Basic Manga Drawing 1: Anime Eyes

Updated on January 29, 2018
RachaelLefler profile image

I've studied anime, manga, and Japan for over a decade. My favorite anime/manga are sci-fi and seinen (mature).

A good thing to do is to make a page like this where you just draw lots of varieties of anime-style eyes, perhaps while looking at your favorite manga for cues about how the eyes should look to convey different moods and personality aspects.
A good thing to do is to make a page like this where you just draw lots of varieties of anime-style eyes, perhaps while looking at your favorite manga for cues about how the eyes should look to convey different moods and personality aspects.

Anime Eyes

When drawing anime/manga characters on your own, sometimes eyes can be the hardest thing to get right. If the eyes are off, the whole character's expression is thrown off. Eyes are called "the window to the soul" because a person's eyes and eye expressions tell us so much about their personality and feelings.

I personally overcame this challenge by doing two things:

  1. Breaking anime and manga eyes into parts, and making each part its own step, as below.
  2. Studying and copying a variety of eye shapes and styles from my favorite manga.

Step 1: Outline the Top and Bottom Lash Lines

Start with the basic edge of the shape, or contour line. The top line is more arched than the bottom one, and typically longer and thicker. Don't worry about the details of the eyelashes yet, at this point, you can add individual lashes if you like later.

The key to this step is to get the general shape of the eye. The shape of the eyes say a lot about the type of character you're trying to create. More mature or more masculine characters typically have a narrow eye, that is composed with more horizontal lines. Feminine and younger characters tend to have rounder, larger eyes. These are composed with ovular iris shapes and large, arched eye line shapes. Mature or mischievous female characters have a cat-like eye composed in a curved, triangular shape. The lines should in any case be calligraphic: thick in the middle and thin at the corners of the eye.

Step 2: Drawing the Pupil

I moved the top lash to be more aligned with the bottom. It may take a few whacks with an eraser to get the eye the exact shape you want, and the right size to fit the face. My earliest attempts came out with eyes that were far too large, even for anime-style art.

After the top and bottom contours, the second most important part of the eye is the pupil. It conveys information such as direction the character is looking, which contributes to the depiction of their mood. The size of the pupil also plays a role in storytelling, characters facing a bright source of light or who show fear (or other powerful, overwhelming emotions) will have very small or no pupils, whereas characters in dimly-lit areas or who are expressing happy emotions such as love or happy excitement will have bigger pupils. A younger, more naïve character usually has a bigger pupil than an older, wiser, or more rugged character.

Sometimes, an option is also to have the pupils reflect what the character is looking at instead of being straight black, this is a good way to emphasize the character's desire for something, which can be a critical part of the plot. The pupils in anime characters can also sometimes disappear altogether in the case of emotional bursts of excitement, and some anime characters lack pupils altogether. Usually, this indicates some kind of supernatural or mystical powers, or it can be a style choice for every character, if the manga artist wants to give their characters' eyes a dreamy, gemstone-like sheen without the pupil getting in the way. Other manga artists sometimes color the pupil, so that instead of black it looks like a darker version of the iris' color. This is used to soften the look of the eye, as in the example eyes on the chart I begun this article with. It's up to you how you do this. The only rule is, do whatever "works" for what you want your eyes to say about your character.

Step 3: The Base Color of the Iris

The basic color of the iris (the colored part of the eye) should be a middle value, about halfway between the lightest and darkest shade of the color you're choosing. However, some characters will have light, pastel-colored eyes and some may have dark eyes, but the reason I chose a medium-value purple for this was to show how light and dark values of the base color can later be added as highlights and shadows on the iris which help it look more realistic. Eye color is often an indicator of personality in anime and can be very fun to choose because unnatural or unrealistic hues are as common as realistic, natural ones.

Step 4: The Highlights

In a computer program, ( in this case I'm using Photoshop but I also like Paint tool Sai, ) I use a new layer for this part, so that the highlights can be moved, resized and erased without worrying about changing the eye overall.

Highlights in an eye reflect the source of light in relation to the character's face, they also can be colored to mirror said light source (warmer colors reflect a fire, cooler reflect a blue electric light, etc.).

