When Sword Art Online aired in 2012, it was almost instantly obvious that we are witnessing the birth of one of the most iconic and legendary anime. Even 10 years later, SAO doesn’t lose its relevance. The franchise is so successful that it has produced more seasons, movies, and even games. If you a die-hard fan of SAO, you probably haven’t missed that a movie and a live-action series are in the works as of 2022. It comes as no surprise that fans are craving more anime like the legendary Sword Art Online.
SAO takes place in the year 2022 when every gamer’s dream becomes reality—people can now experience and control their in-game characters with their minds thanks to a special helmet called Nerve Gear.
A boy called Kazuto Kirigaya is an avid gamer who is more than hyped to join the SAO world. He even previously tested the game as a beta tester. But after 10 000 players log in for the first time to SAO, they are bound to discover that the mad creator of the game disabled the logout button. The only way to get out of the game is to beat all 100 floors of Aincrad, a castle where unique monsters reside on every floor and every dungeon. To make matters worse, if your health bar drops to zero, you will also die in real life too.
We all know the feeling of emptiness after finishing our favorite series. Luckily, there are more anime like Sword Art Online.
Whether you liked the romance, game isekai setting, or the OP protagonist, we have created a complete list of the 20 anime similar to Sword Art Online in one way or another.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, I may earn a small commission, without any extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you!
15. Guilty Crown
In the year 2039, ten years after the outbreak of the Apocalypse Virus Japan nation falls under the control of the CGQ, a military force that restores order at its own judicial discretion. The only organization that dares to oppose them is Funeral Parlor.
Shu is a high schooler who had led an ordinary, boring life until he met a mysterious girl, Inori Yuzuriha who also happened to be a key member of Funeral Parlor. After discovering that he wields the Power of Kings, Shu faces a difficult decision that can change more than his own future.
One could argue that the setting of Guilty Crown is quite different, which is true. But when boiled down to the essentials, these shows are like distant cousins. The MC lives an uneventful life but one day, his life turns upside down & he is forced to put his life on the line. He also meets a girl who will become his “partner in crime” and a love interest too. Sounds familiar? 😉
If you love action anime shows mixed with fantasy, Guilty Crown should be considered.
14. Angel Beats!
SAO fans looking for the ‘stuck in an alternate world’ premise should look no further than Angel Beats!.
In this show, the MC Otonashi awakens in an unusual location, where he meets a rifle-wielding girl named Yuri who informs him that he is dead and that he is in the afterlife. Other than his name, he has no recollection of himself.
Yuri then invites him to join the Afterlife Battlefront, which aims to defeat the “angel” who is apparently evil. Otonashi joins the Battlefront, but instead of fighting the angel, he tries to understand her and falls in love with her.
13. Problem Children Are Coming from Another World, Aren’t They?
Three extraordinary high schoolers gifted with psychic powers get unexpectedly and forcefully transported to an alternate world known as Little Garden. There, all sorts of beings participate in high-stakes games using their special abilities.
This isekai might have a long title but don’t let that confuse you. It’s an amazing but lesser-known isekai anime series like Sword Art Online. For instance, the show has an OP, unmatched protagonist like Kirito who finds himself in another fantasy world. The whole plot revolves around some sort of game.
12. Darwin’s Game
For fans who appreciate the survival aspect of SAO, Darwin’s Game is a game anime series that never disappoints.
The story revolves around Suou Kaname, a boy who gets invited to try out a new cryptic mobile app game called Darwin’s Game. Soon after, he realizes that there is no way to quit the game.
11. Hunter x Hunter
Hunter x Hunter is a shounen anime that is considered a masterpiece by many fans. Excellent world-building, fleshed-out characters, brilliant soundtracks, on-point voice acting, and crisp animation are among the top reasons why I fell in love with it.
It tells the story of Gon Freecss, a young boy who strives to become a Hunter, a licensed, elite member of society who can go almost anywhere and do almost anything. With the help of his newly-acquired friends, he undergoes many challenges in order to reunite with his father who left him at an early age.
While the general premise and the setting are not similar, there is one arc called Green Island that is very much like the fantasy SAO world. For example, if you die in the RPG-like world of Greed Island, you die in real life too. To win, you have to outsmart your foes and use the game system to your advantage.
Do you enjoy seeing a fantasy world filled with beasts, knights, magic, and other fantasy elements? Do you like the premise where the MC ends up transported to another world and forced to fight for survival? Then you should try watching Re:Zero.
The series is about Subaru, a teen boy who one day goes out shopping but when he comes out of the shop, he finds himself in a magical world. He becomes delighted to witness such an exciting phenomenon. This joyful feeling is, however, cut short as it quickly turns into his worst nightmare.
It’s darker and more mature than SAO but there are clear similarities.
9. The Rising of the Shield Hero
Naofumi Iwatani, an ordinary Japanese boy, gets summoned to an alternate world as a “Shield Hero”, the weakest out of the four summoned heroes. Their sole purpose in this world is to fight inter-dimensional hordes of monsters called Waves.
Unfortunately, not all that glitters is gold. Not only is his equipment the weakest, but he also gets betrayed by the sole companion who agreed to follow him on his journey. The future looks grim until he stumbles upon a tanuki demi-human girl and a mysterious egg that later hatches into a bird-like creature.
