Drawing Anime expressions comes down to lots of practice and memorization of certain patterns in the facial features. Once we internalize how the elements of expression work – the eyes, the eyebrows, the nose, and the mouth, we can adjust to convey a set of varying expressions. Understanding how facial features come to form expressions such as laughter, confusion, anger, happiness, sadness, excitement and so on, we can become confident and comfortable at drawing Anime expressions from our memory.
This guide is less about the technique of drawing, and more about how the facial features adjust to various facial expressions.
Let’s start by studying the most common facial expressions in Anime and Manga art. We will use a classic example Neon Genesis Evangelion, as well as some others.
For each redrawn frame in this guide, we will go through the analysis of the composition of the facial features that provide for a specific expression.
Without further ado, let’s then start on our important work of identifying how features are adjusted to achieve the desired emotion in an Anime drawing.
Table of Contents:
- Elements of Expression in Drawing an Anime Face
- Happy/excited and content
- Anger and rage
- Shock/feelings of surprise
- Hurt and in pain
- Disgust/being appalled
- Drawing Anime and Manga expressions – Conclusion
Elements of Expression in Drawing an Anime face.
Before we get into specific expressions and how to draw them, it is important to discuss exactly what we will be working with. When developing a new expression for your Anime characters, realize that you are working with specific elements. Here they are:
- The main facial features: We can manipulate the eyes, the eyebrows, the mouth and lips, and also the nose to an extent.
- The silhouette of the head: Realize that the shape of the head will change depending on an expression, specifically around the cheeks and the jaw. (Some expressions where the mouth is wide open will cause the jaw to open up (move down), and other expressions may cause the cheeks to fill with air. ) Well, of course, Gvaat! That sounds rudimentary. Yes, it is. But what is important to realize is that given this change in the jaw and cheeks of the character, we may see a change in the overall silhouette of the head – and this is a bit more subtle. This means we have to watch out for and evaluate the silhouette of the head at all times depending on the emotion we are trying to convey. The best way to do this is to start with references and examples in both real life and Anime and Manga art.
- The camera view: we will also see that the camera view, above or below or directly at eye level with the face, will go a long way to communicate expressions and feelings. The camera view is calculated ahead of time, specifically to target the emotion in question.
- The hierarchy: Another thing I want to mention before we get into drawing Anime expressions, is that there is a hierarchy to employing facial features to create expressions. The eyes and the mouth will communicate the most to the viewer, followed by the eyebrows, followed by the nose in certain expressions, finally followed by the silhouette of the head.
This means as we evaluate expressions, pay attention to the eyes and the lips first. How were they drawn to express happiness, anger, sadness, excitement, surprise, and so on? Try identifying them separately. First, segment the features and look at them separately and also look at them in that order: eyes and lips, eyebrows, nose, then the silhouette of the face.
Further, when we set out to redraw some expressions, or design expressions of our own, try this approach of designing elements in a sequence:
- first, have a plan for the expression you want to draw. The faces drawn with the least intent, end up with the most ambiguous results regarding expressions. Try writing down what expression you are drawing next to the drawing first.
- Start with the design of the eyes and lips
- Identify the design of the eyebrows that will best fit the eye design already in place
- Check to see if nose and silhouette of the head will be impacted with the design you created, if so, draw it as such.
11 Most common facial expressions in Anime and Manga artwork
1. Anime expressions: happy/excited and content
Excitement, happiness, laughter are all interrelated emotions and represented very closely in Anime art. Laughter and general feeling of happiness is usually accompanied by an open mouth, closed eyes that follow the roundness of the eyebrows and some indicator of emotional spike on the cheeks – usually a form of crosshatching is employed, or change of color to show blushing.
Happy and content feelings are similarly represented, mostly with the lips closed. Lips are drawn in an arc curving up communicating that the character is pleased or content.
One of the ways to draw a content or happy face when drawing Anime expressions is to create a careful half-smile with the lips closed, and draw the eyes open not too wide, as well as have the eyebrows follow the shape of the eye.
To show laughter or joy, we can further manipulate the facial features. Remember, we are working with the eyebrows, the eyes, the nose, the lips and the shape of the cheeks/jaw in orchestrating our emotions on Anime characters. In the example right above, the eyes are closet shut, the jaw is open (except in many angles, instead of moving the jaw down, the nose moves up on the face to make space for the open mouth, note this is not the case in real life. In reality, the bottom of the jaw moves down, and the top (above upper lip) and the nose stay stationary). The teeth are showing.
In the example above, a female character is drawn in a similar way: the eyes are closed, and the teeth are on display. Feelings of joy are largely expressed by the eyebrows and the corners of the mouth. Also, notice the tilt of the head, she is kicking her head back, as people often do when they are laughing or smiling.
