What Is Anime Art Called?

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Written by Juha

Many budding artists might be tempted to head down the anime route when looking for an area in which to focus their artwork.

However, the anime art industry can sometimes feel as though it is shrouded in secrecy slightly, and many people struggle to understand what exactly anime art is.

Hopefully, this guide will go some way to lifting the veil as it were and allow new passionate artists to understand anime art a little more, so they can see whether or not it is a viable area for them to develop their skills. 

You will find out about anime and manga, and the differences between them, the sort of art that anime actually is, and start to understand the history of anime too.

But first, what is anime art called?


Anime art is called manga

This might come as a surprise to some, because so many people see the two as separate entities, but in reality they share the exact same artistic roots.

Anime, in many ways, is a natural evolution of manga. Many anime shows and movies actually start out life as manga to begin with, although admittedly not all of them because some anime can be originally produced, and many manga exist that have simply never been made into anime.

The main difference between the two is that manga can be seen simply as a graphic novel or comic book which is illustrated in a style that is almost identical to anime.

The differences between anime and manga isn’t actually in the artistic style per se, but rather in the medium in which they are shared with the world.

Manga can be thought as a graphic novel or comic book that has been illustrated in a very similar style to anime, but anime is an animated TV Show or Movie.

You need only look at manga and anime side by side to see that the work is very similar in style.

Although stylistically the two are very similar, you will likely note that most manga is created in black and white, whereas anime is infamous for its bursts of bright color and vivid detailed backgrounds and characters. 

In terms of the production of the art, manga very often only requires a very small team too, as generally the illustrator and writer of the manga are the same person.

Anime on the other hand, usually requires a large team of people across a range of different specialisms.

As you can see, anime is very much the logical ‘next step’ after manga, to bring the art form to an even wider audience.

But, stylistically in terms of their production, the two are very closely related. If you were to place the original illustrations which were then animated for anime next to a manga illustration, you’d notice that the two could almost be interchangeable.

What type of art is anime?

In general terms, anime is a stylized art form originating in Japan that relies heavily on drawing human characters with large eyes and a head that is proportionally bigger than a regular human head. Anime art also uses color, whereas manga art relies on black, white, shades of grey, and halftones.

In reality, anime is difficult because you have to adapt your style of illustration to suit the generally accepted style within anime.

The stylized drawings of the subject matter that are produced are then animated and put together to create a TV Show or Movie.

While anime initially starts out as a series of illustrations and drawings, these are then put together into another art form: animation, before they are then shared with the world.

If you want to get more technical, then there are subgenres of anime with different names. Most of them generally refer to the intended audience (male or female, old or young, that sort of thing), or the main protagonists (male or female).

I’ll list some of the most popular genres and types of anime below, just so you are familiar with them. If you do check them out yourself, you might notice slight differences in the style of art used in the different genres of anime:

  • Shonen – Intended Audience: Teenage Males
  • Shojo – Intended Audience: Teenage Females
  • Seinen – Intended Audience: Adult Males
  • Josei – Intended Audience: Adult Females
  • Kodomo – Intended Audience: Children

There are many more sub-genres besides these five, but if you were to research the ones above, you’d get a good idea about the subtle differences in art style between anime intended for different audiences. 

For example, children’s anime, or Kodomo, will focus more on bright colors that are attractive to children.

It isn’t just the subject matters that change to suit the audience, but the actual artistic style too.

These bright colors are key in Kodomo, but so too are illustrations that represent things that children will find interesting, such as cute monsters or animal sidekicks.

This requires a slightly different artistic approach. Likewise, Seinen, or anime intended for adult males, might be slightly darker in color.

As generally adult males will expect to see scenes that are slightly darker in tone, the colors need to match that.

In terms of the illustrations themselves, you might notice slightly harsher features on the characters or slightly more pronounced anatomy to appeal to an older audience.

Again, artistically, subtle differences are required in order to appeal more to one audience over another.

What is anime illustration?

Anime illustration is a drawing or an artwork that is produced either digitally or with a traditional medium. Anime illustration has either an anime stylized environment or a character in it.

Every animated TV Show or Movie that is categorized as anime begins as a series of sketches and illustrations which are then compiled to create moving images.

Anime illustration usually involves an anime artist producing work at a desk using a pen or pencil.

They first sketch out the illustrations that they intend to use for the animation process (remember, they will be sketching the illustrations in the typical stylized anime way) and this is anime illustration.

These are then animated and become anime. If the artist were to simply stop at the illustration stage, then they would be producing manga for a graphic novel or comic book instead.

Is anime a contemporary art?

The anime that you see on TV or in the movies nowadays might look contemporary, and the method of production has certainly come a long way since the first anime was produced, but anime as an art form can be traced back to at least 1906, when the first anime film was produced.

If you wanted to be even more technical than that though, manga was a term first used as early as the late 1700’s in Japan, and as an art form, it is believed to date back even further than that.

The style of illustration used in anime today can all be linked back to these early manga illustrations, and so in many ways anime is far from contemporary.

Nowadays it is common to see anime produced predominantly on a computer using anime animation software, but the style of art that anime is based on is certainly an age-old tradition in Japan.

Many people might believe anime is a contemporary art simply because it is quite new to Western society, and it has only really started to become popular in countries like the US and the UK in the 1980’s when anime saw a huge boom in the Japanese market, and they began to widen the net in terms of their potential audiences.

Another reason for the misconception that anime is a contemporary art, is based simply on the style of the artwork.

Anime illustrations have a way of capturing scenes that make everything seem so fresh and new.

The style of art itself is incredibly modern and the issues that are explored throughout different anime are very modern too, but this simply shows anime’s ability to move with the times and adapt to a more modern audience.

What is anime short for?

Anime is short for animation. In Japan, anime refers to all animation, regardless of style.

In Western countries though, anime has come to mean animation that specifically originates from Japan, and especially in the stylized form of artwork that we have come to expect from those TV Shows or Movies that are classed as ‘anime’.

So whilst anime literally means animation in Japan, most countries have come to add something of a sub meaning to the word, as it is our main way of categorizing animation produced and originally published in Japan.


Hopefully this guide has helped you to understand anime art a little more. As you can see, anime art might look contemporary, but it’s actually quite a traditional art form whose history can be traced back quite far in Japan. 

Anime and manga illustrations are incredibly similar in terms of the artistic approach required to produce them, but anime is simply animated in order to bring the illustrations to life on the screen.

If anime art is something you are interested in creating for yourself, then why not give it a go?

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