Both series utilize popular isekai tropes and it was proved to be fruitful. In both SAO and The Shield Hero we have a guy transported to a fantasy-like world where he fights evil to save the world/people, and he is accompanied by a cute girl.
KonoSuba is another ‘boy stuck in a fantasy world’ story but this time, it offers a more light-hearted and parodic take on the isekai genre.
The protagonist is a teen boy who dies a shameful death and is brought before the goddess Aqua. She offers him a new life with his memory intact but there is one catch—he will be reincarnated in a magical world with the task of defeating the demon lord!
Perhaps you enjoyed SAO because of the RPG-like setting with the OP MC who is surrounded by beautiful ladies. If that’s the case, DanMachi should be a good fit. And the MC has the same VA as Kirito!
DanMachi tells the story of Bell Cranel, a young adventurer who operates under the goddess Hestia. As the only member of Hestia Familia, he works every day endlessly, battling various monsters in dungeons, aiming to improve himself as much as possible and become the greatest adventurer in the land.
6. The Future Diary
Amano Yukiteru is a lonely high schooler who spends his days observing others and writing his findings in a cell phone diary. He seems to have no real friends but he finds himself often in conversation with his imaginary friends—The God of space and time, Deus, and his servant.
What a shock will Yuki experience when he finds out that Deus is a real God, proving it by granting him a Random Diary that can predict future events around Yuki. That might seem like a blessing at first glance but only until he discovers that Deus granted additional diaries to 11 other people as well with one goal in mind: the last one standing becomes the next God.
Some people might think that The Future Diary isn’t that similar to SAO because it’s not about an MMORPG game but this assumption is wrong.
It’s a survival game that takes place in the real world. Like in SAO, the characters don’t have a say in it and have to participate whether they want or not. The rules are simple: if you fail, you die.
One of the strongest points of both anime is that there is a romantic storyline between the main couple, which spices it up.
5. Accel World
Fans of SAO are sure to enjoy Accel World as this show is created by the same mangaka. You can’t help but notice that their plot & setting are somehow similar.
Haruyuki “Haru” Arita is a short, overweight boy who is frequently ridiculed by delinquents at the Umesato Junior High School. Using his Neuro Linker to escape the torment of real life, he logs onto the school’s local network cyberspace where he always plays virtual squash alone, and his innate video game skills bring him to the attention of Kuroyukihime (literally meaning “Black Snow Princess”), the school’s popular, highly intellectual and attractive female student council vice-president.
After helping him against the delinquents, Kuroyukihime introduces Haruyuki to Brain Burst, a secret program that is able to accelerate the human cognitive process to the point at which time appears to stop. Haruyuki soon learns that Brain Burst is more than just a program, but an augmented-reality massively multiplayer online (ARMMO) fighting game where people fight each other in fierce duels in order to obtain burst points, which can be spent for acceleration abilities in the real world.
Kuroyukihime then enlists Haruyuki’s help in reaching level 10 within Brain Burst by defeating the “Six Kings of Pure Colour” and ultimately meet the creator of Brain Burst to learn its true purpose. With every challenge they face in the accelerated world, Haru and Kuroyukihime, under their aliases “Silver Crow” and “Black Lotus”, gather trusted allies and confront treacherous enemies. Their bond grows stronger while working to attain their ultimate objective: to reach the highest in-game level and meet the game’s creator, who will reveal why the game was created and its true purpose of it.
Ryōta Sakamoto is a lonely NEET teen. He spends his days playing a shooter game called Btooom! where he is among the top players. Sadly, he doesn’t have any aspirations for the future, which puts a strain on his relationship with his parents.
One day, Ryōta, alongside multiple strangers, gets nominated for a real-life adaptation of Btooom!, and he is involuntarily transported to a secluded island. There, he has to fight and even kill others if he wants to get home in one piece.
Both SAO and Btooom! are about escaping a twisted game/world where one bad decision can cost you your life. The MC was a skilled passionate gamer even before he ended up trapped in the game. To top it off, there is also a sweet romantic story that will remind you of the Asuna/Kirito.
In the same vein as SAO, Overlord centers around an avid gamer trapped in an MMORPG game without a way out.
The anime is very similar to #3 on this list because the MC’s goal is to conquer the new world with no desire to ever return to reality.
Also, keep in mind that the show doesn’t have any other real players trapped there except for the MC. He lives in this world with other NPC who somehow developed personalities on their own.
2. No Game No Life
No Game no Life is another game isekai anime like Sword Art Online that plays with the idea of trapping gamers in a fantasy world where games are the main aspect of life. While SAO characters are trying to desperately escape the gaming world, NGNL characters embrace this new world and wish to achieve their goals there with no desire of returning to the real world.
The series revolves around two genius gamer siblings who dislike the real world. They are famous in various online multiplayer games for being undefeatable.
One day, they receive a strange e-mail challenging them to play a chess game. They willfully accept the challenge and win the game, only to be teleported to a fantasy world. There they meet Tet, the God of Games. During the brief introduction, they find out that everything is resolved by playing games in this realm.
1. Log Horizon
The most similar anime to Sword Art Online is probably Log Horizon. This is due to the characters’ main goal and the setting which are the same as in SAO. The only major difference is that Log Horizon focuses more on the adventure aspect and way less on romance/drama.
In this show, 30 000 players end up stuck in-game with no way to log out.