Even though manga has lots of different art styles we still have an idea that certain styles are "manga style" and other ones aren't. What is it about an art style that lets us know it's manga style? What elements reappear across many manga? What distinguishes our idea of manga style from our idea of Western comics style?

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    To perhaps hint at the difficulty in answering this question, the picture you included doesn't really look like manga to me at all. In fact, the "manga-style" drawings on the top look more like 1980s American cartoons like GI Joe or Chuck Norris Karate Kommandos, whereas the "realistic" drawings on the bottom remind me of older fighting manga, like Fist of the North Star.
    – Torisuda
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 20:17
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    This is a very interesting question - but, as Torisuda points out, a difficult one to answer. In particular, there are many levels on which we can distinguish manga from other comic art - panel layout, character design, "framing" of "shots", speech bubble placement, use of color (or lack thereof), use of onomatopoeia (Japanese notwithstanding), screentones/shading, and beyond.
    – senshin
    Commented Apr 2, 2016 at 23:45
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    @ton.yeung I assume you're implying that the categorization is arbitrary and the only way to distinguish manga from Western comics is to yield to the popular vote or the opinion of recognized authorities. But the question actually asks specifically how to tell from the art style. The answer might be "you can't tell from the art style alone, it's purely definitional", but the OP did specifically ask how to tell from the art style, whereas your comment relates to how to tell in general. From your tone I gather you find that a stupid question, but that isn't actually what the OP asked.
    – Torisuda
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 6:27
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    @ton.yeung This discussion is fascinating, and unfortunately these comments are too small to contain it. I think there's a difference between "manga" and "the manga art style". Manga is manga because we say it is; as you point out, the spectrum of art styles in real manga is diverse, from the cartoonish One Piece to the baroque CLAMP, from the soft and fluffy shoujo look of Honey So Sweet to the odd juxtaposition of caricature and realism that we see in Onward to Our Noble Deaths. But I still argue there is some archetype in our minds of "manga style art"...
    – Torisuda
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 23:56
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    ...otherwise we wouldn't be able to say that Legend of Korra is "manga style" and Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is "not manga style" even though the latter is Japanese and the former is not. While the OP perhaps didn't express it in the best way, I see this question as asking "what are the defining traits of that archetype of manga art?", not "What's a magical test that can always let me tell I'm reading a manga just from looking at the art?", which is, as you say, an impossible and futile goal.
    – Torisuda
    Commented Apr 3, 2016 at 23:58

4 Answers 4


I'm not sure there is a specific answer to this. As you acknowledge, different artists have different styles. Both Japanese and western books vary from "cartoony" to "realistic". There are cultural differences seen in the art, such as in Japanese media adults often smoke, while in American media, they seldom do -- definitely not in titles geared to children. (Maybe they do in French media; that's why I switched from "western" to "American".)

Hell, sometimes an artist has extremes in his own work; consider Yoshiro Togashi and his "bad days" on Hunter x Hunter. Here is a comparison of a page that got published in the weekly mag, versus how he improved it for the HxH volume:

poorly drawn page on left, well-drawn on right

Is the left even identifiable as manga vs comic book (vs fan art)? On the right, the main clue as to being a manga, at least to me, is the eyes of the upper right character. Otherwise it could be from a (somewhat dark) American funny-animal comic book, a la "Fritz the Cat visits a jungle".

Let's look at another page:

First Kingdom, Book 6 cover

Is there anything innately Japanese or western concerning Jack Katz' work on The First Kingdom? If I didn't already know, I could not tell anything except that he is a remarkable artist (a mangaka in every sense of the word except his nationality). ... Hmm, maybe in Japan they would have to fade-out all the nipples.

I myself instantly recognize manga because the pages have to be read from right to left. The other instantly recognizable hint is that manga are typically b&w, whereas western comics are usually color.


I could be wrong, but based on observation, here is a theory:

"Manga-style" refers to the shading process. Compare the conversions from books to animation, there is much less line shading due to grayscale limitations not applying to animation, especially with coloring.

Furthermore, just the facial style of western cartoons, in comparison to Japan in specific, eases the differences.


well to me It's more about the lack of details. Be-sided the obvious eyes (tough they come in different styles) the main deference to me between comics and manga it's the lack of realism. Comics use a lot of details in the hair, eyes, shading, and body...making the characters look more realistic. But in Manga for example they gather a bunch of hair into two line strokes and gives volume with shading, a vary cleaner look to the character. Idk, just less realistic I suppose.


If you do research you will find that the Japanese consider animation such as cartoons and anime to all be anime but some styles are usually seen separately.


The main difference is the age. What we call cartoons are things aimed at kids, while anime is usually aimed at older people as well as young but the so called cartoons pokemon and yugioh are anime.

The thing is us Americans just separated everything.

Definition of Anime by Merriam-Webster

a style of animation originating in Japan that is characterized by stark colorful graphics depicting vibrant characters in action-filled plots often with fantastic or futuristic themes.

a simple drawing showing the features of its subjects in a humorously exaggerated way, especially a satirical one in a newspaper or magazine. synonyms: caricature, parody, lampoon, satire; More

a motion picture using animation techniques to photograph a sequence of drawings rather than real people or objects.

if it helps most of the cartoons we have in america are made in japan.and all of this started in japan.

  • You're answering the question "What defines anime?", not the actual question "What defines the art style of anime?".
    – Torisuda
    Commented Dec 12, 2016 at 5:35

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