How to Draw Manga Characters

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Manga Proportions - Body Proportions for a Standard Character

Body proportions for a standard character
Body proportions for a standard character. P. Stone, licensed to, Inc.

This tutorial will show you how to structure and outline a basic manga character. Using a wireframe figure, you can get the main parts of the pose correct and in proportion before adding detail. If you'd like to draw a more dynamic character, take a look at these tutorials which show you how to draw a manga ninja and a manga cyborg cop.

When drawing a manga character, the right proportions are important. You are about 7.5 heads tall. Manga action heroes tend to have more elongated proportions, at least 8 heads tall, often taller. The comparatively small head heightens the dramatic effect of a low viewpoint in the towering ‘hero’ stance. This is a very different look to the big-headed style of cartoon.

Otherwise, body proportions are pretty much standard: your shoulder to your elbow is roughly the same length as your elbow to your wrist. The same goes for the hip to the knee and knee to the ankle. I generally like to begin the wire frame figure by placing (not finishing) the head, then going into the rest of the wireframe, because the head usually guides the body. The detail is developed along with the rest of the figure, not finished first.

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Using a Basic Wireframe to Structure a Manga Character

beginning a character with a wireframe
A simple wireframe base for a character drawing. P. Stone, licensed to, Inc.

We're going to start drawing a character using a simple wireframe. For this example, we'll use a basic, standing pose so you can see how it works.

Copy the wireframe man, adding circles and ovals (as shown in the picture to the left) between the joints where muscles should go. Make them slender for a lean character like this one, or thicker for a bulkier build. Keep in mind that you still want to practice all types of builds in order to improve at the art style, and that anime characters don’t tend to be as muscular as western cartoon characters. The forearm and calf muscles don’t continue all the way to the wrists and ankles because the limbs narrow towards those joints.

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Drawing the Manga Character's Outline

Drawing a Manga Character - Drawing the Outline
Drawing the Outline. P. Stone, licensed to, Inc.

Next draw the outline - curvy, quite continuous lines that define the character. The gradual curve of these lines is very important. Sharp corners on a figure tend to look mechanical rather than organic, and so look wrong.

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Cleaning Up the Outline

A simple outline ready for to be turned into a character. P. Stone, licensed to, Inc.

As you can see, the figure I’ve drawn here is male. Aside from having breasts, females will have wider hips and thinner waists, giving the “hourglass” shape. Manga style dictates that their shoulders are less broad than men, and their necks more slender. Often artists draw women in a stance such that their feet are touching to further enhance the hourglass shape.

Next go ahead and erase the guidelines within the outline. Make any corrections to things that don’t look quite right. Now you have a basic figure ready to add detail.

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Posing Characters with a Wireframe

posing characters with a wireframe
Sketching character poses in wireframe. P. Stone, licensed to, Inc.

The wire-and-ball approach is a common one for drawing figures and is a useful place to start. Once you’re confident, you’ll find that you’ll often use just a suggestion of a framework, sometimes skipping straight to the outline. This is a simple character to begin with. The wireframe method is useful for working out quick poses, too.

Try roughing out some character ideas using the wireframe method. See if you can copy poses from photographs of athletes and martial arts exponents, or use a wooden artist's manikin to set up a pose.