Sword Art Online Watch Order: The Complete Guide

Sword Art Online Watch Order

Sword Art Online used to be the most despised anime, despite its newfound popularity among anime enthusiasts. However, the series was a forerunner in popularizing the entire isekai genre. Although SAO had issues ranging from storyline to characters because it was a first of its kind, it was entertaining.

Now, on top of the three seasons, there is some additional Sword Art Online content and thing can get a bit confusing, so here is the complete Sword Art Online watch order. If you’re going to watch Sword Art Online, do so in the following order:

Sword Art Online Watch Order by Release Date [At a Glance]

  • Season 1: Sword Art Online (2012)
  • Season 2: Sword Art Online II (2014)
  • Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online (2018)
  • Season 3, Part 1: Sword Art Online: Alicization (2018–19)
  • Season 3, Part 2: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld (2019–20)
  • Season 3, Part 3: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld Part 2 (2020)
  • Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night (2021)
  • Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of a Dark Dusk (2022)

How Many Episodes and Seasons Does Sword Art Online Have?

Sword Art Online began as a series of light novels before it actually received an anime adaptation, which began on July 8, 2012. As of November 2021, Sword Art Online has a total of 96 episodes spread across three seasons of the anime.

The first season, Sword Art Online, has 25 episodes and was released between July 8, 2012 and December 23, 2012. It adapted the Aincard and Fairy Dance sub-arcs.

The second season had a total of 24 episodes and aired between July 5, 2014 and December 20, 2014. It adapted the Phantom Bullet main arc, as well as the Calibur and Mother’s Rosario side arcs.

The most recent, third season has a total of 47 episodes and was split into three parts. It adapted the seven parts of the Alicization arc. The first set of episodes aired between October 7, 2018 and March 31, 2019, broadcasting a total of 24 episodes. The next batch had a total of 12 episodes and aired between October 13, 2019 and December 29, 2019, with the final 11-episode arc airing from July 12, 2020 to September 20, 2020.

The series will continue with two movies, which are going to adapt the Progressive series.

How Many Movies Does Sword Art Online Have?

As of November 2021, there are two released Sword Art Online movies and an upcoming one, scheduled for 2022 release.

The first movie, Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale, was released in 2017 and featured an original story that is part of the Sword Art Online canon.

The second movie, Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night, was released in 2021, and is the first adaption of the Progressive series. A sequel, titled Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of a Dark Dusk, is scheduled for a 2022 release.

Sword Art Online by Chronological Order [At a Glance]

Thus, for your viewing convenience, below is a list of the complete Sword Art Online anime, arranged chronologically:

  • Season 1: Sword Art Online
  • Sword Art Online: Extra Edition
  • Season 2: Sword Art Online II
  • Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
  • Sword Art Online Movie: Ordinal Scale
  • Season 3, Part 1: Sword Art Online: Alicization
  • Season 3, Part 2: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld
  • Season 3, Part 3: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld 2nd Season
  • Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night (2021)
  • Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of a Dark Dusk (2022)

Sword Art Online Chronological Watch Order

1. Season 1: Sword Art Online

Sword Art Online Watch Order: The Complete 2021 Guide

There’s no doubt that Sword Art Online is a beautiful anime to look at. On the surface, it appears to be a surefire winner with a strong premise and plenty of action. 

And, despite multiple time jumps and a few tough character decisions, the first 14 episodes show immense character. However, when the series moves into its second half, the show’s dynamics shift. Also, any sense of suspense and excitement that had built up in the first half dissipates. 

There’s potential here, but it’s squandered by some dubious writing and stereotypical characters, making this anime more disappointing than it should be. Additionally, the episodes alternate between slow-paced filler and fast-paced drama and action, and a one-time jump propels the characters two years forward. 

The first half of this season undoes the excellent work of the first, moving the show in a completely different direction. Also, after a perfect mid-season finale, the second half of this season buries the brilliant work of the first, creating an unexpected turnaround.

Sword Art Online being a visual treat, manufactures spectacular effects, bright and brilliant colors. Thus, these blend with conventional RPG components like health bars and objects. 

When enemies are defeated, they shatter into crystallized shards. Nevertheless, the majority of the series is dominated by an orchestral tune, giving the impression that these protagonists are in an MMO. Thus, the colors blend beautifully, and the hand-drawn anime style adds charm to every scene. 

The level of detail and color use is consistent throughout the series, even when it takes a different direction. Therefore, this later on, gives Sword Art a visual advantage over other animes.

RELATED: 35 Best Anime Like Sword Art Online You Need to Watch

Sword Art Online features some stunning animation as well as some exciting action scenes. In addition, the main characters Asuna and Kirito, have excellent voice acting, and the sound quality is excellent overall.

Kirito/Kazuto being the show’s central character embodies the current definition of a “Gary Stu.” He is utterly devoid of personality, yet for no apparent reason, he excels at everything he attempts. 

