How To: Draw Your Own Manga Character

by Cass Art Student Ambassador

Manga is a hugely popular style of drawing from Japan. Although the word "manga" refers to comics or cartoons, the artform is hugely diverse, and the style has been adopted by artists worldwide, who love the stylised vision of the world that it portrays. With the exhibition Shojo Manga: The World of Japanese Girls' Comics opening at the House of Illustration on the 19th March, manga is definitely a hot topic in 2016.

Cass Art Ambassador and Foundation Year student, Kye Ottley, has taught herself how to make incredible manga-inspired drawings, and has written a step-by-step on how to create your own manga character, following two different popular styles...

In this tutorial I'll be focusing on two different techniques for manga-style drawing; creating the same character using a simpler "chibi" drawing, as well as a more realistic and traditional manga style.


Alcohol Based Markers, including blending pen (I used Winsor & Newton ProMarkers)

Bleed-proof paper

Graphite Pencil

Black fineliner

White gel pen

White coloured pencil 

Before you start drawing it's worth taking some time to experiment with your marker pens. Try out different colour combinations to see how well they blend and compliment each other. Play around with mark making; since ProMarkers are double sided, with both a thick and fine tip, I was able to achieve lots of different types of marks and strokes on my test sheets.

It's also a good idea to try out your blending marker at this stage- To put it simply, the blending marker adds more alcohol to the alcohol-based pens, allowing them to bleed together more easily. This can create some great effects, such as gradients and textures, and vastly widens the colour palette you have available. It's definitely worth using a high gsm, bleed-proof paper, which won't crumple or tear whilst you layer and blend the colours.

Tip: Don't use the blending marker onto a block of solid colour, as it may leave unsightly, blotchy marks.

Another fun idea for experimentation is to try out the "Three Marker Challenge." This requires you to randomly select three different coloured markers and use them to create a quick drawing. I found this exercise really useful, and it encouraged me to get stuck-in with the markers, test out different compositions and work with colour combinations I might have otherwise avoided, or never even considered- at first I was nervous of the indigo marker because the colour was so intense, but this challenge pushed me to try it out, and I was really pleased with the outcome!

Now you've had the chance to play around with the pens, it's time to start drawing your character....

The Chibi Style


"Chibi" translates to mean "short person" or "small child", and in manga often refers to characters that are young or cute. To achieve this look in your drawing stick to simplified, block-like shapes, and don't be afraid to exaggerate features, such as the eyes, mouth and hair. This style is all about youth and fun- so I've given my character a huge grin and wild, messy hair.   

I first sketched my character in pencil, and then went over the lines with a black fineliner, varying the thickness to begin the suggestion of light and shadow.

Next you can add the base colours to your drawing, filling in the shapes of your figure with flat tones. Move your pen slowly across the paper, and try not to vary the thickness of your lines- this will help you to achieve an even and streak-free finish. Alcohol based markers tend to bleed a bit, so if the ink runs outside the lines don’t worry! You can cover it up at the end using a white pencil or gel pen.

Finally, add shadows and highlights to create depth in your drawing. Decide on an angle for your light source- and keep this in mind when drawing the shadow. Shadows can be created by layering the same marker, or a complementary tone, over the base colour, to create a darker shade. Try to keep the edges smooth and blocky, to stay true to the cartoon-ish style. After a few minutes you can add another darker layer of shadow to create further depth, and then subtly draw in a few highlights using a white pencil or pen- gel pens are great for this, because of their thick and highly-pigmented ink.

And that's your chibi style manga complete!

The Realistic Manga Style

To contrast with the heavily stylised chibi figure you can also draw a more realistic version of your character. Start by sketching out the figure in pencil; you can use more elongated proportions than in the chibi drawing. The lively personality of my character still comes through with her subtle but cheeky smile and sparkling eyes.

Unlike the chibi drawing, for this style it works well to add the shadow and colour before sketching in the dark outlines. First, select your darker complementary shades and put them down as base shadows. I recommend blending at this stage to create a variety of shadowed tones. Do this for all areas that need shadow. I've paid particular attention to my figure's trousers, to show movement and texture within the fabric.

Next, fill in the key block colours of your drawing, but be careful not to layer multiple dark or contrasting tones, as this might make your final image darker or duller than expected. If needed, go over the shadows with same colour again, to make sure that they stand out. Keep adding small strokes of colour to your piece until you're happy with the colour balance and shading. Think back to your initial experimentation to consider which colours complement and contrast with each other as you layer your tones, and keep in mind where the light source is in your drawing. I took great care to add subtle hints of shadow and highlight to my character's hair. 

When you're happy with the colour, finish off your piece by accentuating the figure's outline with dark ink or fineliner, and add highlights using white pencil or pen. This helps to stylise the finished image, and give it a manga-inspired flair. 

The key thing about any kind of manga, cartoon or comic style drawing is to enjoy yourself and be adventurous! Manga is heavily routed in fantasy and storytelling, and there are really no limits to what your characters can do, say or wear. You can try copying popular manga characters, create your own or even try making manga-inspired portraits of your friends and family- Tanoshinde!

Feeling inspired?

See more of Kye's work here, or follow her on Instagram.

Buy tickets for Shojo Manga: The World of Japanese Girls' Comics.

Shop for Winsor & Newton ProMarkers and other drawing materials online at Cass Art.

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