Basic Techniques of Drawing Good Manga


Drawing Japanese Manga is a style all in itself. Manga – and to a more complex extent, Anime – are radically different from Western comic books. Western comic strips focus on semi-realistic proportions and the art also represents a modern Western cultural preference. Manga on the other hand focuses on emphasized body proportions, facial expressions, and sharp and round lines to convey specific messages, and a lot of Japanese cultural pop references.


To get good at drawing Manga you’ll want to study several drawing techniques. Some focuses on helping you define the style of Manga while others are there to help you personalize your art, to make it your own and to differentiate it from others. Some techniques are the exact opposite. Study some of them below.


Read and Imitate Manga to Learn How It Differs


Many people who get really good in drawing Manga started by copying the work of their favorite Manga artists. Westerners tend to start with Dragon Ball Z since it was one of the first popular Japanese series brought overseas and it does a good job of introducing the art style.


Why imitate the work of others? You want to get a good feel of Manga and see how it is different from regular Western comic book art. In American comic books the proportions are normal and there is a big emphasis on muscle tone and caped costumes. In Japan, the art is very different. There is a big emphasis on specific body parts and when an artist emphasizes something there is a reason for it. Manga characters tend to have very slender bodies, large eyes, spiky hair, large breasts, and clothing marked by rigid lines that represent folds.


Character Design Guidelines


How do you draw a Manga character’s face? Here’s a simple set of guidelines and this will also be the basis for the rest of the body.


  • Instead of using two circles (forehead and chin) the Manga character’s head and face is best done by either using an egg (tip is the bottom end, serving as the chin) or using a circle for the upper half of the head and a triangle for the lower end. If you look at most Japanese characters, their jaws and chins are angular. It is this guideline technique that dictates this design.
  • One of the biggest factors in Japanese art is the emphasis on the eyes and the breasts. Study how Manga artists draw the eyes. They can be big but you don’t want to draw them too large. The same can be said for female breasts.
  • The nose and lips are on the other end of that spectrum. Unless the character is facing sideways, you usually only have to draw the tip. In most Manga techniques you can just use a semi-circle or small triangle, shaded, to represent the nose. For the lips, one of the most common techniques is the double-line standard. You start by drawing a single line as the main lip line and then a second line below. This second line represents the lower lip and draws dimension for the chin.
  • Facial expressions are a big thing in Manga. You’ll find many weird expressions used only in Japanese art that may look very awkward and out of place in Western comics. One good example is the emphasized crying face: the eyes are drawn extra large with black pupils and wobbly sparkles. You can add a stream of tears flowing down the cheeks. It emulates the “puppy-eye” effect to great degree.


Know Your Genre


There are different genres or types of Manga and each one utilizes different art styles. If you were to do Shōnen then you want to focus on male anatomy and angled muscles (Dragon Ball Z, Naruto) but if you were to do Josei then your audiences are adult females so there is more emphasis on soft eyes, light colors, and shading.
The different genres are:


  • Shōnen – Manga aimed for teenage boys
  • Shōujo – aimed for teenage girls
  • Seinen – aimed for adult men
  • Josei – aimed for adult women
  • Kodomo – aimed specifically for young children
  • Hentai – sexual Manga, specifically for adult readers
  • Gekiga – dramatic or experimental Manga styles
  • Doujinshi – fan-art


The genre you are going for is going to critically affect your art and the style you want. Remember the first technique above: imitate that of your favorite artist. Look for art of the same genre you want to try and emulate theirs just as you get ready to try your own work.


Trace the Work of Others


Inking is a big part of Manga and if you want to get good at it there is one simple technique to practice – tracing. Use a lightboard if you can (a slanted board that has a bulb inside to make tracing easy). When you trace, use a faint pencil first like an HB or 2H. After tracing, remove the original piece and work solely on the traced version.


Now get your pen for inking. Manga artists tend to use 0.3 and 0.5 ink pens. Without looking at the original piece, ink the traced lines. Practice making thick lines and thin lines, studying how Manga artists use ink to shade or add emotion to the drawing.


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Keep in mind that practice breeds perfection. Do not loose heart if your drawing does not look professional. Keep on learning and practicing soon your creations will not only satisfy the perfectionist within you but also amaze others.