Saki Miyanaga is a freshman at Kiyosumi High School in Nagano Prefecture. On the morning of her first day at tenth-grade, while reading a book on the riverbank, she notices a very beautiful girl pass by, and they briefly make eye contact. During lunch that day, Saki sees her middle-school friend Kyoutarou Suga playing mahjong on his phone, and admits that she has played the game before despite her misgivings. Nevertheless, Kyoutarou drags her with him to the Mahjong Club, which is short on members. There Saki meets again the same girl she met at the riverbank earlier, Nodoka Haramura, last year's Inter-Middle High National Mahjong Champion. They play a few rounds and Nodoka wins.Hisa Takei, Student Council president and club captain, wakes up from her nap just in time to see the last round, only to notice that Saki wasn't playing to win and was just keeping her score even. She also notices that in all of the previous rounds Saki had also scored ±0 — something Hisa attributes to sheer luck, extreme skill, or both.The next day Hisa bribes Saki into playing again by offering to lend her of books. This time though, Hisa gives her a handicap that makes her start with fewer points than everyone else — to get ±0 from there, Saki is thus forced to play to win. Saki does so, in the process rediscovering her love for the game.As she eventually confides to Nodoka, her dislike of mahjong (and her ±0 style) stems from years of having to bear with a family who were sore losers and arrogant winners. But with Nodoka's encouragement, Saki vows to join the 71st Inter-High National Mahjong Championship, hoping to one day see again her estranged older sister Teru.Saki (咲 -Saki-) is an ongoing 2006 manga written and illustrated by Ritz Kobayashi under Square Enix's Young Gangan compilation, based around the game of mahjong, with two anime adaptations by GONZO and Studio Gokumi (the latter as Saki: Zenkoku-hen ["The Nationals"]). The anime has been licensed by Crunchyroll and can be viewed for free on their site (unless you're in Japan).Besides the main manga, Saki also has four spinoff comics — Achiga-hen -episode of Side A- ("Achiga's Story" / 2011-2013, illustrated by Aguri Igarashi, mangaka of Bamboo Blade), which focuses on Nodoka's childhood friends from Achiga Girls' Academy in Nara Prefecture who are gunning for the Nationals for the first time in ten years, hoping to play with Nodoka again; Biyori (2011-present, illustrated by Saya Kiyoshi) and its follow-up Biyori — Otona no Maki ("Adults' Story"), a pair of 4-koma gag strips focused on the hijinks of the various major teams; and Shinohayu -the dawn of age- (2013-present, also illustrated by Igarashi), which focuses on the generation that produced some of the pros of the current timeline — playing idol Hayari Mizuhara, color commentator Risa Noyori, Team Achiga adviser (and alumna) Harue Akado, and multiple-time national champion Sukoya Kokaji, as well as Hayari's old teammates Shino Shiratsuki and Kanna Ishitobi.Also related to the franchise is a series of one-shot comics, done by Hideki Owada (creator of The Legend of Koizumi and Gundam Sousei), portraying some extremely fictionalized vignettes of series creator Ritz Kobayashi's life, as she tries to track down her deadbeat dad, all the while doing research for the manga she is doing. Both Saya and Aguri join in the fun by the third story.Note: There is also a character sheet for character-specific tropes.See also Fatalizer, another manga by Ritz.
This series contains examples of:
Adaptation Expansion: All over the place, a necessity for the anime adaptation given how short each chapter of the manga usually is (12-14 pages on a good week). Some notable examples are featured below:
In Zenkoku-hen, the scene where the girls run into Saki from Achiga-hen is redone here, except viewed through Saki's viewpoint. This doesn't happen in the manga, where Saki was simply lost in the competition halls looking for the restroom.
Also from Zenkoku-hen, everything related to Team Eisui outside their games in the National quarterfinals qualifies for this. In this case however, Ritz gave Gokumi her blessing to expand on their characterizations, as she wasn't able to properly do so in the manga, where one of the main complaints was how Team Eisui, both as a team and as individual players, lacked personality.
Aislinn's skill. In the manga, it's only mentioned that she's always guaranteed a win via tenpai, and nothing else. In the anime, it's expanded to a full-pledged superpower, where she can envision an "ideal hand", of any point value, to the point where she can also see the expected hands of her opponents when her ideal hand is completed. Her Sergeants' match against Mako, Yuuko and Tomoe is expanded, and it's also shown that quick hands can easily thwart her attempts.
