What it’s about: A new fully immersive virtual reality “Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game” (think World of Warcraft, if you’re not familiar) is launched. Players logging in for the first time are having a lot of fun with the fantasy realm until the creator of the game reveals that nobody who logs into Sword Art Online can log out again, and anyone who dies in-game will die in in reality as well. Only once all one hundred levels of the game have been completed will the players be released. The story follows Kirito, an early-access player who leads the charge in defeating the game’s bosses and steadily progressing to get home again.
Why you should watch it: Sword Art Online was massively hyped upon release and remains very popular today. The animation and soundtrack quality is top-notch, and the battle sequences never disappoint. It’s an exciting action-filled romp with enough of a continuing story to keep you interested as it explores the ramifications of living in a video game world where death is truly final.
Caveats: The most common complaint about the show is that character development is rather shallow. Also, the series takes a dramatic swing half-way through and there’s an almost universal consensus that the second half is noticeably weaker than the first. That said, it’s still entertaining and its flaws do not outweigh the good aspects of the show.
Themes: Virtual/Reality divide. Fear of mortality. The second season switches things up, instead asking about living with the choices you made in the past.
Similar works:DanMachi.The idea of “Virtual world as real world” is getting kind of popular in anime, but every show takes a different approach. Log Horizon is a simultaneously more comedic and more strategic than SAO, Overlord follows a “villain protagonist” as he tries to conquer the world, while works like Accel World or the //.hack series have their own ideas about such a setting.