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Anime is a distinctive and instantly recognizable style of visual art. However, that doesn’t mean that all anime characters look the same. Within the realm of anime character design, there’s a wide range of stylistic approaches, from cute to realistic. 

Interested in becoming a character design anime artist? Before you start creating avatars for graphic novels, web comics, films, TV shows, or video games, you’ll need to get comfortable with the fundamentals of anime character design. Find everything you need to know in this guide. 

Essential Elements of the Anime Character Design Process

There’s more to anime character design than putting pencil to paper. So before you jump into designing a character, it’s essential to understand the different phases and elements of the design process. 

Anime Character Concept Art

The first step of character design is creating anime concept art. Anime character concept art explores and defines the fundamental aspects of the character, which helps you refine their visual appearance. Concept art may include details such as:

  • Personality: What are the character’s good and bad traits? What do they do for a living? What is their backstory? While these details can seem extraneous, you may be able to incorporate elements that reflect them into the character design.
  • Silhouette: There’s a science to a character’s silhouette. A good silhouette makes a character memorable and reveals critical information about the character—like sex, age, profession—instantly.
  • Color and composition: What color scheme will you use? Will the character dress in bright or muted colors? What hue will you make their hair?
  • Art style: Whether you’re designing an anime character for a graphic novel, video game, or animated film, you should pinpoint the specific art style ahead of time. A kawaii (or “cute”) style character will look different from a chibi, or childish, character.

Once you define these characteristics, you can combine them into the initial anime character concept art. Anime concept art can look different from project to project (and artist to artist), but it generally includes a few different thumbnails of how your pre-defined details could come together to form the character.

doodles
Anime character concept art generally includes a few different thumbnails to show initial concepts of your character. 

Anime Character Design Sheet

Once you have a final design based on your concept art, you’ll use a design sheet (also referred to as a model sheet) to communicate the character to others involved in the project—for example, investors, producers, or animators. The design sheet gives those people a general sense of the character’s appearance, behaviors, and personality. 

Generally, a character design sheet includes:

  • A full-body illustration of the character: This full-color illustration should show the character in a neutral, relaxed position.
  • Images of the character in one or two secondary poses: These full-body illustrations might, for example, depict the character sitting or interacting with an object.
  • Close-up illustrations of several different expressions: Include three to six close-up images (just the head and shoulders) of the character in different emotional states—for example, angry, sad, surprised, or scared.
  • A short description of the character: In a few sentences, describe the character and their role in the story. 
character sheet
A character design sheet includes full-body illustrations, as well as several close-up images showing a range of facial expressions. 

How to Use Anime Character Designs 

Anime character designs are used in a wide range of projects, including graphic novels, web comics, TV shows, animated movies, music videos, digital art, and more. 

Generally, a client (e.g., a producer or author) will come to an anime character designer with a general concept for a character. The artist will go through the character design process—from creating concept art to the final design sheet—to produce a character within the client’s guidelines. 

Once finalized and approved, that character design may be used by a variety of other contributors, such as illustrators, animators, or writers, to guide the creation of the final project. 

How to Design Anime Characters

With an understanding of the elements of anime character design, you can move on to the specifics of how to create a character from start to finish. 

How to Make an Anime Character Design 

Every character design anime artist may have a different process, but to create an effective character, you will generally follow these steps: 

  1. Define your character: Who is your character? Define their age, personality, occupation, and motives. Thoroughly understanding the character will help guide the design process.
  2. Brainstorm through rough sketches: Start by creating a few different rough sketches of what your character might look like. Include minimal details—just enough to convey who your character is. While you can include a few memorable, defining elements to illustrate the character’s personality, like glasses or a particular hairstyle, keep it fairly simple at this point. 
  3. Refine the character: Now that you have a general feel for your character, you can hone in on their final design. Feel free to combine different individual elements from your rough sketches to create one final version of the character.
  4. Test the character: Now, put your anime character to the test. Based on your final design, redraw the character in several different poses or facial expressions. Make sure you can achieve the right emotions and expressions using your character’s proportions and silhouette. 

