When it comes to Sword Art Online, a very common adage arises, and that's "you either love it, or you hate it". The divisive anime exploded in popularity after its release, much to the delight of many, and the irritation of others.
The world of virtual reality gaming, MMORPG's, and epic sword fights is full of action, romance and quirky characters, but it's also incredibly inconsistent. When watching the series through the first time, you'll be mesmerised by some incredible sequences and the great dynamic between the lead characters, but will also find yourself scratching your head wondering why certain decisions were made.
SAO's narrative directions, visual style and alternate worlds have felt different during each arc, and that has helped to make the series feel anthology-like. If you don't enjoy one season, you only need to wait for the next one to try something else entirely.
Ultimately, it's a very up and down series, with soaring highs and crushing lows, but by taking the good with the bad, it can be easy to discuss what makes this anime so special.
(This list will only include the mainline anime, and thus Ordinal Scale and Gun Gale Online Alternative won't be included, but both deserve an honourable mention.)
7. Alfheim Online - Season 1, Part 2
It really could be nothing else. The second half of season one, otherwise known as the Fairy Dance Arc, is such a poor example of an anime reinventing itself that it's easy to see why many viewers thought they'd be done with the series.
The land of Alfheim did have some plus points, but the overwhelming majority of the season was made up of awkward choices and character destroying moments.
In this arc, Kirito - freshly escaped from SAO - ventures to a new VR game called Alfheim online to save Asuna who's still trapped in the Nerve Gear. Alongside this is a narrative with his cousin Sughua as she plays the game with Kasuto and battles her feelings for him.
The pseudo-incestuous angle between Kirito and Sughua is uncomfortable and continues the trend of female characters falling in love with Kirito. It does have some great emotional moments but felt like a baffling romantic choice.
However, the worst aspect of the arc has to be the treatment of Asuna. She went from being a badass second in command and dual protagonist to a damsel in distress who's quite literally trapped in a birdcage. It was disappointing character assassination, and the new VR world didn't distract from it.