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180px-Sword Art Online Vol 01 cover 8068

Imagine that gaming had advanced to the point where you no longer watched from the other side of a television screen, but you were right there in the world. Now imagine that someone had the brilliant idea to create an MMO when the console making this possible had a dry spell for truly innovative games. And you were invited to beta test it all, and it went smoothly. Sounds like heaven, doesn't it?

But then something is amiss, and you cannot log out.

It turns out, the game's creator has issued an ultimatum: Reach the top of a certain castle, and you will be able to log out. However, if you die in game, your body in reality also loses its ability to function, as it will die as well. You also cannot force the system to shut off... as the same process will occur either way, and you will die.

Kirito has fallen into this situation. Now, he and every other player out there must do their best to survive this ordeal.

And even after he makes it out alive, he ends up having to dive right into another mess...

Two months after the SAO incident, for some odd reason, Asuna and a handful of players still haven't woken up. And after rehabilitation, Kazuto's back with his family. But he is still worried about Asuna, and wonders why she still has not yet woken up until he gets a lead from his friend in SAO, Egil, who mailed him a screenshot that looks like a blurred silhouette of Asuna. He also gets a lead of a new VMMORPG game called ALFheim online where the screenshot came from. And so his new journey starts in order to confirm what that screenshot is about.

The legendary novel made an appearance with browsing numbers exceeding 6.5 million page views recorded at the personal website. Find an ongoing translation project here.

Spawned a web Voice drama found here and a manga series here.

For a similar premise, see also .hack. Also see Accel World, penned by the same author.

