Should You Draw Your Manga in Black and White or in Color?

You’ve got a great story idea, gorgeous character designs, and storyboards set for your Manga. But before putting stylus to pad, you wonder if it’s better to go traditional and draw in black and white or hop on the current trend of full-color Manga.

But which is better?

You should draw your manga in whichever method best fits your intention. However, black and white is superior to color for many reasons—it allowing for better immersion being the most important.

And while that answer is completely biased given my distaste for full-color Manga, it is not without sound logic.

Let’s break down several reasons why you’re better off sticking with black and white for your Manga.

7 Reasons Not to Draw Your Manga in Color

1. Color Kills a Reader’s Imagination

One of the best parts of reading a piece of fiction is letting your imagination run wild. This works best when you read a novel without any pictures.

You craft mental images of each scene, character, and location subconsciously so you can better understand the story. Humans need to imagine things to understand and relate to them.

The best storytellers use this to their advantage by describing just enough to trigger a reader’s imagination, but not so much that he doesn’t have to use his brain at all.

Manga does a lot of the work for readers, but they still need to imagine quite a bit. Given that Manga is a series of still, 2D images, readers have to imagine the movement and 3D representations of each scene.

And—the color. Spare a few special colored illustrations, Manga are entirely in black and white (B&W). So, readers must imagine the colors for everything they see in a Manga.

Coloring your Manga would remove the need for a reader’s imagination. They’d still need to imagine some things, yes, but color is so integral to one’s imagination that taking it away by telling a reader exactly what something or someone looks like destroys part of the fun that comes from reading fiction.

If readers wanted to see a series of pictures in color, they’d be better off watching a movie. Every element of reality both visual and audible is represented in film. Thus, a movie denies a viewer’s imagination. There’s no incentive or reason for them to use it.

A full-color Manga may not do the same, but it’s so close to being a movie that it effectively defeats the purpose of making your work into a Manga in the first place.

If it’s important to you that your readers don’t use their imagination—just make a movie instead.

2. Color Ruins a Reader’s Immersion

A reader that uses her imagination at full force is completely immersed in your story. This is important for innumerable reasons, but the main one is that it turns readers into long-term fans.

If you suck them in and make them forget they’re just reading a story, readers will come back for every new chapter of your manga without fail. You immersed them and they love that feeling.

B&W is perfect for immersing readers, but color can ruin that immersion you’ve spent so much time building. If you show readers exactly what everything is supposed to look like it yanks them out of your story.

For example, I was disappointed the first time I saw a full-color illustration of a character from a Manga. I had built up a distinct color scheme of her in my head. According to my brain, her clothes looked one way and her hair was blond.

Seeing a full-color illustration of her destroyed my image of her and thereby ruined some of my immersion in the Manga as a whole. I was cursed by the knowledge that the colors I have in my head might not match what they are in truth.

I was forced to remember I was reading a story that happens regardless of my input. This isn’t detrimental on a small scale. The vast majority of readers will appreciate knowing what a character actually looks like via a full-color illustration.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t lose some of their immersion. And, obviously, a full-color Manga will destroy every ounce of immersion you might’ve built if you’d kept it black and white.

3. Not Everything Can Be Expressed in Color

And by that, I mean: some things shouldn’t be expressed in color. Everything certainly can be given the full-color treatment, but doing so might hurt more than help.

I get the following idea from a short story by Henry James called “The Real Thing”. In which, a painter specializing in pieces focused on aristocratic life meets a pair of former aristocrats who offer to be his models.

They should’ve been the perfect models, but the painter soon discovers that his paintings are lacking something. So, he hires two more models from the lower class. Ultimately, his paintings of aristocrats come out much better using lower class models than those using actual aristocrats as models.

In using ‘the real thing’, he couldn’t use his imagination at full-power and was prevented from painting his personal idea of aristocracy. But in not using it, his imagination was allowed to run wild and his paintings were far more compelling.

