Sword Art Online has managed to become one of the most popular anime of all time. There’s something about the story of Kirito and all his friends trapped in a video game with only two methods of escape (death or reach the top of the dungeon) that is pretty captivating to most people. More than that, the series has become something of a gateway for potential viewers new to anime.
This list is for those individuals, but not just them. This list exists for anyone who loves Sword Art Online for any reason. Whether it’s the overpowered main character, the video game settings, or even the harem aspect. There’s no judgment here, only solid recommendations of where to go next.
10 THE KING'S AVATAR
The King’s Avatar is essentially Sword Art Online minus the whole protagonist stuck in an alternate world bit. Instead, lead character Ye Xiu is a competitive eSports player for the mega-popular video game Glory. After tiring of the politics of the shady eSports world, Ye Xiu abandons that life and his old character and starts from scratch with a new profile during the grand opening of the game’s tenth server.
Like Sword Art Online, The King’s Avatar is very much about life as an ace player in an MMO, but instead of being purely about survival, it’s about how Ye Xiu spends all of his free time climbing back to the top of the game he left.
9 THE IRREGULAR AT MAGIC HIGH SCHOOL
In a world of magic, Miyuki Shiba is an heir to Clan Yotsuba, one of the major clans in charge of Japan’s magicians. Her brother Tatsuya is assigned to be her bodyguard but seems to have no affinity for magic at all. Instead, he’s incredibly capable at physical combat and designing magical technology, and is secretly a member of an elite magical fighting force.
For every fan of Sword Art Online who loves how Kirito is able to keep his cool in any situation, and his ability to overcome every threat thrown at him usually with ease, The Irregular at Magic High School will make them feel like they haven’t missed a step.
8 IS IT WRONG TO TRY TO PICK UP GIRLS IN A DUNGEON?
Probably the most frustrating aspect of Sword Art Online for first-time viewers is the shattered belief that Kirito would have to gradually climb his way up the tower. Instead, the story skips over the majority of that work in favor of jumping to the top floors very early on.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? works the other way around - Bell Cranel doesn’t start out very strong, but gains a special ability early on which allows him to power-level. From there he starts working his way further and further down his world’s dungeon, seeking treasure for his family.
7 UNBREAKABLE MACHINE-DOLL
Machine Doll’s lead character Raishin Akabane is a lot like Kirito—even-tempered, generally a likable fellow such that they have a harem following them around, and incredibly gifted which means most battles are a breeze for him. Raishin is a puppeteer, a kind of magician in this world that’s able to give life to mechanical dolls called automatons.
Raishin and his automaton Yaya seek access to the Royal Academy of Machinart’s Evening Party, a place where puppeteers and automatons battle it out to decide who the best among them. Though the winner is granted access to exclusive knowledge, Raishin seeks to restore the good name of the Akabane Clan...and gain revenge on those who took his clan out.
6 GRIMGAR OF FANTASY AND ASH
Some people like the idea of being sent to a fantasy world, but aren’t quite so sure about everything else in Sword Art Online. Maybe the harem element is a bit much, or perhaps the lead character is too overpowered. For those people, we have Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. Rather than one lead character, there are six adventurers who found their way into a strange new world with no idea how they got there or even any memory of what home was like.
Rather than a harem, there are just the awkward emotions surrounding early puberty. Instead of overpowered characters, you get ones who have to work hard to beat up slimes and goblins.
Ryouta Sakamoto is Japan’s best player of Btooom!, an online game that doesn’t rely on swords or guns, but rather killing opponents by throwing bombs. One day, Ryouta wakes up on an island where the game’s rules and weaponry have been recreated.
Ryouta is asked to kill seven people before he will be allowed to escape the game. He tries ignoring their rules but doesn’t know who he can or can’t trust, and is eventually forced to play along. For people who love the original Sword Art Online’s premise of battling in a life or death game, there’s Btooom!, a game that feels like Sword Art crossed with Battle Royale.
4 ACCEL WORLD
Accel World and Sword Art Online are actually both by the same creator, Reki Kawahara. They are both centered around gamers spending way too much time in a virtual reality game, but the goal for the lead characters in Accel World is a bit different. Haruyuki Arita and Kuroyukihime work together in the world of Brain Burst, an augmented reality fighting game to battle against the Six Kings of Pure Color, the strongest enemies in the game.
By beating them, the two will be able to reach level 10, the highest level available, and be able to meet the creator of Brain Burst to discover why the game was created.
3 SWORD ART ONLINE ALTERNATIVE - GUN GALE ONLINE
This feels like a weird inclusion, but not enough people have checked out this Sword Art Online spin-off centered around the third game in the franchise, Gun Gale Online. The series is written by Keiichi Sigsawa, best known for his work on Kino’s Journey.
This series centers around a college-aged woman named Karen Kohiruimaki, who gets into Gun Gale Online because the avatar she gets is small and cute compared to her tall real-world self. Alternative is set in the same world as Sword Art Online and even references the latter's events throughout the series; however, it does its own thing, with plenty of cool, tense gunfights.
2 LOG HORIZON
Log Horizon was one of the earliest “clone” series of SAO. But there’s one major difference between Log Horizon and SAO: Dying here means the player respawns. This fundamental change switches things from a tense battle against both enemies and other players to that of players trying to learn what it means to exist in the world.
Slowly, those stuck in Elder Tale begin to build their own society. The characters must figure out ways to purchase property and feed themselves while seeing how the rules have changed with the mysterious 12th expansion of Elder Tale that’s altered the game’s rules in ways even the players are not privy to.
1 KNIGHT'S & MAGIC
Tsubasa Kurata is a young man who dies after being hit by a truck and wakes up in a fantasy world with magic...and giant robots. Reborn as Ernesti Echevalier, Kurata still has his love for giant robots and uses both his programming knowledge and his surprising aptitude for magic in this world to become a super inventor/pilot.
Much like Sword Art Online, not long after entering an alternate world, Ernesti (or Eru, as he’s called by friends) becomes one of the most important people in his country thanks to his inventing skills and piloting prowess, even eventually getting to create his own Knight company where he employs his friends.