Chihaya Ayase is a frank and ebullient girl who becomes fascinated by the obscure world of competitive karuta, a card game based on Japanese poetry. Introduced to the aggressive style of the game by a quiet and thoughtful elementary school classmate named Arata Wataya, the two quickly become close friends. They start playing as a group with Taichi Mashima, Chihaya's smart and athletic childhood friend, until they have to part ways during their middle school years due to several circumstances. As their high school life begins, they meet once again.
Three years ago, Arata Wataya moved from Fukui to Tokyo, leaving behind his friends and everyone else who shared his passion for karuta. Alone in his interests, and further singled out for his rural accent and apparent poverty, he is friendless until the day that Chihaya Ayase, outspoken tomboy and sister to a model, begins to stand up against their classmates’ bullying tactics. When she walks him home one day he reveals to her his love for karuta and his dream to become a master, sparking her own interest in the game.
In the present, Chihaya finds herself in a situation not unlike Arata’s. New at high school, alone in her love for karuta, and thought of as odd for her tendency to speak her mind, Chihaya is widely regarded as a waste of a pretty face. Listening to poetry on her headphones and really discouraged that no one else wants to join her karuta club, her mood takes a turn when one of her old friends, Taichi Majima, transfers into her high school. Although he used to play karuta with Chihaya and Arata, he has since moved on to other interests, forcing Chihaya to wonder if Arata still harbors his love for the game….
As everyone starts to ignore Chihaya as well as Arata, Chihaya stands her ground, boasting about Arata's karuta skills. Taichi makes a bet that if he can beat Arata in a tournament, he will be ignored until graduation. As both Taichi and Arata make their way to the final, Taichi steals Arata's glasses, making it difficult to see. Although Arata manages to cope on memory alone, Taichi swaps the cards around to make things difficult. It's at this point that Chihaya offers to take Arata's place in the match, using her instincts to tie with Taichi. On the final match, Chihaya starts seeing things through the eyes of a karuta player and takes the final card, winning the tournament. However, Chihaya becomes a bit upset when her family doesn't acknowledge her achievement. As Chihaya resumes her search for Arata's glasses, Taichi returns them to Arata and apologises for his foul play.
Chihaya, Taichi and Arata go to a karuta society where people practice competitive karuta. There, they are challenged to a three-on-three match against some of the regulars. Arata takes charge for most of the games, leading to some competitiveness within the team as well as with the opposing team. After winning the game, the group learn of a team tournament and start training for it. Later, Chihaya learns that Taichi is going to a far away middle school and Arata is going to return to Fukui after he graduates, meaning they will not be able to keep playing karuta together. At the thought of this, she becomes upset and refuses to enter the tournament. However, after some advice from her karuta mentor, she decides to join them after all, accepting that she is not the only one who will be lonely. After graduation, Chihaya challenges Arata to one final match and promises that one day they will meet again.
Back in the present, Chihaya becomes jealous when he learns Taichi allegedly has a girlfriend, and vows that if she can win a tournament and become a Class A karuta player, Taichi must help her form a high school karuta club. As Chihaya progresses through the tournament, Taichi reconnects with his old karuta tutor, Dr. Harada, who shows the progress Chihaya has made. In the final match, Chihaya faces a tough opponent who can read her moves, leading to a fierce battle for the 'Chihaya' card. However, Chihaya enjoys facing a strong, passionate, opponent and soon wins the tournament. After the match, Chihaya calls Arata to tell him the news, only to be told to stop calling him as he had long since quit playing karuta.
Following the call, Chihaya decides to go with Taichi to Fukui so she can confront Arata. However, Arata is not too pleased to see them and becomes aggressive when Chihaya brings up karuta again. Arata's friend, Yuu, explains to Chihaya that his grandfather died of a relapse while Arata was playing at a karuta tournament, the guilt making him unable to play karuta again. After Arata reads a letter that Chihaya wrote for him, he still holds his friendship dear and goes to see Chihaya and Taichi off as they head back towards home, with Chihaya able to make out that he doesn't completely hate karuta. On the ride back, Taichi agrees to help Chihaya form a high school karuta club, so Arata will have something to return to.
Having obtained a clubroom, Chihaya and Taichi need to find three more members to be officially recognised as a club. Kanade Ōe, a girl who loves traditional clothing, takes an interest in the club but feels dejected when she finds out they don't wear hakama. As Chihaya continues to approach Kanade about joining the club, she comes to learn about the true meanings behind the hundred poems, which helps her improve in the game. Feeling pleased by this, Kanade agrees to join the club on the condition that they start wearing hakama during matches.
