A Japanese shōjo manga series written and illustrated by the manga group Clamp. The manga was originally serialized in Nakayoshi from May 1996 to June 2000, and published in 12 tankōbon volumes by Kodansha from November 1996 to July 2000. The story focuses on Sakura Kinomoto, an elementary school student who discovers that she possesses magical powers after accidentally freeing a set of magical cards from the book they had been sealed in for years. She is then tasked with retrieving those cards in order to avoid an unknown catastrophe from befalling the world. The series was adapted into a 70-episode anime TV series by Madhouse that aired in Japan's NHK from April 1998 to March 2000. Two anime films were produced by Madhouse in August 1999 and July 2000. Ten video games were produced based on the series. Kodansha published art books, picture books and film comics for the manga and anime series. Tokyopop released the manga in English in North America from March 2000 to August 2003. After Tokyopop's license for Cardcaptor Sakura expired, Dark Horse Manga acquired the license and released the series in omnibus editions from October 2010 to September 2012. Nelvana licensed the TV series and first film for North American broadcast and distribution, renaming it Cardcaptors. All 70 episodes were dubbed; while other English-speaking territories received the full run, the version aired on American television was heavily edited into 39 episodes. Cardcaptors aired on Kids' WB, Cartoon Network and Teletoon. The TV series and films were sub-licensed by Geneon, which released them unedited with English subtitles. The TV series was also later released by Madman Entertainment after Geneon's license expired in 2006. Critics praised the manga for its creativity and described it as a quintessential shōjo manga, as well as a critical work for manga in general. The manga series was awarded the Seiun Award for Best Manga in 2001. The TV anime adaptation was praised for transcending its target audience of young children and being enjoyable to older viewers. The artwork in the anime was also a focus of attention, described as above-average for a late-1990s TV series, and Sakura's magic-casting scenes were complimented for being nearly unique because of the regular costume changes. The TV anime won the Animage Grand Prix award for Best Anime in 1999. The American edit of Cardcaptors, however, was heavily panned by critics who called the editing "ridiculous", cutting out character backgrounds essential to understanding the plot.
Cardcaptor Sakura begins when ten-year-old fourth grader Sakura Kinomoto accidentally releases a set of magical cards called Clow Cards from the Clow Book, created and named after half-English, half-Chinese sorcerer Clow Reed. Each card has its own personality and characteristics and can assume alternate forms when activated. The guardian Beast of the Seal Cerberus emerges from the book and tells her it is now her responsibility to retrieve the missing cards. As she finds each card, she battles its magical personification and defeats it to seal it away. Cerberus acts as her guide, while her best friend and second cousin Tomoyo Daidouji films her exploits and provides her with battle costumes. Sakura's older brother Toya Kinomoto watches over her, while pretending that he is unaware of what is going on. A boy Sakura's age and descendant of Clow Reed, Syaoran Li, arrives from Hong Kong to recapture the cards himself. Their relationship is rocky, because he believes that he deserves the cards more than Sakura. However, he comes to respect Sakura and instead begins aiding her as he spends more time with her. Once Sakura captures all of the cards, she undergoes the Final Judgment, presided over by Yue, the cards' second guardian, who tests Sakura to determine if she is worthy of becoming the cards' true master. Yue is the true form of Yukito Tsukishiro, Sakura's crush and her brother's best friend. Sakura is aided by her teacher Kaho Mizuki, who was sent by Clow to ensure Sakura is able to pass the test, because he chose Sakura to be the cards' new master when he knew he was going to die. Sakura passes the test and becomes the new master of the Clow Cards. Life for Sakura is initially peaceful until a boy Sakura's age, Eriol Hiiragizawa, transfers from England, which coincides with new disturbances occurring in Tomoeda. Suddenly unable to use the Clow Cards, Sakura transforms her wand and creates a new incantation, which can transform a Clow Card into a Sakura Card. As strange events continue, Sakura gradually transforms each card into a Sakura Card, unaware the events are being caused by Eriol and two guardian-like creatures, Spinel Sun and Ruby Moon. Yue begins to grow weaker, because he requires magical support from Sakura, but her magic is not yet strong enough to sustain him. Toya gives all of his magical abilities to Yue in order to ensure Yukito does not die. Sakura eventually deals with the pain of Yukito's gentle rejection of her feelings, as he instead loves Toya. Syaoran consoles Sakura, while finding himself falling in love with her, but is unsure of how to tell her. When only the Light and Dark Cards remain to be converted, which must be done together, Eriol reveals to Sakura he was behind all of the strange events. After the cards are transformed, Eriol explains that he is half of the reincarnation of