The conversation between Kei and Team Achiga during Zenkoku-hen Episode 6... never happened in either the main manga or Achiga-hen. The visit to the hospital to train against the individuals-only participants is a Call Back to the same event in Achiga-hen however, and it also mentions that Team Achiga isn't watching Team Kiyosumi (whose ranks include Nodoka, an old friend to several Achiga players) to stay focused on their own efforts and avoid getting demoralized should they lose.
Zenkoku-hen Episode 13 adds a scene where Yuuki and Nodoka encounter Team Shindouji's Kirame, their senior during their days at Takatobara Junior High, to whom Yuuki delivers her tacos. This also serves as a Continuity Nod to the ending of Achiga-hen, as the episode also shows a scene from the spinoff where Kirame hands those same tacos to the rest of her teammates mourning their semifinals exit.
Art Evolution: In full display when a scene from the start of the manga (Hisa talking to Mako on the balcony outside the clubroom) gets referenced more than a hundred chapters later via flashback — the Hisa from the newer chapter looks almost nothing like the one from the earlier chapter.
The anime for the main series as well, with Zenkoku-hen having more in common with the adaptation of Achiga-hen. This due to the span of time between adaptations (six years) as well as a change of studios (GONZO to Studio Gokumi).
Authority Equals Asskicking: The mahjong Club President is usually also one of the most skilled members. There are exceptions, though, such as Team Tsuruga's Yumi, whose sheer skill makes people frequently mistake her for their club leader instead of the more lackadaisical Satomi.
Beach Episode: Season 1 Episode 20, when Teams Kiyosumi and Ryuumonbuchi meet at an indoor pool. The ending sequence for the second half of the series also shows all the teams at the beach. Also in Zenkoku-hen Episode 12, this time featuring Teams Eisui and Miyamori as some sort of consolation after they were eliminated from the National quarterfinals.
Bird Run: Yuuki, Satomi and Hatsumi often do this.
Bland-Name Product: The "DFLL" computer in the commentators' booth, and the book titled "Rord of the Rings".
Played straight with Saki's discovery that Teru publicly disowned her. She's not completely surprised, but begins to doubt whether communicating with Teru through mahjong will change anything.
Subverted in the case of Mihoko and Hisa. Mihoko is initially deeply disappointed when it seems as though Hisa has forgotten her, but when the former opens her right eye again, she remembers.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: It seems that the more powerful a mahjong player, the quirkier she is. Many of them wouldn't be too out of place even if transplanted to The Legend of Koizumi, for example.
Buxom Is Better: The first thing Saki notices about Nodoka is that she's "beautiful," which refers to her extremely well-endowed, Gainaxing, bralesschest. Most of Nodoka's other friends, her opponents and even the press make note of her chest, although interestingly enough, this does not seem to apply to the much more endowed Kasumi of Team Eisui.
Cain and Abel: While it was made clear that Teru and Saki were never on good terms since their family broke apart, as Teru's refusal to speak with Saki made the latter opt to communicate with mahjong, Saki doesn't realize until after the Nagano finals that Teru publicly disowned her. Saki loses hope, at least for the moment, in the possibility of anything changing between her and Teru.
Cynicism Catalyst: Though her actual fate is unclear as of this point, whatever happened to the other girl in the Miyanaga family picture  had a profound effect on both Miyanaga sisters, and likely also played a factor in how their family broke apart.
David Versus Goliath: Usually Team Kiyosumi plays the perennial underdog to several teams they face, both in the Nagano and National tournaments. An inversion, however, occurs against Team Tsuruga (from the Nagano finals), also another newcomer (complete with a total beginner with an ungodly amount of luck), in contrast to Kiyosumi's well-trained lineup whose ranks include last year's national junior-high champion, a senior honed in the individuals, and a shy bookworm who's also a Nationals-class "monster".
Defeat Means Friendship: Nary a harsh feeling from the lambasted. Represented best by Team Tsuruga's Yumi, who even provided data of potential Nationals opponents for Team Kiyosumi, which she spent months collecting, and continued doing so after losing.