To get to this step, I decided to increase the pupil size to give the eye a more balanced feel. In a digital arts program, each of these steps should be on a separate layer for easier tweaking of the individual parts.

In non-digital drawing media, highlights are usually planned in advance (with a permanent media such as pen, ink, or paint) or made after drawing the eye, using an eraser (in an erasable media such as pencil or charcoal). In pencil, a metal eraser guard can be a good way to create a highlight. Use a blending stump (or in digital media, low opacity brushes or the blending tool) to create a soft, watery look to the eye's highlights. The goal is to make them blend in to the eye.

Some good things to refer to on Google Images when doing this are:

  • gemstones of the color of your character's eye, especially multicolored ones like opals
  • the shine of water reflecting light, because a similar principle applies to the way your iris diffuses light and reflects it
  • the light shining from a round object, such as a marble, porcelain vase, fish bowl or crystal ball, because the convex curves of those objects will show you how light bends around a convexly curved surface, which is what an eye is

Step 5: Finishing Touches

The final details will be crucial for determining the way the eye ends up looking. Take as much time as possible fussing over the details here. What I like to do is:

  • Eyelashes. In a female character, you usually want to show them as thicker and fuller than in a male character. Thicker lashes also convey innocence and youth.
  • Zoom in (if drawing digitally) and paint in the little details on the iris. This should include shadows, that indicate the lighting and mood of the scene, and flecks of color that resemble more closely those of an actual eye. You can study your own eyes in a mirror to get a feel for how this should look, or look at pictures of eye closeups using Google Images. Pair highlights with shadows, and have a darker ring encapsulating a lighter-colored iris.
  • Eyelid and eyebrow detail. This is critical for conveying the character's mood and what they're thinking about. In shoujo and magical girl anime, which is the style I most frequently draw, tiny, delicate eyebrows are more common. Often in anime also the eyebrow is visible through hair even when hair covers it. This is especially true of lighter-colored hair.
  • Simple lines can be used to connect the upper and lower lids. However, if you want to, a line can be omitted altogether in favor of an edge where the white of the eye meets with the skin color of the face, without a dark line in the middle. This is entirely up to you which method you prefer, but in black and white media, it's best to use a thin line.

Not my work, but I cannot credit the artist because the link I was using for that is now broken. I did something very similar to this once, copying many of the eyes from various manga.
Not my work, but I cannot credit the artist because the link I was using for that is now broken. I did something very similar to this once, copying many of the eyes from various manga.


  • In a digital drawing, you may be tempted to make a pair of eyes by simply duplicating and reversing the original. I would advise against this since it looks less natural. What you want is an eye that's similar to the first one, but slightly different, because few faces are naturally symmetrical to that degree.
  • This page is about strictly forward-facing eyes; that is, where the character is looking directly at the viewer with his or her full face in view. Another hub in the future will talk about drawing faces, including the eyes, from the 3/4, side, and other angles.
  • The best thing to do with drawing anything is 1) to get lots of reference pictures to study and 2) to practice, practice, practice. Just taking your sketchbook and making a whole page of various eye designs will help you grow immensely in your confidence and skill. Don't be afraid of tracing or copying for the practice, as long as you don't pass off others' work as your own, it's ok to learn by copying!
  • Start off by thinking about what kind of character you're drawing and what kind of emotion you want them to convey. Draw the same character wearing different emotional states with different versions of the same pair of eyes.


Submit a Comment
  • vkwok profile image

    Victor W. Kwok 

    5 years ago from Hawaii

    Great drawing tips, Rachael!

  • RachaelLefler profile imageAUTHOR

    Rachael Lefler 

    5 years ago from Illinois

    Thanks for reading! I think it's a good idea, although I know there are ways to do it and you have to find whatever works for you. But I like to break the process of drawing into simple steps.

  • CorneliaMladenova profile image

    Korneliya Yonkova 

    5 years ago from Cork, Ireland

    Great tutorial. Love the final outcome, the purple eye looks terrific. I will try to repeat that following your steps :)


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