Many beginners choose anime/manga as their first drawing style, because it looks very simple and appealing. However, if you want to draw a manga character from scratch, you need to understand the proportions and structure of the body. And if you want to draw anime bodies from imagination, you even need to know human anatomy. So while drawing anime characters is easier than drawing realistically, it’s still not easy!
In this tutorial, I will show you the basics of drawing the bodies of anime characters. I’ll show you how to start a manga drawing—how to define a pose for your character and how to make sure the proportions are correct. Then I’ll show you how to turn this “skeleton” into a 3D structure and how to add muscles to it.
You’ll learn everything you need to know to draw an anime character from scratch—the gesture, proportions, forms, and anatomy. It’s all explained on a beginner level!
1. Anime Body Proportions
Anime characters don’t have very strict proportions—each creator has their own style, and it’s impossible to create one correct sheet of proportions for a manga body. However, while there are no right and wrong proportions, there are intentional and unintentional ones.
To give your proportions an intentional look, you must keep them consistent. For this, it’s best to follow certain rules while you’re drawing. The most universal rules for drawing a proportional anime body would be:
- Most of the time, an anime character’s body can be divided into halves right at the crotch level. Sometimes, the lower half is made longer to make the legs longer or the torso more robust, but it’s rarely shorter (A).
- The length of the arm (above the elbow) is usually equal to the length of the forearm + the palm of the hand (B).
- The distance between the crotch and the halfway point of the knee is equal to the distance between the halfway point of the knee and the ankle (C).
- Males are taller than females, and their chest and hips are of a similar width. Females tend to have wider hips and narrower chests.
Once you remember your proportions like this, it’s much easier to implement them than when you use so-and-so-many-heads-long rule. Let’s be honest—how do you start a manga drawing when the only thing you know is how it’s supposed to look when it’s finished? Are you supposed to draw a head, then multiply it six and a half times, and then draw a dynamic body over it somehow? This method of measuring proportions always looked ridiculous to me. So let me show you a much more straightforward method!
To draw a dynamic pose for your anime character, it’s good to use a reference. Even pros do it, because it’s not so easy to imagine a natural pose. You can use a drawing dummy or a photo reference. I used this photo of two boxers, but you can find many others on Envato Elements.
Once you have your reference, search for the main line of action. If you were to reduce the whole pose to a single line, what would it look like?
Did you find it? Draw it with a quick, smooth motion.
That was easy, wasn’t it? Let’s complement this main line with another one. Usually, it will be the other leg. Again, draw it quickly and smoothly, ignoring the details.
Time for the arms! Don’t worry too much about their length; the curve is more important here.
This is where you may meet your first problem—where to put the shoulders? It doesn’t really matter that much, as long as there’s some distance between them and the crotch. We’ll adjust it all later!
Draw the head now. It should be placed close to the main line of action. Its size will help us work out the other proportions.
Do you remember the rule about the half of the body? You know where the head ends, and you know where the legs end (roughly), so now find the middle point—this will be the crotch area of our anime character. Of course, feel free to modify this proportion for your intended effect!
To make this skeleton clearer, add “the chest” and “the hips”, like an hourglass. This is where you can play with the proportions to create a more characteristic body. One of my characters will be a ridiculously muscular male, and the other a young, fit female. Notice how the shape of the “hourglass” reflects their bodies at this early stage.
Time to incorporate the other rules. Find the ankle and mark the middle of the distance between it and the crotch to find the knee. Find the elbow and mark the end of the palm.
Finally, draw the actual “bones” over these dynamic, but slightly inaccurate lines.
2. How to Draw an Anime Body
This “skeleton”, though so simple, is actually half of the job—once you have set the proportions the way you want, there’s not much you can do wrong! But a correctly drawn skeleton is just a skeleton, so let’s see how to fill it and create a body.
An anime body can be reduced to simple forms, like spheres and ellipsoids. They introduce another level of proportions, although they’re much looser and easier to keep right. It’s important to remember that although they look like circles and ellipses in your drawing, they’re actually 3D objects, and they are subject to perspective.
Let’s take a look at the body parts separately. The torso still looks very much like an hourglass. You just have to remember about the tilting of the chest and hips towards the waist in the back.
The limbs are a little more complex, but still easily understandable. Just imagine them as the limbs of a drawing dummy! Also, pay attention to the joints.
Let’s put it all into practice now. First, draw the torso. You must be very careful here—adjust the perspective to the pose. Dynamic anime characters rarely utilize simple views like pure front or side!
Next, locate the joints and mark them as spheres.
Add the big muscle masses now. Feel free to adjust their size and shape to the style of the character’s body. My male is supposed to be ridiculously muscular in opposition to a slim female.
Finally, add the buttocks, the crotch, and the breasts.
3. How to Draw an Anime Torso and Breasts
The whole body is well established, so now we only need to add the details. Even if you don’t care much about showing the muscle definition, the anatomy still influences the final look of the body, so you can’t ignore it. So let’s take a closer look at the anatomy of anime bodies.