As Taichi laments that he's can't match Chihaya's skill level, Chihaya scouts a bookworm named Tsutomu Komano for the club, literally dragging his desk with him to the clubroom. Wanting to become smarter to become the number one in school, Tsutomu challenges Chihaya and Taichi to play a game with the cards flipped over. With this new rule, Taichi gains an advantage over Chihaya, whose memorization skills aren't as developed, and wins against her. After the match, Tsutomu laments that he lacks friends and talent, but Taichi tells him that he keeps playing, even if he keeps losing, for the reward of winning. Hearing this, Tsutomu decides to abandon his desk and join the karuta club.
As the club searches for its last member, Chihaya encounters Yusei Nishida, who she last saw during the elementary school tournament, though he refuses to join the karuta club as he is focusing on his tennis. However, as Chihaya observes him, she finds that Yusei is just using tennis as an escape from karuta. Chihaya challenges Yusei to a game of karuta, where he gradually remembers how he used to play karuta for fun before he was defeated in a tournament by Arata. However, Chihaya's play style helps remind him how he used to play, and after the match, Yusei decides to quit tennis to join the karuta club.
Teacher, Taeko Miyauchi, agrees to make the karuta club official and become its advisor, but on the condition that someone besides Chihaya be club president, so Taichi is nominated as president whilst Chihaya declares herself captain. Chihaya reveals that she wants to participate in a national tournament coming in the summer, despite Kanade and Tsutomu being beginners. With not much room to practise after school, Chihaya holds a training camp at Taichi's house. Chihaya pushes Kanade and Tsutomu to become stronger players, but Taichi fears that she is overworking them and putting on too much pressure. Later that night, as Chihaya laments her pushiness, the others bring her out for a surprise birthday party, saying that they are growing to love karuta, later receiving a birthday text from Arata.
The day of the prefectural tournament comes and Chihaya's club comes in with hakama at the ready. As their team progresses through the group stage, Tsutomu grows less confident as he continues to be beaten in his matches. As he grows irritated and chooses to skip the semi-finals, Chihaya feels downhearted that the club has not been able to become a true team, which begins to affect her karuta skills. As Taichi realises he has not been perfect himself, he helps motivate the others to get them back on track, and when Chihaya sees Tsutomu comes to support her, she regains her form and makes a comeback and helps the team to win. After the match, Kanade manages to talk Tsutomu into coming back onto the team as they prepare for the finals.
As the Misuzawa team start to face off against Hokuou Academy in the regional finals, Arata discovers the masses of e-mails Chihaya had sent him. Chihaya struggles when her opponent uses her favourite card to distract her. However, she is soon encouraged by her teammates. Meanwhile, Yusei feels disheartened when facing off against an old rival, but finds encouragement from seeing the passion of the juniors. Through all their struggles, Misuzawa manages to win their match and the regional championship, securing them a place in the nationals.
Despite the victory at the tournament, Chihaya still feels overshadowed by her sister. After playing a match against Dr. Harada, Chihaya grows concern about living up to the expectations of being Tokyo's representative in the nationals, but she is soon cheered up by Takashi, who received some useful tips from Hokuou Acadameny. She also feels touched when she finds her father has started a scrapbook of her accomplishments. As the team work hard to train for the nationals, Miyauchi acknowledges their efforts and decides to accompany them to the nationals in Omi Jingu.
The team arrive at Omi Jingu for the national tournament. As the first match begins, Chihaya feels overwhelmed by the hot and noisy environment of the tournament hall. Meanwhile, Arata makes his way to Omi Jingu, remembering the time he spent with his grandfather, who taught him many valuable tips about karuta before starting to lose his memory due to dimentia. When Arata was asked to look after his grandfather on the day of a tournament, he regained his memory and encouraged him to go but passed away during the tournament. Overcoming his fears, Arata arrives at the tournament hall just in time to witness Chihaya faint. Taichi puts Chihaya in Arata's care whilst he and the others continue the match. As Chihaya laments letting everyone down, Arata encounters an old acquaintance and realises he still loves karuta. As Chihaya vows to recover in time for the individual tournament, she receives a package from Arata, saying they will meet again in a match.
The individual tournament begins, in which the players play against others depending on their class. Chihaya learns that the current queen of karuta, Shinobu Wakamiya, is playing in the Class A tournament. Chihaya comes to face against her in the second round, where she has trouble keeping up with her high speed. As Chihaya falls way behind, she recalls her first match with Arata and remembers how she used to learn karuta. Regaining her confidence, Chihaya finally manages to take some cards from Shinobu.
