Sword Art Online (SAO): A Guide for Beginners

Released on March 9, and already raking in over 1 billion yen at the Japanese box office, Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale is just the latest entry in a long string of successes for this light novel/manga/anime franchise. But for fans who mostly know this gaming/fantasy/suspense series from watching the anime, reading the manga or light novels that the series originated from can be a fascinating excursion into a world that is familiar, yet ever-so-different than the animated version.

Originally released in 2009 as a light novel series written by Reki Kawahara and illustrated by abec, Sword Art Online has a plot that initially follows a now familiar formula: an ordinary, albeit game-obsessed young man finds himself locked in the fantasy world of a massive multi-player online role-playing game (MMPORG), along with many other gamers from the “real world.” In a dark twist bridging the game world with the “real world,” players are not just trapped in the game world, but their real world bodies are hooked up to NerveGear, a VR headset that has the power to fry SAO players’ real brains when their virtual selves are killed in the game, or if they or their friends try to forcibly remove the headsets. This turns their fantasy world into a high-stakes, life-or-death game. Most of the action focuses on Kirito, the gamer guy, and Asuna, the sword-wielding warrior girl who eventually becomes his companion, but the universe of Sword Art Online includes a vast array of characters, worlds, and even different types of games

From this beginning, Sword Art Online has morphed into a vast universe of stories, both expansions and continuations of the original Aincrad story arc as seen in the Sword Art Online Progressive series, explorations into the backstories of side characters as seen in Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops , and new adventures in new worlds, as illustrated in the Phantom Bullet arc which takes place in a post-apocalyptic future setting instead of the fantasy setting of the Aincrad arc, and Fairy Dance, which takes place both in the real world and in Alfheim Online, another fantasy game world, where several players from the Aincrad game remain trapped, including Asuna.

So basically, if you’ve only watched the first season of the Sword Art Online anime, you’ve really only delved into the first part of the story, which is primarily the Aincrad arc, where Kirito and crew are challenged to fight their way through 100 levels of the Sword Art Online game to gain their freedom from the virtual world. If you’ve watched the anime, you’ll notice that a few episodes in, the action skips ahead two years from the time when Kirito is first trapped in the game world, and his once prickly relationship with Asuna has evolved into romance and matrimony. Sword Art Online: Aincrad is basically this first version of the story, as originally written by Kawahara.
SAO Sword Art Online Aincrad
Sword Art Online: Aincrad (manga)

Sword Art Online: Progressive is a more recent release, where Kawahara has gone back into the world of Aincrad and fills in some of the action and adventure that happened in the levels of the game that were skipped over the first time around. It also allows him to flesh out some of the backstory of some of the characters to make them more interesting and compelling.
SAO Sword Art Online Progressive
Sword Art Online Progressive (Manga)

One main difference between Aincrad and Progressive is that in the anime, Asuna and Kirito’s relationship becomes romantic about two years into their relationship, somewhere around the 70th floor out of 100 that they must conquer. For example, in the first volume of the Sword Art: Progressive manga , Asuna and Kirito’s close relationship develops a little sooner than that, which makes sense in some ways, but perhaps a little confusing in others.

And the Sword Art Online Movie: Ordinal Scale? The SAO characters are plunged into the world of augmented reality gaming, where the gaming world is overlaid over the real world, and several enemies and allies from the world of Aincrad and Gun Gale Online have reappeared to challenge Kirito, Asuna, and friends old and new to high-stakes battles.

So while you can definitely enjoy Sword Art Online by only watching the anime, your enjoyment and understanding of the story and its characters will be expanded and enriched by reading the manga and/or the light novels. Dive in and see if it changes how you experience the story – especially if you re-watch the anime after reading the manga and light novels!

Purchase any Sword Art Online Manga (eBook) to win an autograph by the author! – ends Mar. 15th
SAO Sword Art Online Special Campaign
Sword Art Online Special Campaign on BookWalker (eBook Store)
Purchase any Sword Art Online Manga (eBook) by March 15th, 2017 for a chance to win an autograph by the author or a Sword Art Online Progressive clear file!!

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