Manga Facial Expressions




The purpose of this instructable is to help guide beginning mangaka (Japanese comic artists) express their character's feelings through facial expressions and symbols.  Some of the expressions that is widely known in the manga world will be explained in detail here.  My chibi-fied version of myself (chibi Sauwen) along with the instructables robot will be hosts for this guide.  (Chibi means small, literally in Japanese.  Chibi characters in manga are just small, "super deformed" versions of characters that are typically adorable, with large heads and small bodies.)

Say hi, everyone!

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Happiness

Let's start with the most common feeling to display: happiness!

This is easily shown with the mouth.  It can be in the form of a simple smile, cat smile (shown on chibi Sauwen), or a big smile with an open mouth (as seen on the instructables robot.) 

Note: The cat smile can often be a symbol of cunning, like the character may be up to something suspicious since cats are stealthy creatures.

The eyes can be normally open or seemingly closed (somewhat signifying their smile is so big that their eyes squint).  In Chibi Sauwen's case, her eyes resemble an upside-down u.  In the instructables robot's case, his eyes resemble the >< symbols, signifying that he's shutting his eyes because he is laughing so hard.  These eyes may also represent cases in nervousness or excitement, but don't forget to change the mouth! 

Finally, the heart in the bubble shows love and affection towards something the character is dealing with.

Step 2: Sweatdrop

The single large sweatdrop is usually a sign of embarrassment or exasperation.  This is commonly followed by three dots in a talking bubble showing speechlessness.

Uh oh, it looks like the instructables robot aren't allowed to have sweatdrops.  It could damage the electronics inside!  (Hence, the smoke cloud of doom...)

The instructables robot's eyes are x's which shows defeat or near death.

Step 3: Sadness and Innocence

The facial expression for sadness involves eyebrows slanting downwards, and teary eyes if your character is emotional.  Notice that the eyes have more reflection in it than normal. 

Innocence is expressed by large innocent beady eyes.  Again, the cat smile is shown, but this time on the instructables robot for his silly playfulness.

Step 4: Anger and Depression

The vein popping symbol on the left shows anger or annoyance.  Note that this symbol can be shown without a bubble and placed on the character's head.  Also note that the eyebrows are exaggerated to show tension in the face with a little nook at one of the insides of the eyebrow. 

The instructable robot is seen sulking alone in the corner with the back facing the audience.  This drawing makes him small and sad, with a little raincloud on top of his head.  He has a bubble with multiple parallel vertical lines, indicating depression.  You may also use this to show horror and disgust.

Awwww... poor thing.

Step 5: Conclusion

By now, you should have a good idea of how to represent the following expressions: happiness, embarrassed/exasperation, defeat, sadness, innocence, anger, and depression.  Don't take this too literally as there are other ways of expressing how a character may feel.  An example may be how your character acts throughout a situation, and the words that reflect what the character may be feeling.

Hope this instructable was a fun one.  For more ideas, check out the wiki page on manga iconography .  Happy drawing!

Comic Contest

Participated in the
Comic Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Book Character Costume Challenge

      Book Character Costume Challenge
    • Made with Math Contest

      Made with Math Contest
    • Cardboard Speed Challenge

      Cardboard Speed Challenge

    14 Discussions


    5 years ago

    Finally! Someone on instructables who can draw manga really well! Looks great!

    1 reply
    Neon Panda

    8 years ago on Introduction

    This has been really helpful, thanks :)

    I was just wondering if you could recommend any good drawing tablets or editing suites to touch up on manga or chibi drawings?


    2 replies
    sauwenNeon Panda

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Neon Panda, I'm glad you liked it! :)
    I actually don't have a drawing tablet myself, although it will give so much more control when editing pictures. As for editing suites, I use the popular photoshop program. There is tons of help and tutorials online and it is just packed with tools. If you are interested in coloring, another program that I've used briefly is PaintTool SAI. Here is a wiki link to the program: It is a lightweight program compared to photoshop, and it focuses mainly on painting. The tools seem more intuitive that photoshop and blending colors is just amazing!! Good luck with your drawings!!

    Neon Pandasauwen

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thank-you so much, you have been very helpful :)
    I'll check it out, it sounds perfect!
    Thanks again :D x