It’s the same feeling you’d get from looking at a photo a something versus an artist’s representation of it. Most of the time, the representation is far more interesting than ‘the real thing’.

All that to say: color turns your Manga into ‘the real thing’.

You take away a reader’s imagination and immersion by adding color and all they’re left with is a boring one-for-one representation of reality.

That’s why us Otaku fell in love with Anime and Manga in the first place—it’s not ‘the real thing’, but an exaggerated expression of it. We know cute alien girls and sexy cat-boys don’t exist in real life and we like it that way.

Adding color to your Manga won’t turn it into ‘the real thing’, but it will move it closer to that idea. And rarely is it interesting to see ‘the real thing’ in the world of Otaku media.

4. Color Takes Away More Than It Adds

When considering to draw your Manga in full-color, ask these questions:

  • Will color add anything to my Manga?
  • What might color take away from the experience?
  • Can I convey the same information in black and white?

My answers are: very little, a lot, and yes.

In short, a full-color Manga is too loud.

Color forces readers to process a ton of extra information. Not only are you asking them to look at every panel and the potential mountains of detail present in each, you’re adding color information on top of it. This leads to:

  • Information overload. In which readers don’t pay attention to anything because the brain naturally takes the path of least resistant, which results in—
  • Detracting from the overall experience. The fine details you would normally notice in B&W usually go unnoticed in color because your brain is too busy processing color information. This makes your Manga’s art far less impactful than it would’ve been in B&W.

Furthermore, you can convey more-or-less the exact same visual information in B&W as you can in color.

By proper shading, you can convey what color things might be. Pitch black hair is pitch black. Slightly lighter might be brown or purple. Readers might be missing out on the exact information, but is it really important?

If it is, you can have a character outright say what color something is supposed to be. If it isn’t, then why have it in full-color?

5. Black and White Can Be Just as Compelling as Color, If Not More

In the world of acting, it’s said that black and white is an actor’s best friend. All the focus is put on them and their movements. The audience is forced to look at them because they’re the most compelling element on screen.

Adding color destroys that special attention. An audience’s focus is divided by all the color information they must process.

The same can be said of your Manga. Your characters and settings are the stars of your art and should be treated as such. All the effort you put into a character’s smile or the intricate details on a Lolita dress would be diminished if rendered in color.

Readers would no longer focus on your art and imagine the colors, but just absorb the colors and move on to the next panel. Color robs of them of the chance to pay extra attention to the finer details of your art.

This is why despite having access to the newest technology, film directors still film in black and white. Even game developers in the indie scene will use dated graphics to accentuate the gameplay instead of colorful, high-resolution graphics.

Just because you can use color doesn’t mean it will be better than black and white.

6. Manga Is Designed to Be Drawn in Black and White

Manga was originally printed on cheap, recycled newsprint paper in order to keep printing costs low. And such paper was unsuitable for color printing, thus Manga had to be drawn in black and white.

And even though it could be printed in color today, it isn’t for a number of reasons. Ones you can read about here in this article about why Manga is in black and white and not color.

Regardless, because it started out in black and white, Manga has evolved to match its monochrome color scheme. Manga as an art form simply doesn’t lend itself to color.

Every drawing technique used to create Manga is reflective of it originally being in black and white.

Manga’s emphasis on line art and unique shading techniques aren’t as necessary in full-color art.

There tons of exaggerated movement between panels, complex character expressions, and hyper-detailed backgrounds that wouldn’t be nearly as evocative if rendered in color.

Furthermore, unique aspects of Manga readers have come to love were invented to make up for the lack of color.

For example, bubble effects or flower backgrounds are often used to create a feeling of softness or cuteness.

And while you could render such effects in color, doing so would defeat the purpose. If you wanted something to feel ‘cute’, you would just use a pastel pink background. Adding flowers would be redundant.