Tropes used in Sword Art Online include:
  • Absurdly High Stakes Game: To be fair, not every player needs to fight the final boss of Sword Art Online. But if you lose all of your HP, you die.
  • The Ace: Ignoring his moments of angst Kirito is usually this trope which is rare for a Light Novel protagonist.
  • Action Girl: Asuna. Not only was she an idol in SAO she also happens to be the strongest female character in the game, and perhaps other girls that Kirito meets along his way, Shinon in volume 6 to compare
  • Always Someone Better: Invoked by Zekken who even beat Kirito in single-wielding mode. Justified because they are mostly terminally ill people that require a machine called the Medicuboid which pops them into virtual games to survive. This causes them to play a absurd number of hours, even longer than the SAO players who were trapped for over two years straight inside of a game and are otherwise the most experienced players on the planet.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Kobatz attacks even when his subordinates are exhausted, the boss area don't allows teleportation crystals to be used, and two of his men already died. It gets him killed.
  • Attractive Bent Gender: Thor as Freya.
  • Always Bring a Sword to a Gunfight: Due to some incident with Kazuto's character creation he winds up being the only character to wield a sword in a game full of gun fights.
  • Anti-Hero: Kirito starts off as this, choosing to protect only himself, while attempting to complete the game. He changes later.
  • Art Shift: The Light Novels have a more subtle art style compared to the manga which is Darker and Edgier.
  • Ax Crazy: Kuradeel's true personality is one of a sadistic killer..
  • Badass: Kirito and how!
  • BFS: Gleam Eyes's weapon. Justified since he's also a gigantic creature.
  • Big Bad: Akihito Kayaba, the creator of SAO that imprisoned its players on there and created a trap on their Nerve Gear that will kill them if they are killed in-game or if their Nerve gear is removed or broken.
  • Big Damn Heroes: So in the last part of volume 4 Kirito faces Oberon and get thoroughly beaten. Then Kayaba went inside ALO and gives Kirito GM POWERS, which he used to beat Oberon with.
    • And on any occasion Kirito and Co. pulls this off by himself or with his buddies.
  • Bishounen: Kirito provides an example much more so in volume 6 where his character kinda looks like Yuri from Tales of Vesperia.
  • Black Swords Are Better: One of Kirito's swords, Elucidator, is pitch black.
  • Bloodless Carnage: It's a game, of course it is bloodless. Averted when it comes to real world fights like the one outside the hospital.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Kuradeel at least just seems worried, but the time he reveals he watches Asuna even outside his working hours and challenges Kirito to a duel, his obsession over her becomes pretty obvious.
  • Breakable Weapons: Explained in Volume 2. When Kirito found a blacksmith girl named Lizbeth and he needed a new sword to practice on, he was given one. But when he tested it out it broke easily, so they go on a quest to slay a snow dragon to get the mineral needed to forge a new weapon.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: One side on Suguha's part. She slowly falls in love with him however since he already has Asuna and Kirito isn't really into that stuff so he doesn't reciprocate. Though latter it's revealed that she's actually his first cousin.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Lizbet to Kirito, because he's already got Asuna.
  • Character Level: It is supposed to be an MMORPG... Kirito is explicitly referred to as one of the highest-leveled characters in SAO.
  • Chick Magnet: Kirito. However he is usually better than most harem protagonists in the sense that girls will usually fall for him after a decent amount of interaction happens. Also unlike other harem protagonists Kirito is usually seen as The Ace rather then a Ordinary High School Student or worse a loser.
  • Crash Into Hello: How Kirito meets his "harem"
  • Code Name: Almost everyone uses one, which protects their real life identity. Averted by Asuna
  • Cold Sniper: Sinon at first
  • Continuity Nod: Lizbeth, Yui and Silica who all appear in Volume 2 during the 2 year span of the SAO incident makes their comebacks in Volume 3 and Volume 4, still retaining their jobs, Silika a beast tamer, Lizbeth still a blacksmith, and Yui still an AI, As Volume 2 are side stories of Asuna and Kirito's lives in SAO during that 2 year span prior to meeting each other. And note that their names never appeared in Volume 1 of the light novels.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Out of all the countless people he could have met, Kirito just happens to Crash Into Hello his sister the very first time he logs into the MMORPG Alfheim. Not that either of them know it at the time... Which turns out not to be coincidence, the server registered the two different logins from the same location and thought they were the same person so it moved Kirito to Lyfa
  • Critical Existence Failure: Happens when a character dies in any of the games.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Your brain is gonna be microwaved like pizza if you lose all your HP points on a MMO or if someone removes a VR equipment from your head.
  • Curb Stomp Battle: in Volume 2, Kirito vs Orange guild Titan's Hand.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Another reason why Kirito avoids guilds and playing with other people was a result of blaming himself for the death of his past guild.
  • Death Is Cheap: Subverted. Death in game is death in real life in SAO. Played straight in the others.
    • Though Kirito continues to act as if it's subverted, much to the shock and sometimes aggravation of other ALO players. His experiences in SAO have deeply ingrained a refusal to allow in-game death to happen to people he cares about, even when they try to tell him the worst that will happen is losing a little bit of in-game progress.
