Creating Manga Characters
Creating good characters is important for your manga story. Creating good characters allows to create empathy between the readers and your characters. This is for a big part what makes that readers will come to like your characters, and your manga.
Therefore let’s learn more about what makes a good character, and how to design them!
An introduction to character design
A character is made up of a body and a mind.
These two interact to provide the internal and external aspects of the character.
A character laughs because his/her mind interpreted something as funny and made him/her body smile.
The objective of character design will therefore be to define the elements of that body and mind to create a plausible manga character.
This part is important as this will contribute to the first impressions readers will get from your characters. Therefore, for your characters to give a first good impression, you have to carefully craft this body and mind. If not, this might mean a quick end for your manga story.
The body and mind
The body of a character will have different visible and invisible features. Visible features will be its size, its members and appendices, and any other attributes that one can see. Invisible features are the internal mechanics of the body, its organs, muscles, blood…including viruses and diseases.
The mind also has a visible/conscious side, and an invisible/unconscious side. The conscious parts will be thoughts, beliefs… and the unconscious will lead to reactions such as fears or such uncontrolled reflexes. And as diseases can corrupt the body, mental diseases can also corrupt the mind…
The history of the character is what forges the body and mind. First, the genetics of the parents will give the core features of the character’s body. Then, trained to be an athlete, the character might grow strong and have willpower. Starved, he might grow weak and submissive.
Understand here that the way a character looks, behaves and thinks shall be coherent. There should be a link between the character’s history, his body (the way he/she looks) and his mind (the way he/she thinks and reacts). And also, there is a visible conscious part, and an invisible/unconscious one.
Mastering this relation will allow you to create plausible and relatable characters. This will allow the readers of your manga to really feel your characters.
With the above key information in mind, the process of character design is to build that coherent set of information.
The objective will therefore be to first define that history. Then, you will be able to define the way the character looks, his/her demeanour, and his conscious and unconscious mind, based on that history.
This article will now focus on the storytelling part of the character design . I will address in another article the visual/drawing part of character design.
Creating a manga character
As stated above, to create a manga character you should start with defining the history of your character up to the start of your manga story. And along with it define the key features of his mind and body.
Creating the character’s history
History is simply a list of facts that present what the character has been through. Generally for a manga you need just the key elements that will drive the character action and interactions during your story.
Note that this is the real story behind your character, which might differ from the one known by the character him/herself.
It can be pieces of information:
- about the character’s birth (place, parents…)
- on the character’s youth and education (environment, conditions…)
- about the interactions the character had with other people (friends, enemies…) and the events that led to that situation
The amount of details will depend on the importance of the character in your manga story. You might need many details for main characters. And just one or two pieces of information for some secondary characters linked to their appearance in your story.
Creating the character’s body and mind
Now that we have some background for our character, we can shape his body and mind.
We can give the character:
- an age,
- body features (size, stature, race, skin colour, scars…)
- a demeanour and posture (how does he/she behave in front of people, when alone, when happy, when sad…)
- occupations (what does he/she do on a day to day basis at the time the story begins…)
- likes and dislikes,
- dreams (things he wishes and actively work for) and hopes (things he wishes for but waits passively for),
- fears and phobias,
Again, it is good for main characters to have these different pieces of information backed by some elements in the character’s history. They can contribute to the plot and become a source for interactions between characters. And having thought of them ahead will help keeping overall consistency.
Also, don’t fear to add weaknesses, quirks and/or disabilities to your main characters. In the same manner don’t make your characters overly strong and perfect from the start (apart if you want to highlight their downfall). Imperfections are what make your characters seem more realistic. And again you can use these imperfections to add thrill or some character arcs in your story.
Giving an identity to the character
One last point in the character design is to give your character a name and/or nickname.
Name will generally also relate to the character’s origin. Nicknames to his history.
Going further with your manga characters
If you want to add more depth to your manga characters and stories, you can work on separating:
- The absolute truth, which is the one you have defined as the history of your character
- The told truth, which is the history as known by your character
- The perceived truth, which is that same history as known by other characters
This can be done for instance for the character’s background story:
- You have the true background story of your character
- The background story as it is known by the character himself
- The background story of your character as known by others
We can use Superman as an example of this scheme:
- The absolute truth is that Kal-El was born on krypton. His parents sent him to Earth just before the destruction of Krypton. Then the Kents found and raised him as their own son and named him Clark.
- The young Clark sees himself as a normal young boy (before his powers do surface). His parents are Martha and Jonathan Kent.
- The Kents have rescued a boy from the crash of a UFO. They raised the boy as their own son and named him Clark. They don’t know where the boy comes from and who he really is.
Such pattern is interesting as it allows the character to undergo different stages of self-discovery through the story.
Do not hesitate to comment if you have remarks or questions!