Fun (possible) fact: a lot of people who watch a lot of anime may have started with a card game anime.
Most of the time, these are made to sell something, so the writing and story can be disappointing.
The idea is so focused on making kids happy that it makes no one happy.
So this post won’t rush through a list of every card game show out there. Instead, it will try something different.
Join me as I talk about four anime series that broke the rules to make interesting versions of a formula that had a lot of promise.
21. Yu☆Gi☆Oh! 5D’s
In this series, some duelists fight on moto-dueling disks called “D-Wheel” (“Duel Runner” in the American version), and these duelists are called “D-Wheelers” (“Turbo Duelists” in the American version).
Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D takes place in New Domino Town in the future. When the Ener-D reactor inside the city broke down 17 years ago, it caused a strong earthquake that split the city in two: the Satellite, which was run down and poor, and Neo Domino City, which was the wealthiest and most modern part. Yusei Fudo, a boy from the Satellite, is the main character of the story.
He runs away to the rich city to find freedom for his people. There, he meets Jack Atlas, the King of Turbo Duels, and his old friend who betrayed him by stealing his Duel Runner two years earlier.
He also finds the Stardust Dragon card, which was the only way for Yusei and his friends to leave the Satellite.
In Shinzo, a genetic race made to fight a dangerous virus kills everyone on Earth.
One of the doctors puts her daughter Yakumo into a cryogenic sleep, hoping that she will wake up one day and find human survivors, making peace between them and the Earthlings.
After the people on Earth turned bad, a meteorite hits her and gives her special skills. When she wakes up 500 years later, she goes back to where she was and finds three people from Earth with her.
With their help, she slowly learns the secrets of the past and what really happened on her home world.
19. Chōsoku Henkei Gyrozetter
In the 21st century, when Chsoku Henkei Gyrozetter takes place, Japan made AI cars and cars with artificial intelligence and set up special schools to teach kids how to use them.
Kakeru Todoroki, a fifth-year student at the Arcadia Academy, is picked to drive Gyrozetter, an AI car that can turn into a robot that will save humanity.
18. Future Card Buddyfight
The anime and comics about Future Card Buddyfight take place in the year 2030. With the help of cards from the game Buddyfight and new technology, it is now possible to talk to beings from another world.
Players can call these to their friends, who can then use them in the game. But even though the game is very famous and there are tournaments, some people use the buddies to do bad things.
Ga can now fight against strong opponents, play in tournaments, and face illegal buddy users because he is such a strong buddy.
17. Death Parade
In Death Parade, the story is told from the points of view of two people who wake up in a dark bar. They don’t know yet that they’ve stepped into a dangerous game.
In fact, they have no idea how they got here. Decim, the bartender, and his helper then tell them that they will have to play a bar game (such as darts, bowling, billiards, etc.) and put their lives in the game in order to maybe figure out what happened to them.
16. Digimon Tamers
Digimon Tamers is about a 12-year-old boy named Takato Matasuki. He likes to play the Digimon card game. After playing cards with Kazu and Kenta one day, he finds a strange blue card in his storage box.
His first instinct is to look at it on his plastic Digivice, which starts to shine in an odd way. Takato learns that he has become a “Digimon Tamer” and makes his own Digimon partner, Guilmon, by drawing by accident.
Then, Takato meets two other kids, Henry Wong and Rika Nonaka, who also turn out to be tamers. He gets along well with Henry right away, but it takes them a while to get to know Rika, who thinks the Digimon are “fighting machines” and join forces with them.
As this group comes together, Digimon invade Tokyo, Japan, and the Shinjuku area in particular. They do this by coming through many digital portals.
The Tamers fight them to protect their city, but they are not alone. An group in the government called Hypnos, led by Yamaki, is also trying to get rid of the Digimon to stop these invasions. The group also meets Calumon, a strange Digimon who is the only one who can handle Digivolutions.
Impmon is another out-of-control Digimon that bothers tamers and their Digimon friends. As the attack goes on, the Tamers will face nine Devas in the real world and two more in the Digital World.
Antylamon, the twelfth, will change into Lopmon and become Henry’s little sister Suzie’s Digimon partner.
15. Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler
Kakegurui takes place at Hyakkaou, a special school where only the children of very rich and powerful people are taught.
And since they’ve already learned most of what they need to know from their private tutors, they’re taught at school how to use tactics, be sneaky, and figure out what their opponents are thinking, mostly through games of chance.
Their standing in school changes based on how many wins and losses they have. With Kirari Momobami as head of the student council, a new rule was put in place: students who lose too much money gambling and can’t pay their dues to the student council become slaves to the other students. This is called “pet status.”
The first person this hurts is Ryota Suzui, who loses a lot of money to Mary Saotome. Yumeko Jabami joins the class soon after Ryota is defeated.
Ryota wants to protect the girl because she seems to be very innocent. But in her first game against Mary, Yumeko, who had never played before, showed that she could see through her opponents and beat them.
She frees him from being a slave. From then on, Yumeko plays games with her friends. She has to learn new games, and Ryota helps her.
14. Build Divide
Build Divide is an anime that has been on air since October 10, 2021, and is still going. It is made by Aniplex and licensed by LIDENFILMS, which is also the company.
Even though the season is still going on, Build Divide: Code Black, the second season, is set to air in April 2022.
In the city of New Kyoto, the “King” is in charge. The “King’s” worth is based on how well they play the trading card game Build Divide.
When the “Key” is done, you must take part in a tournament called “Rebuild” in order to face the “King.” If you beat the King in Build Divide, your every wish will come true.
Teruto Kurabe promises to get rid of the King, and a mystery girl named Sakura Banka helps him by taking part in Rebuild.
13. Fantasista Doll
Fantasista Doll is an anime that aired in the summer of 2013. It was made by Amber Film Works and TOHO Animation.
It has 12 episodes, which run from July 7, 2013 to September 29, 2013. The cartoon is licensed by Sentai Filmworks.
Uzume Uno used to win a card game contest, but she hasn’t touched a deck of cards since she went to high school. One day, a strange thing with five strong Fantasista Dolls was given to her.
These dolls are virtual beings with minds that live inside the cards. They have now picked Uzume as their new leader.
There are other masters with their own Fantasista Dolls, and Uzume can fight these masters in competitions.
12. Weiß Survive
Weiß Survive is made by TBS and Bushiroad, and the cartoon is made by Studio Hibari. It aired for the first time in the summer of 2009, from June 6 to September 26.
There were 16 shows in all. Because of how popular it was, it got a second season called Weiß Survive R. It had 12 episodes and aired in the winter of 2010.
The story of Weiß Survive is about Takeshi, who was taken to another world while studying with Michi, the most beautiful girl in his class, one day. Weiss Schwarz Battle Space is the name of the place where he fights.
He is one of the chosen heroes and has to win a few card battles to get back home. He doesn’t know how to play the card game, though.
But luckily, Michi is there with him and can teach him how to play the card game and win. His adventures in the strange world begin when he has to figure out how to deal with his new surroundings.
11. Cardcaptor Sakura
Everyone has heard of the show Cardcaptor Sakura at least once. It started airing in the spring of 1998, and the first 70 shows ran from April 7, 1998, to March 21, 2000.
It is made by NHK, Kodansha, Sogo Vision, and YTV, and the animation is done by Madhouse company. Cardcaptor Sakura is one of the most well-known anime to date.
The story has been made into several spin-offs and movies, and a new anime based on the story came out years later.
It’s a story about Sakura Kinomoto, a fourth grader who is ten years old and finds a strange book with a deck of cards inside.
The card is blown all over the world by a magical wind. Wake up the Beast of the Seal, also known as Keroberos or Kero-chan, in the book.
He will tell Sakura that she has just freed the mysterious Clow Cards, which were made by a sorcerer named Clow Reed.
Each card has amazing skills and can act on its own, which is why they were sealed. Sakura needs to use the skills that Kero-chan gave her to get the cards back in order to stop a disaster that was caused when the cards were let loose.
10. Cardfight!! Vanguard
The first episode of the show aired on January 8, 2011. It was made by TMZ Entertainment.