Filler: Shorter than some Shounen series, but still present in Season 1. The pool episode and individuals matches were never portrayed in the manga, though the latter's results have been acknowledged as canon, such as Mihoko going onto the Nationals, Team Eisui talking about Yuuki's monstrous point-farming run during the first day of the Nagano Individuals, and Nanpo being considered by Fujita as a possible participant
Foreshadowing: When Saki faces Koromo, she begins her comeback with an utterly trash hand that kicks off a winning streak, and completes it with a counted yakuman direct hit. This is exactly how Teru's special ability, the AbsoluteTeru Field, works.
In individuals, Saki, foreshadowing her (estranged) sister, got three players ganged up on her — and she still comes out on the top.
Saki's inability to swim. A minor detail during the early parts of the manga and anime, but with the revelation as of Chapter 102, it will likely become an important clue as to whatever became of the third girl in the Miyanaga family picture...
Freudian Excuse: The unnamed king in Yuuki's omake story, who waged war with the Power of Corn and left none for making new tacos because his parents divorced when he was young over how bad tacos tasted.
Kaori manages to win a game against tournament level players because her inexperience rendered her completely unpredictable to her Meta Game-steeped opponents. Confusion Fu pointed out the logic that, since mahjong is used to gamble, it should've been easy for experienced players to win off a rookie. However, Mahjong is Serious Business to these girls. Gambling isn't their goal, it's pitting oneself against worthy opponents. For this reason it never would have occurred them that they would even play such a newbie, so nobody thought of trying to hustle her, either.
Heroes Gone Fishing: Saki Biyori features the characters doing many different things, such as shopping, cleaning, tripping, and practically anything but mahjong.
Hot Springs Episode: The training camp before the regional tournament, and the final episode of Season 1.
Hufflepuff House: The Nagano tournament features two plucky underdog teams who come outta nowhere to make it into the finals. One of them is Team Kiyosumi. Sorry, Team Tsuruga, but until you get your own show, you have no chance of winning.
Improbably Female Cast: Justified, as the male and female tournaments are separated, and Kyoutaro, the only consistently-appearing male character, fails miserably in the boys' individuals. Given that the main character is a girl, it makes sense they'd focus on the girls' tournament and its all-female Cast Herd. Even a blog post by Kobayashi states that the current boys' champion is on the level of Izumi, Vanguard of Team Senriyama, who in her match actually lost a significant amount of points and was later told that several first years are stronger players than she is — implying that the boys' tournament is not as interesting as the girls' version.
Intertwined Fingers: Saki and Nodoka in the opening and in the occasionally-used second ending. Also used in-series, like when they are watching fireflies together.
Lampshade Hanging: At the beginning of the Nationals, Saki admits that she accidentally wore Mako's skirt (which is longer than hers) at the opening ceremony, apparently to make up for the mangaka's error of drawing Saki with a long skirt in the previous chapter. Since then, Saki has more or less seen an increase in her skirt length (Some might say it actually looks better.)
Apparently this is a trademark all National level monster player shared.
Loads and Loads of Characters: There's many characters among the various schools who play mahjong, who often have at least the hints of a personality, even if they don't have a detailed backstory, and even those from schools that get eliminated without much fanfare often have a somewhat unique design. Justified as mahjong match requires four teams of five people each — 20 in all.
Love Bubbles: Saki and Nodoka have a fair amount of these scenes.
Luminescent Blush: All over the place. Particularly used with the series' (numerous) lesbian moments.
Mahjong Is Slaughter: During Team Shiraitodai's first appearance, after Awai finishes her match, her opponents are seen dazed, heads hung, and completely lifeless.
Male Gaze: The anime has a special emphasis on the character's sweaty thighs.
The Merch: Exists in Real Life, and gets some lampshading in-series. In Saki Biyori, Teru buys some chocolates with mahjong-themed package. When Awai reads its packaging blurb, it's read "Approved by the renowned Miyanaga Teru".
Teru: "...I did?"
Mood Whiplash: Near the end of Season 1 Episode 20, there's some relatively lighthearted shots of the teams getting ready to enter the individuals, with the first ending theme playing. Then the scene cuts to Team Shiraitodai, fresh off brutally beating the opposition, with Teru telling Sumire that she does not have a sister. Then the scene shifts back to the pool, with Kiyosumi playing around and Saki hoping to see Teru again.
