How to Draw Manga: A Beginner’s Guide

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What exactly is manga?

Japanese comics are referred to as manga. Manga, like comic books from North and South America and Europe, covers a wide range of genres and styles. Science fiction, such as Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk dystopia Akira, historical fiction, such as Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha, and superhero action comedies, such as ONE’s and Yusuke Murata’s One-Punch Man, are all examples of manga. Manga can be found in drama, high school humour, romance, horror, and other genres.

Manga was traditionally divided into gender and age groups in Japan, with the two most popular being shonen (for young boys) and shojo (for older males) (for young girls). Outside of Japan, the distinctions between those categories have blurred in recent years and are generally nonexistent.

Manga has recognisable visual and storytelling patterns, and the style and visual language of Japanese comics have inspired a whole generation of fans and young artists. Manga influence may be seen in Avatar: The Last Airbender, Steven Universe, and recent Disney cartoons like Big Hero Six.

How to get started drawing manga?

Aspiring manga artists can learn by attempting to recreate specific comics or cartoons that have influenced them. “Allow yourself this phase of sheer lack of originality,” says Mark Crilley, a manga creator and instructor. “Imagine yourself as a student studying from a master.” Mildred Louis, a writer and illustrator, started off in the same way. She explains, “I started drawing by simply copying anime.”

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“Think of yourself as an apprentice studying from a master as you gain the abilities.”

You’ll not only strengthen your vision, but you’ll also get your hand used to the pen or stylus. “Your muscles aren’t trained yet,” comics artist Ethan Young adds, “and so much of drawing is muscle memory.”

Recognizing manga proportions

The anatomical dimensions of manga characters are part of what makes it instantly recognisable. Manga eyes are larger than real life eyes, while lips are smaller and chins, noses, and foreheads all deviate dramatically from the heights of an actual human body. Manga hair frequently defies gravity, and facial expressions are unlike anything you’d see in realism-oriented art. However, this stylization does not imply that sketching manga is simple.

Learning manga’s visual language.

Comics and cartoons use a visual shorthand to convey emotions, actions and ideas. In Western comics and cartoons, a sleeping character might have a few Zs coming from their mouth. When a character suddenly gets an idea, a light bulb appears over their head.

Manga has these visual shortcuts too. A giant bead of sweat on a character’s head means they’re exasperated or frustrated. A snot bubble coming out of someone’s nose means they’re asleep. Motion lines behind a character can mean they’re moving, but they can also indicate that a character is making a dramatic statement or even that someone is especially determined, maybe to a ridiculous extent. If a character’s embarrassed, they’ll die (temporarily) and turn into a ghost.

Develop your own manga aesthetic.

Every well-known manga artist has a distinct style. The gloomy futuristic graphics of Yukito Kishiro’s Battle Angel Alita contrast sharply with Eiichiro Oda’s comic adventure One Piece. Young believes that part of maturing as an artist is accepting your mistakes. Working through the difficulties of imperfectly drawn objects is how you build your unique style.

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