Finally Learn to Draw Anime Eyes, a Step-by-Step Guide!

So how to draw anime (or manga) eyes? This is one of those tasks that appears easy from afar, but as you sit down to begin the actual drawing, especially if you are a beginner, it becomes apparent that there is more to drawing the anime eye than meets the eye (pun intended).

I set out to break down the drawing of anime eyes and to come up with a strategy that I will share with you in this tutorial.

Keep in mind that manga and anime have a strong range of art styles, from very cartoon-like to quite realistic artwork. The lessons and techniques you will learn in this article can be applied to any variety of stylization of the human eye.

I decided to redraw many anime and manga eyes and have found a set of commonalities that if properly deployed into your art will make any eyes you draw look anime!

To draw anime eyes we will need: 

  1. A basic understanding of the anatomy of the eye
  2. Knowing common elements that make most eyes look like anime eyes 
  3. A step-by-step approach to drawing anime eyes while implementing these common elements 

A quick note, before going further, I will use the term anime to mean both anime and manga for simplicity. Although anime usually refers to animated, and manga usually refers to drawn (printed) art, the general style and approach to drawing is the same.

You can also click here to skip to the step-by-step at the bottom of the guide.

So go ahead and click that link, no, I won’t be upset if you do skip to the end. However, in this tutorial, content that appears before the step-by-step is more important to take away than anything else. 

Note that in my experience, Anime drawing takes just as much skill and practice as any other drawing. If anything, the simplification and stylization of the subject matter makes drawing decisions more complex. If you need help improving your overall drawings skills step-by-step, head over to the Academy where I teach the Learn to Draw in 18 Steps course

Without further ado, let’s get started! 

1 . Basic Eye Anatomy to Draw Anime Eyes 

Below is an image that will serve as a quick cheat-sheet for eye anatomy. We are drawing anime eyes, not conducting eye surgery, so don’t worry about the optic nerve or musculus ciliaris or other obscure ( ūüôā ) parts of the human eye. Below is everything we need to know for this tutorial.

Before discussing how to draw anime eyes, we need to understand the very basic anatomy terms when dealing with the human eye.

You only need to know eight (8) anatomy terms of the eye, most, if not all, of which you probably already know. This knowledge in this case is required mainly for purposes of placement and understanding the rest of the article.

The 8 basic terms for the anatomy of anime eyes you need to know: 

  • Eyelashes 
  • Upper eyelid
  • Lower eyelid
  • Iris
  • Pupil
  • Upper eyelid crease
  • Sclera
  • Lacrimal caruncle 

Let‚Äôs discuss each of these terms in turn: 

Eyelashes

– we all know what these are: the fine hairs that grow out of the eyelids to protect the eyes from small particles and debris. 

Eyelids

– an eyelid is a thin fold of skin that covers the eye when we blink. 

Iris

the iris is a ring shaped membrane, with an adjustable circular opening (pupil) in the center. The iris is what people talk about when they talk about eye color. (Some people confuse it with the pupil, so here is a tip to remember it better: eye color = iris color)

Pupil

– The dark “spot” at the center of the pupil. The pupil is actually a hole at the center of the iris. The pupil appears black due to the absorption of light rays as they pass through the pupil and strike the retina.

Upper eyelid crease

– The upper eyelid crease is a horizontal indent formed above the upper eyelid that appears in some people. Notably, it is prominently indicated in most anime eye drawings, and stylized into a curved line. It helps situate the anime eye drawing so it is a good idea to take notice of it. 

Sclera

– The sclera is the whitish outer layer of the eyeball. The whites of the eyeballs!

Lacrimal caruncle

The lacrimal caruncle is the small, pink, spot at the inner corner of the eye (the corner closest to the nose). It contains both oil and sweat glands. We will mostly use lacrimal caruncle as a landmark when visualizing the eye, as it is rarely drawn when drawing anime eyes. 

2 . Common Visual Elements of Anime Eyes

Degrees of realism and stylization 

In anime and manga, eyes are drawn in various degrees of stylization. Human anatomy in anime is stylized often to the point of being unrealistic, yet still very recognizable as the anime counterpart of the real world person the artwork is describing. 

This is an important point. This means that if we are to draw anime, we must observe what we see in the world and put it through a stylizer machine before we output it on canvas as a more anime version of what we saw. Fortunately, we all have a stylizer machine called the brain!

In anime, there is a spectrum of on one end, very large anime looking eyes, and some on the other end, that are pretty realistic with some stylization flare. I tend to like something in the middle, although a lot depends on the artwork itself. 

You can use this guide to draw eyes and stylize to your own comfort. Check out the image right below, anime eyes drawn on the left are more stylized and the ones toward the right are more realistic. 

In anime, as we move away from realism, the shape of the eye is larger and more round, and the iris itself is drawn larger as well. More realistic anime eye drawings closer follow real human anatomy, with eye shape less rounded, although still styled. 

With that said, here are seven common elements present in most anime drawings of eyes. 

  1. Highlights from at least 2 light sources  
  2. Drop shadow from the upper eyelid
  3. Thicker lines on the upper eyelid, stylizing eyelashes
  4. Indication of the upper eyelid crease 
  5. Enlarged Iris
  6. Enlarged shape of the eye itself 
  7. Omitted anatomy for simplification

1. Highlights from at least 2 light sources. 

White or bright circles or ovals appearing in stylized anime eyes are representative of highlights on the surface of the eye.

Note here that usually one highlight is dominant and is depicted larger, and the second subordinate and depicted smaller. Neither appear as a bounce light or reflective light, rather, each is a highlight representative of another light source nearby. 

