#1 The perfect magical girl experience
Sakura Kinomoto is an energetic, friendly, and adorable 10-year-old girl with a secret to keep. Because besides going to school, attending cheerleading practice, and spending time with her friends, Sakura is also the Cardcaptor, a magical girl tasked with collecting the rampant creatures born from the Clow Cards. Creatures she unwittingly released when she discovered the book containing them, and which now play pranks on the people of her city, or outright seek to harm and kill them.
Sakura has to find these creatures and turn them back into cards, that then give her new spells. She does this together with Cerberus, the adorable, plushie-like guardian of the book, and with the help of her best friend Tomoyo. Later on, she is joined by even more allies, as well as some rivals.
Since there is only one magical girl involved, the story has a lot of room to focus on her character and this turns Sakura into one of the most lovable heroes in this genre. We get to see her upbeat daily life in-between action scenes and the way many stories are resolved does a great job at expanding on her character, such as an early chapter where she realizes a monster is hurt and manages to calm and care for it. We also get to learn what she struggles with, mostly in the form of her deceased mother and her romantic troubles. The storylines that deal with this emotional baggage are beautifully handled and can be quite tear-jerking.
The clow cards form a fantastic framework for the story to take place in and allow for a lot of fun adventures. Those 4 big books might seem daunting at first, but you’ll breeze through them in no time.
#2 The Dark Horse releases
It’s kind of hilarious to look over my collection and see the Cardcaptor Sakura books. Four, thick omnibus collections with a bright pink cover, cursive title, and an image of the cute protagonist on it, followed by a pitch black label carrying the edgy name “Dark Horse comics”.
All the Dark Horse releases of CLAMP manga are great and CCS is by far my favorite of them. The large books really allow you to appreciate the fantastic art and hard work that was put into this manga. It’s a clear 10/10 for me in terms of visuals and the nicest addition is that between each chapter you’ll find a number of bonus pages with special drawings of the characters. These characters also get little bios every few pages, which reveal their favorite subjects, foods, and other random trivia.
Truth be told, I don’t know how well other versions of this manga hold up or how many are even available on the market. But if you see these pink tomes somewhere at your local bookstore or online, then that’s the stuff you want!
#3 The romances
CLAMP manga have always been at their best when they involved romance and Cardcaptor Sakura is a clear example of such. While romance isn’t a main objective within the story, it is part of many of the characters’ arcs and backstories. As Sakura works to capture the Clow Cards, romance often rears its head in one form or another.
What I like about its inclusion here is the same quality I enjoyed in Toradora, namely that the romances develop over time. At the start of the story, Sakura is romantically interested in her older brother’s best friend, a kind young man with a hearty appetite called Yukito. As the story then continues, we get to see how she copes with these feelings and how her perception of Yukito changes as she learns more about him, other boys enter her life, and it becomes apparent that people other than Yukito are interested in her. Meanwhile, many of the side-characters also have their own romantic ordeals, which get a fair few pages to develop too.
The stories are also inclusive, featuring characters that are openly homosexual or bisexual, which is interesting and much appreciated.
#4 The costumes
The quality of a magical girl is often linked to how cool her outfit is and here too Cardcaptor Sakura wins prizes. Instead of sticking with just one costume, Sakura’s friend Tomoyo makes a hobby out of designing new outfits for her.
Every encounter will see Sakura don a new outfit. Some of them are cute, some look cool, and others are just plain hilarious. It’s a creative effort to make so many different clothes, some of which are only worn for a few panels. And hey, despite not having 1 consistent outfit, I’d still rank Sakura as one of the most recognizable characters in shojo manga.
It may be strange to include this point since it turns this into 6 reasons and 6 is a weird number, but I gotta express my love for Toya. I am an older brother myself and I can totally relate to this guy. He and I, we both know how great it is to pick on little sisters, even though you actually love them.
Over the course of the story, however, Toya evolves from a regular older brother into the best older brother. Indeed, he surpasses all older brothers out there, all those who went before him and all who would follow in his wake. There is no older sibling as cool, reliable, handsome, and loving, as Toya.
#6 The anime was hardly optimal
Cardcaptor Sakura was adapted into anime by Studio Madhouse in 1998, when the manga was at about its midway point. Now, Madhouse is a fantastic studio and Morio Asaka is a kick-ass director. The man would even return 20 years later to do the sequel. Still, I can’t say that I enjoy the anime at all.
Despite counting 12 volumes, the manga version of this story is actually rather concise and never outstays its welcome at any point. The anime, on the other hand, somehow ended up counting 70 episodes, ran for 2 whole years, and has movies attached to it. The manga has 19 Clow Cards to collect, each with a very specific storyline attached to them, while the anime has 52 of the buggers. Some of the episodes just devolve into utter nonsense, like Sakura finding one of the cards while casually cleaning the house.
That is, if you even get to see the original version. The American release that also dominated in other western regions, including the Dutch dub that we got, all use a butchered version of the story that was heavily edited. Renamed to Cardcaptors, the story was cut up, reordered, characters were given different names, roles, and personalities, it’s a whole different and infinitely less interesting product. And I hope all that effort to rework the story was worth it, because I am a boy, I watched anime in the late 90s, and I distinctly remember not giving a shit about Cardcaptors.