Morton's Fork: If Saki lost one of the family games of mahjong (presumably as in getting last place), she would lose her New Year's money. If she won, her family would get mad at her. As a result, she decided to have a net gain and loss of 0 points, to ensure that she would never get first or last place.
Mundane Utility: Many of the characters have what can only be called superhuman abilities, some of which could be easily applied to far more important tasks.note Examples include channeling spirits and seeing into the future. They use them to play mahjong.
Interestingly enough, some characters have abilities outside mahjong that they can use in play. Momo's invisibility enables her to discard risky tiles without people calling them, and prevent people from knowing how close she is to completing her hand. Hajime once used a sleight-of-hand she learned from her father, a stage magician, to cheat at mahjong, and deeply regrets doing so.
In Saki Biyori, Kaori actually puts her Beginner's Luck to practical use, and with the help of her schoolmates, she wins a lottery and gets a "Juice-kun" table for her club.
Two players from a school Team Kiyosumi defeated in the first round of the Nagano tournament try to steal Etopen as a prank in revenge, but end up being discovered and leaving Etopen behind while escaping. After some time to reflect, they feel guilty about this, but their attempts to help return Etopen only end up making things worse.
Last year, Megan Davin of Team Rinkai went the way of the Dirty Coward and targeted a weak player rather than face the fury of Cold Touka. She has since deeply regretted it and desires more than anything to have a second crack at facing Touka and clear her conscience.
My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Already somewhat present during the Nagano tournament, but in full force during the Nationals. Put simply, "Monster"-class players can feel the activation or use of occult skills by other mahjong monsters. See how only Saki, Awai, and Koromo react when Komaki is finally possessed by a goddess spirit.
Chapter 98 features a massive one by players playing against Saki when she "awakens", which causes the competition hall to be shaken by a minor earthquake, and other miscellaneous supernatural phenomena like Iwato Kasumi's H-cups to start floating.
Older than They Look: Hatsumi, Yuuki and Koromo are probably the biggest examples in this series, partly as a result of not always acting their age, as does Kurumi. None of them look to be no older than 10 years old, when in fact they are about 16 or 17.
Perspective Flip: Saki's chance encounter with Team Achiga while wandering the halls of the competition venue in Zenkoku-hen is a Call Back to the same event shown in Achiga-hen. Whereas in the latter we were treated to Achiga seeing Saki as absolutely terrifying, in Zenkoku-hen we see that Saki herself was not only just lost, but only felt that Achiga was mildly threatening, particularly Shizu.
Reasonable Authority Figure: Nodoka's father thinks "Mahjong Pro" isn't the most secure career aspiration for his daughter, but lets her keep at it as long as she keeps winning.
On the other hand, he derides mahjong as a game purely based on luck, scoffs at Nodoka mentioning that she was able to make friends through it ("just what use would any friends you make be in a hick town like this be?"), and halfheartedly decides to "consider" letting her stay if she wins the nationals. He might be giving her a chance, but it could be interpreted that he does so because he doesn't think she can manage the improbable task of winning the nationals.
Required Spinoff Crossover: The main series finally intersects with Achiga-hen, in Chapter 103, showing some of the events of its Chapter 12 and 13, except from Nodoka and Yuuki's point of view. The first half of episode 13 of Zenkoku-hen does the same.
There's a brief scene in the final episode of the Zenkoku-hen anime in which Yoshiko gets a text message from Hayari the night after the first game of the semi-finals that's entirely written in pictograms, and follows it to meet her at a club. She heads there with Hayari at the start of Saki Shinohayu Dawn Of Age.
Retcon: Zenkoku-hen replaces the training camp from the end of Season 1 of the anime with one that hews closer to that shown in the manga (where Hisa invites all the players from the other teams they played with during the Nagano finals), removing a crucial scene in which Saki and Nodoka earn a Relationship Upgrade. Interestingly enough, Saki and Nodoka are still calling each other by their first names, albeit with no explanation apart from the decision to switch in that scene. So far, Teru's disowning of Saki has not been addressed, although Saki is unwilling, and even possibly somewhat scared, to see her sister again outside of mahjong.
