Every great anime and manga artist started from the bottom. We’ve all struggled to copy even simple images, and we’ve all thought that we’d never reach the level of the professional artists that we so admire.
But the truth is, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can improve your anime and manga art to a level you can really be proud of.
In this article, I’m sharing with you 10 essential tips on how to improve your anime art and become a better anime artist. Keep reading to find out the most important steps that you need to take!
Study anatomy (but don’t be too strict)
One of the greatest beginners’ mistakes when it comes to drawing is having a wrong understanding of human anatomy.
We frequently see aspiring artists draw arms that are too long or too short, or put the characters they draw in positions that are anatomically impossible.
People may not realize right away what’s wrong with your drawing. All they’ll notice is that it looks a bit amateurish.
To improve your understanding of anatomy, it can be useful to consult beginners’ drawing books. These will usually have valuable rules and principles that you can follow to make sure you’re drawings make sense.
Something as simple as following some ratios for the size of shoulders, arms, and torsos can make a big difference and help you improve your anime art significantly.
Now, that is not to say that everything you draw needs to look like it’s just been taken out of an anatomy textbook.
In fact, the best thing about anime and manga art is that it leaves you a lot of freedom. But you know how they say you have to know the rules before you can break the rules?
Focus on getting a better understanding of anatomy first, and then you’ll be able to make your own modifications to the rules, while still drawing characters in a way that looks “professional”.
Anime art is about breaking the rules!
Gather and use reference images
Many anime and manga artists feel guilty about “copying” the style of their favorite artists. This is silly, to be honest.
All the world’s best artists, including names like Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso, used other people’s art as references before they created their own unique masterpieces.
With anime and manga, you can’t expect yourself to reinvent the wheel.
What you draw will likely be a unique variation on styles, characters, and motifs that already exist.
Embrace that fact and start gathering reference images for your art.
Gathering and using reference images will make your art better because you’ll be able to define your own drawing and art style better.
By bringing together everything you enjoy in other people’s work, you are defining your “aesthetic”. And this is crucial to become a better anime artist: the more cohesive your work is, the better.
Related: Drawing style and how to create one
Keep in mind that you’re still just learning; you’re not a professional artist yet.
To improve your anime art, you’ll inevitably need to get inspiration from others. Take this to your advantage by choosing reference images that you really look up to, and let them be fuel for your own, unique anime art.
Don’t trace or copy other artworks
Okay, I know I just told you that using reference images is great. That being said, there’s not much point in copying exactly what another artist is doing.
If you want to become a composer, you wouldn’t just spend your time playing other people’s songs, right?
Well, if you want to become a better anime artist, you can’t just copy what other anime artists have already done.
Things like tracing the artwork of others can be particularly harmful. When you draw, you’ll usually start with a sketch: you put down on paper the frame of your characters, their limbs, some elements of expression.
And then, you’ll add in details: the clothes, the hair, decor elements in the background… But when you’re tracing someone else’s work, you’ll usually start tracing from top to bottom.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t really teach you how to draw. All it does is teach you how to trace, which is not a useful skill in and of itself. It’s better to have a reference image next to you and then draw than trace a drawing.
To improve your anime art, you’ll need to leave your comfort zone. Leave other people’s artwork behind and ask yourself: what am I all about?
What do I most want to draw?
Related: How to get back into drawing again
Sure, your artwork won’t look as good as that you’re used to tracing at first. But with time, you’ll keep on improving and eventually be able to create pieces that rival the ones you started off copying!
Mix elements from various reference images
We’ve already established that you shouldn’t copy or trace artwork. We’ve also established that using reference images to inspire your art can be beneficial.
But here’s the crux: if you get inspiration from just one type of reference image, you might as well just be copying.
Instead, I suggest that you have a look around your favorite manga and anime artists and art pieces to try and find the things that really appeal to you aesthetically.
You might love the way that this one anime artist draws his characters’ hair. You may be impressed by that one manga artist’s use of facial expressions.
Maybe the landscape art of this artist is what inspired you to draw manga and anime in the first place…
Gather reference images that inspire you from lots of different sources: the ones that inspire you in terms of characters, others in terms of objects, landscapes, clothes…
The art that you’ll put together from these images will be completely unique to you: it’ll reflect the things that you enjoy, and it won’t look like it has been copied.
Accept and be open to criticism
As an aspiring anime and manga artist, it can be very hard to take any criticism.
