How to Make Manga

How to Make Manga


What is manga? 

When I asked the kids ages 5 to 12 at the Manga Workshop, not many raised their hand when asked what a manga is but almost everyone knew what comics are.

Manga is actually the Japanese word for comics. So when you say manga comics you’re actually saying “comics comics”. Manga in English has come to be known as a style of comics with a Japanese influence, identified by prominent expressive eyes and awesome hairstyles among other things.

But guess what? That’s not what manga really is. Having  lived in Japan for around 4 years+ I’ve discovered that the art style in manga is as varied as comics is in the Western world. There are popular styles for each genre but there is no one rule that defines what manga should look like. It is completely up to the artist. I think this is fantastic. Growing up with Sailor Moon and the like, it was liberating to see there was no one way to do manga. You can be as creative as you allow yourself to be.

Basic parts of a manga

Manga Workshop - Basic Parts of a Manga

Before we dive into making manga, let’s talk about what goes into one. I’ve boiled down the basic parts of manga to 4 things.

  1. Characters
  2. Panels
  3. Bubbles/balloons
  4. Effects


Characters could be people, animals - both talking and and not. They are the actors of your story. I like using manga for journaling. So I like using human characters. I’ve always been drawn to drawing people, perhaps inspired by the influence of the likes of Sailor Moon in my childhood. I especially like how extra expressive manga characters can be, switching from a serious face to a squashed kawaii (cute) chibi face. I would spend hours drawing into the night coming up with all sorts of characters.

In the Manga Workshop Kit is an easy to understand guide on how to draw a face by sketching guidelines and using those to place the eyes, face, mouth, and nose.


Panels are the boxes or frames that help guide the reader along the story. They are called koma in Japanese. In the Manga Workshop Kit, I use the 4 panel top to bottom format. I find it the most versatile way for anyone to start a manga. No matter if you’re used to reading manga from right to left, as in Japan, or reading comics from left to right as in Western comics, both reading styles read top to bottom.


I’ve always wondered what to call them. Speech bubbles or balloons? Why not bubballoons?

In manga, the Japanese word for bubballoons is fukidashi.

They come in all sorts of shapes. One of the first few times I picked up a manga written in  Japanese, I couldn’t tell which character was speaking which lines because there was no bubballoon tail. I soon figured it out by context, just like how you have to with many things in Japan.


From sound effects to speed lines, I classify everything else that adds more information and emotion to manga as effects. These include backgrounds that express emotions, doodles that indicate anger or relief, and even sound effects spelled in words.

Fun trivia! Did you know that in Japanese, even things that don’t make sounds are expressed in sound? It’s called gitaigo or Japanese onomatopoeia for words that describe conditions and states. My favorite one is “jiiiiiiii—-” which is when someone is staring hard at something or someone without blinking. You can see how useful this is and how much it adds to the imagination when reading Japanese manga.

Of course there are other things that make up a full fledged manga such as backgrounds like a school scene. There are also tones for black and white manga and color. And props, objects that characters interact with. For a simple 4 panel manga, however, these four basic parts - characters, panels, bubballoons, and effects are enough to tell a good story. The rest can be added in to add more interest as you like.

How to Make Manga

To make a simple four panel manga all you need are 3 steps.
Step 1: Write your story
Step 2: Add effects and words to the panels
Step 3: Add your characters

And as I like to add, Step 4: Enjoy your manga!

The most time consuming part, even for a simple yonkoma, I’ve found to making manga is drawing. It is also the biggest hurdle that young budding artists need to overcome. The most enjoyable part is reading the finished manga.

Steps on How to Make Manga

To encourage and empower them to get to Step 4 of enjoying their manga, I made manga stickers that can be used to quickly tell a story. In the Manga Workshop Kit printable, there are 20 stickers of boys and girls that show expressions from happy to sad to anger to surprise. Print this character page on sticker sheet paper, cut them out, and then use them in your manga.

Step 1. Write Your Story

The first step to making a manga is writing the story.

How do you write a story?

In the Manga Workshop Kit printable, you’ll learn How to Write Your Story using the Kishotenketsu principle.