Because of how well it did, another show with up to six seasons and several spin-offs, including a live-action movie and a play, were made.
Aichi Sendou is a shy junior high school student who was often picked on because of the way he was. Blaster Blade, his trade card from Cardfight!! is the only thing that keeps him going.
Vanguard. Which is a famous trading card game that takes place on a planet called “Cray.”
Katsumi Morikawa, a friend of his, stole his Blaster Blade card one day and chased him to a card shop called Card Capital.
In there, he meets Toshiki Kai, who gave him the Blaster Blade card in the first place. He fights Toshiki Kai and gets his Blaster Blade card back.
From there, he starts to learn about Cardfight!! Go even further ahead.
9. Bakugan Battle Brawlers
The first 52 episodes of Bakugan ran in the spring of 2007. TMS Entertainment and Densu Inc. work together to make the show.
After the first season was a hit, the anime continued with three more seasons that picked up where the first one left off.
When he picks up one of the cards falling from the sky, Dan Kuso’s life changes. He and his friend Shun then made a game called “Bakugan” and started a group called “Bakugan Battle Brawlers” with some of their other friends.
Soon, they are pulled into a fight over Vestoria, which is another world where the Bakugan live. The balance of Vestoria is threatened by a Bakugan named “Naga,” which forces Vestoria to join with Earth and other worlds.
Now, Dan and his friends have to stop Naga from getting stronger and taking full control of Earth and other worlds.
8. Z/X: Ignition
Z/X: Ignition was first shown in Winter 2014, with 12 episodes running from January 10, 2014, to April 3, 2014.
It is made by Telecom Animation Film Studio, Sotsu, Pony Canyon, and Nippon Ichi Software, with help from Sotsu.
Five Black Points started to open up in the world. Each one is a doorway to another parallel world, from which monsters and strange animals start to come out and take over the Earth.
These creatures live in the same world, but they come from five different points in time.
So that they can keep their own timelines, they have to destroy the other. The key to doing this is a card-shaped device.
Aikatsu started in the fall of 2012 and had 178 shows by March 31, 2016. Sunrise and Bandai Namco Pictures are in charge of making it.
Like the other card game series, it has several spin-offs and sequels after the anime stops.
Starlight Academy is a famous school where girls learn to be idols in the entertainment business. Join the Starlight Academy if you want to be a famous idol like Mizuki Kanzaki, Aoi Kiriya, and Ichigo’s friend.
For the Academy auditions, the girls have to collect cards that give them expensive clothes and accessories that will help them stand out.
6. Battle Spirits: Shounen Toppa Bashin
The first episode of Battle Spirit: Shounen Toppa Bashin aired on September 7, 2008, and the last one ran on September 6, 2009.
There are 50 episodes of the anime, which is made by Sunrise and Toei Animation. It has a lot of follow-ups, the most recent of which ran for 50 shows from 2016 to 2017.
Toppa Bashin is only thinking about one thing: the card game Battle Spirits. He got a diamond pendant from his father, who had gone missing.
One day, he meets J, a child genius in Battle Spirits who has a pendant just like his. He dares J to a fight, but then he gets teleported to an Isekai World where the Spirits from the game become real.
Bashin then starts his journey in the Isekai World, where he meets new friends and foes.
5. Duel Masters
Duel Masters is the first show on our list. It ran from October 21, 2002, to April 4, 2003. It has a license from Hasbro and is made by Studio Jack.
It has 26 episodes. It has had several versions over the years, the most recent of which ran from 2017 to 2018 and had 57 episodes with the same name.
The first part is about Shoubu Kirifuda, who is the best Duel Master in his schoolyard. These Duel Masters are called Kaijudo Masters.
He wants to be a great duelist like his father, who was very good at it. The first step he needs to take to reach his goal is to win the neighborhood tournament, but he lost to Knight, a world-class master.
When he thought about what his father had said, he chose not to give up on his goal and to enjoy the card game on the way there.
When Studio J.C. Staff breaks down the cartoon Magical Girl Card Game, it goes to some dark places.
The WIXOSS series is about a cute teenager named Ruuko Kominato who gets a deck of cards one day.
Now that Ruuko is a “Selector,” she can fight other players in a contest that looks like a “battle royale,” but the prize is anything they want.
But if you lose three times, you will die.
The rules change every season, and the stakes are always getting higher.
It’s angry, sad, and a pure breakdown of card games in anime, and it was made by people who care about the best parts. Check this one out if you’re looking for something different, funny, and sad!
Infected, the first season that came out in 2014, tells Ruuko’s story. Also in 2014, the second season of Spread aired.
Incited’s third season came out in 2016, and instead of focusing on Ruuko, it switched to Suzuko Homura and a new cast. Until Ruuko comes back as the main character in Conflated, the fourth season, in 2018.
And we have something to look forward to, so now is a great time to jump on the Wixoss train!
3. Hunter x Hunter: Greed Island
So, Hunter x Hunter by itself isn’t a card game.
Hunter x Hunter can be any kind of story it wants. And that’s what keeps it exciting and new all the time.
What better way to get people excited about a card game than to see the same characters fight through different stakes?
Greed Island is also longer than the average length of an entire cartoon.
When the Green Island story starts, we already like Gon and Killua. We’ve seen them go through different stories, fight scary enemies, and change as people.
Now we get to see them play a card game?
Yes, and it’s just as exciting.
Hunter x Hunter: Greed Island stands on its own as one of the best written and most exciting card game shows.
It has a lot of new characters, a new setting, and a whole new way to move forward. Well, it’s a curve, but you get what I mean.
You can either watch the Greed Island arc as it was done by Nippon Animation in 2003 or as it was done by Madhouse in 2011.
I prefer the second one, but some of the animation and art in the 2003 versions are also worth seeing.
This is probably the most famous card game cartoon ever.
Equally silly, confusing, childish, and grown-up. Over the last 20 years, Yu-Gi-Oh! has changed a lot, both as a show and as a trading card game.
We have had the first series, the Gx, and the 5Ds. Between Zexal, Vrains, Arc-V, and Sevens, there are a lot of other movies.
But I’m going to focus on the best because they rarely connect with each other. YGO is just too big to jump into without knowing anything about it, so why not start with the best?
In the first season, which aired in 2000, Yugi, Seto, and Joey go through a number of time-bending tournaments and arcs that involve Egypt.
The main characters always find a way to save the day, whether they’re fighting on an island to get a soul out of a card or riding on a big blimp above a city to fight mythical Gods. With trade cards for kids.
Even though the story sometimes falls flat, this cartoon is a classic and as entertaining as anything else.
Pyramid of Light is a movie that takes place in the middle of the series and is worth watching when you’re done. And a follow-up movie in 2016 called The Dark Side of Dimensions.
Also, if you like this group, you can watch the 1998 original (Yu-Gi-Oh! Season Zero) and the 1999 movie to see what Yu-Gi-Oh! was like before it was all about card games.
You know, it’s very hard to suggest Chihayafuru without getting strange looks.
But please stay with me, because this one takes card game cartoons to a whole new level.
At the start of the cartoon, Chihaya is a girl with no goals or plans.
She’s always been overwhelmed by her sister’s success as a model, so she’s stuck to what she’s good at: sports.
Until she meets a boy named Arata who plays Karuta, which is a Japanese card game that has been around for almost a thousand years.
But because it is only in Japan, it is dying.
Arata has been good at the game since he was young, but he doesn’t have anyone to play with except in events, where he can easily beat his opponents.
Taichi, a famous boy with a lot of depth who loves Chihaya and wants her to see him the way she sees Arata, rounds out the group.
He’s my favorite figure for sure, because to be Taichi is to suffer.
In the rest of this series, the sport that brought the three of them together is used to show some of the most intense love drama in anime.
The music, animation, and art in this wonderful (blessed) version of Madhouse are all top-notch.
The first season is a set-up for the Karata club and competitions.
This goes well into the second season, which is all about national events for teams. The third season is all about one-on-one tournaments, and the risks get even higher.
The first season came out in 2011, the second in 2013, and the third in 2019. But I hope we won’t have to wait too long for the fourth!