He’s a fantastic player, a super sleuth, a ladies’ man, and a master hacker all rolled into one. He’s capable of completing any task. However, there’s no explanation given for this, other than the fact that he’s that good.

2. Sword Art Online Progressive: Aria of a Starless Night

In 2022, Akihiko Kayaba created a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role-playing game (VRMMORPG) called Sword Art Online (“SAO”). The NerveGear was a second-generation FullDive machine or helmet that was created by the company called Argus, by the intelligent scientist Akihiko Kayaba.

It has a single interface that covers the entire head and face of the player. It completely controlled the player’s consciousness by redirecting the signals that the brain sent to the body and sending its own waves to stimulate the five senses, so that they could experience and control their game characters with their minds, without any physical movement.

It has its own battery source, as well as a high-frequency electromagnetic microwave transmitter. It was the first virtual reality technology to be mass-produced. On November 6, 2022, 10,000 gamers log into SAO’s cyberspace mainframe for the first time with great anticipation in the next generation of games, but end up only to find that they cannot log out of the game, that is, they are trapped within the creator’s deadly game.

Meanwhile, Akihiko Kayaba appears only to tell the players that if they wish to be free, they must defeat the 100 floors of Aincrad, a castle of steel that is the setting for SAO. That was the only way players could log out, freeing themselves from the clutches of Akihiko’s evil plan.

He also claims that those who suffer kills in the game or forcibly remove the NerveGear out of the game will suffer kills in real life, meaning there will be no return. Asuna Yuuki entered this deadly game. Upon entering the game, she felt very sorry for falling into the trap.

RELATED: 15 Strongest Sword Art Online Female Characters [RANKED]

She decided to isolate herself from larger groups and guilds, formed to attack each floor boss, as there was a danger of being an individual fighter in a guild society made up of increasingly desperate players. Therefore, she vows to fight alone and was a very skilled player who was popularly known as “Lightning Flash”.

Later, she became the vice commander of the Knights of the Brotherhood of Blood. Kazuto Kirigaya, also known as “Kirito” was one of 1,000 testers in the game’s previous closed beta. He has the advantage of previous experience in virtual reality games. On the first day of the raid, he decided to protect other beta testers from discrimination.

He isolates himself from the larger groups and plays the game alone, wearing the mantle of “beater”, an acronym for “beta tester” and “cheater”. Every day has become a struggle for him to survive and overcome fear, that is, to become stronger.

After a month of release, more than two thousand players lost their lives because gamers were unable to survive the ultra-harsh and severe weather of the VRMMORPG. As players progress through the game, Kirito befriended Asuna, as she was a rare and high-level player. They end up in a romantic relationship and were even formally married in the game.

The two decided to fight together in order to free themselves and others from the game and lead a normal life. They also decided to meet, even exchanging real names and addresses in order to continue their romantic relationship.

3. Sword Art Online: Extra Edition

Sword Art Online Watch Order

If you plan on watching season one, then giving it some time for the next season, you should watch this. In essence, you should watch season one, wait for two months, then watch the extra edition. This helps to refresh your memory and get some small bonus with the new scenes, but otherwise, don’t bother.

Have you enjoyed Sword Art Online so much that you’d like to watch it again? Then this is the show for you because this extra edition is essentially the same show as the original. It is wrapped with the same soundtrack, artwork, clips, and even the opening song.

That’s all there is to it.

If you plan on viewing the entire series in one sitting, you should skip this because it’s not necessary for the following episodes in the subsequent seasons.

RELATED: 25 Most Memorable Sword Art Online Quotes

The majority of the film, if not all of it, is a massive recap of season 1 with only Kirito narrating here and there. Nevertheless, there are a few new sequences in the present with characters talking and having fun in their non-gaming lives.

It may be meaningless and likely disappointing to some, but I don’t despise or dislike it. Its sole purpose is to repeat the play’s events and provide a fun little adventure at the end, which it accomplishes, thus achieving the goal. 

It eliminates a lot of the show’s tedious drama, which is a plus. Additionally, the animation is excellent; it’s one aspect of the series that has remained consistent, positive. However, if you’re too lazy to watch the show, I think you’ll be able to grasp the feel of it by watching this.

I understand that some people don’t fancy anime with the previous season’s undertone, but this particular one is an exception. Although it is a repeat quite alright; but still, it’s a must-watch. 

4. Season 2: Sword Art Online II

As much as the SAO franchise makes me clench my teeth, the production value is excellent. Thus, this was no exception, as they created an eye-catching visual show. Even a person with ADD will be drawn in by the brilliant colors of the game environment. Additionally, the battle sequence will have you wetting your pants, and the cinematics is also top-notch.

I can’t say the same with the character designs though. Go ahead to take a still shot, and you’ll notice that every character has the same face, which is beyond laziness. But, well, I suppose God did make us all in his image.