Anime Characters From Start to Finish

Fundamentals of Manga: Digital Illustration

Male Anime Character Design

When designing male anime characters, there are a few ways to make your designs decidedly masculine. In anime or manga style illustrations, male faces are typically elongated with a prominent jaw—so make sure to use straight lines and sharp angles when drawing the face. In addition, males tend to have thicker necks than female characters.

When it comes to facial features, the placement of the character’s eyes is generally the same for both males and females. However, males may have a more rectangular eye shape, rather than oval, with fewer or less prominent eyelashes. 

red hair anime boy
Male anime characters typically have an elongated face with a thick neck and prominent jaw.

In addition to the face, male anime characters may have other defining characteristics, such as more prominent muscles, a straighter torso, wider shoulders, and, in general, a blockier build than female characters. 

Female Anime Character Design  

In the same way, there are a few features that are unique to female anime characters, including their hairstyles, clothing, and facial features. 

  • Hairstyles: To achieve a classic anime hairstyle, avoid drawing individual strands or very jagged clumps of hair. Instead, create the shape of the hair by layering basic shapes, like triangles, rectangles, and leaf shapes. Get more ideas in this class on how to draw female hairstyles.
  • Clothing: Often, you will see female anime characters in a sailor fuku, a Japanese school uniform, which consists of a pleated skirt and collared shirt. However, don’t feel constrained by this traditional costume; female anime characters can wear a wide variety of clothing. It’s most important to understand how clothing drapes on a female figure—from that point, the clothing design is up to you.
  • Facial features: While male and female characters can share some of the same facial features, like large eyes and small noses, you can use some details—like exaggerated eyelashes or lips—to make your character’s face look uniquely feminine. 
pink lady
Bold eyelashes and lips make this female anime character strikingly feminine. 

How to Draw Anime Eyes

If there’s one feature to focus on when creating anime characters, it’s the eyes. Anime eyes are key to conveying your character’s emotions. Different from realistic eyes, anime eyes tend to be large and expressive, with exaggerated features such as eyelashes or eyebrows. 

Generally, anime eyes are fairly simple. Typically, you will draw an upper and lower eyelid, leaving the inner corner open. Then, add a circle (the iris) below the upper lid, with a smaller circle (the pupil) in the middle of the iris. Add a few highlights within the eyes to create a classic anime look.

eyes
Each of these anime eyes ideas will give your character a different look. 

For more anime eyes ideas, try taking this class on how to draw anime eyes—it covers a wide range of different eye shapes and expressions. 

Character Design Anime Examples 

If you’re excited to break out your anime sketchbook but still need some inspiration, take a look at a few of the best anime character design examples below. 

1. Beastars 

beastars
Source: Beastars
Legoshi is the male protagonist in the series Beastars

Beastars is a manga series that features anthropomorphic animals—that is, animals that look and act like human beings—as the main characters. This design choice goes against the grain of traditional anime character design, but it is undoubtedly memorable and unique. 

2. JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure

jojo character
Source: Fandom wiki
Jonathan Joestar stars as the protagonist of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure is a manga series written and illustrated by Hirohiko Araki. The characters are drawn in a realistic style with brightly colored and unique clothing that stands out among other anime series. 

3. Naruto 

naruto
Source: Fandom wiki
Naruto tells the story of Naruto Uzumaki.

Naruto, a Japanese manga series, uses more traditional anime character design, featuring large, expressive eyes and sharp, angular hairstyles. However, the wide variety of characters demonstrates how the art style can be applied in many different ways to convey a range of personalities. 

Design Your Own

Ready to create the next manga star? Flip to a blank page in your anime sketchbook and get drawing. From rough sketch to final design, a memorable anime character design is just a few steps away. 

The Building Blocks of Character Design

Character Design: From First Idea to Final Illustration