Why has Sword Art Online sold so many light novel copies?
Sword Art Online had a rough time on social media in the 2010s, mostly because of:
- Certain media outlets.
- Elitist fanboys.
And everyone else peddling the hate train that depicted SAO as the worst anime of all time (or close to it).
But despite this perception, it’s still the best-selling light novel, 2nd only to the franchise A Certain Magical Index.
And the anime dominated charts multiple times, surpassing Your Name’s sales when it aired with the SAO movie: Ordinal Scale.
Let’s talk about why SAO is in the position it is and why it managed to sell so much despite fans in the West demonizing it for clicks, views, and a few dollars on the internet.
Here’s a list.
1. A little bit of luck
Luck plays a role in a lot of things in life. Some luck is created with hard work and effort; the rest is down to chance and life.
SAO had both. The author created SAO in the 2000s and made it into a light novel in the late 2000s and the anime in the early 2010s.
During the 2000s era, the Isekai trend wasn’t even a thing. Nobody cared for the concept, the idea, or even the term. It wasn’t until later that it became a thing, and SAO was positioned well to benefit from it.
Leading to the next point.
2. Very good timing
As mentioned already, SAO was well positioned, partly because of luck but not completely, of course.
During the 2010s, Isekai was still not a thing of importance to anime fans until SAO’s anime aired and changed the game completely.
In fact, it even shows on a graph when you look at Google trends’ statistical data.
For example, if SAO aired 10 years earlier as an anime, it wouldn’t have taken off because the timing wasn’t right.
Anime had matured to a degree in the early 2010s and reached a point it never did in the past, and pirate websites played a role in this. And this also, in turn, helped anime like SAO shoot off like a rocket.
3. Consistency over the years
Sword Art Online is the oldest Isekai series there is if we’re talking about consistency by itself. Not only did the light novel pump out content, but the anime took things to the next level.
And then they released a 2nd season, a 3rd season, a 3rd season part 2, various video games, and anime movies in between.
Plus, plenty of collaborations kept SAO in the limelight. Sword Art Online never stopped being consistent, which matters in the grand scheme of things.
4. Giving fans what they want
This piggybacks off the last point. With the consistency came giving fans what they wanted. That included more content, whether it was video games, the anime itself, projects they worked on, and so on.
This also includes Sword Art Online anime figures, toys, and merchandise.
And even in recent years, they’ve made movies that patch up the original story and portray it a lot better than the anime was able to with its first season.
And this is far from the end.
5. Ignoring Western fans with the “Twitter” mindset
Some anime authors or manga authors have fallen victim, at least once, to the Twitter mentality of certain Western fans. And have pleaded with their stupid demands.
Uzaki Chan had a moment where they let feminists from a different country tell Japanese people how they should “advertise” a blood donation campaign and that Uzaki Chan was “too lewd” or attractive through Twitter.
They learned quickly and patched that up, and ignored Western fans going forward.
Sword Art Online never fell for this and never paid it any mind. They just continued to produce content for those who actually gave a shit about their product.
6. Learning from the .hack series
This is just my assumption and opinion, but the DOT HACK series came out in the early 2000s with the same concept as SAO. In fact, it’s the reason SAO has such a concept, you could say.
The problem was DOT HACK’S timing was off the mark. Nobody cared for that in the early 2000s since they cared more about Shounen (Naruto, FMA, One Piece, etc).
In the 2010s, things changed as access to anime changed. And more and more fans started caring for fantasy/isekai style series, which SAO may have learned from (or not).
Maybe it was just a little bit of luck, and the author didn’t learn from DOT HACK at all.
7. Making the Isekai trend “interesting”
Sword Art Online is an Isekai series that does things differently. And it’s not the first.
The definition of Isekai is “another world”. It’s that plain and simple.
Sword Art Online merged this idea with a virtual reality world where the players are trapped and forced to fight each other to survive and return home to the real world.
And this “other world” is where they spend most of their time. The idea was fresh at the time, and the anxiety of the first few episodes helped set the stage and market the franchise.
Can’t forget the controversy when it comes to anime like Sword Art Online.
The first season didn’t have controversy so much, maybe some. The 2nd season had some controversy and some moments where it caught mass attention (and criticism) from the internet.
The attempted r*pe scene is an example.
The 3rd season did this again with the introduction of characters Ronye and Tiese, not to mention the tentacle scene with Leafa.
Pair all this with the controversy stirred on social media and YouTube by clickbaiters and sensationalists, and you start to see how all this attention played a role in SAO’s marketing.
Not to mention the franchise gaining massive amounts of attention, which it’s always been good at, and selling many more light novels collectively.
9. Being an OG in the Isekai space
This is just a fact because of the timing of the franchise, the anime, and the novels themselves. When you start early, you benefit later as long as you’re consistent with your content, material, or business.
Being an OG or “the father” of a trend makes you automatically relevant and helps you benefit in the sales department since you’re established and well-known.
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