So, drawing your Manga like a Manga and then rendering it in color would defeat the purpose of your having created a Manga in the first place. The techniques used don’t lend themselves to color.

7. Drawing in Color Requires a Different Skillset

In regards to your ability as an artist, full-color Manga does not equal black and white Manga.

Just because you can draw in black and white well doesn’t necessarily mean you can draw in color just as well. Coloring is a totally different skillset than drawing in black and white.

If you decide to color your manga, but aren’t a trained colorist, you risk harming your art—not enhancing it. In fact, many Manga that do have full-color releases were not colored by the original artist, but a skilled colorist.

Furthermore, you need to master drawing in black and white first. What you learn from it about values and contrast is necessary to learn how to draw in color.

Bad art will still be bad art regardless of whether its in black and white or color. You have to master one or both skillsets in order to use them effectively. So, you might as well just stick with black and white and save yourself the extra effort.

Why You Should Draw Your Manga in Color

I’m not so cruel as to disregard the benefits of drawing your Manga in color. Here are a few:

  • Instant and easy appeal. Color is more engaging upfront than black and white. Hence why the front covers of Manga magazines and individual volumes are in full-color. Black and white takes more time and effort to appreciate.
  • People prefer color in general. Based on what I read while researching this article, most people’s gut reaction to a question of ‘which is better?’ choose color. It’s the same logic as if you asked someone whether they’d like to watch TV in color or black and white. Of course, they’d choose color. It’s a sign of progress. Why would they want to watch something considered ‘limited’ or ‘old technology’?
  • People just getting into Manga prefer color. Only those who’ve been reading Manga for a long time strongly insist on black and white. So, while you might not draw the attention of some fans, you can still find quite a few.

There are many more, but the problem here is not that color is bad or anything. The rest of this article might seem like I despise anything rendered in color, but that’s not the case.

What I’m saying is that color is bad FOR MANGA. There’s nothing wrong with color, but Manga was, is, and is designed to be in black and white.

Ultimately, whether you draw your Manga in black and white or in color comes down to your intent.

What Do You Intend Your Manga to Be?

I know what you’ve been wanting to ask this whole time: what about Mahnwa and Webtoons?

Both are indeed full-color ‘Manga’, but are they?

Are they not completely different art forms compared to Manga?

Again, Manga evolved with a focus on black and white, while its full-color contemporaries are designed to be full-color from the ground up.

A closer look reveals a number of differences between the art direction and storytelling in a Webtoon versus a Manga. They lend themselves to robust, focused illustrations versus a Manga’s innumerable ‘functional’ panels of action lines and transitions.

What I’m trying to say is that: if you intend to make a full-color Manga from the start, you wouldn’t need to be using Manga as a reference, but a full-color Mahnwa or Webtoon.

But if you intend to make a Manga, it should be in black and white. The style and drawing techniques used in Manga were invented to make up for a lack of color. Using them to make a full-color Manga would be pointless.

A black and white Manga and a full-color Manga are not the same thing and should be handled accordingly.

A full-color front cover illustration of a Manga makes sense because it was intended to be full-color from the beginning. Its composition lends itself to color. But the rest of the Manga doesn’t, it was designed to be black and white from the beginning.

If you intend to make your work full-color, then you should use techniques that suit that intention from the beginning.

But wholesale copying Manga, which is intended to be black and white, drawing it the way you would a Manga, and then coloring it defeats the purpose of making a Manga in the first place.

It’s not that one method is better than the other, it’s that they’re incomparable. You have to pick one or the other from the beginning. Attempting to blend both styles will only serve to harm your art.

Pick the Method That’s Best for Your Manga

In truth, you really only have one option. If you want to make a Manga, it must be in black and white.

However, if you want to make something like a Manga, such as a Mahnwa or Webtoon, it can be in color.

The techniques you would employ and the art direction of your story will change drastically depending on which medium you wish to create.

So, just think about what you intend your work to be and that will lead you to the best answer for your Manga.


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!

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