Adoption rate: in many examples in anime. There are also many examples where only one highlight appears, or where a light is cast from multiple sources and many highlights appear. 

If you are confused about terms describing how light interacts with a surface, or need a refresher on terms like bounce light or highlight, follow this link to an article I wrote on this topic, glossary of often-confusing art terms is at the bottom of that article). 

The chart below indicates how in many examples, the smaller highlight is directly across the surface of the iris from the larger highlight, in some cases, it is placed across and down the surface of the iris.

2. Drop shadow from the upper eyelid. 

A drop shadow from the upper eyelid covers the iris and the sclera one third or sometimes half of the way down. (Confused about what iris and sclera are? Scroll up to the anatomy section of this article, or click here to be taken there).

Transitions vary, and most of the time this drop shadow is kept fairly light.

Adoption rate: in many examples in anime. 

3. Thicker lines on the upper eyelid, stylizing eyelashes.

Adoption rate: in most example in anime. This element highlights what a lot of anime drawings are like: an effective simplification of complex real life forms to their most basic visual representation. 

Since we usually have more volume in eyelashes on the upper eyelid than the lower, in anime drawings, the upper eyelid lines representing the eyelashes are drawn thicker, with more visual weight.  

4.  Indication of the upper eyelid crease.

Adoption rate: in nearly all examples in anime.

5. Enlarged iris. 

Adoption rate: in all examples in anime for females, in many examples of anime for males. The iris in enlarged comparative to the volume of the entire eye, taking up more space on the surface of the eye.  

6. Enlarged shape of the eye itself. 

Adoption rate: in all examples in anime for females, in most examples of anime for males.

7. Omitted anatomy for simplification.

Omission of lacrimal caruncle, omission of detail, omission of individually drawn eyelashes.

Adoption rate: omission of some anatomical details is present in all examples in anime. 

Photo credit: by Amanda Dalbjörn

3. Draw Your Own Anime Eyes, Step-by-Step Breakdown 

Let’s now implement the common visual elements of drawing anime eyes by actually drawing one. Step by step. 

No, you don’t have to draw a hundred of them like I did, just draw one, get a feel for it, then decide what you want to draw next!¬†

To me that’s the great part of drawing, once a fresh canvas is in front of you, you get to decide what to do next! You feel like a ruler of your own domain – or at least you should feel that way, or rather, you will feel that way once your skill level is where you are happy with it.¬†

Okay, without further ado, let’s draw anime eyes.¬†So far we have learned eight basic parts of the eye as discussed in detail above, these are:¬†

  • Eyelashes¬†
  • Upper eyelid
  • Lower eyelid
  • Iris
  • Pupil
  • Upper eyelid crease
  • Sclera
  • Lacrimal caruncle¬†

We also discovered that anime eye drawings simplify real world anatomy in specific ways. I found seven ways actually, you may find more, but the basic seven simplifications in anime eyes are as follows. 

Each was discussed in detail above  and if you do not remember, here is a link that will take you there.

  1. Highlights from at least 2 light sources  
  2. Drop shadow from the upper eyelid
  3. Thicker lines on the upper eyelid, stylizing eyelashes
  4. Indication of the upper eyelid crease 
  5. Enlarged iris
  6. Enlarged shape of the eye itself 
  7. Omitted anatomy for simplification

Above is a time-lapse video of me drawing an anime eye. Let’s break it down, step-by-step. Below are steps you can take to draw a similar looking anime eye. 

First thing, find good real life reference to look at. Then try to stylize the shape of the eye before you put it down on canvas.

Here define the shape of the anime eye drawing. Remember to simplify the shapes you see in real life for upper and lower eyelids. 

The shape of the eye will change depending on perspective (its position in space relative to the viewer), so I am carefully observing the reference at this stage, then I simplify the shape in my mind and only then try to recreate what I imagined on the canvas.

As you place the iris on the sclera, be mindful of the shape: what part of the iris is obscured by the lower and upper eyelids? Make sure to capture that position of the iris in your drawing. Note the enlarged iris in respect to the surface area of the eye. 

Here I place two highlights. As we talked about above, two highlights is often the standard in anime drawings of the eyes, one dominant in size over another, each across from each other over the pupil.

Here I added some very basic shading, with it I indicated the drop shadow from the upper eyelid on the sclera and the iris. I also shaded in the pupil to be dark. Note how the drop shadow is darker on the iris than it is on the sclera, since the base color of the iris is already a few value steps darker than the sclera.

In this final step I painted in the highlights with white. Note also that much of real life anatomy is omitted. There is no drawing of individual eyelashes, no indication of lacrimal caruncle at the inner corner of the eye, lack of detail in the eyelids. 

This is the end to the step-by-step drawing of the anime eye. However we are not done yet, let’s now look at the drawing of the eye found at the beginning of this article, and break it down in parts.

This is just another way to think about my approach to drawing anime eyes. This example consists of three parts: 

1. The outline of the drawing.

2. The simple shading that is placed on a layer below the outline. 

3.  A light gradient placed on top of the drawing to indicate a sense of roundness and fullness, to give the eye volume.

We learn best by doing! Try this approach next time you are drawing a character from your favorite anime, or your original characters. 

Hope you enjoyed this one! Your feedback helps improve my tutorials, so please take a minute to leave a comment and sign up for my newsletter for more. 

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Venture beyond fundamentals through a carefully structured curriculum. The 18 Steps will transform how you think when you draw Рwhich is the only way to achieve real results.

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