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From Googling around a bit I've gotten the impression that:

  • The Light Novels (LNs) are the source material
  • The "Progressive" novels (PNs) expand upon the source material
  • The Manga was adapted from the source and contains no new content
  • The Anime was adapted from the source and contains no new content

Though I'm not certain about any of those.

Assuming I'm correct, I'm unclear in what order the LNs and PNs should be read. For instance, I would expect it to flow best if I read the PN 'filler' that takes place in SAO before moving beyond Aincrad in the LNs. Assuming I'm incorrect, I have no idea in what order to intersperse each of the types of written materials.

In what order should I read written materials to cover all available relevant information in appropriate chronological order without spoilers?

So far I have read nothing, and watched the first two anime seasons plus the movie (all dubbed).

  • The 'Progressive' books are more of a rewrite than an expansion -- there are too many differences and retcons for them to be just different tellings of the same story. You shouldn't think of them as "filler." – Lucas Y. Apr 17 at 16:23
  • @LucasY. Would it make more sense to read only the Progressive books then? Or would I be missing story that is only in the LNs? My goal is to experience all of the available content, but in the appropriate order. – Nicholas Apr 17 at 16:48
  • If you want the version of the story that is portrayed in the anime, you want the original LNs, but keep in mind that they are not in chronological order. Meanwhile, after some overlap at the very beginning (the start of the story through the first floor boss), Progressive then continues into territory the original story (and anime) did not cover at all. – Lucas Y. Apr 17 at 17:08
  • I've only read the first two light novels (the Aincrad storyline), but based on that you're right to say the manga and anime contains no new content. The anime is surprisingly faithful to the light novels (there's very little from the books that didn't make it in), and nothing was changed or added. – PlutoThePlanet Apr 17 at 20:05
  • @PlutoThePlanet That's great to hear. The unavoidable differences between movie and book are always unsettling for whichever is experienced second. It makes it far more enjoyable when they're minor. – Nicholas Apr 17 at 20:33
2

My time has come.

TL;DR: Anime season 1 is LNs 1-4. Season 2 is LNs 5-8. Read Progressive after watching seasons 1-2. Alicization eps 1-25 is LNs 9-14.


Your four bullet points are mostly correct, though the Alicization anime added a handful of tie-ins to Ordinal Scale in its first few episodes.

Basically, if you want the full main story, read the light novels in numerical order.

  • Anime season 1 covers volumes 1-4 plus one of three short stories from volume 8. This is the Aincrad arc (volumes 1-2 and part of 8) and Fairy Dance arc (volumes 3-4). The shortest of the stories from volume 8, taking place just before Progressive volume 1, was never adapted.
  • Anime season 2 covers volumes 5-7 plus another short story from volume 8. this is the Phantom Bullet arc (volumes 5-6) and the Calibur (part of volume 8) and Mother's Rosario (volume 7) side stories.
  • The first Alicization anime covers volumes 9-14 (with some cuts for time), and the Alicization: War of Underworld anime will (presumably) cover volumes 15-18. This is collectively the Alicization arc.
  • Progressive is an expansion on the original Aincrad arc that, thus far, fits mostly nicely into the main canon, only retconning a tiny handful of statements in the narration of the first main series volume. Progressive can be read after completing main series volume 2 (or the first half of anime season 1), though I recommend you complete through at least volume 8 (or anime season 2). The Progressive manga changes a number of characterizations, so I recommend the novels over the manga. Anime season 1 episode 2 is a heavily-abridged version of half of Progressive novel volume 1.
  • Extra Edition is a "movie" whose first half recaps anime season 1 and whose second half is an entirely-optional but fun filler story.
  • Ordinal Scale, as I'm sure you're aware having seen it, takes place between volumes 8 and 9, or after anime season 2 and before the Alicization anime.
  • Alternative: Gun Gale Online is a spinoff series following a different set of characters who play the GGO game from the Phantom Bullet arc. There's an anime which adapts the first three novels pretty faithfully. AGGO is set after main series volume 6 (or the first half of anime season 2).

There's a few other odds and ends (plus a second Alternative series) that unfortunately haven't been localized yet.

I hope this helps! Enjoy the series!

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