Manga Art vs Anime Illustration – What’s the Difference?

You’d like to become an Anime artist. Yet you might be confused by what exactly that entails. Many drawings you see are in full-color and standalone much like a painting. But Manga is in black and white and many of its drawings can hardly be considered art all by themselves.

Both are drawn in the Japanese Anime art style, but seem to be quite different. Just what is the difference between Manga art and Anime illustrations?

Manga art is designed to function as a series of drawings arranged in comic panels. Some Manga drawings can standalone, but many panels don’t make sense without greater context. Conversely, Anime illustrations are complete like a singular painting and don’t require any additional context.

And that’s just one difference between the two. Both share the same style, but are very different mediums. Meaning, the skillsets required for both are quite different.

There are many more differences you should know before deciding what kind of Anime artist you want to become. One’s we’ll cover down below.

What Are the Differences Between Manga Art and Anime Illustrations?

I’ll be using the terms ‘drawings’ to refer to Manga Art and ‘illustrations’ to refer to Anime Illustration.

Despite the two seeming identical to the average observer, there are quite a few differences between the art you’d find in a Manga versus the illustrations you’d find in a Light Novel for example.

Sequence vs Standalone

Manga is the Japanese version of a comic book. Using numerous drawings arranged in panels, it tells a sequential story. Some drawings are detailed enough to stand on their own, but might not make any sense from a compositional standpoint.

Without the context of the Manga’s story, the drawings within won’t make any sense. Each panel builds on the last to tell the story. If you remove a panel, the story falls apart. Many panels don’t even contain drawings. Some have just a pattern or speech bubble by themselves. Some are outright empty black or white panels.

That said, Mangaka (Manga Artists) will occasionally include an illustration that takes up an entire page. These are often found at the beginning of or at a key point in the chapter. Such illustrations can stand on their own, but may not have the same level of quality as a standard Anime illustration.

Conversely, an Illustration is a complete work that can stand on its own without any need for greater context. Just like a painting in a gallery, you can enjoy it without needing to look at the plaque underneath telling you the piece’s title and artist’s name.

Unlike Manga art, which is primarily functional—each of its drawings existing to facilitate the story—an Illustration’s purpose is not to tell a story (though it can), but rather to simply be admired. But because it must stand on its own, it requires far greater attention to quality.

Necessary Skillsets

Despite drawing in the same Anime art style, Mangaka and Anime Illustrators use different drawing skillsets to create their works. Both need to know the basic fundamentals of art, but beyond those, each skillset is more nuanced.

Mangaka must know how to:

  • Use the monochrome color palette given that Manga is in black and white
  • Arrange each panel in a logical, engaging way so the story has proper flow
  • Use Manga-specific techniques like action lines / background patterns / sound effects
  • Place speech bubbles without detracting from the art
  • Make their drawings match the context of the story

Mangaka are like film directors. Each drawing must fit the logical sequence of the story while being visually engaging.

Illustrators don’t have to worry about the majority of what Mangaka do. They are more like photographers aiming for a perfect shot, not a series of logical ones.

Thus, Illustrators must:

  • Know how to use the entire color spectrum
  • Know how each color interacts with another by having a greater understanding of color theory / values / light and shadow
  • Put extra effort into composition given the Illustration must stand alone

An Illustrator’s skillset is closer to that of a traditional artist, but he still might make use of some Manga techniques such as speech bubbles, action lines, or pattern effects.

The key difference between the two is the use of color. Many professional Mangaka are actually incapable of professionally drawing in color and outsource any coloring work need done for their Manga.

That said, it’s apparently rather difficult for Illustrators to transition into a Mangaka, but Mangaka typically have little issue becoming Illustrators. Anyone can be both, but given the nuanced skillset that a Mangaka must acquire, it’s easier to become an Illustrator than a Mangaka if you were trained in traditional art forms first.

Black & White vs Color

Manga is almost always in black and white, while most Anime Illustrations are rendered in full-color. Full-color Manga exist, but they are not the norm. You can discover why in this article about why Manga are in black and white.

There are plenty of black and white Illustrations, but those given the most attention are in full-color. That said, black and white Illustrations are in high-demand for products like Light Novels which contain at least 10 such Illustrations on average per volume.

This difference isn’t that Manga should be black and white and Illustrations should be in color. Rather, it’s just the way the mediums evolved over time. Manga is black and white because it’s always been that way. Illustrations are more-or-less an Anime-version of traditional paintings, so they’re in full-color.

You can render either medium in either color scheme. The key difference is whether or not you’re able to do so. To render anything in color, you must first know how to do so in black and white. But just because you can render your art in color doesn’t mean you’re particularly skilled at doing so in monochrome.

Text vs Textless

To tell its story, Manga uses plenty of text both in speech bubbles and directly on the drawings themselves. The first tells the story via character thoughts and dialogue, while the latter is usually sound effects to enhance the film-like quality of the reading experience.

