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.
Taichi has nothing but Chihaya on his mind as he constantly updates his strategy during their match. Chihaya has a bit of trouble since Taichi isn't playing like he usually does, but this just might be the best match they've ever played against each other. As the final round nears its end, Chihaya's desire to be the Queen battles against her dreams for the future as she's forced to choose between the Queen tournament qualifiers and her class trip.
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.
After Misuzawa receive their award for winning the tournament, Taeko takes Chihaya to a clinic to see to the injuries to her hand. Meanwhile, Arata walks Taichi and the others to the station, where he reveals that he plans to go to a college in Tokyo if he wins the individual tournament, much to Taichi's dismay. Chihaya is informed by the doctor that she has a chip fracture and should not do any intense karuta. After receiving from shirts from Yusei's sister though, Chihaya remains determined to play in the individuals, deciding she will play with her left hand instead. As Chihaya is drawn to go against Fukui's Keiko Yuube, she becomes more determined after seeing both Arata and Shinobu are competing. As the Class A tournament begins, Chihaya finds using her left hand is a lot harder than using her normal hand.
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.
Seeking to play against Chihaya's team, Arata addresses his school during an assembly in an attempt to join a karuta club, getting some interest from the students. In Chihaya's class, the students are given a future plans questionnaire, which Chihaya doesn't know how to fill out. Horikawa, another student, tells her she went to Kyoto with her family to scout out the best places, as their class field trip will take place there. During club practice, the Karuta team members talk about their wishes to become better karuta players, everyone having become more competitive.
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.
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.
Omi Jingu. Sudo intends to withdraw from the Master tournament due to the bet he made earlier with Taichi. Taichi tells him to play and withdraw only if he matches against him, which Sudo agrees to. Arata is suffering from food poisoning but sees Taichi's name on the list, shocking him. Suō gives Shinobu a ride to the tournament on his motorcycle, and everyone is surprised to see the Queen and Master at the West qualifiers.
Takashi is paired against Sudo. With four of the last eight from the Nagumo Society and the other four from the Shiranami Society, it feels a little like a team match between the societies. Chihaya takes an early lead, leading the audience to think they will be watching the rise of a new star instead of the return of a former Queen, but Inokuma rebounds and takes the lead.
As Arata has a brief run in with Shinobu, who believes team tournaments are for those who don't love karuta, Taichi becomes worried when he learns the team Tsutomu scouted consists of five Class A players. As Arata tries to find the right timing to approach Chihaya, Fukui West, whose three-man team is short a member due to traffic delays, drag Arata in as a stand-in, made more difficult when he is forced to take his glasses off so he won't be found out. Although one of Fukui's team members lose, which automatically results in an overall loss, Arata, remembering his time with Chihaya and Taichi, decides to put on his glasses so he can play seriously til the end, bringing the score to a more modest 3-2 defeat. However, following the match, Arata's old teacher who was supervising the match catches him, saying he may be barred from participating in the individuals for breaking the rules.
As the day of the national comes, Akihiro is chosen as a starter for the first round against Chiba International High School, whose team supposedly consists entirely of foreigners. Meanwhile, Sumire is tasked by Tsutomu to observe a player named Megumu Osaka, whilst he observes last year's champions. Taichi manages to calm down the pressure on his team by exposing their opponents lack of English skills. As the match goes on, the players start to learn about their opponents' freeform styles and soon Misuzawa manage to show the efforts of their training and win their match. Although lamenting their loss, the Chiba students find they had much enjoyment from the match, vowing to become stronger for next year's tournament. Meanwhile, as Arata arrives in Omi Jingu to give Chihaya his support, he is approached by Shinobu.
As the grand final begins, Fujisaki proves to be tough opponents, partly due to their intense stamina training by their coach, Sakurazawa, whilst Rion has an advantage over Chihaya due to being the granddaughter of the reader. Recalling Kana's advice on listening to the poems, Chihaya starts to understand some of the 'colors' each card possesses. She attempts to gain momentum, but seems to be plagued by an injury on her finger occured when Rion prevented her from taking a card. However, she focuses on her good finger and starts fighting back, intriguing the attention of Shinobu. Noticing Chihaya fight through her pain, Taichi and the others become more determined.
The semi-final match soon begins with Misuzawa fighting against Akashi whilst Hokuo go up against Fujisaki High School. Chihaya finds playing against Megumu difficult, as she has improved since her representative match the previous year due to her teammates encouraging her. As Chihaya resolves to be more on the offensive, Kana mentions something to her, reminding her of the feelings behind on the 100 poems and encouraging her to fight back against Megumu.
Arata wonders why he feels so relieved to learn that Taichi lost his match, even as dark memories of a similar feeling at the Yoshino Tournament come back to him, leaving him unable to concentrate fully on his match in the finals. His opponent, Murao, realizes that Arata isn't himself and sees an opportunity, but then..
As it is revealed that Tsutomu and Akihiro had managed to win their own tournaments, Chihaya laments how she hasn't managed to live up to her own goals. As they leave, Chihaya exchanges contact details with Midori, who offers to send her a video of the Class A final. Later, a hospital examination of Chihaya's finger reveals she has enchondromatosis in her index finger, so Chihaya decides to undergo an operation. Whilst hospitalized, Chihaya expresses some of her frustrations over the phone to Arata, who tells her that whenever he plays, he thinks back to his old apartment where he used to play with Chihaya. As Chihaya spends the next week recovering from her operation, she comes to realise she is in love with Arata. Taking note of this, Kana prompts Taichi to try harder in expressing his true feelings towards Chihaya. The next day, Chihaya calls Midori, who offers to take her to a Fujisaki training camp, which Chihaya and Taichi go to.
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.
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 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.
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.
With a newfound passion, Misuzawa begin to work on their flaws and fight back against Fujisaki, although Tsutomu loses his match. Meanwhile, as Chihaya tries to endure the pain of her injury, she spots Shinobu in the crowd and gives her teammates some encouragement to focus on winning. With the playoff match also showing intense dedication, Shinobu recalls how she was forced to be alone in order to become a strong individual player. Despite how she had always been focused on individual matches, she finds herself strangely drawn to the passion flowing the from the teams. Back in the match, Misuzawa is under pressure as Taichi falls behind and Akihiro loses his match, but Taichi encourages the others to aim for three wins.
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 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.