2. Anime expressions: sadness
Sadness is usually represented with the eyes shown as staring into the distance, as if staring at something beyond the tangible materials items in the vicinity. The above frame can express sadness or concern. The lines that develop the lips are carefully designed and drawn to indicate displeasure. The eyebrow is lowered close to the eye. Both work in tandem to create a foreboding feeling.
In Anime, expressions of sadness are visualized through closed eyes, and a couple of small marks for the lips. Notice the edge of the mouth is pointing downward.
3. Anime expressions: anger and rage
Anger is perhaps the easiest to represent in Anime and Manga art. Features determining this emotion are easy to identify: the eyebrows are lowered and slanted to the center of the face. The mouth is open – the character is often shouting in anger. The whites of the eyes are visible as the eyes are open wide.
Really intense and emotional spikes of anger are highlighted by a shouting mouth in Anime, perhaps just like in real life. In this expression, the jaw will move down substantially in real life, but no so much in Anime and Manga art. The silhouette of the head stays the same in most examples. However, a lot of the faces showing anger in Anime are drawn with the nose higher on the face, making space for the open-shouting mouth.
A drawing of a character shouting at another, or a character leaping into a fight with a battle cry is characterized by a forward-moving motion. Notice how in the image just above, the head is drawn to show forward movement. Inevitably, if this drawing showed up in Anime frames, we would see the character moving forward (to our right) on the screen.
The jaw is dropped down at this angle (unlike in the two examples above). We are looking up from below at this character – as indicated by us seeing the bottom of the nose, and the bottom of the chin, and not seeing the top of the hair/head.
This is a good time to talk about the angle from which the face is drawn (or served up to the viewer). It is unusual to see emotions of happiness or joy to be drawn from this angle of looking up at the character. This tells us that Anime artists carefully select the camera for each frame, harnessing the camera angle to work for them in conveying emotion.
In the example above, the eyebrows are tipped down to the center of the face, showing displeasure. The eyes are open wide, focused on the object of dissatisfaction (often another character in the story).
In the above example, anger is depicted in another way. Here, there is no shouting of visible rage, instead, the character is silent and focused, yet we feel anger brooding in their mind. Pay close attention to the lines of the mouth. That single dash of a line between the lips represents the lips clenched tightly together. It is very subtle to the eye, but our mind picks up on it right away.
Pay close attention to the distance between the eyes and the eyebrows, the distance is shortened in faces showing anger, hostility, and so on.
Finally, take a look at the shape of the eyes. In each eye, the iris is seen through underneath the upper eyelid. The upper eyelid has been manipulated to generally follow the curve sloping downward toward the nose. While we might not find eyes shaped this way in real life, we can find examples of this expression when we look at the eyebrows in an angry face.
Above is another example that can be staged to describe fury or anger or alarm. Much also depends on how the rest of the body is drawn. This character could be trying to get the attention of others and the face can be described as expressing alarm.
Alternatively, the face could describe anger or fury. Ambiguity in this example comes up through the eyebrows. If the eyebrows were to be drawn slightly higher up, the resulting expression would signify definite alarm, if the eyebrows were to be drawn pointing down to the nose, the expression would signify definite anger.
It is worth noting, that when expressions of anger are taken to the extreme, like in the above example, we end up with a face expressing rage or fury. In this case, Asuka’s mouth is open even wider, the eyes are also open wider, and the eyebrows are sloping down further.
4. Anime expressions: blushing
Bushing faces in Anime are expressed with cheeks turning rosy red. When the artist wants to demonstrate that someone is really shy, they may extend this rosy blush over the bridge of the nose. Blush could be added to expressions of surprise, shyness, dismay, or if someone is upset or angry until they are “red in the face”. A character who is shown to be an extreme introvert will often be drawn with some blush in many scenes.
5. Anime expressions: crying/distressed
Drawing an anime character upset comes down to manipulating the same features: the corners of the mouth are down, the eyebrows are low on the eyes. A crying character can be depicted in various ways, usually, the eyes are semi-closed, and the tears are built up in circular drops on the corners of the eyes, and some are shown rolling down the face.
If you pay attention to your favorite Anime next time you are looking at the screen, you will notice that any kind of expression showing distress or exertion of effort will usually involve the display of clenched teeth. You can see this in the image above and below. This expression of discomfort expressed with the teeth showing is accompanied with eyes shut, and eyebrows slowing towards the nose.
Some indication of teeth being clenched together is created by the illusion of teeth overlapping, you can see that in the incomplete line starting on the right in the image above – this line indicates where the bottom and the top teeth meet.
6. Anime expressions: shock, feelings of surprise and apprehension
Facial expressions demonstrating surprise are almost always shown with eyes and mouth open wide. In the image below, surprise is combined with feelings of apprehension. This is accomplished with the shape of the mouth, and eyebrows descending low onto the eyes.