You take helpful tips on how to improve your work as a personal attack, and when people say “the drawing might look better like this,” all you hear is “your art will never be good enough”.
Unfortunately, this is a barrier that you’ll have to get over before you can start to really improve your anime art.
All the very best artists have had to hear thousands of criticisms before they heard all the compliments that they are now getting.
Criticism has helped them to pick out areas of improvement and make progress on their art year after year. We know this is hard, but you have to change your attitude toward criticism.
Every time someone mentions a possible improvement to your drawing technique, take it as a positive thing. Not only does this person see potential in you and wants to help you improve, but they can even suggest actionable strategies for you to do so.
Remember, the criticism that you get is not a measure of your qualities as an artist. But the way that you respond to it is.
Don’t take feedback from your family and friends too seriously
Often, we show our art to family and friends before we show it to anyone else. This is normal, and largely a good thing.
After all, we’ve got to get used to showing our art to someone, and we trust them enough to not be harsh with us in their criticism. However, that is also a problem.
Your family and friends are likely to be very enthusiastic about your art, which feels great… but it can also lead you to become complacent.
If you really want to improve your anime art, you’ll have to get criticism from someone who’s not afraid of hurting your feelings.
Ideally, you also want to get feedback from someone who knows a thing or two about art. So your best bet might be to ask a more advanced anime and manga artist for their opinion on your latest piece.
Depending on what is available to you, you could also ask an art teacher or even a professional artist.
These people will not only be more honest with you about areas of improvement, but they’ll also be able to give you expert knowledge to help you make progress.
At first, their criticism might sting a bit. But once you see the difference, it can make to your art. You’ll never regret asking for feedback outside of your family or close group of friends.
To improve your anime art, there are some hurdles that you need to get over. The most frequent ones are drawing hands and ears, drawing expressive faces, and giving a sense of movement to your drawings.
We all get better at these things little by little, but you can’t see improvement if you don’t challenge yourself.
If you can’t do something… practice until you can! You may have to challenge yourself to draw 10 hands a day in different positions until you can draw those from imagination.
Or you might want to try different facial expressions until your characters really express something. Whatever it is that you need to improve on, don’t despair.
By challenging yourself day after day, even the hardest drawing hurdle can become effortless.
As a beginner anime or manga artist, it’s normal to feel unconfident about your art.
You feel that it’s not really worth anything and that you still need years of practice before you can feel good about the things that you draw. But this may not be completely true… Even professional anime and manga artists have doubts about the quality of their art from time to time.
They feel that they may have stopped making progress, or that their technique is still rudimentary compared to that of someone else.
The truth is, you’re always going to have doubts. You’re always going to feel a certain uncertainty about your art.
The very best artists are those who are able to feel that, and still keep on practicing. Remember: to become a better anime artist. You don’t need to feel good about yourself every single second that you draw. You just need to be able to ignore the little voice in your head that’s being overly critical and focus on your goals.
Draw different things
After a few years of drawing anime and manga, we sometimes realize that we’re always drawing the same things. Maybe we love to draw landscapes but avoid drawing action scenes.
Or maybe we are very comfortable drawing a certain character, but we struggle with drawing everyday objects. This is dangerous: to become a better anime artist. It’s crucial to be able to draw a bit of everything.
So step out of your comfort zone. Try drawing something you’ve never done before. Challenge yourself to try out life drawing, do portraits of your family, or try to draw every single object in your room.
Whatever you need to do, make sure that your drawing practice is varied, and that you’re consistently improving your repertory. This is, by far, one of the best ways to improve your anime art.
Do you know what all the best anime and manga artists have in common? Two things: incredible determination and a real love for drawing.
The first one is cultivated, but the second one is usually something you’re born with.
The good news is, if you’re reading this article on how to improve your anime art, you already have your love for drawing!
Now all you need to do is keep it alive. Don’t let drawing become a chore: draw things you love, draw things you’re interested in, let your creativity completely free.
It’s only by enjoying the process of learning to draw that we can make real progress in our technique. So don’t consider the pleasure you take while drawing as something frivolous: it is the very backbone of your progression as an anime artist!
To improve your anime art, you’ll need to have some real strategies. These include challenging yourself to draw new things, learning from others, and accepting criticism.
Most importantly, you need to remember that drawing is a passion and something that should stay fun and motivating!
I hope that these tips on how to become a better anime artist have helped you—best of luck on your journey, and remember: the best artists never give up!
Drawing anime is our passion!