How to draw anime hair

manga hair main image

Focusing on separate portions of the hair instead of fussing over details simplifies the process.

Hair is always a tricky component to any character drawing. Whenever I begin a portrait, I usually have two things in mind when it comes to hair:

The start of the flow (establishing the point of origin on scalp), and its overall movement – will it stick up in all directions, or form a gentle slope down the character's neck, for instance.

Planning the flow and movement, and making it convincing to the eye may seem like a challenge at first. Start off by looking at hair in simple sections, as opposed to attempting realism by painting every strand – which is a pretty respectable talent on its own, but not quite what we're looking for in manga style. Details like hints of stray strands can be added in later on.

As crazy as some anime hairstyles can get, it's important to play between fantasy and reality carefully. Essentially, what we're looking for is to create a believable hair structure that will not only complement the character's face, but also help in giving appeal and identity.

01. Sketch it up

manga hair tips step 1

I sometimes sketch out the bald head underneath beforehand, to give myself a rough indicator of where to establish the hairline. I always try to draw hair in thick masses, taking note of the point of origin: in this case it's roughly.

02. Create depth and realism

manga hair tips 2

I use lighter values of the hair's base colour to add details, such as thinner sections of hair. This gives a more natural look, while also giving the impression of being slightly dishevelled. I add a thin, dark outline, and deepen the shadows that the hair casts over the face to introduce depththe top left of his scalp.

03. Clump sections together

manga hair tips 3

I drop the sketch layer's Opacity and use it as a guide to paint underneath on a new layer. I treat each section as a clump of hair, rather than single strands. Clumps create shadows over others; I play around with this, and make sure there's enough volume and credibility.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 128.

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Jia-Ying is a freelance 2D artist from Singapore, who has done work mostly for mobile games, books, and dabbles in animation every now and then.