  • Deep-Immersion Gaming: The devices used allow this. Unfortunately the immersion is too deep in SAO: You die in real life once your avatar dies.
  • Dem Bones:
    • Demonic Servant, a skeletal monster in Sword Art Online, found in the Labyrinth on the 74th Floor of Aincrad.
    • The Skull Reaper, the boss of Floor 75, that looks like a centipede with an elongated head.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Keita commits suicide by jumping off the edge of Aincrad after the members of his guild aside of Kirito are killed.
    • Asuna says she will do it if Kirito dies against the boss of Floor 75 and she stays behind.
    • Kirito himself after Asura is apparently killed by Akihito, attacking Akihito without any real will to hit him.
  • Dual-Wielding: Only Kirito gets this skill.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady:
    • Kirito in GGO. He abuses this to get help from the nearby Sinon.
    • Kirito comments some people mistake him for a girl when he uses the clothes of his sister at the beginning of Aincrad.
  • Dumb Muscle: Kuradeel calls Godfree this for falling into his trap.
  • Expy: Yui is an expy of .hack's AURA only that her creation was not intentional as she was only composed of data that somehow became sentient. In SAO she has the powers of an Admin.
  • Face Heel Turn: Kayaba aka Heathcliff had planned to do this on the higher floors, but did not get the chance.
    • Heel Face Turn: When Kirito is losing to Oberon, Kayaba's program ghost shows up and grants Kirito admin powers.
  • Fan Service: We get to see every major female character in their undergarments one way or the other.
  • Five-Man Band: Later on, in a quest, we get
  • Flight: A main feature in ALO
  • For the Evulz: Kayaba entrapping everyone in Sword Art Online appears to be this, as he claims he just wants to see the ultimate game and for it to be "real". At the end he mentions that perhaps his real desire was to see someone who could break the physical laws of the world they lived in if they wanted it badly enough, which Kirito achieved.
  • Four Is Death: After a familiar dies, there is a chance it will leave behind an item that will allow the player to resurrect it. However, if the player cannot meet the requirements within four days, the item will change and the pet will be dead for good.
  • The Gadfly: Kirito sometimes when he's in the mood to tease someone.
  • "Glad to Be Alive" Sex: Asuna at least interprets it as Kirito's desire after he is almost killed by Kuradeel, but the truth is that Kirito didn't even know it was possible to have sex inside the game and just wished to spend the night with Asuna; though, after he learns it's possible, he don't refuses it.
  • Harem: for some odd reason the number of female casts that get closer to Kirito keeps on rising volume after volume.
    • Played completely straight in the short story that takes place post-ending to Alicization...
  • Harem Hero: Kirito is a very strong type B.
  • Hot Dad: See Hot Mom.
  • Hot Mom: Well if you think about Yui's relationship with Asuna and Kirito, it's like that... Asuna happens to be Yui's "mom" and Kirito the "dad".
  • I Gave My Word: Kirito joins the Knights of the Blood after losing his duel with their leader.
  • Ill Girl/Guy: all the members of the Sleeping Knights.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: The entire skill system in SAO is based on swordsmanship. Not a single spell to be found. Handwaved as an attempt to raise immersion.
    • Kirito could cut bullets in midair easily.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Not an issue early on where swords are commonplace, but come Volume 5 of the light novel Kirito becomes the only character to wield a sword in a gun fight in a game that's all about shooting.
  • It's All My Fault: Asuna blames herself for the people that Kuradeel killed in the training mission and for the almost-death of Kirito using this sentence.
  • The Informant: Come volume 5, and he's now the informant for the Public Safety.
  • Jerkass: At least one in every volume.
    • Jerkass Facade: Kirito at the start doesn't interact with other players due to past trauma. The bonus episode that spans between the end of the first season and the start of the second makes it explicit that he also cultivated his reputation as a "Beater" (a combination of "Beta Tester" and "Cheater") to give the other players someone to hate, so that they'd leave other people who'd been in the Beta alone.
  • Killer Rabbit: The Ragout Rabbit at least pretends to be that in concept, but it isn't a very strong monster.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Kirito is this no matter what game he is in due to having Super Reflexes.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Kirito and the few other solo players are seen as unusual for not joining guilds and going out to battle alone, something that is likely to get them killed. On the other hand, it's the reason Kirito is so skilled, and presumably the other solo players as well.
  • Love Makes You Crazy/Love Makes You Evil: Kyouji. So very, very much.
  • Male Gaze: Seriously, the camera focuses a lot on Sinon's virtual avatar's butt.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Kuradeel planned to do this to Kirito, no matter how many other people he had to kill.
  • Mythology Gag: In one of the side stories, Kirito is called to test a new 4th Generation Full Dive Unit, and finds himself stuck in another virtual world battling Silver Crow.
  • Naughty Tentacles: The famous (or infamous) scene with Asuna being squirmed over by these by a pair of creeps in a control room, who pull back when they realize they'll probably get in trouble for it. Plus Silica has to be rescued from these in the video game version, with particularly squirmy, slimy and generally nasty tentacles from a carnivorous plant or.. something wrapping around her. (The premise is that the SAO world has been "realized" in the real world physically so the rescues from the tentacles tend to get extra slimy too. Literally, very slimy.)