7. Anime expressions: charming
Anime and Manga drawings of charming characters usually involve template-like posing of the entire figure, a half-smile, and disarming non-threatening eyes. Eyes and lips lead the effort in communicating the emotional direction. Often hands drawn in a delicate fashion are depicted touching the face, playing with hair, or holding a personal object or accessory like glasses.
Hands, and the pose in general play a critical role in completing the expression in Anime art. Although you could get the expression without the hands just by looking at the face, it is the rest of the drawing that defines the expression further, buttressing it at every opportunity.
When drawing playful or charming expressions, and observing them in Anime, notice just how much the addition of proper support with the hands and figure helps to tell the story.
Above and below are examples of characters playing with their hair. The head is drawn tilted towards the viewer, and the hand is twirling curls of hair, lips are drawn with very slight beginnings of a smile.
Often, characters are depicted winking at the viewer or another character as seen below.
A wink is accompanied with a pleasant smile.
Below is an example of how a charming expression is reiterated with the expression in the hands, and the figure.
8. Anime expressions: confidence
Two unusual ingredients are paired together to express confidence in Anime faces: a smile and eyebrows sloping down to the nose. We are borrowing the lips from the expression of being content or happy, and adding the eyebrows from the expression of anger to produce confidence, but with one caveat. The eyebrows usually do not slope down to the nose as much as they do when drawing angry or enraged faces.
Expressions of confidence in Anime can be drawn as in the image above: eyebrows sloping to the nose (but not as far down as in the expression of anger), juxtaposed with a hint of a smile.
9. Drawing Anime expressions: concern
Feelings of concern can be found expressed with eyebrows raised high. Eyes open wide (but not nearly as wide as in expressions of anger or shock). In the image above, the mouth is partially open in what can be perceived as the beginnings of a gasp.
10. Drawing Anime expressions: being hurt
In the above depiction of a character being hurt, we are looking at the face from above. It appears below our eye level and is foreshortened. Eyes are drawn closed and teeth are on display. When we are in pain, we tend to wince. A wince is an involuntary grimace or shrinking movement of the face out of pain or distress – in Anime, the depiction of teeth grinding serves to communicate this expression. We see an extra line added as the skin folds around the top of the nose to further substantiate the expression.
11. Drawing Anime expressions: disgust, being appalled,
Depicting very specific feelings in Anime drawing can get very complex. Often, we get context from the plot of the story itself, (what was happening right before an expression appears on the face of a character), we also get audio feedback accompanying the visual. Often, as I mentioned above, we also get to see the entire figure and the gesture of the hands support the expression of the face. Finally, we get to see the lighting and color choices of the artists who worked on the scene, these too are designed to help communicate the expression in question.
In the above example, you can notice the shoulders going up as the character communicates the feelings of being disgusted or appalled. The mouth is semi-open in dismay, eyebrows are sloping down but not nearly as much in drawings expressing anger, fury, or rage.
Conclusion: Drawing Anime Expressions
Drawing anime expressions comes down to working with the same elements of expressions: eyes, eyebrows, lips, nose, ears, the position of the jaw, the cheeks. Then fortifying these elements with, gesture and figure, camera view, light, and color, (and in Anime sound and movement).
When drawing Anime expressions, each one of these elements must be employed insubordination of the overall feeling or expression you are trying to convey. So if you want to convey a happy feeling, you must evaluate each drawn element under this standard. Ask yourself, are eyebrows positioned to express joy, or are they drawn in conflict with that feeling? Are the eyes communicating the state of being content, or am I drawing them in a way to shows concern and alarm? Answer these questions for each individual facial feature and adjust accordingly.
Once you see that a particular element of your drawing is not hitting the right note, look at examples. Let’s say you are drawing a face that shows anger. Then you go through the evaluation as discussed above, and find out that while your drawing of the lips and eyebrows communicate anger, the eyes do not. What to do?! Go through examples of Anime you love, and look at how the eyes are drawn in a moment of anger (hint: most likely they are enlarged, wide open, with the sclera (white of the eyes) surrounding the iris on all sides. See my Anime eye drawing tutorial at this link).
Finally, don’t rush your drawing. Build up every facial feature, every element to stand in support of the emotion you are trying to communicate. There is more to it than just the facial features – think of the angle at which you want to show your scene, think of the lighting.
A drawing of a face experiencing happy emotions can be drawn during a bright sunny day, while a drawing of an angry face could be drawn with dramatic lighting further developing the menacing feelings the drawing aims to capture.
Don’t rush, plan ahead, try to envision your drawing on a page before you get started, get plenty of good references.. and then, just draw! Draw a lot, look back at your progress, and fix errors along the way. Don’t get too stuck on one particular drawing, you can learn from it and move on to the next drawing, and fix old errors in a new way.
Below, some of the expressions from this tutorial were redrawn. See if you can spot which ones, or feel free to use the chart below as a reference guide to draw your own Anime and Manga expressions!
Best of luck, time to get drawing!