The show’s worst issue, however, is its excruciatingly slow pacing. I’m not kidding when I say that each episode contains around two sentences of the plot.

This time around, it isn’t exciting for a show that is meant to be action-packed. Additionally, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to reduce the first four episodes into a single episode; then, we’d be talking.

RELATED: 20 Strongest Sword Art Online Characters Ranked

Unfortunately, the show never addresses this issue, instead of slamming viewers with filler and dragging itself out as long as possible. At times, it may prove to be unwatchable. Also, the plot may have lost its tension and provides no incentive for the audience to be interested in what is going on. 

I had a reason to care about what was happening inside the computer game in SAO’s first arc because it was life or death. This is because the stakes were high, and lives were on the line. However, aside from spurts of comically contrived melodrama, the leading driving cause for me to care about the virtual world no longer exists in this season. In good measure, The second episode exemplifies this.

The show is still beautifully animated, and the music is still fantastic. However, I’ll also concede that, despite its flaws, SAO has a certain charm to it, which is perhaps why it has gotten so popular.

5. Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online fascinates me greatly. GGO takes a more in-depth look at video games than just a spectacular action extravaganza, unlike other virtual reality articles. Additionally, it has the element of spectacle.

GGO is unlike anything else in the Sword Art Online franchise; for starters, you don’t even have to watch the originals to enjoy this spinoff. However, there are no characters who are related to Kirito.

The original SAO is mentioned a few times, while the new series’ creator, unsurprisingly, constantly attacks the original. Rather than the melodrama and clichéd romance of the original, GGO concentrates on the in-depth features of its game world. Also, the friendship between the actors is a focal point.

Because GGO’s primary focus is on fierce firefights, simple characterization is all it requires. Also, the first episode explains the game’s mechanics in detail so that the rest of the series can follow the established regulations.

RELATED: Sword Art Online Light Novels in Order

While the aesthetics are excellent, the action is surprisingly entertaining, as the protagonist’s planning and tactics are described through conversation.

GGO is plausible because of the writer’s understanding of the inner workings of a complicated video game. Notably, look no further than the thrilling action sequences, which still have stakes, although being a game.

No one of importance ever perished in the first Sword Art Online since they’d be gone forever, but there’s no such story armor in GGO. After all, they’re in a fight to the death, thus it’s unavoidable that the majority of the characters will perish or suffer serious injuries.

GGO is tense to watch in the same sense that a professional streamer is tense to watch. However, you’re rooting for them not just because they’re a fun host but also because you want to see them overcome the insurmountable obstacles they’re up against.

The action spectacle is also well-done; it’s evident that Studio 3Hz had a good time making it. Like The Matrix, there are plenty of slow-mo climactic moments in firefights with bullets flying past players. Also, there are a couple of exciting vehicle battles as well.

6. Sword Art Online Movie: Ordinal Scale

This is a fantastic story with fantastic characters and just the proper romance, action, and suspense.

This is one of the most enjoyable anime films I’ve seen in a long time. Consequently, any attention this film receives is highly deserved.

 You will adore it if you liked the Aincrad arc but thought SAO lost a lot of its edge with the fairy arc and a little with ego. Nevertheless, don’t allow previous SAO to influence your decision; ordinal scale restores, if not improves, the epicness of the Aincrad arc as a whole.

Even more, the film is not a spinoff but instead focuses on character development. Most importantly, it focuses on how Rath got started, leading to the laicization storyline, arguably one of the greatest in the series. Consequently, this is a watch that I strongly suggest.

RELATED: Sword Art Online Games in Order & How Many Are There?

You can detest Sword Art Online all you want, but you can’t dispute that Ordinal Scale improved some character plots. 

This film is just great. If you want to follow the proper timeline of the SAO trip, you should watch the first SAO and SAO II before watching this film. This is coming from a die-hard SAO fan, so take my word for it!

The anime adaptation of SAO is just fantastic. However, I was looking forward to seeing both the dubbed and subtitled versions of the film. Additionally, the entire film is lovely and fascinating; it provides you a glimpse into the future and inspires science nerds to achieve greatness. 

The growth of each character adds a new level of complexity to the plot. I  will undoubtedly add this to my favorites list.

7. Season 3, Part 1: Sword Art Online: Alicization

You probably fall into one of two groups if you’ve made it this far in Sword Art Online.

You may have enjoyed watching Sword Art Online’s magical blend of the time-jumping tale and massive fights in the past. Also, you may be eager for it to finally deliver on its promise with a more paced story and less predictable structuring.

In its most basic form, Alicization, the third season of Sword Art Online, is a mix of the two.

Sword Art Online, like previous seasons, takes place in two timelines: one within the game and the other outside of it. 

