Manga and Proportions

Since the founding of manga in the 1940’s its portrayal of women and men characters has vastly changed, better for some and  worse for others. There are some manga that focuses more on plot and character development while others focus on artwork that will gain more readers (depending on the artists drawing style).

Glass Mask

This manga focuses on the heroine’s journey to greatness through the medium of the theater. She begins as a young girl and progresses as she becomes as she full woman. The art style is more old-school as it was created in the late 1970’s. Though the characters have unnaturally long limbs and faces they have many lifelike facial expressions. There are very few unnecessary angles and the plot is so realistic it might have been based on real life.


In this manga, “History’s Greatest Disciple Kenichi”, the plot revolves around a boy learning martial arts to become strong and protect his love interest. It involves many muscular characters, both male and female, which get more accentuated as time progresses. In the beginning of the manga these features are almost unnoticed but over time they become more and more pronounced almost to the point of grotesqueness. The situation did not improve as unnecessary and sexual angles become more and more frequent. The plot of the manga is sound, engaging and interesting, but these disproportionate muscled men and over sexualized women make it difficult continue to read(for some).

The difference between the plots and art style of these two manga and more brings up an important question, should women and men characters be portrayed with more realistic proportions or should their features be more over the top to draw in more readers?


  1 comment for “Manga and Proportions

  1. cmccrzy
    February 22, 2013 at 1:23 am

    Personally, I think stories benefit when all areas are given equal focus. A good story with well-developed characters can overcome bad art, but the art has to have at least some redeeming value. A story with utterly amazing art can overcome shoddy storytelling for at least a short time as you hold on, hoping that the storytelling will improve. But a well-rounded story is the one that attracts everyone and lives forever.

    One of the first problems with your question is that you’re applying a question of genre to a medium. When you’re writing a comedy, you’re going to portray characters differently than you would a tragedy. When you’re drawing simple hentai, you’re going to draw characters differently than you would the average shoujo manga. If the purpose of the story is to draw characters that attract people by exaggerating their sexual qualities, you should probably be drawing hentai. If the purpose is to draw characters with muscles on top of muscles, you should probably stick to drawing a shounen and spread the quality to everyone, no matter what gender they are, or else you are just being sexist (or there should be a really good reason). If the guys are overmuscled, the women should be overmuscled. At the end of the day, each genre has different expectations: shoujo manga have big eyes and delicate mouths, shounen have angry young male protagonists with funky colored, unkempt hair, hentai features boobs, etc.

    Another problem with the question is that this is a style issue. If you want to draw characters who all have unique eyes, like the characters in “Katanagatari”, or draw all the characters in an overly cartoony, simplified style like in “Foxtrot”, these are both stylistic choices. Garnering a large fan base involves drawing/designing characters along the fine line between what you, personally, find aesthetically pleasing and suitable for the occasion and what the audience wants to see. If you draw characters in an exaggerated fashion that is not appealing to your audience, then you should probably look into what you are doing wrong and fix it, or ask yourself whether you are drawing for others for yourself. For instance, on the “Kenichi” cover you posted here, the artist should take an anatomy class or go out and sketch living women, or take up drawing hentai rather than shounen. Hentai has a place, and it is not in shounen manga. He should still take that class, though, because that, like most of the art in “Kenichi”, is just bad art.

    This post seems to assume that drawing characters realistically (which appears to apply to neither of the two manga presented here) negates the ability of a story to draw in readers. You also neglect to mention what you mean by “realistic”. Do you mean a) standing in anatomically possible positions, b) with realistic hair colors, c) with realistic hairstyles, d) wearing realistic clothing chosen with realistic common sense, e) possessing realistic body shapes, which can be rather varied, etc. Most, if not all, manga art is exaggerated in one form or another. There is a difference between the ridiculous, what appeals to people, genre convention, and what is stylistic decision. Even Miyazaki Hayao uses an adorable art style with aspects of realism, rather than a completely realistic one, at least when drawing characters. Most other manga and anime exaggerate eye size because it helps easily portray emotion, and/or use random hair colors and styles to easily differentiate characters from each other, or they use some other form of exaggeration on some skill, big or small. In “InuYasha”, for instance, even though humans in Japan all have dark brown hair (or gray/white if it is an older person) because that is the general hair color for Japanese citizens, Takahashi Rumiko still draws in a relatively cartoony style.

    My end statement is that, if the artist uses exaggeration, it should be for a purpose, especially when ridiculous muscles and oversexualization are involved. Exaggeration is fine in some stories and not in others, and types of exaggeration are acceptable while others are not. It’s a big issue that cannot be applied to everything at once.

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