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Fundamentals of Anime and Manga Drawing

"Drawing is an illustration of the soul. The better you draw, the stronger your soul gets." - P.S. Tavishi

The following article lays emphasis on the basic requirements of drawing characters in anime and manga. If you are a beginner, this is a very crucial lesson for you. In case, you already understand the basics, you can advance to the next stage. The link below takes you a step further so you can grab an idea of perspective drawing and shading to build realistic manga and anime characters.

For now, let’s focus on the fundamentals of anime and manga drawing.

Make the outline then highlight the important areas

Make the outline then highlight the important areas

1. Make the outline then highlight the important areas

The image above gives a realistic view of the human eye. This starts with the simplest outline which is then given varying shades at different points.

As a starter, you are not expected to draw something so exemplary in your first go. Draw the basic outline, then let your imagination ride over it to build a customized character eye. However, if you pay close attention you can notice the final drawing is merely a result of further shading on the given structure. So, this makes it pretty simple for you to try.

In anime and manga, the eyes are more rounded and big. To do so, you can start by drawing a light trace as in the example above. The result won’t be as expected so better use light lines. When you are certain everything is falling in the right place, you can dark the lines. This is an inevitable step when you go for elaborate drawings.

Light lines can be easily erased and that’s how you should start your every drawing. If you ever watch manga artists drawing online, they also use a light hand to draw the character, and then darken it, later.

Try to make use of as minimum lines as possible. In case, you need to draw something complicated, you should better use a graph instead (assuming you are at a beginning stage, however more experienced artists can draw the pieces without a graph, but let’s leave that for later discussion.)

Guides help you achieve the design aesthetics

Guides help you achieve the design aesthetics

2. Guides help you achieve the design aesthetics

The guidelines (or some say it, the construction lines) are your best bet while drawing any object. You need to have fine observation skills to understand the basic structure of an object to draw its realistic imitation. One such example is the red footwear shown in the above image. First, the artist drew the basic outline with light lines and then, drew the final sketch over it.

Suppose you want to draw a symmetrical face with a front view. Draw a horizontal line through the middle of the point where you want to draw the face. This midline ensures both the face halves have an even width. Then, you can take the liberty to draw more light horizontal lines for the eyes and ears. One such example of the symmetrical face is given in the below image of Kakashi Hatake from Naruto. The image doesn’t show guidelines, but you can imagine or try on your own how Kakashi’s face can be drawn using multiple straight lines.

3. Visualize the image mentally then begin with the smallest piece

You can’t improvise a drawing. Before putting down your pencil on paper, you should have clear proportions of what you are going to draw. First of all, check out the below video, how the artist begins with a stickman and then, completes the entire picture.

You can draw this massive piece only if you have visualized a mental image. Now, use your imagination and try to draw a basic structure of a character’s body. To do so, you need to estimate the proportions of their parts so they don’t turn out to be weird or imbalanced. This factor applies to other objects as well such as a car, multiple buildings where some are skyscrapers, and so on. At this stage, if you can only draw a basic outline, then that’s absolutely alright.

In other words, if you are drawing a character, first build their body then start with their facial features. If you are drawing buildings, first draw how their structure makes them look different, then draw their features such as gates, windows, and so on. Similarly, if you are drawing a vehicle, first draw their complete outer body, then go for wheels, windowpanes, windscreen, seats, and so on.

Keep Different Parts of Your Drawing in the Same Stage of Completion

Keep Different Parts of Your Drawing in the Same Stage of Completion

4. Keep Different Parts of Your Drawing in the Same Stage of Completion

Drawing is more of a personalized thing. You draw based on your imagination and the result is great if you know how to incorporate your thoughts into your hand. However, as a beginner, I suggest you take everything together. This means if you have to draw two characters standing aside, then begin with their outline first. Then, draw their parts simultaneously, facial features must be drawn in the end.

Here, I have given the example of character eyes. Start by drawing the outer shape of each eye, then draw the iris. This will let you know if there is any mismatch between the eyes, so you can easily backtrack and start again. The eyes suggest it's a female character, you can try reducing the eyelashes and make the eyebrow straight to give it a male-ish look.

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Draw the complete picture including the hidden elements (Kakashi Hatake from Naruto)

Draw the complete picture including the hidden elements (Kakashi Hatake from Naruto)

5. Draw the complete picture including the hidden elements

Take the example of Kakashi Hatake in the above image. On the left side, I have shown both sides including the right one which is supposed to be hidden. This helps me draw the band in an appropriate manner such that it isn’t going too down or too wide from its left counterpart.

In case you have to draw a character like this one or you have to draw a character whose one eye is covered with hair, you should begin by drawing the hidden features as well. Moreover, along with Kakashi’s eyes, I have also drawn his ear to make everything look perfectly covered. Gaining the perspective will help you draw such characters without using their hidden features, for now, you can use this technique.

6. Practice basic exercises daily

Even if you aren’t planning to draw for a day, you should keep practicing the basic exercises daily. I have met several people who struggle to draw aesthetically after a gap. Their hands become tight and the muscle memory turns weaker.

As a beginner, you receive benefits from simple exercises. Your hand will remain steady and you can improve the common mistakes. Practice this routine for at least 10 minutes daily. Most importantly, this will help you improve your imaginative power. Here are a few suggestions to help you go on:

Straight Lines Exercises

Straight Lines Exercises

Straight Lines Exercises

This is the most basic of all, it’s like scratching a surface but with a pencil in your hand. However, you can also build great objects with straight lines as well, such as a staircase and a cupboard. All you have to do is draw the straight lines horizontally, vertically, and diagonally.

Curved Lines Exercises

Curved Lines Exercises

Curved Lines Exercises

Curved lines can take different looks sometimes which are unimaginable. Try drawing bent lines like a water wave. In the above image, you can see semi-circles, circles, the letter ’s’. Similarly, there can be many more variations, all depends on your imagination.

Mixed Drawing Exercises

Mixed Drawing Exercises

Mixed Drawing Exercises

Drawing combinations are the best way of pouring out your imagination. You can draw circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and then mix them to produce something fresh. Check out the shapes in the above images. These are just a few examples among many.

At this stage, you don’t have to worry about being right. Draw freely and see how your hand pulls your thoughts out of your mind.

Study the style and get rid of the mistakes

Study the style and get rid of the mistakes

7. Study the style and get rid of the mistakes

You can be experimental with your drawings but first, you need to learn the style of anime and manga. Study the differences in characters based on their gender, personality, profession, lifestyle, and role. The angry characters have rigid eyebrows while the insomniac characters have baggy eyes and blurry dark circles. Generally, characters’ lips are shown with an outline, but someone with glamorous features is given full-blown lips.

Now, you are done with your basic character sketch. You should revise the drawing for any mistakes. The best way is to turn it upside down and identify the flaws. This gives you a fresh perspective and is then easier to get rid of the mistakes.


The above tips will you learn a fine character drawing. By now you should know how to draw their basic structure and distinguish them from other characters and entities. You must have a fairly steady hand with reliable control of your pencil or pen.

To advance further, you can hit the link given below:

Learn more

© 2020 Prachi Sharma


Prachi Sharma (author) from Seattle, WA on December 19, 2020:

Thank you, Umesh...!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on December 05, 2020:

Nice article.

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