How to Create a Unique Manga Character

Break Out of the Cookie Cutter Mold

When we first start drawing Manga, most of us copy characters from our favorite series. It's a great way to learn the conventions of Manga style and practice drawing characters in different poses. But sooner or later you want to create your own Manga characters, to really let your imagination bring to life the characters you can see in your mind's eye, and even write your own Manga.

To create your own characters, you want to really think about what makes a character unique. You don't want yours to be just a shadow of an existing character, but an individual with their own personality evolved through a unique set of life experiences.

A useful approach is to use some key questions to guide your thinking.

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What Is This Character? Do They Fall Into a Genre or Class?

Anime and Manga drawing of several character shiwng profile.
Anime and Manga Drawings Showing Various characters.

Frank Carter Creative/Getty Images

While everyone is an individual, we can usually place people into various groups with similar characteristics, and each person might belong to several groups. In fiction, you'll notice that characters seem to consistently fall into particular types — "archetypes" that follow established patterns. The pattern of qualities — appearance, personality, and behavior — that is part of each archetype allows the creator to quickly create a 'whole' character, without having to provide all the details, which can slow down the storytelling.

A well constructed archetypal character allows the reader to 'fill in the gaps' from their own imagination. When coupled with a few 'twists', this can be more satisfying to the reader than an overly complex character that doesn't seem to 'fit' any pattern. Often, you can use the expected pattern of the archetype to highlight differences in your individual character. So this is the first step in creating your character. In the first instance, the 'job' or role is a good place to start, but in Manga, you'll also consider the role in the story - hero, sidekick, traitor, mad scientist, Ninja, pirate, schoolkid or even 'average Joe'.

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What Is Necessary for This Character?

To survive comfortably in the world they live in or common situation they go into, what do they need? Swords are essential to the Samurai, while average people need average clothes in order to blend in. Accessories are a useful way to tell the viewer something about your character, but should also make sense.

You'll want to think about these from the outset, as you need to draw them consistently throughout your comic panels, and you usually need to include them at the sketch stage, as poses often don't make sense without them. Most artists will create a design pinboard with reference photos to help them remember what accessories a character has, with different views to help with drawing details correctly. These may be brought together in a character sheet which provides a reference for all the angles and details you may need to draw.

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What Attributes Do You Want Them to Have?

Flawed characters are interesting; faults make them more complicated, human and believable. These might be visible, such as scars or blindness, or they could be an intangible quality, such as "seeing dead people", having a particularly hot temper, or having some kind of sixth sense. You don't want your character to be endlessly complaining, though, so be careful if you give them a negative quality. (Unless, of course, they are a minor character designed to annoy your protagonist!)

Then you'll need to think about translating these attributes into your drawings. Look at how other Manga artists draw details of scars and expressions. Be familiar with the conventions used in the style of comic that you want to create, such as specific face and body proportions, as well as the handling of surface detail.

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How Do They Tackle a Challenge?

Fiction writer Debra Dixon teaches authors to use "Goals, Motivation and Conflict" to drive their novels. What do the protagonists want, why do they want it, and what is getting in their way? These principles can help you create your Manga character too. Consider how to different personalities might tackle a similar obstacle.

For example, suppose a character suffers from a curse that results in being attacked by random ghosts. A cheerful ​personality who is usually happy might deal with their situation by wearing bright, colorful clothes, and carry around a charm that wards off ghosts. Their aim is to prevent the ghost attacks, and their means is in keeping with their character. How would a character with a melancholic personality and the same curse behave? They might wear darker clothes and carry a magical weapon that allows them to destroy ghosts because they would rather fight the ghostly attackers than avoid or prevent attacks.

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