Introduction: How to Draw Anatomicaly Correct Manga Cats (it Can Be Done!)

About: I try to make the details simple and the simple detailed. I also do semi-professional pet portraiture. All of my instructables are certified parent approved.

Things you'll need:
A basic knowledge of GIMP


A pencil
A pen
Colored pencils or markers

Here is a more recent video I made on feline anatomy.

Here is an Instructable on drawing manga people.

Here is a link to my new YouTube Channel.

Hello, everyone! Despite what some may say, it is possible to draw in a good-looking manga style and still have everything anatomically correct for any subject. I will show you by creating an anatomically correct cat in a manga style.

Cats are probably one of, if not, the most frequently incorrectly drawn animal, and for a reason too! We will go into why this is in a moment, but for now, understand that feline anatomy is very unique and complex.

Manga is the art of Japanese cartooning. It is very different from American cartooning in that angles are usually more sharp and features are generally more exaggerated. Manga is also, in general, 'cuter' than, but for some reason, not as 'huggable' as other forms of cartooning. You do not need to be Japanese to draw like this though, because remember: just because something originates somewhere doesn't mean it has to stay there.

The one who really got me started on manga is Mizu no Akira from deviant art. I'd originally started manga a couple of years ago trying to copy her style, but once I somewhat got the hang of it, I decided to change things a bit and make my own style, but as you can see, it is still very similar to the original version.

Step 1: Feline Anatomy 101

Cats do not have chests! Look up a photo of a cat's skeleton and compare it with the skeleton of an animal with a chest (like a dog).  You will notice that the cat's rib cage angles up and stops in between the shoulders near the middle. With the chested animals, the rib cage is round and wide rather than thin and angled.  It will also probably extend beyond the shoulders.  All a cat's "chest" is, is it's shoulders attached together.  This special layout along with a lack of a collar bone enables the cat to fit through very tight places other animals of the same size could never go.

Study the feline anatomy sheet above. It should help you to further understand how a cat is built (and how it isn't), but if you still don't quite get how it works, feel free to ask questions.

Tip: If you have a cat, what are you waiting for? Go study him/her! Nothing helps you to understand anatomy of any kind better than studying living subjects! Even if you don't have a cat, more than likely, someone you know does. Next time you visit them, pay extra attention to their cat.

Note: The reason the pictures in the anatomy sheet above look a little sketchy is because I drew them with a pen on paper and copied them onto the sheet.

Step 2: Expressing Emotion and Adding Drama

In manga, mood is everything. As Leslie Harrison taught me, it is possible to give a painting or drawing emotion. Of course, she is a pastel artist, not a manga cartoonist; so, as you can imagine, the methods of expressing emotion in a realistic picture and a manga, anime, or cartoon one are pretty different. Study the sheets above to learn some of the best ways to express and dramatize your art.

Note: The reason the pictures in the emotion expression sheet above look a little sketchy is because I drew them with a pen on paper and copied them onto the sheet.

Edit: Added ears to the expressing emotion sheet (thanks for reminding me, hack42moem!).

Step 3: Setting the Scene

Backgrounds are an essential part of good manga. Now we don't want our drawings to be floating in space, do we? I know I don't. In order to create good backgrounds, we first need to figure out what mood the drawing will have to it (hence why expressing emotion came before this). Once the mood has been determined, you'll want to pick a background that will somewhat match. For example, you wouldn't want a grassy, butterfly-filled field as a background for a picture with sad or angry characters, but things like dark forests/allyways or a stretch of dry grass and/or bare ground could easily do the trick. Other things you could add to even further enhance feeling is adding rain/lightning. For something with a happy feel to it, a green and butterfly-ey field would be perfect. Making the sky clear and light yellow (as if late dawn or early dusk) can enhance the effect. Environment plays such a big part of emotion that this "step" should probably be titled "expressing emotion part 2" but "setting the scene" sounds much better, don't you think?

Title of Art Pictured Above: Torn (try and guess which background I ended up using for it ;) ! )

Step 4: Don't Expect Instant Perfection-You Won't Get It!

Unless you're an exceptionally skilled artist, don't think that you will get everything right on the first try. It took about two years for me to get to the point I'm at with manga, and I'm still not completely satisfied with my results. The pictures above make sort of a progress line that shows how my style has changed over the two years since I started. It begins with a more recent drawing (the one I will teach you to draw in the following steps) and ends with one of my first 'manga' drawings. If you noticed that the last picture doesn't have a watermark, it's because it's so terrible that I'm not even going to bother trying to protect it. It is free for any kind of use.