Have you heard of Kishotenketsu?

It’s one of the many ways to write a story for a 4 panel manga, also called a yonkoma. In Japanese, yon means 4 and koma means panel.

Manga Workshop - How to Write Your Story

Kishotenketsu is actually an easy way to remember a 4 part story flow.

Ki is for introduction. I like to think about it as the start. What is your story about?

Sho is for development. I like to think about it as asking “then…”. What’s next? What happens next to your story?

Ten is for turn. It is the pivot in the story. What changed?

Ketsu is for the conclusion. I like to think about it as the end. What was the result?

Using this simple flow, anyone can make a story about anything. I was amazed at how one of my students fully grasped this flow in her manga below.

Manga created by student in Manga Workshop that show kishotenketsu flow

I especially like using this in my journal using the Enikki Kit, which has panels and a character full of different emotions. There are more emotions in the Enikki Kit than there are in the Manga Workshop Kit. By joining the Enikki Club you’ll get more characters and goodies you can use to make your own manga.

Step 2. Add Effects and Words to the Panels

Actually step 2 and step 3 are interchangeable but I find that many times I need to put down effects first so the characters go on top of them. Also, when putting the characters first, sometimes you end up losing space for the speech balloons and gitaigo or sound effects so that things end up cramped up in one panel. By putting down the bubballoons first, the panel will turn out more balanced.

In the third panel of this video, I added sunburst lines to add the element of surprise, which had to go under the character sticker. When making manga, it's a good idea to plan a little ahead by drawing a quick sketch of how your story flows, what are in each panel, the placing of the elements like the character and the bubbles, and effects. To do this in the Manga Workshop Kit, print the Write Your Own Story page. This page has a guide for the Kishotenketsu flow where you can do this quick planning.

Step 3. Add Your Characters

Characters are the main carriers of your story. So the emotions and poses they use in each panel matters so much that in the Manga Workshop Kit printable, there are a couple of sheets to help you try out different emotions on the characters before applying it on manga. There is a Make a Face activity sheet where you mix and match eyes and mouths to see what kind of combination shows what emotion.

Another sheet is titled Draw a Face. During the Manga Workshop with the kids, they enjoyed this part the most. There is a guideline in the Manga Workshop Kit on How to Draw a Face that shows you how to sketch guidelines and how those guidelines indicate where to place the eyebrows, face, nose, and mouth. They tried all sorts of funny expressions and eye shapes.

When you don’t know what to draw, the best thing to do is to look around you. Better yet, look in the mirror and try drawing what you see. Ask yourself do you see big eyes? Small eyes? Round? What is the shape? What is the color?

What your character wears also helps tell your story. In Design a Character sheet in the Manga Workshop Kit, you can try experimenting using the girl and boy body templates. Here is an example that I showed the kids in the Manga Workshop.

They instantly knew what occupation that the boy was a racer. When they didn’t know what to draw, I asked them to draw themselves. What were they wearing? Was it long sleeves? What color? Is it a dress?

The Biggest Mistake

The biggest mistake we can make when making manga is being afraid to make mistakes. During the Manga Workshop I couldn’t find any erasers or rubbers provided. I learned that teachers ask the kids to keep their erasers at home so they can accept their mistakes and use that experience to become more resilient.

True making mistakes make us feel shame, irritation, frustration and all the feels. But when we embrace those feelings, acknowledge our mistakes, and persevere, that’s when we get better, not just in making manga but as a person.

When I was inking the face of this girl, my hand was at a wrong angle and the line didn't trace the line under it. By making this mistake, I now know to pay more attention to the tilt of the paper or the angle of my hand the next time I ink. By making this mistake, I only gained a better understanding of myself and how to better my drawing.

For someone who has been drawing for three decades, the best thing I’ve done is make mistake after mistake and choosing to start over with little improvements each time. This is why I chose to make the Manga Workshop Kit a printable - so you can print as many sheets as you need to practice and improve.

Are you ready to start your own manga? Get your Manga Workshop Kit printable below and make your first manga with stickers.


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