Whether you’re a visual artist, a graphic designer, or a writer, sometimes you need to create characters to add to a fictional world. When the well of your imagination runs dry, consult this comprehensive list of character ideas. You’ll find cartoon character ideas, anime character ideas, fantasy character ideas, and more to get your creative wheels turning.

Be Your Own Character Generator: How to Come Up With Ideas

cowboy character
Student work by Jake Windle for Introduction To Cartoon Character Design.

In any genre or medium, the key to creating effective characters is making sure they are consistent and believable for the world or story that you’re creating, and that they connect with the target audience. While you may have some success designing characters just by doodling, a more focused and methodical approach is more sustainable in the long run.

Start your character design process by thinking beyond the individual character to the story and world you want to create. Then, follow these steps to generate effective characters:

  1. Do research and discovery: Create a mood board or a mind map of everything that’s relevant to your character’s appearance, personality, and world. 
  2. Create a backstory: Everyone has a story that influences their behavior and mannerisms—even fictional characters!
  3. Focus on your character’s physical traits: This is where you decide what they look like. Include everything from their physical build to their hair color.
  4. Begin sketching: Even if you’re a writer, having an idea of what your characters look like visually can help when writing.

Still stumped? Check out this character design ideas generator, which can serve as a jumping-off point for your own creations.

Got Character Drawing Ideas? Bring Them to Life

Character Illustration: Drawing Faces, Figures & Clothing

Cartoon Character Ideas

cartooon horse
Animals can be a starting point for cartoon character ideas.

Whether you’re designing cartoon characters for an animation or a still cartoon, here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Try drawing a caricature of yourself, or someone you know, as a starting point.
  2. Pick a key feature—such as height, weight, facial features, or interesting clothing—and exaggerate it.
  3. Create signature poses or silly hand gestures.
  4. Give a human character an animal sidekick.
  5. Follow S-curve and C-curve lines to create exaggerated poses. (Skillshare instructor Denis Zilber covers them in his class on designing cartoon characters). 

Anime Character Ideas

spirited away
To generate anime character ideas, start from a reference drawing and adapt it for your own characters.

Anime is a Japanese style of cartoon that has spread around the world, and anime characters are distinctive and quite different from other types of cartoon characters. Here are some important things to keep in mind when designing them:

  1. Simplify and stylize the head shapes. Anime heads should also be large in comparison to the body.
  2. Make facial features highly stylized. Anime eyes are large, noses almost non-existent, and mouths are small when at rest but often large and open when speaking or laughing.
  3. All types and genders of anime character are childlike—the goodies and the baddies!—so think about common kid’s traits you’d like to incorporate.
  4. Keep it simple! Anime characters have simple visual designs, with clean colors and lines and unfussy details.

Fantasy Character Ideas

woman warrior
Student work by Alessandro Bergamo for Digital Painting in Manga Studio 5 – Character Design.

Fantasy characters for science fiction novels or games can be made from nothing more than your imagination, or be based on a number of stock creatures. Here are some fantasy character ideas:

  1. Use your imagination! Fantasy characters are often elves, demons, witches, warlocks, fairies, warlords, mermaids, aliens, hybrid human-animal creatures… or some combination of these! 
  2. Pick features to focus on. Fantasy characters often have exaggerated feminine and masculine body features, such as breasts, chests, torsos, and biceps.
  3. Consider the historical period of your characters: Fantasy is often set in the past or the future, and combines both historical and futuristic elements.
  4. Costume is an important part of fantasy, so incorporate armor, capes, wings, and battle accessories into your designs.
  5. Keep in mind that fantasy costumes are often figure-hugging or skimpy. Your characters don’t need to be dressed this way, but you have to know the rules before you choose to break them!
  6. Think about your character’s powers, skills, and quests. Does your character need a mask or helmet to stay strong or protected?

Comic Character Ideas

Comic book characters are similar to other types of cartoon or anime characters but tend to be based on even simpler shapes and stylized action poses, especially superhero comics. Here are some things to consider when coming up with comic character ideas:

  1. Comic book characters are often depicted in exaggerated dynamic poses, such as running, jumping, flying, or falling. Create costumes that support these activities, such as capes for flying.
  2. Design a character who transforms from “ordinary” to “super,” like Clark Kent, or who uses an accessory to hide their true identity.
  3. Give your character a signature accessory, like a sword or a gemstone.
  4. Can you come up with comic character ideas for hybrid human-animal characters that haven’t already been done?

Video Game Character Ideas

robot character
Consider movement when coming up with video game character ideas.

From Dungeons & Dragons to more cutesy Nintendo-like games, video game characters push character design boundaries. If you’re designing a video game from scratch, you’ll need to do a lot of planning to make a consistent, believable world. You might want to create a character for use in an existing role-play game, though. Here’s some inspiration for video game character ideas:

  1. Designing your characters digitally from the start is a good tactic for video game characters, as you’ll need to transfer them to this medium anyway.
  2. For some video games, you’ll be exploring the world and seeing it through your character’s eyes. Do they wear a hood or glasses that might alter this vision?
  3. Video game characters will often be fighting in some way. What’s your weapon of choice?
  4. Your character is on a quest: How can their costume ease their movement through their world on this quest? Will they be able to swim through water, walk through fire, or leap across canyons?
  5. If armor is necessary for your character, get creative with it. They could look like a real Medieval knight or have more futuristic-style armor. 

Animation Character Ideas

goblin character drawing
The best animation character ideas are often simple.

Animated characters are designed to move and to be seen moving. This means that when coming up with animation character ideas…

  1. Simplicity is your friend (at least until you’re a super expert animator!).
  2. When designing the way your character’s lips move while speaking, study real human speech for natural lip-synching. Animation software really helps create natural movement, but speech is an especially difficult part to get right.
  3. Go wild with animated animals or dinosaurs. These characters are a favorite among kids.
  4. Exaggerated walks or gestures are a fun way to bring personality to animated characters.
  5. Although 3D digital animation is favored these days, consider going old school and experimenting with 2D hand-drawn or clay model animation.

Easy Character Ideas

bird character
Skillshare instructor Masholand uses the exquisite corpse game to design playful characters.

If you’re just starting to explore the world of character design, you might prefer to stick with easy character ideas until you’ve mastered some basic design skills and learned how to use design software. These easy character ideas are great for beginners:

  1. Try stick figure animation in an old-fashioned flip book!
  2. Use the exquisite corpse game to design whimsical composite characters.
  3. Sketch portraits or self portraits to study realistic features and anatomy.
  4. Design chibi characters, a form of stylized Japanese cartoon based on kids.
  5. Turn a photo of yourself, a friend, or a well-known personality into a digital design and use this as the basis for a new character.
  6. Cartoonize your pet!

Get Designing Characters!

cartoon cat
Student work by Rebecca Jackson for Cartoonize Your Pet (Kawaii Style Made Easy).

There are no limits to the kinds of characters you can design, except for your own imagination and the requirements of your genre. But even within your chosen genre, you can experiment and push the boundaries once you’re confident in your design skills. 

Next time you’re watching an animated movie or cartoon, reading a comic, or delving into an author’s imagination in a sci-fi novel, take note of the way the characters are designed—you’ll soon be bursting with ideas!

Start With the Basics

Simple Character Animation

Written by:

Elen Turner