Illustrations can have text, but such examples are rare. The purpose of the Illustration is the art itself, so any extra ‘noise’ like text would distract from the art.

One reason Manga avoids full-page Illustrations is because it’s difficult to put text on them. And without text, the story cannot progress; and readers love progress in a story. You can tell a story with drawings alone, yes, but that’s not why readers are drawn to Manga in the first place.

That said, an Illustration can say a whole lot more than a speech bubble. But on occasion, text without any drawing at all can say just as much.

Expected Quality

Unfortunately, Manga is treated as a ‘disposable’ art form. New chapters of a million different Manga series are churned out every week. Mangaka work insane hours to meet deadlines where they’re expected to deliver around 18 pages of Manga per week.

This invariably leads to several drawings having not-so-great quality. Manga art is no doubt amazing, but oftentimes the art in the weekly release must be touched up before being released in volume format. Mangaka simply don’t have enough time to deliver perfect, high-quality art.

So, they don’t. And no one really expects them to do so. Readers enjoy the art, but are mostly there for the story. Great writing can carry average art.

Conversely, Illustrations must be high-quality to catch the eyes of viewers. Manga can be touched up later, but you only really get one shot with an Illustration. The first impression it makes on a viewer is the most important, so you have to be 100% sure you’ve done everything you can before releasing it into the wild.

Most viewers are under the impression that Illustrators have plenty of time to get their work perfect. That may not be always true as they have their own deadlines. But you must adhere to such (false) beliefs in order to succeed as an Anime Illustrator. And viewers believe Illustrations should be of much higher quality than Manga.

Manga is treated as cheap entertainment to consume and forget until the next chapter releases. Illustrations are treated as works of art to be closely analyzed and considered. Obviously, this mentality greatly effects the expected level of quality between the two mediums.

Amount of Work

Due to consumer’s expectations of quality, Manga art and Anime Illustrations differ in the typical amount of work an artist puts into them.

A single page of Manga can take a long time to be considered complete. This article details just how long it takes to draw a single page of Manga. But professional Mangaka can circumvent some of the work by passing it off to their assistants.

Plus, given consumers’ expectations of Manga, artists don’t feel the need to create hyper-detailed drawings for each panel. Anime is both a simplified and 2D-heavy art form. Add the fact that Manga is in black and white and the amount of work an artist has to put into each drawing can be much lower than you might expect.

Illustrators, however, are expected to put in a ton of work and must do so to adhere to the medium. While the art style itself is rather simple, Illustrators must also color their illustrations which necessitates extra effort put into color theory, values, and light and shadow.

The amount of work ultimately depends on the skill of the artist, but one could argue Illustrators have more work to do by default given the extra steps in the drawing process.

Marketing Power

Despite having the same fanbase, the way Mangaka and Illustrators profit from their work can be quite different.

Mangaka’s primary goal is to have their work published in a Manga magazine. In the past, this was the only way to really profit from Manga. With the advent of the internet, Mangaka can self-publish their work and sell it online or build up a fanbase who can donate to their efforts via services like Patreon.

A Mangaka’s skills might also be used for products and services wanting some sort of unique marketing. For example, a Mangaka might be hired to create an infographic for a product in Manga format.

Illustrators don’t have it quite so easy. Consumers are drawn to Manga for their story, so if the story is good, it’s an easy sell. Illustrators only have their art to rely on. If it isn’t up to snuff, it can be difficult to make a living from it.

Illustrators can take the same fanbase/donations route online or most commonly—take commissions. There are plenty of people needed art for one reason or another. And they’re far more apt to turn to an Illustrator for their needs than Mangaka.

From a professional standpoint, Illustrators are often hired for large-form advertisements like posters/billboards/front covers of books and magazines.

Although the most in demand position is arguably that of Light Novel illustrations, which can contain around 15 or more illustrations per volume. Even more coveted would be that of a video game or visual novel illustrator which might have hundreds of illustrations.

Both can turn a profit from a variety of sources, but those sources can be quite different given the required skillsets.

The Same, But Quite a Bit Different

The terms Manga and Anime are thrown around interchangeably. And while they’re both part of Otaku culture, the art found in each medium can be quite different.

The differences of which you now know. And in knowing, you should have a pretty good idea of which path you want to pursue as an artist.

You can always be both, but if you wish to master one, you’d be better off picking one path and sticking to it. A hunter that chases two rabbits catches neither and all that…

Regardless of which path you choose, you’ll have plenty of potential fans who enjoy all forms of Anime art.


Hey, my name's Azuma. I first dove deep into Otaku culture in 2010 and never quite grew out of it. After a million different anime, light novels, manga, and visual novels, I learned a lot about each art form. Knowledge I want to share with you from writing advice to drawing tips. I'm also the Author of two light novels series, Garden of PSI and On Creating the Ultimate Weapon. Happy creating!

Recent Posts