Set in the not-so distant future, of advanced virtual reality and augmented reality. Sword Art Online has become a bit of a phenomenon within our cultural sphere, spawning numerous adaptations from: anime series, to movies, to video games and several manga titles. With its popular status, SAO has attracted a ton of scrutiny, the bulk of which being some form of "WTF! Why rush through the Aincrad arc?!" Well I guess the author, Reki Kawahara took a lot of the criticisms to heart, as he strives to reboot the Aincrad Arc of the franchise, with this latest iteration Sword Art Online: Progressive.
Not so much in this Manga adaptation.
Which immediately skips over any sort of prologue and thrust the reader and main character, right into the thick of it. So even those who have watched the series and or read the light novels will still be gifted with something fresh & different. As it begins from the perspective of the intelligent, yet dissatisfied highschool girl, Asuna. Who so happens to wind up trapped in a new VRMMORPG, with little to no knowledge of even the most basic of game mechanics. After being saved from perma-death, by the solo swordsman Kirito and his sly informant Argo; Asuna gradually learns about the death game she has gotten herself stuck in and the people she will eventually call friends. And from these few available volumes, I can tell that the author is putting much greater thought into the story, even with a fair amount of skipped content from the LN version. It still finds time to flesh out the world, the game mechanics and the nuanced characters.
Characters like Asuna, I feel are the right choice for main character, since she is as ignorant as some of us readers, on the new world she's found herself stuck in. Of course I am aware this is a rudimentary method of providing exposition, but it does allow this story to become more of a journey than a power fantasy. What makes the characters interesting in this iteration is that there's a great deal more context to their actions. And it achieves that without bogging down the story with numerous flashbacks and monologues, beyond the initial volume.
When it comes to the artwork of SAO: Progressive, only one word comes to mind... "clean". The artwork is just very clean, with simple panel arrangements making it easy to follow the flow of action. But that's not to say that detail isn't put into those panels, as a great deal of it is put into emphasising how menacing the bosses are. Then again what really made me fall in love with the artwork of this manga has to be with how it's able to express so much without dialogue. "Show, don't tell". So many examples of this are littered throughout the manga. With no dialogue it's able to express to the reader just how much Asuna has developed as a character.
So in other words this manga adaptation does actually have its own merits, which a lot of other LN - to - Manga adaptations fail to have. But mind you there are still flaws with this iteration of the story, most notably being the random tonal shifts, whereby the needless jokes are forced into intense battles. And the fact that it only tells the story of the first 3 Floors of Sword Art Online's Aincrad Arc.