However, this time, SAO makes a conscious attempt to combine Gun Gale Online which is the game, and Alfheim. Consequently, this aims to construct a more cohesive storyline to connect all of the past seasons.

Also, the series does an excellent job at throwing in some surprises and small twists along the road. For instance, a twist about Alice’s whereabouts is included, however, it all feels a little too familiar.

Sword Art Online: Alicization is one of the most visually appealing anime I’ve ever seen. In contrast to others, the artwork is very stunning. 

Its backgrounds are colorful and overflowing with tiny, dynamic details. At the same time, graphical elements such as sunlight filtering through tree leaves and excellent color use combine to create a visual extravaganza of wonder and delight.

Character models are detailed, with the signature SAO huge, shiny eyes that pop in every scene. Whatever you may think of the tale, SAO sets an unrivaled standard for craftsmanship and elegance in this genre.

The show is incredibly detailed, with a keen sense of color and fluid animation. Also, the creative way all three seasons are connected is a great touch. Subsequently, the characterization and new virtual world are both exciting and well-designed in general.

8. Season 3, Part 2: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld

Alicization: War of the Underworld 2 attempted to reinvent the franchise as a mature survival thriller. This thriller was designed with philosophical themes, emotional character journeys, and comments on artificial intelligence’s future. Also, Alicization attempted to achieve these objectives, but it fell short. 

The first half was squandered on a virtual battle between two one-dimensional characters. However, because they were artificial intelligence, it wasn’t worth caring about any of them.

SAO Underworld sought to make the most of its themes of identity, loyalty, and love, as it was the longest story arc to date. When we comprehend what SAO Underworld is trying to sell us, it’s easy to see why characters act the way they do.

However, it is crucial to understand that the conflict isn’t about one side attempting to dominate the other. Rather, it is about why characters put their lives on the line.

Overall, the SAO series isn’t all that bad although there are ups and downs to it. In my opinion, SAO Alicization was a significant improvement over the original SAO. 

In this Season, there are no harems and no super OP kirito. That, I believe, was the redeeming characteristic. Also, SAO War Of The Underworld and War Of The Underworld Part Two flip some of the things done correctly in SAO Alicization.

As for the sound, it is as fantastic as always. Again, the animation team did an outstanding job with the direction. Thus, from Kirito vs. the 75th floor boss in SAO, the program has come a long way. 

Despite some incredible animation in action sequences, some scenes have a lackluster animation quality. Thus, using the generic red armored adversaries as the one and the only generic enemy is a simple example. Nevertheless, I strongly advise you to see the movie.

9. Season 3, Part 3: Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld (2nd Season)

The epic climax to Akihiko Kayaba’s quest of producing artificial human intelligence is the 2nd season. Here, Kirito and his comrades must now defend the falling world from those who still believe it is all a game.

The producers threw all of that away this season. Subsequently, the way Part 2 of War of the Underworld was handled left me quite unhappy, with the season possessing no apparent direction. Instead, what was once a straight path of progress has devolved into an enraged round shambles.

We had something to look forward to with War of the Underworld Part 1, at least. Gabriel Miller wished to devour the souls of many people in the Underworld because they were tasty. It wasn’t an exciting or unusual villain, but I thought his design was excellent.

In War of the Underworld Part 2, we were left with extraneous scenes of sexual assault and terribly cringy language. Also, the addition of needless characters only for the sake of nostalgia is unnecessary.

 If they could have done something, having all of these characters return to fight in the Underworld wouldn’t have been such a horrible idea. But, seriously, each introduction follows the same formula. 

The character reappears, takes off some foes, someone yells, they are hit and knocked unconscious for the remainder of the battle, and so on.

Anyway, one main area where War of Underworld Part 2 exceeded my expectations was music and sound design.

The sound design throughout the show was outstanding. Additionally, the clashing of sounds is inexhaustible as it simply sounds and feels so good. Also, I was always excited to hear the various sounds featured in the presentation. 

The explosions were a highlight as well. Additionally, something about the tune had a futuristic air to it that blasted into your eardrums.

Do You Need to Watch Sword Art Online in Order?

Sword Art Online depicts different arcs over its several seasons, and while the arcs are, for the most part, standalone in their narrative, they do follow a lot of the same characters, and seeing their evolution would require you to watch the whole series in the right order. That is why, as far as we are concerned, it is advisable to watch the Sword Art Online works in the proper chronological order.

Will There Be More Sword Art Online Anime?

Seeing how popular the franchise is and how there is a lot of material to be adapted, we’re quite certain that we’ll be seeing more of Sword Art Online in the future. We already know about the upcoming Progressive sequel and season 4 that are coming out next year.

  • Hrvoje Milakovic is co-owner of Fiction Horizon and a big cinephile. Apart from that, he likes to read comics, play games and collect action figures. He has been featured on LifeWire, Yahoo and IMDb, to name a few.