Can't Wait? Need it Now?
Sword Art Online hit the anime scene like a wrecking ball, picking up fan after fans that bothered to give it a try since its premiere in 2012. While fans eagerly await the recently announced sequel to Sword Art Online called Gun Gale Online they need a few anime to fill the void.
For those unfamiliar with Sword Art Online, it focuses on a virtual reality Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game called Sword Art Online. Players connect nerve gear to their bodies where they are transported into this virtual world. However, on launch day, thousands of players discover that they cannot log out until they reach the 100th floor of the game's tower and defeat the final boss. The catch is, if they die in the game, they die in real life. The Sword Art Online anime follows the struggles of a few players within the game.
The Sword Art Online Before Sword Art Online
Before there was Sword Art Online, .hack was the king of virtual reality MMOs anime. Pre-dating SOA's original light novels by a solid two years, .hack can even be accredited to inspiring Sword Art Online in a lot of ways.
There are quite a few incarnations of .hack however .hack//Sign follows the story of a young Wavemaster named Tsukasa who wakes up in the MMO called The World with a bit of amnesia. Though he has no memory of what he did, he is suspected of being a hacker of the Crimson Knights. Unable to log out from the game, Tsukasa wanders around trying to find answers to his past.
Like Sword Art Online, but More Violent
Like Sword Art Online both are focused on a guy that is forced to play a game that risks his life as well as the lives of others. He is also forced to beat the game if he wishes to be free. Btooom! follows the story of Ryouta Sakamoto who find himself transported from his room playing the Btooom! video game to a mysterious island. He only has a day's worth of provisions, a bag of bombs, a crystal embedded in his hand and a big hole in his memory.
When the first person he meets tries to kill him, it is only too obvious that someone is trying to re-enact the Btooom! video game.
Less Drama, More Akin to Gamers
Log Horizon is new, only coming out in October 2013, but right from the first episode the similarities between Log Horizon and Sword Art Online are undeniable. Both focus on an MMO where players cannot log out and die in real life if they are killed in the game. However, Log Horizon's biggest difference in respect to Sword Art Online is in their protagonists.
Log Horizon focuses on the MMO named Elder tale which is on it's eleventh expansion pack. It has gathered millions of players, however when thirty thousand Japanese gamers log in for the new expansion they find themselves unable to log out. During this chaos, the socially awkward Shiroe decides to team up with his friends Naotsugu and Akatsuki to face the challenges of this unique new expansion.
For Once A Virtual Reality We're Not Trapped In
Accel World also focuses on virtual realities; however the characters are not trapped within them against their will. Though the real world repercussions of these virtual realities are much more extreme.
The story of Accel World follows Haruyuki Arita who finds himself on the lowest rung on the social ladder at school. Miserable in his own reality, Haruyuki retreats into virtual games. However, his world, virtual or otherwise, all changes when Kuroyukihime, the most popular girl in school introduces him to Accel World.
Different Stories, Similar Main Characters
Unlike the other recommendation, Guilty Crown doesn't take place in a virtual world. The characters in Guilty Crown are not trapped in a game, but rather in a school. However the biggest similarity between Guilty Crown and Sword Art Online is the main characters. Both want to do what needs to be done in their own ways and are willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.
Guilty Crown follows Ouma Shu who mistakenly obtains a rare power call the Right Hand of the King. This power can obtain voids from people that are weapons that are manifested from people's hearts. After joining with a group of people, he joins the fight to restore Japan's government and oust the seat of power from the GHQ organization that has been controlling them.