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How to Draw Manga and Anime Characters

By Yann, published on 03/08/2018 We Love Prof > Arts and Hobbies > Drawing > How to Draw Anime and Manga Characters

These days, many young artists find their way to art through comics and animated series. And the popularity of manga and anime has been steadily growing over the past twenty years.

But what, you may ask, is anime/manga and what is the difference between the two?

Both are styles of drawing that come from Japan. They are to Japanese art what Franco-Belgian or American comics are to European art. Manga is the written form, similar to comic books. They are read from the right cover to the left – for us Europeans, “back to front” – and are often in greyscale, though some more elaborate albums are beautifully coloured. Anime designates an animated series drawn in the same style as manga comics. Many modern children’s animated series are in the anime style – even Marvel comics!

If you’re not certain what anime is, here are some well-known anime series and movies you might recognise:

  • Pokémon, starring the yellow-and-black creature with the lightning tail, Pikachu
  • Dragon Ball Z
  • Naruto
  • Yugi-Oh
  • Howl’s Moving Castle
  • Ghost in the Shell (originally a manga and now a live-action film as well)
  • Princess Mononoke

Here we will look at how to draw anime characters. This is a very basic tutorial – we won’t be touching on inking or colouring at all.

The Different Styles of Manga and Anime

If you look at the list above, you will notice that, while none are in the traditional Western animation style (which is currently undergoing quite a revolution), nor do all look alike. The people in Ghost in the Shell look a lot different than those in Dragonball Z.

Manga and anime come in different styles. In part, this depends on the type of story being told and the demographic watching or reading it. (Yes, there are adult mangas and anime. They range from coy schoolgirls flashing their panties to tentacles.) So if you’re interested in how to draw manga, you will need to pick a manga style.

Kodomomuke

Aimed at young children, Kodomomuke has cute characters often in the kawaii aesthetic and simple stories.

Astro Boy illustrates the kodomomuke style. Astro boy is a typical older kodomomuke-style anime. Photo credit: sorarium on VisualHunt

Well-known figures, mangas and anime in the kodomomuke style include:

  • Heidi
  • Anne of Green Gables
  • Astro Boy
  • Chibi Maruko-Chan
  • Hello Kitty

Shojo and Shonen Styles

While the shoujo or shojo stories are aimed more towards girls, they are also popular with boys. The main character is generally a girl and the story often revolves around fairly normal occurrences. However, there are historical stories (like the manga The Rose of Versailles), stories with supernatural elements (Sailor Moon, Young Witch Academy), or that take place in a science-fiction world (No. 6 and Blank Slate).

Shojo style is popular with girls and boys. These girls on an ad for public transport are drawn in the shojo manga style. Photo credit: chesterbr on Visual Hunt

The equivalent for boys is called shonen. It features a young male character and is often a tale of adventure. Pokémon and One Piece are well-known shonen anime, but Yugi-Oh, Dragon Ball Z, and Naruto also fall under this label. Some, like Fullmetal Alchemist or Death Note, touch on various themes in a more adult manner.

Some mangas are harder to label because they feature an ensemble cast with the emphasis being on a girl or boy depending on the episode (such as Assassination Classroom), though generally those with a more romantic tendency are labelled shojo and the more action-oriented shonen.

Josei and Seinen

Josei (for women) and Seinen (for men) are aimed more at older teenagers and adults and have a slightly more realistic style. They tend to be more violent and psychologically harrowing, the love affairs more realistic.

Seinen and josei mangas are drawn mor realistically. Mangas geared toward an older demographic have slightly more realitstic style – for a given value of realistic. Photo credit: ~Ahmed~ on Visualhunt

Subgenres are yaoi (inter-male romance catering to a female audience) or yuri (inter-female romance for a male audience) as well as more typical heterosexual relationships. Mangas aimed at gays are generally called bara.

Settings can vary greatly, from science-fiction to modern supernatural to the everyday world.