The torso is the simplest to draw because it has big, clear muscle masses, and it doesn’t change shape too much. The abs and the pectorals are the muscles known even to laymen, so make sure to mark them.
Let’s see how these muscles can be simplified into easy to draw lines. First, the waist must be smoothed. The woman has a narrower waist.
The chest can be divided into a few areas horizontally: the top and bottom of the pectorals, the bottom of the rib-cage, and the navel level.
The middle line looks straight only in the front view. In other views it envelopes the muscles it crosses, accentuating their shape. There’s a little hump under the navel, clearer in females.
The whole six-pack can be neatly outlined, suggesting the placement of its component. The pectorals go towards the armpits, and they are covered slightly by the arm muscle, which affects their shape.
The nipples can be found easily by going from the center of the clavicles. The muscles on the side have a serration that can be marked easily by following the rhythm of the bottom of the rib-cage.
The neck is fairly straightforward: just draw a line from the center of the clavicles towards the ears, and fill the rest as a simple column. As for the back, don’t forget about the shoulder blades.
The back muscles are big and quite simple. The upper one has the shape of a kite (it supports the neck from the back), and the lower one has the shape of a “V” (it’s connected to the arm).
Here’s a simplified diagram of all these guide lines. As you can see, despite their simplicity, they show the muscle definition quite successfully.
Breasts can be tricky to draw, because they’re not really what they seem. They’re soft masses, affected greatly by gravity, not simply firm balls attached to the chest. They don’t really have one solid shape—it changes all the time with the pose.
When you start drawing the breasts, mark them as simple spheres of the intended size. Place the spheres partly inside the chest for a more natural effect.
To place the breasts correctly and symmetrically in every view, imagine them with “straps” tied behind the neck.
Because in my pose the woman is keeping one of her arms close, I moved the adjacent breast higher, as it gets slightly pushed.
The nipples can be found just like in the male, except they’re lower and placed more in the front. This line will help you create a proper shape for the top of the breast.
To better see the 3D shape of the breast, especially in difficult views, you can draw two lines under the nipple, creating a triangle.
Here’s a simplified diagram of breasts for your reference.
I mentioned earlier that breasts change shape, and this is something you need to pay attention to. Natural breasts rarely look round on top unless they’re pushed up or towards the middle.
4. How to Draw Anime Legs
Legs have many muscles of various shapes and lengths, going in various directions. They’re not easy to memorize, but luckily there’s really no need to. You just have to understand how they affect the general shape of the legs.
Legs have a few linear rhythms hidden in them, and once you find them, you’ll never have a problem with drawing them again. Let’s start with the long “S” shape visible in the side view.
This side view is complete with another pair of lines:
The front and back views have another rhythm, with more curves:
You can finish it with a long “3” shape.
And that’s mostly it! You can add the buttocks now, finish the calf…
… and add any details you need. In my opinion, the basic shape of the knee, the ankle, and the lower leg bone are the most important here. The rest can be safely ignored unless you’re drawing a superhero with muscles bulging out from every inch of their body.
Here’s a quick diagram of leg muscles for your reference.
5. How to Draw Anime Arms
Let’s be honest: arms are the most complex piece of anatomy, because they have many muscles and they’re very mobile, creating various poses of their own. But they can be simplified, too!
First, you need to pay attention to the shape of the forearm. It’s not really an ellipsoid: it’s a less regular form that changes seemingly unpredictably during rotation. To understand it, take a look at your forearm, palm up. There’s a rounding between the thumb and the outer side of the biceps, and a flattening between the little finger and the elbow. It stays this way regardless of the rotation and the view.
The arm muscle covers a part of the shoulder blade in the back and a part of the pectoral muscle in the front, like a big cap. This muscle is the easiest to understand.
The biceps and triceps lie on opposite sides of the arm. The elbow is visible on the triceps side.
When it comes to the forearm muscles, you mostly need only two of them: the one that goes from the outer side of the biceps to the thumb (the one creating the rounding)…
… and the one that goes from roughly the same place towards the top of the hand. In most cases, if the pose doesn’t let you use this one or the other, you can just split the forearm in half.
And here’s a simplified diagram of the arm muscles.
Once you’re done, you can draw the final lines. The best thing about using guide lines first is that you can clearly see any mistakes, and you get a chance to fix them—with a clear reference of the direction you must go away from. So ink your final lines, fixing any mistakes as you go.
Now you know how to draw anime characters—their bodies and anatomy. You know how to draw the torso, legs, and arms in manga style, and you know how to define the pose easily with correct proportions.
This was the first tutorial of a series on How to Draw Anime. Stay tuned for more, and in the meantime you can try our other tutorials. If you want to improve your knowledge of figure drawing, you’ll love this series:
DrawingHuman Anatomy Fundamentals: Learning to See and Draw Energy
Human AnatomyHuman Anatomy Fundamentals: Basic Body Proportions
DrawingHuman Anatomy Fundamentals: Flexibility and Joint Limitations
And if you’re interested in drawing characters in Disney style, this is something for you: