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Creating Homemade Manga: Tips for Creating Characters

Updated on April 9, 2013

How to Create Compelling Manga Characters

Here begins the fight against the flat character--the character with a generic personality, predictable actions, and uninteresting speech bubbles.

As you work on your manga, you will come across these types of characters:

  • The Protagonist: This is the main character.
  • The Antagonist: This is the character that opposes and tries to ruin the life of the main character.
  • Supporting Characters: These are the characters that support the protagonist or the antagonist.

When creating a manga, it's very tempting to just start drawing without paying much attention to what the characters are like. There may be a general idea of what the character does and where they are from, but it takes more than that to make a character truly memorable. Here's the first tip:

Tip #1: Characters Must Have Motives

The main character must have reasons why they have decided to do what they are doing. For example, you have a character who wants to become an actor. Why do they want to be an actor? Is it a childhood dream? Is it a way to get revenge on a personal enemy who became a famous actor?

Also antagonists cannot be torturing your main character simply because that's the way they are. They have to have reasons for not liking your main character. Is it jealousy? Is it because of a past wrong? Is it from a deeply rooted family conflict?

When it comes to supporting characters, it depends on how involved they are in the story. If they only show up here and there, they probably don't need a clear motive. However, if they are a character that's always there to support the main character or the antagonist, they need a reason for being so supportive.

Don't stop asking questions about your character's motives until you get to the bottom of it. Even if you never clearly explain your character's motives in your manga with words, it should show in the character's actions.

As a creator, the goal is to know your character better than your readers. If you know the same amount of information about a character as your readers do, more than likely, you have a flat character.

Tip #2: Give Your Characters a Family History

In the real world, our families have a huge impact on who we are. So why should it be different in manga? If you are creating a manga about teenagers, do not leave out the parents, even if it seems easier to just forget about them. Many times, it's the parent's actions that affects the teenager's personality. And when you introduce the character's parents to your readers, they feel like they can relate to the character much more, which is very important.

In fact, don't stop with the character's parents. Give them grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, and even brothers and sisters. Make up stories about their ancestors that have an impact on who they are in the present setting of your manga.

A character without a family quickly becomes the dreaded flat character.

Tip #3: Create a Link Between a Character's Personality and Their Physical Features

When creating a manga, there is an intersection between the character's personality and their appearance. It could be a whole look that they have. For example, a character that's a rock star could have tattoos and body piercings, or a girl who is tomboy could have an athletic wardrobe.

But what's more effective than a general look is a character trademark. A character trademark is one outstanding physical feature of your character that not only links to their personality, but also sets them apart from other characters. A super good example of this is the character Himura Kenshin from the manga Rurouni Kenshin by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Himura is an ex-assassin with a huge X scar on his face. That scar shows what kind of life he lived as an assassin, and it also makes him a very recognizable character. Characters that have their own personal trademark sticks in the minds of readers, and that's the goal.

So go pick up your favorite mangas and take a look at them. How does the writer expand on the motives of their characters and the history of their family? Do any of the characters have a trademark? After that, think about what you could do to improve you own characters.


Next I'll be sharing some quick tips on how to improve your drawing as you start designing characters and settings for your manga.

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