Having read the premise and a few glances to the anime clips, I suspect it to be .hack wannabe. Sorry. Then I read the novel and once again thought it was very similar to .hack in so many ways. That is, until I realized both .hack and SAO were written nearly in the same time.
I digress. Nonetheless, I have no regret. To .hack fans, Sword Art Online will be very familiar. Trapped in an online game in which death equals to death in real life, solo player Kirito spends two years to help the frontlines clear the game so the players could be back to the real world.
I forced myself to read the second book at the beginning, mainly because the first book is quite weak. Sword Art Online, the title, actually applies only to the first four books. To be fair, even the third and fourth books are just continuation since SAO itself is cleared within one book, and the second book is short stories collection. This is justified because the writer himself (I thought Kawahara Reki is a girl-.-) meant to write a oneshot (which situates between floor 74 and 75 of Aincrad, the stage in SAO). I feel like the first book is too rushed, with too many plothole. Sometimes the author drags too much in unnecessary scenes. This prompted the author to write more about the world of SAO with short stories collection (volume 2 and 8 happen inbetween scenes in volume 1), and some extra stories that now SAO is richer. However, the chronology might be confusing for newcomers, so Reki rewrites the whole Aincrad arc from the beginning, and tell the stories in sequence.
What I didn’t know beforehand is the fact that this series is quite a harem. Loads and loads of girls flock around Kirito and the number rises in every new arc, most of them suffering as damsel in distress before Kirito comes to save the day. At least he’s not undecisive, and official couple is announced early on, but this might put off some readers.