Rachael is a passionate long-time anime fan, who enjoys writing about the storytelling aspect of anime, manga, and light novels.
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:
- Breaking anime and manga eyes into parts, and making each part its own step, as below.
- Studying and copying a variety of eye shapes and styles from my favorite manga.
Now, there are many different ways to draw anime eyes. But this is one method I came up with through trial and error.
Step 1: Top and Bottom Lash Lines
I started with the basic model of the head. It's not that realistic to show a perfectly symmetrical face, since we so rarely see people that way. So I made the head slightly turned. If you get in the habit of introducing asymmetry, your work will look more life-like.
So, first, I got the lower line based on where the circle representing the skull meets with the lower curved V line representing the jaw. This point, the top of your jaw, is the bottom of your ear. And your eyes are level with your ears. Then, you get to decide where to put the top lines. Drawing a line across makes the eyes come out at the same height, so they look proportionate to each other.
I drew the dark bottom and top lash lines. In manga style, the top line is longer, and they usually don't connect. That's the kind of eyes I'm drawing for this tutorial. However, if you want a connected eye, or a specific eye shape, you can draw that shape at this step. The purpose of this step is to define the boundaries of the shape of the eyes.
I drew only a basic indication of the lashes, we'll worry about lash details later.
Step 2: Pupils
The pupils are an indication of the direction the character is looking. Pupils change size based on lighting and emotion. In real life, pupils are smaller in bright light and bigger in dark light. They're the holes that open to let in more light, or tighten to shut out light when there's too much. But in manga-style drawing, pupil size is often an indication of the character's personality and feelings.
Small pupils show intense emotions like anger and fear. In manga-style character design, they indicate that a character is prone to those emotions, that they're mean or angry. Big pupils are the opposite. They convey child-like sweetness, innocence, softness, and femininity.
Position of pupils is very important too. One "leader" pupil shows where the character is looking. Then, using the guidelines and lash lines you drew in step 1, make the second pupil based on where the leader pupil is looking. It may take, in a computer program, selecting the second pupil and moving it around. It's a good idea if you use a program for this to have each part of the eye on a separate layer. You may also select and move both pupils at once, to try and get a good feel for the gaze direction and emotional expression you want. You could use a circle selection tool and fill them in. But for my example, I drew them by hand using a pencil tool. If you use a circle tool, you have to keep in mind that part of the more distant eye might be obscured by the nose. So then it won't always be a full circle that is visible.
This all assumes you're not making a character with an eye patch, hair that always covers one eye, or intentional strabismus (aka a lazy eye). The key to doing that well is always drawing it consistently. Things that block one eye should always be on the same eye, unless you make a point of showing the audience that, for example, maybe their use of an eye patch is fake. With strabismus, the "following" pupil should always be in the same position relative to the "leading" pupil.
Also, if you're drawing a face that's mostly in profile, you won't see much detail in the other eye. To get a good feel for how to draw this, I suggest taking selfies and looking at examples in real manga that you own. It's hard to do, but all it takes is finding the right examples and practicing copying them, until you're confident enough to draw that look on your own.
3: The Irises and Whites
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 light and dark values of the base color can later be added as highlights and shadows on the iris. 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.
I also refined the pupils a little, and added the whites of the eyes behind the eyelash lines and irises. You can have fun in manga-style drawing with the shape and size of the iris, so have some fun with it. You may try a few different versions of the iris before you settle on it.
The point here is to just define the basic shape of the whole eye and the iris. We'll do the finer details later.
4: Highlights and Shading in the Irises
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.
You can do an image search or look in a book to help you. Look for pictures of shiny surfaces, water reflecting light, and gemstones, and you may get a good idea of how to show reflections in an iris. Look at pictures of people's eyes too, obviously!
I chose a light pink here, because it is the opposite of green. A lot of times, you don't need to do pure white. Highlights are soft, and it looks more realistic if they're only light relative to their surroundings.
For shading, I simply used a darker version of the iris base color. The shading should go where light is not hitting, usually under the top lash line and on one side.
I used blur and smudge tools to soften the look, and made the pupil's edge softer using a soft-edged paintbrush tool.
This stage is all about playing around, adding and subtracting highlights and shadows until it looks right to you.
5: Finishing Touches
I did a lot of changes here. This step is all about zooming in (my maximum zoom was 550%, but I did most work at 200-400%) and getting those little details right. But I also chose to move and rotate the right eye slightly, so as to make the overall alignment look better.
Details to add at this point include:
- Eyelashes. May not be necessary to articulate in all shots, but are articulated more the closer the camera moves to the subject. Eyelashes are curled, not straight sticks. And you usually don't need to draw that many.
- Eyebrows. In manga, these are generally simple lines made with the character's hair color. They're rarely that pronounced or detailed.
- Shading around the eyes and in the whites. You may want a simple line showing the fold of the eyelid. The skin around the eye is almost always going to look darker than the rest of the skin, so I would softly shade it with an airbrush or soft pen tool. Make sure there is at least a faint line indicating the edge of the whites of the eyes, so it doesn't blend in with a light-colored face.
And that's pretty much it. Remember, your character will differ depending on your style, genre, medium, etc. The important thing is to remember that eyes should look soft, shiny, and they should have accurate highlights and shadow, indicating the light that is reflecting off of them.
- 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. It may take practice or looking at reference images more to get it right if you're doing a face that is more turned away from the viewer.
- The best thing to do with drawing anything is to get lots of reference pictures to study and 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 ow. 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. You might also want to play around with different eye colors when designing a character.
- Remember that when you create a whole manga, the eyes of the character will change based on the lighting, camera angle, and how close they are to the camera in each scene. (When I say camera, I just find it to be a helpful metaphor, where you think of each image as a photograph, or a shot in a movie.)
© 2015 Rachael Lefler
my life be like ooooowaaaaah from the garbage can on July 19, 2020:
i started drawing anime eyes now
Victor W. Kwok from Hawaii on April 13, 2015:
Great drawing tips, Rachael!
Rachael Lefler (author) from Illinois on March 22, 2015:
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.
Korneliya Yonkova from Cork, Ireland on March 22, 2015:
Great tutorial. Love the final outcome, the purple eye looks terrific. I will try to repeat that following your steps :)