The match inevitably ends with Shinobu's victory, who goes on to win the Class A tournament, but the cards Chihaya managed to take from Shinobu leave a lasting impression on her. After becoming determined to improve her skill, Chihaya goes to watch Taichi in the Class B finals, but his fatigue leads to his loss. After reflecting on their losses and returning home, the team decide to work on building their stamina, whilst Arata and Shinobu prepare for the next time they meet Chihaya.
A recap of the events so far, interspersed with various omake segments.
As Taichi gathers intel on upcoming karuta tournaments, the others are surprised when he breaks up with his girlfriend to focus on the club. Both Taichi and Yusei enter a Class B tournament in Kanazawa, but both end up failing. Meanwhile, Chihaya becomes downhearted when Haruda tells her to stop focusing on her speed, since that has been how she always played her karuta. However, Tsutomu and Kana help point out there's more to karuta than speed, and Chihaya starts to work on her flaws.
With the others looking to improve their rank, Chihaya participates in a Class A tournament where she has trouble adjusting her play style to focus less on speed. Although she loses against her opponent, Sakura Kanai, she learns that what she is lacking is timing. Afterwards, as Taichi and Yusei face each other in the Class B finals, Chihaya finds herself drawn to the Class D final between Kanade and Tsutomu, learning more from watching them play.
As Tsutomu falls behind Kana due to his faults, he comes up with a gamble strategy to take advantage of the odds against him. However, Kana eventually manages to win thanks to her knowledge of the cards her friends use. Meanwhile, as Taichi and Yusei are left with one card each, it is Yusei who wins, leading Taichi to become downhearted. As the day ends with Kana, Tsutomu and Yusei advancing in rank, Chihaya expresses her desire to play a team match again. As Arata receives the results of the tournament, he decides to enter the Western Masters tournament.
In the runup to some exams, Tsutomu becomes a tutor for Chihaya and Yusei whilst Taichi enters a tournament in Yoshino, his last opportunity to advance to Class A. There, he runs into Arata, who gives him his contact details to give to Chihaya. Chihaya ditches studying and arrives after Taichi loses his tournament. She goes to observe Arata play whilst Taichi, initially frustrated by jealousy, finds solace in the fact Arata managed to return to karuta. At the end of the day, after Arata leaves and Chihaya is forced back to her studies, Harada offers Taichi a promotion to Class A so he can participate in the Masters qualifiers alongside Chihaya and Arata.
After the exams, the others notice Taichi reciting the hundred poems from memory. This prompts Yusei to point out that Taichi's weakness is seeing the cards as words instead of feeling them. On the day of the Eastern qualifiers, Chihaya inadvertently makes a bet with Sudo in which the first one to lose has to shave their head. In the first round, Chihaya faces a child prodigy named Ririka, who proves to be fast. However, thanks to Harada's teachings, Chihaya focuses on timing before demonstrating her speed and winning the round.
In the next round, Chihaya faces off against the former Queen, Yumi Yamamoto, who had become downhearted after losing her title to Shinobu the previous year, showing no real confidence in her match. As the heat builds up, Yumi's coach, Kitano, forces the window open and gives Yumi some encouragement and awakens her nature of contesting cards, allowing her to defeat Chihaya.
Chihaya becomes depressed about losing and shuts herself inside a locker but is convinced to come out when Harada competes against Sudo in order to call off the bet to make Chihaya shave her head. Harada makes it to the semi-finals whilst Yumi goes on to progress to the Queen Challenger match. Meanwhile, Arata, who lost in the fourth round of his tournament, tries to concentrate on practising his karuta but has trouble finding people willing to play against him. In the Master/Queen challenger matches, Yumi wins the opportunity to go against Shinobu whilst one of Harada's students loses in the Master challenger match. On Christmas Eve, the club members take a break from karuta to attend christmas parties held by their respective classes. Following her party, Chihaya decides to give Arata a call.
Chihaya and the others go to Taichi's house to watch the Queen Match between Yumi and Shinobu, who had gained a lot of weight since Chihaya last saw her. As Shinobu is at a disadvantage due to her extra weight, she recalls how she came to love karuta and makes a comeback to win the match, causing Yumi to become upset but determined to try again next year. Afterwards, attention goes towards the Master Match, featuring the current Master, Suo Hisashi.
Everybody is shocked after hearing that Master Suo plays karuta with 28 one-syllable cards. Chihaya, Arata, Taichi, and the other karuta club members do some soul searching as they attempt to move forward.