Clow Reed, with Sakura's father being the other half. Eriol, who has Clow's memories and magical abilities, aided Sakura in converting the cards so they would not lose their magic powers. Before returning to England, Eriol asks Sakura to split his magic between himself and her father, so that he will no longer be the most powerful magician in the world. Afterwards, Syaoran confesses his love to Sakura, but she is unsure how to respond. Sakura is hurt and upset when he tells her he is returning to Hong Kong, and comes to realize she loves him too after talking with her friends. She rushes home to make a teddy bear for him and confesses to him as he leaves for the airport and he promises to return when he has taken care of some things. Two years later, Syaoran moves back to Tomoeda permanently. They embrace and Sakura happily exclaims that they will be "together forever." The plot of the anime series is extended, featuring 52 Clow Cards from the manga's original 19, and certain scenes are stretched and delayed, such as Cerberus' true form not being revealed until just before Yue's appearance. Sakura creates a 53rd card, Hope, a talent she is not shown to have in the manga. Some of the circumstances around the capturing of the cards is changed, such as Syaoran capturing several cards himself and being tested by Yue in the Final Judgment. Syaoran's cousin and fiancee Meiling Li is introduced in the anime, who positions herself as a romantic rival for Sakura later in the series. The role of Sakura's father as the second half of Clow's reincarnation and the splitting of Eriol's magic is removed from the ending. The TV series leaves the relationship between Sakura and Syaoran unresolved, but Sakura confesses her love to Syaoran at the end of the second anime film.
A 70-episode anime TV series adaptation produced by the animation studio Madhouse aired in Japan on the NHK television network spread over three seasons. The first season, consisting of 35 episodes, aired between April 7 and December 29, 1998. The second season, with 11 episodes, aired between April 6 and June 22, 1999. The third season, containing 24 episodes, aired between September 7, 1999 and March 21, 2000. Directed by Morio Asaka, Clamp was fully involved in the project, with head writer Nanase Ohkawa writing and composing the screenplay and Mokona overseeing the costumes and card designs. The series also aired across Japan by the anime satellite television network Animax, which later broadcast the series across its respective networks worldwide. The series was later released by Bandai Visual to 18 VHS, LD and DVD compilation volumes from September 1998 to May 2000. Nelvana licensed Cardcaptor Sakura in North America, which dubbed the series into English and released it under the name Cardcaptors. The initial version of the dub covered all 70 episodes and were left mainly intact, although character names were changed, some Japanese text was changed to English, and controversial subjects such as same-sex relationships were edited out. The musical score and sound effects were completely replaced with new music and sound effects, although the opening and ending themes were dubbed into English. This version aired in Australia on Network Ten and Cartoon Network, in Ireland on RTÉ Network 2, in the UK on CiTV and Nickelodeon, and in Canada on Teletoon (which also aired the episodes with a French dub). Animax Asia created an English dub of the series as well entirely unedited and uncut, which it broadcast on its English-language networks in Southeast Asia and South Asia. Cardcaptors first aired in the United States on Kids' WB between June 17, 2000 and December 14, 2001. The version aired on Kids WB featured heavily edited and reordered episodes, with some episodes left out completely. The editing to the original dub was done to refocus the series to be more action oriented for the appeal of male viewers, as they were seen as the largest audience of animation at the time. The first episode aired in Kids' WB's version was "Sakura's Rival", the eighth episode of the series, having removed episodes focusing on Sakura and to have the show start with Syaoran's arrival. The series ran for 39 episodes, changing the original episode order but finishing with the show's actual final episode. Pioneer Entertainment released the dubbed Cardcaptors episodes to nine VHS and DVD compilation volumes from November 2000 to July 2002. It also released the unedited Cardcaptor Sakura series with the original Japanese audio tracks and English subtitles, to 18 DVDs from November 2000 to November 2003; the first 11 volumes were also released in VHS. Pioneer also contracted with Nelvana to release the dubbed episodes. The Cardcaptor Sakura TV series DVDs went out-of-print at the end of 2006 when the license expired. Madman Entertainment licensed the original Cardcaptor Sakura episodes in its uncut form with Japanese audio and English subtitles, and later released the series in two DVD box collections, one consisting of season one and the other consisting of seasons two and three. Each DVD box set contained the textless openings and endings of the series; the second DVD box set also contained an exclusive interview with Sakura Tange, Sakura Kinomoto's voice actress. The first DVD box collection was released in September 2012, and the second DVD box collection was released in November 2012.