How to start drawing your first Manga!

Posted by Sophie Chan on

DRAWING YOUR FIRST MANGA SERIES! WHERE TO START?

A SIMPLE GUIDE

Hi there, 

I hope you're doing well! In this article I’ll share with you the steps necessary to start your own manga. This was my dream since I was 12 years old, when I first saw the manga section in a bookstore in the UK. 

 I was incredibly determined to create one, even though my studies led me somewhere completely unrelated to art, manga was my true calling. I have made a video once about the journey here. 

If we haven't met before, my name is Sophie, I'm the author of Ocean of Secrets manga, a 3-volume series published by TOKYOPOP. 

Nice to meet you ~ 

Let’s get down to business, by wanting to create a manga, I assume you are good at either writing or drawing. This article is mainly targeted to artists that are: 

  •  Familiar with manga: Japanese comic art. 
  • But unfamiliar with the tools needed to create one/ do not know how or where to start.

It's not easy... 

I know how confusing it can get, and a decade ago, there were no tools available where I lived. Digital art was barely coming to the surface and the tech was just being developed. During these days, an artist had to learn digital art to compensate for the lack of manga supplies which were limited and only available in Japan. 

 Since pen tablets are becoming cheaper, and IPADs have taken the scene in the past years. It’s becoming much more affordable to draw digitally and it’s better for the environment (I feel sorry for all the trees that were taken down to fuel my constant need for papers).

 So let’s write down the things you need to draw Manga:

TOOLS:

1. Pen Tablets

Since drawing with a mouse is almost impossible, you need to invest in a good pen tablet, here is a table of the different types that I have used over the years.  They are listed from the first type I've used to the last being the one I'm currently using. 

Type

Model

Pros

Cons

Pen 

Tablets 


 Wacom Intuos Pro - Medium

Wacom Intuos Pro

  • Inexpensive
  • Light weight
  • Can be connected directly to your PC via a USB cable.  

  • It needs practise to coordinate your hands with the screen.

Pen display tablets

 Wacom Cintiq 16

Wacom Cintiq Pro

  • You can draw directly on the screen which makes it easier for starters.
  • Good pressure sensitivity.

  • Expensive, especially for bigger sizes.
  • Not portable, it comes with an electricity hub which can be messy if you have a small desk.

Wireless Tablets with a pen

 IPAD pro

IPad Pro

 + stylus pen

  • Good sensitivity
  • Portable and lightweight

 

  • Expensive
  • Needs daily charging for heavy use. 

I didn't list the prices because there are different models/sizes, but the first option is almost half the price of the rest.

 I completed the 3rd volume of Ocean of Secrets using the IPAD pro. I was travelling a lot, so the portability aspect was important to me. But if that’s not an issue for you, pen display tablets can offer some cool functions/tricks. It’s more suited for when you have your own art space and the budget to afford the large models. 

 Switching from traditional drawing to digital art was no easy task. I struggled a lot in the beginning. A good advice is to scan your line art and color them digitally, that way: 

  • You will not get frustrated that you can’t draw a line art digitally
  • You will be familiar with the pen pressure settings, and be comfortable with it. 



This was the first drawing I colored using my first pen tablet. (I used Adobe Photoshop) in 2006. 

2. Drawing Softwares

Similar to pen tablets, I had a long Journey with drawing programs. There was no program for manga, so everyone was learning and using Adobe photoshop. But then a program named Manga Studio emerged that got us all excited!

It was the first program to have manga pens and page layouts. During that period, some artists were using Paint Tool Sai, which was mainly for Anime illustrations.(Here's an example of a drawing I did there)

manga studio later changed to Clip Studio Paint, and that became the one and only program used to create manga (That I know of). I think what made it successful is how user-friendly the platform was. I didn’t need to read the instruction manual to learn how to use it, but you need to keep in mind that I was an Adobe Photoshop user. It was a gradual learning curve, where I discover something new everyday. 

CLIP Studio offers many free materials/tones to use in your manga which really makes it cost effective. If you’re struggling with anatomy, they have a 3D model that you can use for different poses. This was helpful when I started out because for a self-taught, anatomy was a topic I dreaded for so long. (This is not a sponsored post, I'm just stating my experience XD) 

This was a meme I made some years ago, of the expectations vs reality when you first start using the program! Both were my drawings, one was a first try, and one was years later! 

SKILLS!

NOW we discuss the skills you need, and how to enhance them! I really can’t summarize everything in one article, I should make an article about each but this is just a summary of the important things you need to consider when starting your manga. (I'm also testing if you guys like the idea of blogs!) 

1. Story

I receive many emails from artists that are struggling with a good story. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned during this journey, is that a good story isn’t born overnight.

It’s a constant work-in progress. Some artists write their story as it progresses, while some plan of where it’s going. Ocean of Secrets was in-between those two strategies. I started it almost 10 years ago, I had a lot of time to re-work the story while improving my art; so if you feel that writing a story is stopping you from creating your manga, think twice!

 Your story will mature in time and creating something is better than waiting for the right moment/story to start. 

Put that fear aside, the only thing you’ll regret is not creating that story that you thought is really cool. So start by having a theme, and create laws in your world. If it’s fantasy, it needs to have laws that are understood by your readers. If it’s in the real world, you need to make sure the events and settings are in accordance with the time era of your story. 

Did you know that when I first started writing Ocean of Secrets, the story was happening in 1849? 

2. Character Design 

Once you have the concept ready, start sketching your characters. Some artists think of the characters before the story which is also possible. 

In recent years,  many manga books were published with all sorts of character designs. I personally think that you are limited by the manga style, that the room for changes is pretty small. That’s why having your own style allows you to have more customizations to your character, and will likely stand out from the rest. 

Two different designs for my character Moria, in Ocean of Secrets.

3. Storyboard/Paneling 

Storyboarding means drawing sketches of each page, scenes and texts. These are done before every chapter. If you work with a publisher, you usually send it to your editor for feedback. Make sure you spend enough time to avoid re-drawing your pages when the transition seems off. During that time, you can also decide on how to panel each page which is also useful.  I’ll make a dedicated blog for how to panel your page soon. 

Bonus: UNDERSTANDING MANGA PAGE LAYOUT! 

I was really confused when it comes to manga page sizes and measurements, but Thanks to TOKYOPOP they really helped me understand it.   

 Let's take this page from the 3rd Volume as an example 

This is what the page looks like with guidelines when you're drawing. You'll see two different boxes.

Box 1:  your main page area, this is the safe zone that you can write your texts without worrying about it getting cut during the print. That's why you can see that all my balloons just partially cross it. 

Box 2: Is the border where your page will be cut during printing. The purple area is called "bleed". Artists need to draw these extra inches because the printer is not accurate at cutting exactly on the line (you don't want an extra white line on your final print!) 

This is what the final page looks like after trimming the bleed lines! 

It all makes sense so don't let it confuse you! 

Some final thoughts...

Remember to always show your work to people you trust, feedback is important to help you improve and work on your weaknesses. 

I used to say at the end of my blogs to never give up!, but this time I’ll just say, you’re doing great, just keep at it. For you to read this article, you didn’t give up, what you need is to believe that “hard work will lead you to where the good luck will find you”.

It always seems like a long journey, but every journey starts with the same steps. Enjoy the process and be awesome! 

 Stay Safe, 

 Sophie 

2 comments


  • I love your work I’m starting writing my own Manga You are my inspiration in the Manga World thank you for sharing your story and Manga with us will there be a volume 4 of your Manga

    Taniqua on

  • Thank you so much, I love your video from YouTube, and I learn interesting things:)

    . on

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