Well-known seinen are:

  • Cowboy Bebop
  • Ghost in the Shell
  • Akira
  • Hellsing

Well-know josei anime are:

  • Loveless
  • Paradise Kiss
  • 07-Ghost
  • Karneval

The Chibi style

The chibi style is part of the kawaii culture and has super-deformed characters with oversized heads and tiny bodies. The hands are knobby and generally only have a clearly-defined thumb.

Chibi art is cute. Chibi figures are adorable – due to their large heads and eyes and small, childlike bodies.

In a less extreme version, this style is used in Dragon Ball and some other kodomomuke, shojo or shonen series, but it’s often used for small shorts at the end of a manga comic or an anime series (such as the series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, with the adventures of chibi versions of the tachikoma tanks.)

We will not be covering how to draw chibi in this article; you can find a nice tutorial here.

The Different Types of Character

An interesting aspect of manga drawing techniques is that – at least in shojo and shonen – you can always tell the hero from the villain. Not from what they are wearing, but from the way they are drawn. When you learn how to draw manga characters, it’s important to know what side your figures are on.

Male and female heroes

Typically, heroes have large eyes. This is particularly exaggerated in the shojo and shonen style, where eyes can eat up almost half the face (we will be looking at eyes particularly). Even in josei and seinen, where the eyes are usually (though not always) more realistically drawn, a hero’s eyes will be rounder and more open than a villain’s.

Heroes and heroines often have unusual hair. Manga hair can range from an unusual colour (pink, blue, orange…) to an extraordinary hairdo. (A standing joke is how to spot the main character in anime – it’s the one with the blue hair.) Again, this is more common in shojo, with shonen coming a close second, but more adult styles will generally find a way to make the hero or heroine’s hair more interesting than anyone else’s.

An unusual aspect of manga girls are the pop-up boobs. While some are generously proportioned from the outset, other anime girls seem to have perfectly normal breasts – until they undress.

In fantasy settings, elves always have overly long pointed ears that droop slightly.

Bad boys, anti-heroes and villains

Bad girls and villains will have closed eyes. Not that they keep their eyes closed, but all the lines in the eyes meet and the eyes are generally more narrow and pointed at the edges. A femme fatale will often have rounder eyes, but the eyelashes will be more emphasised and, again, the edges of the eyes will meet.

This is a bad boy or a villain. This character might be an anti-hero or a villain – but he’s definitely not the idealistic high.school student type of character. Photo credit: Troileh on Visual hunt

Villains often have interesting hair but in more elegant hairstyles. Bad boys often have long hair that falls into their eyes. If a villain has a similar hairstyle to the hero, it will be more squarely drawn, with fewer curves.

Cute sidekicks

No, Disney doesn’t have the monopoly on sidekicks. From Pikachu in Pokemon to the pig Hawk in Seven Deadly Sins, cute talking animals are common in anime. However, they are mostly absent from adult mangas – or take the form of huge battle-tanks.

Tools for Drawing Manga Characters

There is no reason to prefer paper over digital when drawing anime or manga. You can get prepared paper storyboards or templates for Photoshop or CorelDraw. If you are drawing digitally, make sure you have a good tablet – a higher-end Wacom, for example, though you don’t have to go for their professional line if you are just starting out.

As a beginner, you will need:

  • Paper.
  • Pencil. It’s better to go for softer pencils that are easy to erase.
  • Eraser. A kneadable eraser is best; try an electric eraser if you tend to make heavy lines.

That’s it. As you advance, you will want to invest in good ink (Japan or India), brushes or ink pens, and Copic markers (Copic markers let you shade well, and give more of a Manga look than a coloured pencil). If you are digital, a good series of greyscale tools (such as Ben-Day dot brushes) can be useful if you want to draw traditional manga comic books.

Mangas use greyscale for shading. Traditional manga comics are generally printed in greyscale. Photo credit: kenleewrites on Visualhunt

How to Draw Anime Anatomy and Poses

While it is useful to have a basic idea of anatomy, Manga proportions are different enough from a real human body that you can still do fine as a complete beginner.

Like modern figure drawing, you will be dividing the body into basic shapes according to a specific proportion chart. The proportions will vary according to the anime style you are drawing in.

Shojo and Shonen bodies

Generally, shojo and shonen drawings have fairly big heads in proportion to their bodies. This means that most will have a body about 6 1/2 heads tall. Main characters are rarely chubby (though secondary characters can be), but since the heroes in shojo and shonen are still kids, they will lack the exaggerated slimness of Seinen and Josei. The legs take up about 3 1/2 heads, so a little more than half the body.

“Realistic” style bodies

Anime protagonists have slim proportions. Manga characters have very slim bodies and incredibly long legs. Photo credit: wotupset_080803 on VisualHunt

Even in the more realistic style, anime characters tend to have very long legs. The figure is 8 full heads tall (as opposed to the 7 1/2 heads usually used for traditional Western figure drawing), and most of that is legs.

Torsos vary from two to two and a half heads tall shoulder to groin (as opposed to three in Western figure drawing), and the shoulders should not be less than half the width of the head and no more than the full width.

Elbows should fall at about hip height; the lower arm is slightly longer than the upper arm. The length from groin to knee is about the same as from knee to ankle.

The female body in mangas has little to do with reality. Waists tend to be exaggerated, legs are endless, and we have mentioned the pop-up boob effect above.

Poses

There are two ways to improve in drawing poses:

  • Get really good at perspective, so you can draw the basic shapes in the right perspective from the outset.
  • Use pictures. However, since manga poses are often quite unusual and exaggerated, it is hard to find just the right resource.

Manga poses are quite exaggerated. Anime poses are often quite dramatic. There is are certain conventions for conveying certain emotions. Photo credit: wotupset_080803 on Visual hunt

Practice fluid movements by sketching stick figures in various poses – just lines with circles at the joints.

A good way to practice the right perspective and foreshortening is copying panels from well-known mangas. As you progress, you will start using the right foreshortening on your own anime drawings automatically.

How To Draw Heads in Manga and Anime

Drawing faces is an important part of learning how to draw anime. It is the most expressive part of the figure and in some styles also the largest.

The shape of the head

For the basics of how to draw a manga face, we will only be looking at a front view. You will need to work with perspective to draw the face in other poses.

  1. First, draw a circle. Some people like to get the actual shape in right away, others prefer to set their markings first. The final shape will be slightly flattened on top and with a pointed chin for Shojo and Shonen; for a more realistic style of drawing anime see below.
  2. Then add a vertical line to divide the face into two halves. (If your character is shown looking to the side, the line will no longer be in the middle.) If you are drawing in the more adult style, extend the line a little beyond the bottom of the circle – this will be your chin line.
  3. Add a horizontal line to divide the face into equal top and bottom halves. This is where the top of the eyes go.
  4. About halfway between this line and the chin, draw another line: this is the bottom of the nose.
  5. The bottom of the eye will be nearer or further away from the nose line depending on the style of anime character you are drawing.
  6. Finally, the mouth line is about a third of the way between the nose line and the chin.

A manga face This face is titled slightly away from the viewer. Print out the picture and draw the proportion lines to see how they work in perspective. Photo credit: wotupset_080803 on Visualhunt

Anime characters have rounded cheeks and pointed chins; more adult characters have longer faces, but rarely with a square jaw unless he’s a bad boy or a villain.

How to draw manga eyes

Though eyes are the most characteristic and expressive part of a manga head, they come in different types. Shojo and shonen have rounder eyes that are generally left open at the sides, or only closed on the outside.

Other styles have eyes that are more oval, with a marked slope on either the inside (usually for a manga girl) or the outside (a manga boy). This said, the eyes are still generally bigger than in Western animation and comics.

Villains and bad-boy secondary characters have narrow eyes that can be closed at the sides and smaller pupils.

Girls have longer lashes; how many are shown depends on the type of anime girl:

  • Innocent schoolgirl types will have a full set, drawn individually.
  • Innocent women without the little girl vibe will have individual lashes mostly on the outside.
  • Femmes Fatales will mostly have lashes on the outside, drawn with darker lines to appear fuller.

Pupils tend to be large and are often used to express emotion, expanding to show joy and contracting to show fear.

Anime eyes are large in proportion to the face. In manga the nose and mouth are very small. Manga eyes are large and usually only closed at the outer corners, if at all. Here the light reflections are further down because the eyes are shaded to express mystery. Photo credit: wotupset_080803 on Visual Hunt

One thing that sets manga eyes apart is the light reflections – oval white areas within the eye. There are generally two:

  • One in the pupil
  • One in the iris

The one in the iris is almost always set along the top eyelid. The one in the pupil generally as well, but it can wander downwards slightly.

Light reflections accentuate the eyes in manga. Here you can see how light reflections are used in anime eyes (three of them, here). THe sparkles around the characters can also appear in the eyes themselves. Photo credit: CéROM on Visualhunt

When learning how to draw anime eyes, it’s important to know how to work with additional light reflections to express emotion or a specific type of character:

  • Villains might only have an iris reflection, or else a very small pupil reflection, giving their eyes a flat, cold look.
  • Young girls in love will have up to six, not all of which need to be oval – stars are very popular for certain types of stories. More reflections make the eyes appear more innocent and “star-struck”.

Adding reflections in certain patterns can help add emotion to anime eyes. Try and observe what your favourite manga artists do and integrate that knowledge when you practise how to draw eyes.

The nose and mouth

Manga noses and mouths are fairly minimalistic.

The nose is a single line between the eyes and a tilted oval where the bottom of the nose is. In profile, they can be rather pointed – stronger for men, while women have small button noses. Western characters in manga and anime often have bulbous noses.

The mouth at rest is also a single line. Be careful not to make the mouth too wide – it should not extend further than the inside corners of the eyes.

Anime mouths can be almost as expressive as eyes. When surprised or angry, anime mouths more than triple in size. Photo credit: wotupset_080803 on Visualhunt.com

This is at rest, or showing sedate emotions, such as a small smile, a sad mouth or a grim mouth. For excessive emotions – the mouth can end up taking up most of the face if a character is yelling or crying.

Manga hair

When drawing manga, don’t forget to give the hair some personality. Manga and anime hair flows, bounces, fans out in the wind, stands up on end… It is an expression of the character’s personality and current emotions.

Even when drawing realistic manga, when it comes to hairstyles, think big.

Even when drawing short hair, try to use flowing lines; make zig-zag lines long rather than short.

In short, manga hair is big even when it isn’t.

When drawing shonen, shojo or chibi styles, think even bigger.

Anime hair is always very flowing. This manga girl has a fairly normal hairstyle – yet it still conveys a lot of movement and character. Don’t hesitate to imagine a breeze to showcase your character’s brilliant hair! Photo credit: mangamissou on Visual Hunt

Hair can simply be an exaggerated version of actual hairstyles, or it can be Yugi-Oh’s amazing lightning-bolt type hair. It can literally be any colour. Have fun with it!

Emotion in an Anime Cartoon

There are certain conventions for showing emotions in anime, and certain set facial expressions for a manga face. For example, fear is generally depicted by contracting the pupil, joyful expressions include closed eyes with the eyelids arched upwards and fists pressed just under the chin. Watch your favourite anime and manga to learn the conventions for specific expressions.

Closed eyes show happiness or contentment in manga. There are certain conventions on how to express emotions in manga and anime. Closed eyes are associated with happy emotions, especially with girls. Photo credit: wotupset_080803 on Visual Hunt

Resources on How to Draw Anime and Manga

This article cannot be more than a simple introduction on how to draw manga and anime. For some more tutorials, check out these websites:

  • This one has the bare basics to get you started.
  • Anime Outline has a series of tutorials on how to draw anime, some of them quite specific (such as how to draw anime glasses). It focuses mostly on the more youthful styles.
  • Painter Artist has some helpful tips on how to draw manga.
  • This iTune app called Manga University is fine for learning the basics, though you should look elsewhere if you want to progress, for example in the books by Tadashi Ozawa on “How to Draw Anime and Game Characters” or the 23 volumes of “How to Draw Manga” from the Society for the Study of Manga Techniques.

Want to know more about drawing anime and manga? Why not take some manga drawing lessons with one of our Superprof tutors?

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