What does manga mean to you? For some people it conjures up images of emotionally exaggerated characters, while for others it brings back fond memories of a childhood spent watching outlandish cartoons. Considering that the art form can trace its origins back centuries, it's perhaps no surprise that manga has come to be defined in different ways. The fact that there are plenty of genres, each with their own stylistic quirks, also plays its part in these various interpretations.
One thing that manga artists and readers can agree on, though, is that it continues to be incredibly popular. The past two decades in particular have seen the influence of manga spread internationally, with creators outside of Japan picking up a pen, ink brush or stylus and experimenting with the medium.
With this in mind, we've rounded up 11 of the best contemporary manga artists from around the world that you need to know about. Impressively, many of these artists are self-taught. So if you're inspired to have a go yourself, take a look at our guides to how to draw manga by hand, how to colour manga art, or how to put together a manga comic strip.
Rose Benjamin, known online as Viorie, is an artist who's found a massive audience for her work on social media. Boasting well over 150,000 followers on Instagram alone, her art features stylised expressiveness and eye-catching colours that captivate her audience.
London-based Benjamin is currently working as a freelance illustrator, and started experimenting with digital art when she was just eight years old. At the age of 20 her career as an artist has only just begun, but judging by the quality of the work that she's already produced, we predict big things in the future.
"I'm self-taught and learnt by studying the works of my favourite artists online, with many of them being anime artists," Benjamin reveals. "Growing up, I was inspired by video game art and reading manga,” she adds, which we can clearly see with characters from popular anime series such as Sailor Moon and Darkstalkers featuring prominently in her portfolio.
Benjamin combines classic approaches to manga with the latest digital tools. She uses Photoshop and Paint Tool SAI, along with a Wacom Intuos Pro (one of our favourite graphics tablets), an iPad Pro and Procreate to bring her work to life. And if you want to see exactly how she does it, subscribers get to watch timelapse videos on her Patreon channel.
02. Toni Infante
"I've been obsessed with manga and anime since the 90s,” says freelance illustrator Toni Infante, whose work includes illustrations and cover art for a huge variety of clients, including Warner Bros., Marvel and Apple. "But no matter the job, from the way I draw hair or clothes, to how I use camera angles or even the lens flares, the manga influence is always there.
Speaking of influences, Dragon Ball had a huge impact on Infante. "That show made me fall in love with comics and animation,” he reveals. "The action scenes and Akira Toriyama's art style quickly got me hooked, and I spent most of my childhood just trying to copy his dynamic shapes and poses.
"Later on came Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Evangelion... the Japanese film and animation industry was an endless source of fresh ideas and inspiration for me.”
Infante doesn't shy away from the fact that, as an art form, manga has its limitations and detractors, although he thinks that attitudes are changing. "If drawing manga was kind of problematic in the past, barriers between styles are blurred nowadays. Drawing manga is no longer a handicap, and it can take you to working on anything you want."
03. Linnea Kataja
NYC-based artist Linnea Kataja has been pursuing a career in manga illustration ever since she graduated with a BFA in cartooning from the School of Visual Arts. And with the help of a strong social media presence (over 60,000 followers at time of writing), she's opening herself up to work by showing her audience the latest developments in her art.
Her comic, A Maid Story, won honours in Ribon magazine's January 2019 Comic Grand Prix. The publication, which is one of Japan's leading shoujo manga magazines, also runs a manga school programme to help train artists who are looking to be published, of which Kataja is a member.
"I'm drawn to manga because of the colourful and powerful femininity and cuteness that exists within the characters of the fictional worlds,” she explains. "I feel these stand in contrast to the more masculine and rugged worlds found in American comics.”
Kataja's dream is to become a published comic artist. At the moment she's working on Unicorn Death, a death metal shoujo manga about cute but deadly unicorn girls. "My biggest influences include shoujo manga artists such as Peach-Pit, Keiko Suenobu and Koge-Donbo, she adds. "Although my current favourite artist is Aoki Spica."
04. Laia López
Spanish illustrator Laia López developed her own art style while studying fine arts at the University of Barcelona. As well as being inspired by watching how the artists she looks up to work, López also cites Disney films and anime as the biggest influences on her illustrations. "I'm also a huge shoujo/slice of life manga fan," López explains, "and I fell in love with how easily they can portray the emotions and personality of the characters simply through their expressions.
"One of my biggest manga influences is Arina Tanemura. I've admired all of her work for years now and I'm amazed by all the details she puts into her characters: for example, their hair, clothing and big exaggerated eyes.
"Another one of my favourite manga artists that I discovered recently is [creative duo] AidaIro from Jibaku Shonen Hanako-kun. I completely adore the way they use colour and the thick line-art in their art style.”