Scary Shiny Glasses: In Season 1 Episode 25, when Mako, Tomoki, and Miharu all make the collective decision to gang up on Kaori as revenge for losing to her in the Nagano semifinals. They lose. Badly.
Second-Hand Storytelling: So far, most of what we know about the Miyanagas is what Saki tells her friends. It's still unclear whether Saki is an Unreliable Expositor, though there are some indications that Saki initially doesn't fully understand how much Teru has distanced herself from her.
Serial Escalation: The supernatural abilities introduced in the series get more ridiculous as the series goes on. It says a lot when Yuuki's East Wind advantage, which was considered a big deal when the franchise started, now ranks on the lower end of the Story Breaker Power spectrum. Since then abilities like invisibility, reading an opposing player's soul after a turn, channeling gods and seeing into the future have been introduced, but there's no sign that these are the absolute limit of possible superpowers in existence in this setting.
Serious Business: Mahjong is treated as a matter of honor, though most characters still haven't lost the sense of fun playing it. Deconstructed, however, with Saki's family, where it was taken so seriously it literally tore itself apart although it's implied that there were other factors at work.
The final ending credits of Season 1 of the anime show new characters from other schools competing in the nationals (specifically Teams Rinkai, Shiraitodai and Eisui).
The finale of Zenkoku-hen also shows events not even covered by the manga yet, such as Teams Eisui and Miyamori's beach trip and everything beyond Hisa's match in the National semifinals, including hints of the abilities of the members of Teams Usuzan and Rinkai. And in a Call Back to the sequel hook of the first season, it uses the very same insert song, "Glossy MMM".
Sitting On The Rooftop: A few cases. Chapter 6 of the Big Gangan version of Saki Biyori features Saki and Nodoka eating on the roof. In Chapter 128, Awai finds Teru on the roof and gets her to admit that Saki is her sister.
The episode previews all have references to mahjong manga of varying obscurity, most of which are lost on English-speaking audiences. In particular, the last preview references five series, the last of which is Hideki Oowada's Ritz.
Shower of Angst: Nodoka takes one after her loss to and argument with Saki. Saki takes one after she's unable to bring herself to go to see her sister's semifinals match.
Shown Their Work: Every single game portrayed so far has been perfectly valid. No extra tiles, no impossible hands, every last game conforms to the rules. The hands and wins may be wildly improbable, but still possible.
Sleep Cute: Nodoka and Saki in episodes eight, ten and nineteen.
Sore Loser: One of the schools Kiyosumi defeated in the first round of the prefecturals doesn't take it well, and even steals Etopen as revenge. They come to regret it, though.
Saki's family, who were both sore losers and sore winners, are a large part of why Saki dislikes Mahjong at the start of the story.
The Stinger: At the end of Zenkoku-hen, Teru is seen standing on a roof, turning to the camera, and whispering "Saki..." as it cuts to the title card.
Team Kiyosumi would definitely count, with the freshmen (Saki, Nodoka and Yuuki, and to a lesser extent Kyoutaro) sharing a tight bond. Mako and Hisa are also quite close, as the two were the only two actual members of the club in the previous year.
Team Ryuumonbuchi was assembled by Touka not only to serve as her dream team, but also a means to break the ice on her cousin Koromo.
Team Miyamori is also a fairly close-knit team, with Sae, Shiro and Kurumi being friends prior to the arrival of Toshi and Toyone, and Shiro also knowing Aislinn before then.
Twenty Minutes into the Future: An analysis, based on the study of a calendar (shown only in a single frame, so its easy to miss) and on the possible dates of a full moon during the prefecturals, concludes that the only possible year for the series to take place in is 2050. It's no wonder why Nodoka's so interested in IPS reproduction...
It's actually confirmed in Saki Shinohayu Dawn Of Age, as it's stated that Mafuka Kasugai died in 2037, more than 10 years before the start of the series.
During the Nagano finals, Kana didn't even give Saki a second glance as she is focusing on Koromo. It's not wrong per se, as she has a grudge against Koromo for badly beating Team Kazekoshi last year, and then Saki outran her many times she lost her chance for a comeback victory. And her comeback from 0 points is facilitated by Saki.
