Was the Sword Art Online Anime Adaptation faithful to the Light Novel?

Sword art online anime and light novels

Just like every anime to ever exist, Sword Art Online anime also has its audience base divided into three categories; haters, lovers, and casual watchers. Despite their different views and feelings for Sword Art Online, they can all agree on one thing, SAO enjoys a prominent position in the history of anime.

This is not only true for the anime but the source material behind it as well, Sword Art Online Light Novels. There are more than 25 volumes of the original light novel along with a complementary addition which is more than 7 volumes. On the other hand, the anime only has around 100 episodes.

This makes us ask a few questions: Are these episodes enough to fit such an expansive and elaborate story? Is the anime faithful to the light novels or does it leave out significant plotlines? This article is an attempt to answer all these questions for you. 

Sword Art Online anime vs. Light Novel: Was the Anime faithful to the Light Novel?

Kirito Light Novel
Kirito, Sword Art Online | Image Courtesy via Crunchyroll

The disparity between the quantity of the available content for the anime and the light novel results in the omission of some aspects from the light novel. There are other changes as well and the pacing can be quite flawed but all in all the anime makes a great attempt at conveying the light novels as faithfully as possible. The magnitude of the changes is also different between different seasons of the anime. 

Season 1 

The first season of Sword Art Online comprises two major arcs: the Aincrad arc and the Fairy Dance arc

  • The Aincrad arc lacks in terms of characterization as it cuts out a lot of inner monologues or the characters and some details that might seem unnecessary on a grand scale of things. If you watch the anime alone, this change might not make a huge difference to you. But once you read the light novel for the Aincrad arc, the anime version seems comparatively shallow. 
  • Other than these changes, the anime rearranges the events of the light novels in chronological order. This is the biggest change and a welcomed one as well. Overall, Aincrad is a faithful and well-done (but not one on one)  adaptation of the light novel. 
  • Fairy Dance makes a few additions as well as omissions. The omitted part is later adapted in a different part but the added part can be considered unnecessary as it alters an important interaction between two characters. 
Season 2
Kirito and Asuna
Sword Art Online | Image Courtesy via Crunchyroll

This season consists of the Phantom Bullet arc, Calibur arc, and Mother’s Rosario

  • When it comes to changes between the light novel and the anime, one thing that sticks out is the lack of inner monologues as compared to the source material. Having their internal struggles at full display helps us get better acquainted with the characters. Season 2 doesn’t face this problem as evidently as the other seasons. 
  • This season is a near-perfect adaptation of the light novel.  
Season 3
Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online anime | Image Courtesy via IMDb

The entire season 3 covers the Alicization arc including the War of the Underworld

  • The novel explains the stakes, the fights, and the characters involved well in this arc. The anime cuts out some details and explanations which makes the events more confusing. The number of light novel chapters adapted per episode becomes high and it shows in the reduced quality of the story. This is especially evident with Kirito’s performance in some fights. 

This is the season where the faithfulness of the anime to the light novel becomes quite questionable. 


While the anime tries to be faithful to the source material, the movies follow a less restricted approach. The source material for the movies is Sword Art Online: Progressive. The movie follows the general storyline but introduces the anime’s original concepts and characters. These changes are delivered in a manner that is not overly off-putting. 


An anime adaptation doesn’t exist to copy and paste the source material but rather to accentuate it. Over the years, we’ve seen how movement and audio-visual mediums can vastly improve the experience of any story. In the process of doing that, changes become a non-negotiable factor, although the changes can be anywhere from minor to anime original endings. 

With Sword Art Online anime, the initial seasons are adapted quite tastefully. The changes that we observe in the later part of the series can also be explained or justified to some extent. Given the restraints regarding time and budget, Sword Art Online Anime is splendidly faithful to the light novel. 

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