Traces of these particular manga influences can clearly be seen in López's work, as she uses objects and scenes that catch her eye in everyday life. "It's not like one day I woke up and thought, ‘I want to have a manga art style' though,” she adds. "I think it just kind of happened through my interests.”
Like many manga artists, freelance Taiwanese illustrator Han-Yuan Yu – known online as B.c.N.y. – was inspired by the art form after watching anime and reading manga as a kid. And after moving abroad to study illustration at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, he learnt how to combine academic painting skills with manga.
"My work is created digitally, although I sometimes upload organic brushstrokes to create a more complex and varied look," says Yu. "However, the most important part of an illustration is the narrative, carrying information and telling a story to people."
Yu creates character illustrations for games companies and provides artwork for major comic conventions in Taiwan. His work has also been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, and his recognition includes the World Best CG award from ASIAGRAPH 2014.
"I believe that art shouldn't just be made for galleries though," Yu adds. "Art is a universal language that can be used to make everyone happy and smile; and I think that manga in particular is one of the best ways to deliver thoughts and ideas that have been inspired by our daily lives and experiences."
06. Mina Petrovic
Serbia-born Petrovic works under the studio name Mistiqarts. A manga enthusiast, she runs a manga school, shares tutorials on her popular YouTube channel, and has published a book on the subject: Manga Crash Course. With the help of her assistants and colleagues, Petrovic also organises Serbia’s biggest fan conventions, with manga and anime as the main theme.
Petrovic often reimagines classic or popular characters in a manga style. "This work [above] is heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland, but with manga styling, and my own twist on the characters’ concepts and personalities," she says.
07. Alexa Pásztor
Although Pásztor works full-time as a graphic designer in Hungary, her passion has always been for illustration and comics, and she aspiring to one day make a living off of her art alone. In her spare time, she creates art under the pseudonym Lüleiya, and she has been involved in various art book projects and comic anthologies. Although she starting out in traditional art, she has since switched completely to digital art to develop her unique style, which she describes as "a mixture of semi-realism and manga."
Aquamarine (above) is a personal project. "I was mesmerised by the world of Nagi no Asukara – the underwater scenery, the story, the emotions – but I was still high on my love for the Bleach fandom, thus this crossover fan art was born!" Pásztor smiles.
08. Timothy Kong
Timothy Kong is a self-taught artist based in the UK, who is trying to combine his passions for eastern manga and the Old Master style of painting. He has worked in-house as a games artist and a graphic designer, and is currently going it alone as a full-time freelance illustrator and concept artist.
"I love creating believable and fun worlds with my illustrations and character design," Kong explains. "I always try and create a distinct emotion or mood, as I feel it gives the piece more depth. I incorporate elements from daily observations into my work to try inject a bit more life and believability into them."
To create Akemi (above), Kong explored a new visual direction. "I used a brighter colour palette and created the design in line art first," he explains. "I worked with warm colours to develop a feeling of serenity and beauty.”
09. Laica Chrose
Chrose has a truly international outlook: Japanese by heritage, she was born in Brazil, studied design in Tokyo and is now based in Hong Kong. She uses digital media for professional work and traditional for personal projects, like her manga.
White Spell is a personal project inspired by Celtic motifs, which Chrose has been working on for a while. These original characters were drawn with pen and pencil on paper. "The background was especially fun to work on," says Chrose. "I added layers of graphite and made random marks with a putty rubber to create the texture."
10. Jessica Prando
Prando has loved the fantasy genre since she was a child. “Art is a little bit magic… just pick up the pencil and cast the spell! That’s my motto,” she says. She studied graphic design before teaching herself to paint in oils by replicating characters from her favourite anime – her first drawings were of Trunks, from Dragon Ball.
However, her interest in computers brought her full-circle, and after many years working with traditional methods she shifted over to digital art. "I love to play with bright, vivid colours and create fantastic worlds and creatures," she says.
Prando paints a version of Lady Winter every year, to see the evolution and progress of her style. Above is the painting created in 2016.
11. Jodie Snow
Known on the comic con scene as Kit Jo Yuki, Snow specialises in paintings of women. The majority of her works is created entirely digitally, using a Wacom Cintiq 13HD and Adobe Photoshop. "While I prefer to paint colourful, fanciful pictures of ladies, my love of the natural world has recently opened my eyes to the joys of animal and landscape painting," she says.
“For this image I wanted to paint something a little bit ‘high fashion’," she says of Bird of Paradise (above). "In particular I was inspired by various perfume ads in magazines.”
These artists were originally featured in ImagineFX magazine. Subscribe here.