In a world where virtual reality gaming is nothing new and where players can immerse themselves in games, how would you react if you found yourself unable to log out? On top of that, if you were to die in the game you would also die in real life. Sword Art Online explores this concept in a fantasy and action adventure story that to this day many people believe it to be the most representative title of the ‘MMORPG’ and ‘Person in another world’ (isekai) genres. As technology advances faster than ever before, a scenario where something like this could actually happen is not that far away. People love spending time and effort in the video games they like because the idea of being able to experience a different reality is very appealing. But Sword Art Online is not only about that. It’s also a tale of romance and high-stake games that unravels in a science fiction world.
The story is set in 2022, where players have the ability to ‘dive’ in-game by wearing a special helmet. Sword Art Online is the first game to be released in that format, and on the day it launches, the players realize that they are unable to log out. There is only one way to get out of the game alive and that is to beat the 100-level tower’s final boss. The players begin their quest to progress the game and beat the final boss in order to escape and save everyone before it’s too late.
A fantasy world, action, cute girls, romance, badass-ery, and characters with exceptional skills. If these are the things that you liked about Sword Art Online, MANGA.TOKYO is here with 10 recommendations that you will definitely enjoy.
The stories of Sword Art Online and Log Horizon are pretty much identical. The game, in this case, is called Elder Tale and has millions of players worldwide. Suddenly one day, the players were stuck in the virtual world and were unable to log out. Shiroe along with his new friends try to adjust to their new lives by fighting, surviving, and enjoying the adventure.
Both shows have the same setting: people find themselves stuck in an online world and try to discover a way out. The two main differences of Log Horizon are that if you die in the game you just respawn and that its focus is not to escape but to try and build a world where players of all levels can live happily.
Momonga is a badass veteran player in the game of Yggdrasil. After staying online for the permanent shutdown of his favorite game, he finds that he is still in the world of the game but can’t log out anymore. With extreme power and his loyal NPCs, he decides to take over the virtual world in order to find answers to everything that is happening.
In Sword Art Online, Kirito and the players know how to get out of the game. Momonga, on the other hand, doesn’t know if there are others like him and is trying to find a way to escape the online world. Also, Overlord adds in the dynamic of conscious NPCs with all the guardians of the Great Tomb of Nazarick coming to life, wherein SAO there is only Yui.
Spring 2012 24 Episodes
Haruyuki Arita is constantly bullied at school and uses online games as a way to escape from his problems. One day, his beautiful upperclassman, Kuroyukihime, approaches him with a program called Brain Burst that is basically an MMORPG where people fight each other in order to achieve the ultimate objective: meet the game’s creator who will reveal why the game was created and the true purpose of it.
Both titles were written by the same author, Reki Kawahara, so it’s not really a surprise that they have so much in common. The protagonists and the premises of both anime are very similar but SAO is way more dramatic as it deals with the element of survival in a more serious and intense way.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
Spring 2015 13 Episodes
The story is set in Orario, a city where adventurers stick together in groups that are called Familia and look for treasures in an underground labyrinth known as Dungeon. Similar to role-playing games, the adventurers level up and increase their abilities according to their achievements. The protagonist, however, Bell Cranel, cares more about the girls than fame and riches.
SAO is more about VR and the reality of the game is clear. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? has a more fantasy setting and, to be honest, we are not really sure if it takes place in a game world or not. Both shows include strong male leads (that are actually dual bladders), an intense romance story, and a game-like world.
Spring 2002 26 Episodes
A classic title when it comes to the MMORPG genre and definitely a source of inspiration for SAO. In a massive online world, people act only as well as their conscience demands. Tsukasa is suspected of being a hacker and is unable to log out of the game. He and a group of players begin a journey to seek out the answers of why he got trapped in this world.
.hack//SIGN is a bit more serious and mature and can be harder to understand than SAO. SAO can be sad and depressing at some points but overall it’s a light-hearted anime. .hack//SIGN will make you contemplate about life with its profound meanings since it really explores the question: Where do our souls end and we begin?