  • Nerves of Steel: Kirito has his moments of angst but usually when shit happens he's the one least visiably freaked out.
  • No Body Left Behind: Well, what did expect from video games when death happens inside them?
  • Oblivious to Love: Sorta Justified for Kirito since he's already has a girlfriend so he doesn't really pay attention to other girls.
    • He later becomes acutely aware of his sister's feelings, but understandably the two of them decide that it's better if they both just act like he's not.
  • Official Couple: Yuuki Asuna and Kirigaya Kazuto. Despite his growing harem in all the games he is jumping through
  • Ojou: Asuna happens to be the daughter of the CEO of RECTO which later on becomes the only producer of the improved version of Nerve gear called Amusphere.
  • Older Than They Look:
    • Perhaps not the case for Kirito as he was a beta player for SAO, however Asuna initially assumed this was the case due to Kirito's experience in the game only to be shocked that she is actually 1 year his senior.
    • Kuradeel in in his early 20s but to Kirito he looks much older thanks to his wrinkles.
  • Plucky Girl: Silica.
  • Postcyberpunk: The use of virtual technology seems to have mostly positive effects in society, though events like Aincrad do put the government in alert over the possibility of murder involving virtual reality.
  • Posthumous Character: All members of the Moonlit Black Cats with the exception of Kirito.
  • Rain of Arrows: Sinon in ALO.
  • Reality Ensues: Kirito is a frail shell of a (young) man when he finally wakes up from SAO, since he spent so much time paralysed and fed through tubes.
  • Recycled in Space: It's like .hack in its initial premise.
    • In-universe, Alfheim Online is pretty much literally "Sword Art Online with Wings and Magic", since it's built on SAO's programming base. Kirito even retains most of his skill levels between the two, sincethey're so much alike and share so much code.
  • Red Baron: Kirito gets "The Black Swordsman", and is pretty well known.
  • Saintly Church: Which takes care of the younger players in SAO.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: After Kirito is almost killed by Kuradeel, he and Asuna decide to leave the front lines.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Kikuoka apparently watched an anime where everyone in real life suffered epilepsy around the country. This is of course, referring to the now-banned Porygon episode.
    • While going through a tunnel under a mountain, Kirito mentioned to Lyfa a book that he had read in which the party also went under a mountain, only to be ambushed by Orcs and then met an ancient demon. Moments later, they were ambushed by a bunch of Salamanders.
  • Small Girl, Big Gun: Shinon is described as having a doll-like avatar. She wields a Hecate II.
  • Sole Survivor:
    • Kirito is the only member of the Moonlit Black Cats that survives a trap in a hidden room in the 27th Floor.
    • Kuradeel planned to be this to the members of the training mission.
  • Solid Gold Poop: A particular in-game dragon shits rare ores used to make very good weapons.
  • Suicide Attack: Much lighter compared to other examples of the same trope, and not exactly this trope in-universe, but counts as it is how it is interpreted in-game: Kirito and Sinon both win the Bullet of Bullets Tournament through Sinon's gift grenade that kills both(in-game) at the same time, since Sinon didn't want to fight a weakened Kirito.
  • Suicide by Cop: Kirito practically throws himself in Akihito's sword after Asuna is apparently killed.
  • Super Reflexes: Kirito in the various games he plays through have been shown to have the ability to dodge bullets effortlessly.
  • Supreme Chef:
    • Asuna in SAO, she tries to replicate real world tastes in game, since the in game food is mostly horrible.
    • Kirito reacts with shock when he finds she's maxed out the cooking-related skills. He's never even heard of someone else doing so.
  • Survivor Guilt: Kirito, the only survivor of the Black Cats of the Full Moon guild. Made worse because as a Beta Tester, he knew the area well enough that he could have prevented it just by warning them. The only thing that held him back was the fear of being hated for being a Beater.
  • Teleporters and Transporters: Crystals in SAO.
  • Tenchi Solution: As of April 18 2012, the newest translated Side Story, There is but one Ultimate way, Kirito seems set to be in a Type 1 Tenchi Solution by simply getting married to all the members of his Unwanted Harem plus a 5 year honey moon in a time dilated MMO. Do note that the author himself has already declared on his twitter account (with verifications from translators) that this story is to be treated as a non-canon story.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Kayaba expected everything in the game and also the skill Dual Blades that was bestowed on Kirito, that he would be defeated by a Dual Sword Skill user, but never imagined that Kirito would catch up to his Heathcliff disguise quite early on.
  • There Are No Therapists: Since Yui, who was supposed to be one, was blocked.
  • There Is Only One Bed: So Kirito has to sleep on the floor while Silica gets the bed.
  • Time Skip: Between different arcs.
  • Truce Zone: You can’t hurt anyone in towns in SAO... theoretically. Unfortunately, there are ways around this, making the only way to be truly safe in SAO be to have someone you absolutely trust watch over you as you sleep, even in a town.
  • World Tree: The setting of Volume 3 has one, that is the goal of the game, and it’s called Yggdrasil. Unsuprising, since its setting heavily relies on Nordic terminology.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Asuna believes that running away from the objective of clearing the game is useless anyway, because their life support in the real world will eventually fail and the players will die.

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