Sword Art Online review

Apr 02, 2021

Ignore the chapter count. At the time of writing, I have read everything in the main series pre-Moon Cradle. That includes Aincrad, Fairy Dance, Phantom Bullet, Mother's Rosario, the volume 8 content, and all of Alicization.

STORY - 9/10:

With limited and generally unimportant exception, Kawahara develops a believable virtual world in Sword Art Online. He establishes a compelling set of goals for the characters to achieve, and then has them work to achieve those goals without including a lot of the boring questing but still including the more notable steps along the way. Now for a breakdown of how each of the arcs performs on this:

Aincrad: The instigating event of this arc is pretty hand-wavey, but once the setting has been established, the story makes you forget about how ridiculous the premise is. The way game mechanics have been introduced into this virtual world are somewhat simplistic and naive, but belief can be suspended, and going for more realism (e.g. allowing the potential for hackers, glitches, etc.) would've likely bogged down the story in pointless details. Almost every detail presented is useful for telling the story and is not just pointless exposition for the author to show off their imagination in. The volume 2 side stories are less interesting, but set up the groundwork for future volumes.

Fairy Dance: This arc, probably regarded by the community as being the worst major arc (or the second-to-worst arc overall), has that reputation for a reason. Compared to the clever premise of Aincrad, Fairy Dance has a much more typical and uninteresting plot which follows many more of the tired anime/manga tropes and uses the concept of a VRMMO merely as a backdrop.

Phantom Bullet: This arc is a revival of the story from the slump of Fairy Dance, and brings back the tension of Aincrad with an original idea. This is my second-favorite arc pre-Alicization.

Mother's Rosario: For those who have watched the anime and disliked this arc, you'll be happy to hear that the execution was much better in the source material. This brief interlude moves away from the world-changing dramatics of the first three arcs and to a much more human and personal story.

Volume 8: This collection of side stories contains possibly the most hated arc in the series, as well as a couple of side stories, one of which was featured in the anime and executed much better there. This book definitely has the weakest story of any of them.

Alicization (part 1): A very different concept from Aincrad, but a similar story progression for most of it. It's very much a "return to the good ol' days" but with original twists and a much longer and more fleshed out story. Far far too much exposition in parts, but the rest makes up for it.

Alicization (part 2): This "arc" felt senselessly long and complicated, but it was clearly good enough to keep me reading for the four or five volumes that it spanned.

ART - 8/10:

I'm reviewing the written content, not the art, but sure, it was very good.


Every character has high and low points. Unfortunately, when a female character is not actively playing a major role in the story, they're mostly reduced to just a member of the main character's harem. When they are playing a major role however, the characters are often highly compelling. Because so much of what makes a good story is the characters, the quality of the major characters in an arc can largely be determined by how much I appeared to have liked that arc in the story breakdown above.

Enjoyment - 9/10:

I enjoyed reading this series a lot. Enough for me to get through 18 volumes and still be waiting for the next to get translated so I can read it, at the very least.


Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online