Some of the players of Team Eisui didn't think much of Kiyosumi because the Nagano tournament didn't feature that many schools, but still gave them some respect because they managed to beat Koromo. Then Hisa won Kiyosumi's first match by dropping one of the other schools below 0 points. In the third match. Before Nodoka and Saki even got to play.
Shots of Nodoka's wet uniform scene from Season 1 Episode 1 bore wild theories that Nodoka, and maybe the other girls, did not wear any underwear.
Hajime's casual clothing pretty much excludes the possibility of her wearing underwear.
Visual Pun: Season 1's third ending sequence has an octopus (tako)note a pun that became a minor plot point in a match, when Yuuki realized the lunchbox Mihoko gave her had octopus in it holding a taco.
Wham Episode: Chapter 128. Awai asks Teru if she has a sister, and Teru, after considering denying it for a moment, says that Saki is her sister. Nishida then mentions that she has a lead on Teru's past.
The Worf Effect: Happens with startling regularity. Ritz will often hype up a team or a player for years, only for the said team or player to crash and burn during their own turn on the table. The following are some of the more glaring examples:
Kazekoshi has a membership of at least 78 girls and a reputation as the go-to school for serious mahjong players, and was the six-time Nagano champion until Koromo entered the scene. Come the current Nagano finals, every single member of their team save Kana (and even then whatever points she earned was largely an act of charity from Saki) gets owned. Part of the problem is that Team Kazekoshi plays strictly orthodox mahjong and are flustered when they meet unconventional players (in contrast, during Rounds 2 and 4, where they were pitted against orthodox players, they fared better).
Ryuumonbuchi was the team to beat in Nagano, composed of handpicked players that qualified for the Nationals on their first try, including a monster-level player who badly defeated Kazekoshi last year. Apart from Koromo (and to a lesser degree, Hajime), however, its members don't really put much of a show when they actually play, particularly Touka, whose bullheaded insistence at aping Nodoka's style actually does her more harm than good.
Shiraitodai was hyped up to be the "final boss" of the Nationals, and the team to beat for Kiyosumi; like Ryuumonbuchi, however, their actual performance has been anything but stellar. Save Teru, who ran away with a 200,000-point lead in the Vanguards' match (and was narrowly kept from going on a rampage by the joint efforts of Kuro, Kirame and Toki), everyone else not only managed to squander that lead, as they had their usual strategies and abilities countered time and again. What's worse, due to Awai's arrogance, Shiraitodai came within a hairsbreadth of actually getting knocked out of the Nationals. So much for defending champions.
Senriyama was said to have some of the best point-gatherers in Japan. While both Sera and Hiroko performed decently, everyone else unwittingly sabotaged their chances to eke a win — Toki fell far behind Teru, and Izumi's misplaced pride in her abilities blinded her to the fact that she's easy pickings for the third-years she was pitted against. Ryuuka, in spite of her newfound ability to use some of Toki's future sight, failed to get the points she needed.
Eisui, in spite of having a monster player, underperformed badly, with said monster (Komaki) not even performing at 100% due to how, in underestimating their opponents, they arranged the order of deities possessing her from weakest to strongest. This was a big mistake, as the points deficit this caused forced her teammates to scramble for the rest of the quarterfinals, with mixed results: Hatsumi, one of the team's best scorers, was sealed completely during her turn (leaving her to break down in tears inside her Mask of Power), and Kasumi, who's normally a defensive player, was forced to go on the offensive via the One Suit gathering power, in the process leaving her vulnerable to Saki's table manipulation due to how it made everyone's hands easier to predict.
Hayari suggests Usuzan is a strong newcomer with high chances of winning the big game, but its players have so far lost so many points the main question as of current chapters is whether they'll even make it through the Lieutenants' match, much less recover, and show what ace players Sawaya and Maya, positioned at the very end, can do.
Subverted with "Cold Touka", as at first Saki heard there are people who could deal with her in the Nationals. The way Touka describes Nationals-level competition in the last episode of Season 1 implies that Team Ryuumonbuchi never made it too far, and even those who defeated them were no match for the eventual champions. It turns out that last year, Team Rinkai's Megan, who won a match against Touka, avoided direct confrontation with her and dropped a weaker school to zero, prematurely ending the round and avoiding having to go against Koromo (Megan has since deeply regretted such a cowardly action).