Fall 2012 12 Episodes
Ryouta is a good-for-nothing unemployed 22-year-old that spends his days at home playing a game called Btooom. He is actually Japan’s top player in-game. His life changes suddenly when he is dropped on a tropical island and is asked to play Btooom, but this time, for real. He and the rest of the players must fight to the death and the only way to win is by killing seven of the other players.
Btooom! is about a fictional game adapted to the real world and is more about surviving a high-stakes game. It has a lot explicit violence, sexual content, physical abuse, and a lot of blood. It’s a death game and a love story but SAO is a bit lighter for the stomach.
Spring 2011 12 Episodes
Okay, this doesn’t have any romance to it and it’s more relatable to SAO due to its ‘Live or Die’ situation and the pressure applied to the main characters. Middle school student Ganta Igarashi witnessed the slaughter of his entire class, and as the only survivor, he was labeled a mass murderer and sentenced to death. He becomes an inmate in a privately-owned prison and ‘amusement park’ known as Deadman Wonderland, where he takes place in brutal survival games in order to uncover the truth behind the murder.
Both anime involve games you can’t escape unless you win. Deadman Wonderland is way more violent and gruesome than SAO and has strong language so don’t expect any heart-warming and cute events like in SAO.
Fall 2011 26 Episodes
Mirai Nikki is a psychological thriller that focuses on a survival game and it is way more horror than SAO. Yuki is a middle school student with no dreams or goals in his life. One day, he wakes up to find his cellphone filled with diary entries for the next ninety days. He soon realizes that it’s no coincidence that everything that is written on his phone actually happens. He then finds himself thrown into a survival game against other future diary owners to become the new Lord of Time.
SAO and Mirai Nikki have main characters that are not very social and have bad people skills. They make friends in the game but end up losing them because of the tragedy of the game itself. Mirai Nikki also has a very twisted love story with Yuno obsessing over Yuki in a very yandere way in order to protect him. It can be considered as a darker version of Kirito and Asuna’s romance.
Fall 2011 22 Episodes
After a meteorite crashed into Japan, unleashing the lethal Apocalypse Virus, Shu‘s life changed for the worst. Apathetic towards everything, he spends his time trying to be left alone. But things change when he encounters the beautiful pop star Inori who introduces him to a mysterious power that allows him to turn mortals into weapons. As he is caught between those that seek his newfound power, he needs to decide whether he should join the terrorists and fight the government or just stick to his normal life.
Kirito and Shu share some common traits as they are both considered lone wolves that open up to others and fall in love during their journey. SAO and Guilty Crown are both set in the future even though SAO is taking place mostly within a game. Plus, the art style and fighting scenes really look alike and the romance story is quite intense in both anime.
Moriko Morioka is a 30-year-old who had a successful career but ended up leaving everything behind to become a NEET. She joins an online MMORPG called Fruits de Mer where she creates a male character named Hayashi. In the game, she encounters a high-level player named Lily who helps her learn the game. Meanwhile, she meets a handsome young man in real life who seems to be involved in her online life as well.
This anime is a romantic comedy with no badass action and extreme drama like SAO but they both feature a love story that starts inside a game and where the lines of virtual life and reality are blurred. A cute story that is certainly worth your time.
Let the fantasy worlds take you on an adventure
This list starts with virtual reality and gaming-related titles, carries on with high-stakes games, and ends up with romance. As these are the three core elements of Sword Art Online’s plot, you are definitely going to enjoy all of these anime. Don’t try to compare them directly with SAO; this is not a case of which anime is the better one. Just appreciate them for what they have to offer and delve into their beautiful stories.
If you are interested in a list that is all about isekai anime and strictly ‘MMORPG’ related make sure to have a look at the 10 anime like Overlord recommendations list that MANGA.TOKYO has previously written for you.