The best therapeutic modality has not been established for gastric low-grade adenomas or dysplasia (LGD), which can progress to invasive carcinoma despite a low risk. This study aims to investigate the clinical efficacy, safety, and local recurrence after argon plasma coagulation (APC) treatment of gastric LGD compared with endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD). A total of 320 patients with gastric LGD ≤ 2.0 cm treated with APC or ESD between 2004 and 2011 were retrospectively analyzed. We compared local recurrence rate, complication rate, procedure time, and admission to hospital between APC and ESD groups. Of the 320 patients, 116 patients were treated with APC and 204 with ESD. During follow-up, local recurrence was more common in the APC group (3.8 %, 4/106) than the ESD group (0.5 %, 1/188; log-rank test P = 0.036). However, all patients with local recurrence (n = 5) were treated by additional APC, and followed up without further recurrences. ESD was complicated by two perforations (1.0 %, 2/204) compared with no perforations in the APC group (0 %, 0/116). Bleeding complications were not different between the APC (1.7 %, 2/116) and ESD (2.0 %, 4/204) groups. Procedure time was shorter in the APC (7.8 ± 5.1 min) than the ESD (53.1 ± 38.1 min) group (P < 0.001). The proportion of hospitalization was less in the APC group (31.0 %, 36/116) than the ESD group (100.0 %, 204/204) (P < 0.001). APC can be a good treatment option for patients with LGD ≤ 2.0 cm.