• Tokyopop (1999–2003)
• Kodansha (Nakayoshi, 1996–2000)
• Shôjo, Magical Girl, Fantasy, Romance
• All Ages
Cardcaptor Sakura isn’t just one of the best kids’ manga in translation, it’s one of the very best manga available in English, period. When ten-year-old Sakura Kinomoto opens a mysterious book in her father’s study, she lets loose a deck of magical “Clow Cards.” Cerberus (better known as Kero-chan), the diminutive Guardian Beast, gives Sakura a magic wand and a mission—she must find and seal the escaped Clow Cards before disaster befalls the world. Sakura is aided by her best friend, the camcorder-toting, ultrarich Tomoyo, and indirectly by her watchful brother, Toya. Soon, Sakura meets her greatest rival and eventual partner, Li Syaoran, a Chinese boy who is descended from the one who made the cards. Sounds like a perfectly conventional, utterly forgetable premise, right? CLAMP isn’t just a talented creative team—its members are shrewd businesswomen, and Cardcaptor Sakura was clearly crafted with merchandising in mind (Sakura’s dozens of outfits, the collect-’em-all Clow Cards, adorable mascots). But in spite of these calculated elements, the series is brimming with warmth and joy and wonder that make the series much more than the sum of its parts. At its core, Sakura is about love in all its many forms: sibling love, childhood crushes, unrequited love, true love. There are too many romantic pairings to mention here, and each is handled with respect and without judgment. (The relationship of one of Sakura’s classmates with a teacher, if seen as wish fulfillment, is sweet, but if taken too seriously is a bit disturbing.) CLAMP seems so uninterested in the collection quest formula they set up that in the second story arc (called “Master of the Clow” in Tokyopop’s release), the cards disappear for chapters at a time to make room for the relationships. The artwork was a huge departure for CLAMP at the time of its release, cutting down on tones and using much thinner lines—the antithesis of X/1999 visually as well as thematically. A real treat for manga readers young and old.