Titles of drawings (first to last): Lost but not Forgotten, Sarah, America, Sister's Play, Ashamed, Rock Climbing, Stripey

Step 5: Sketching It Up

I'm not sure why, but I always draw my best when I draw without a sketch, however, I do know this: most people do use sketches, so I drew a sketch (after I did the lineart) so that things would be easier for you. Unfortunately, it may not be the most accurate, because I didn't actually use it in the drawing process.

Tip: if you are using paper, make your lines very light so you can erase them completely. If you are using a computer, use brightly colored lines that don't blend with your background or the lineart you will draw on top of it.

Step 6: It's Lineart Time!

Once the sketch is in place, begin drawing the lineart. Lineart is a base for all but a handful of manga styles. It gives your characters most of their form. For tapered lines, create your own dynamics with the size set to fade. The length of the fade can be set under tool options. Play around with different dynamics settings until you get something you like. Don't be afraid to zoom in while working on your picture. No need to underuse the power of digital imaging.

Tip: Start with the nose or ear! I don't know why, but it helps you to get proportions more accurate.

Note: I accidentally made the lineart in this picture a bit thicker than I like it to be. I (kind of) fixed this later on by selecting the lineart, inverting the selection, and using the eraser over it. Try experimenting with line thickness and opacity until you find a combination that you like. I recommend using a two or three pixel hard brush or a three or four pixel soft brush.

Step 7: Adding a Bit of Color

Now that you have your lineart ready, create a new layer and use free-select to make a selection around the edges of your lineart. Fill this selection with whatever color you want your cat to be. If your cat is two or more colors, fill the selection with the color that your cat is more of; then click the lock alpha button on the layers panel and use the free select tool to add more colors.

Next, make another layer (in between the lineart layer and the base color layer). Select the iris and fill it with a lighter version of the eye color you want. Once you finish that, use the dodge/burn tool with the softest brush you have to add detail to it. Use a very dark (but not black) version of your cat's eye color for the pupil.

Tip: If you are drawing this by hand, do the lineart first in pencil; then, very carefully, go over it with a pen (preferably a gel one).

Note: if you are wondering why my icon is up there, look more closely and you'll see circles of solid color near certain parts of the cat. These spots represent the original colors used to color in this cat. Making color palettes or templates such as this are very useful, especially when the character is one you draw frequently.

Step 8: Details Details

Fill in the eye whites and, if your cat is a girl, the eye lashes. On the basic color layer or a new layer, color in the inner ear, nose, and mouth. Use the select tool. Also, on another layer (above the lineart) add highlights to the eyes.

Tip: If you are drawing this, use colored pencils or markers to color it in.

Step 9: Background and Mist

Make a new layer behind your cat and fill it with a very dark shade of blue. Use the RGB noise filter to make little white dots on the layer. Use the scale layer tool to enlarge the layer, then use the curves tool to darken the sky and lighten the stars to your liking. Now, use a cloud or smoke brush (I used LJF's awesome smoke brushes) with a light shade of grey to create mist. Use multiple layers for this. I've found that if you use multiple layers with differing opacities, the mist will look more 'misty'. For the moon, use the hardest brush you have, and, on a new layer, click wherever you want it to be. If you want to add details to the moon, use a low opacity cloud or smoke brush in black (I used the smoke brush that comes with gimp).

Hint: to add details to a layer without making any marks outside of what is already there, click the lock alpha channel button on the layers panel.

Note: the RGB noise filter will start you off with a color mixture instead of white. I could tell you how to make the noise white, but if you don't play with the settings, you won't learn as much.

Step 10: Shading It In

Make a new layer and select the highlights on your cat. Fill them with light blue. Invert the selection and go to layer> transparency> intersect with selection. This will make the selection only on the cat. Fill this selection with dark blue (preferably on a new layer and darker than the blue I originally used). Lower the opacity of both layers to your liking. If you haven't done so already, draw whiskers on the eye highlights layer.

Step 11: Pics Play Pro and Pixlr Express

This step is very much optional; but if you want, you can use Pics Play Pro for a border and watermark, and Pixlr for the text. I would have used Pics Play Pro for the text too (I'd actually prefer it, because I like the font options), but its word limit kept me from completing the quote.

Step 12: Done!

You're done (finally!)! If you drew Ember or designed your own cat, please post a clear picture of it in comments. I love seeing how other people do! If you like, I can check your art and give you some pointers for the next time you draw (I am a-artcritique after all; and yes, I'm aware that the right way to put it is 'an' art critique ^ω^ )! Have fun drawing! Please vote for what you'd like to see from me next: a graphite pencil 'ible, a chalk pastel 'ible, a photography 'ible, how to draw a dragon, a brownie cookie recipe, or general art tips. Another thing that I can do is 'how to train your cat the constructive way'.