The Problem with How To Draw Manga Books

Back when I lived in the Philippines, I remember discovering my first How to Draw Manga books. They were tucked in the arts section of my local bookstore next to the books on painting and architecture. I recall getting quite excited because I just discovered chinese-translated manga and wanted to learn how to make my own comics.

But even then, I knew they wouldn’t be able to help me completely. I didn’t like the house “style” they employed and preferred to use my own. I felt no need to learn how to draw manga eyes, face or hair the way they prescribe because I observed from watching countless anime, they were all drawn differently any way. Why would I want to draw what everyone else is drawing? I wanted to learn cool stuff like how to draw backgrounds or fighting poses and bought the corresponding books in the series for that. But you know what? I never did actually learn much from them.

I did learn more from drawing and experimenting with my own limitations. (Could I draw a horse? Hm, let’s find out. How about a leg? A sidewalk? etc. etc.) You can feel more comfortable drawing fight poses, not because you draw the same exact one over and over, but because you have the experience of drawing the human body from different angles. Drawing from life and practicing variations every day builds a visual vocabulary that enables you to draw poses with confidence.

You can get better at backgrounds by challenging yourself to come up with more complicated illustrations and try to exceed your own expectations. What happens when you actually sit down to compile references on a how a busy sidewalk looks like instead of copy it from the book? What happens when you infuse the scenery of your childhood in there?

I believe no one book can teach you to create unique, compelling manga. Beginning artists make the mistake of thinking there are “correct” ways to do it and step-by-step guides can make them fantastic artists. But such thinking limits the artist creatively. These books and any other books, tutorials or resources should just be a fraction of your creative education. It’s okay to buy them and it’s okay to have bought them in the past. They’re great (but limited) introductions to the techniques of creating comics.

But when you’re hungry for more and want more from yourself as an artist, leave the books on the shelf and start welcoming other influences. Unless you infuse your work with individuality,  that visual oomph that creates a signature in people’s mind – your work is not going to stand out and be instantly recognizable.

Read other books, study from life, study your favorite artists’ work, experiment and have fun! Creativity thrives in the unknown.


  • ☆TONI

    i totally agree with this! i only bought one of those how to draw manga because it has tutorials for drawing hair but then i don’t really like their style so it didn’t really helped me. i tried experimenting on my own instead and read more manga with a style that i like so that i can have an idea at least on how to draw things.

    • Laur

      Yey! They can be quite frustrating right?

      I think I’m aiming this blog at artists who know that the current knowledge out there is limited and kind of want some direction on where to go next. Creating manga can be a somewhat isolating experience and I hope the artists who read this find a kindred spirit in figuring things out. :)

  • Nicole Kiser

    A much more useful book is called “How NOT to Draw Manga” by Reid and Kantz. It’s hilarious and informative.

    I admit I collected quite a few of those How to Draw Manga books. However, they were never my primary teachers…. just books I used for helpful hints and tips. I have other books I use the same way, anatomy and basic perspective stuff. They make drawing easier, but they aren’t a replacement for the best teacher of all: real life. :)

  • Jasmine Clark

    i feel the exact same way… i think artists should try to get inspiration and tips from lots of different people and not just trust one boring “how-to” book that is narrow and limited in style.

  • gkldf

    hmm….all I have to say is, they’re somewhere to start, and cover so many areas or anything you need at the moment. If your already professional, or further along in drawing style, and don’t need to produce manga like pics then do use something else. You still need to draw from real life, books or not, to produce good manga, but real life won’t teach you how to draw manga, or make good manga. That’s where this comes in place.

    • perk

      real life drawing**

    • Laur

      Absolutely good point! The same can be said of creating good work in general. Not everything can be learned from just any one book. I see how-to-draw manga books as the only resource young artists turn to sometimes. Thank you for the comment!

  • Eiji-san

    I also dislike the style in these particular books, they only do so much for you…
    But however I was just in Tokyo / Sekaido shop in Shinjuku, and found some really cool and helpful books for drawing manga. Don’t forget to check it out(Sekaido) if ever in Tokyo, it’s a must! ;D

    • Laur

      Thanks for the tip and the comment, Eiji-san!

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