna in one hit. Kirito estimates that it could be of an equivalent level to the 90th Floor Bosses. It was only defeated by Yui using admin privileges to delete it.
    • The Skull Reaper, which could One-Hit Kill players and causing 24 casualties before being defeated. It took Kirito and Asuna's combined efforts to merely block its scythes alongside every other player flanking it to bring it down.
    • Ordinal Scale's Final Boss, "An Incarnation of the Radius" required the combined efforts of EVERY ally to ever appear in the series, along with all the major characters using their SAO avatars at peak power to unleash all of their ultimate attacks to kill it.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: The infamous episode 10 of the Alicization saga. Aniplex of America 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. She's much more prominent in the light novel as an information broker who Kirito frequents, and is known for to love endlessly trolling Kirito, but the anime had her Demoted to Extra and only appeared in one episode. Fortunately the manga and non-canon games give her a lot more time to shine and uses her potential where the anime failed to do so. 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 Damsel in Distress in the Fairy Dance arc, while the subsequent Phantom Bullet arc has her staying away from the main action. Though this does get largely amended with the Mother's Rosario arc which has Asuna taking over as The Protagonist which fleshes out her character and gives her a lot of development. 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. For obvious reasons, people prefer the videogame adaptations, where she DOESN'T die after her storyline, and instead is given the chance to shine as her fans feel she was meant to.
    • Many people complain that Reki Kawahara never used Eugeo to the fullest of his potential. When we first meet him, we realize that Eugeo has more innate skill than Kirito, the beater and hero of Aincrad ever had, and that he has a crush on Alice Zuberg, who was kidnapped by the knights of the Axiom Church and brainwashed, taking away her soul, memories, and old feelings, which is his motivation for going to Centralia and trying to become a knight. However, Kawahara never gives him much character; in fact, he's practically just a blank sheet with none of the imperfections that give humanity to people. In the end, Kawahara just kills off Eugeo.
    • Alice Zuberg is another source for such complaints. When we meet her in volume 9 as a child, she is one of the most vivacious characters to ever bless SAO and seems to have somewhat of a crush on Eugeo as a kid Flash forward to her teenage years after her memories have been taken away from her and her old personality trapped in a golden cube: We meet her as knight skilled beyond even Kirito and Eugeo in not just magic, (which she was a prodigy in even a kid) but she can easily match the two at the same time. She had a great deal of potential that was wasted in making her just another love interest for Kirito.
    • 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 kouhai. 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 below). Another huge point of contention is that, rather than exploring his otherwise good concepts, Kawahara seems to unabashedly focus on Pandering to the Base and Wish Fulfillment to a degree that detractors find alienating at best, and offensive at worst.
    • Kirito's Zero-Approval Gambit as a Beater in Episode 2 had a lot of plot potential and one of the more interesting directions his character was taken in, but it promptly gets dropped by the next episode where a Time Skip shows he's gotten sick of being a solo player and joins a guild, abandoning the characterization that had established in the previous episode. 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 clearers but don't fully trust 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 rather than a whole season. The video game continuity amends this by featuring all 100 Floors, while Ordinal Scale has the characters being able to see what would have been on the 100th Floor which they face as a Final Boss.
    • The Phantom Bullet arc featured Gun Gale Online, a sci-fi themed shooter, which was vastly different from the fantasy settings of the previous two games introduced. However the game's full premise remains largely unexplored, focusing almost entirely on the BoB tournament and Kirito facing the Big Bad. Fatal Bullet and Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online alleviate this to a degree by fleshing GGO out and giving full exploration of what the game is like away from Kirito.
  • Too Cool to Live: Yuuki Konno. So powerful that she completely dominated even Kirito, the World's Best Warrior of SAO. She was pretty much invincible in virtual world, but sadly not so much in the real world.
  • Tough Act to Follow:
    • The Mother's Rosario arc is widely considered the best arc of the series, due to its heavy usage of Character Development and extremely emotional story line. As a result, the feature film Ordinal Scale had a lot to live up to, as well as any subsequent arcs that follow.
    • Ordinal Scale itself was one of the most acclaimed anime films of 2017, which puts a lot of expectations on the third season of Sword Art Online featuring the Alicization Arc.
  • 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.
  • 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 Unsympathetic: Kirito generally manages to avoid this, but there are still a couple of instances where he briefly steps into this territory.
    • In the climax of the Fairy Dance arc, Kirito set Pain Absorber at level zero. and he brutally tortures Sugou until he's wailing in terror and agony, doing such things as cutting off his arm and stabbing him in the eye. He's clearly suffered serious damage from it, as shown in the next episode when he encounters Kirito in the hospital parking lot. The show interprets this action as heroic; Asuna and Yui don't even look remotely disturbed by Kirito's brutal actions. Even if the victim is a Complete Monster, the show looks like it's endorsing torture and violence as instruments of justice, a message that can be just plain disturbing. Fortunately, Kirito steps back into sympathetic territory by the next episode, when he refrains from killing Sugou and leaves him to the cops instead.
    • Even more so in the Alicization arc when Kirito, who Came Back Strong after his worsened brain damage has been completely diminished, turns PoH into a tree without any remorse whatsoever. In his defense though, he thought that he wouldn't be able to face Leafa and Sinon for all the troubles they've been through if he regretted doing it.
    • The readers or viewers are supposed to root for Kikuoka, Rath, and Project Alicization, disregarding the fact that they unethically played god and instead of making Kirito's psyche better, invented a more brutal (well, brutal is unintentional though, given Quinella is a case of A.I. Is a Crapshoot) virtual world where there is no pain absorber, meaning pain are felt like it was real. And Kirito was subject to a mother of all Break the Cutie. Later the supporting characters also got subjected too!
  • 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.
  • Vocal Minority: Hard as it is to believe given how widespread the hatred for the franchise is, the hatebase for the show is still the minority when looking at viewers as a whole. Based on reviews by MAL, the majority of ratings for the series still swing in a positive direction despite all the flack it gets. The haters for Sword Art Online may be extremely loud and vocal, but at the end of the day they're still the minority and the series still continues to consistently pull in high ratings which is why it keeps on going years after its debut.
  • What Do You Mean, It's 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.
  • The Woobie:
  • 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, 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.
    • Additionally, the set-up of Alicization, abandoning VRMMO in favor of a system inhabited by soul copies, isn't liked by some, and didn't help that the story changes from escaping megalomaniacal and psychopatic deathtraps in a Deep-Immersion Gaming to supporting how the supposed "good guys" end up playing god For Science!.

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