Why do anime and manga characters have big eyes

Anime and manga have a distinctive artistic style that is unique to each artist. However, there is one distinguishing feature that is common everywhere.

Although each artist has a different style of drawing anime and manga characters, there are some features they have in common across all genres. What distinguishes them all the most is the enormous eyes of almost every character. It is a controversial topic among anime and manga fans that characters often have unusually huge eyes, some even up to half the size of their faces. Although it makes the characters look distinctive, one cannot deny that the unusually large eyes make human faces look less natural.

There are several reasons behind the big eyes in anime and manga characters. This trend started in the middle of the 20th century and later became the norm. There is also some symbolism behind it as it is said that people cannot hide their true feelings from being shown in their eyes, and huge eyes are often used as a way to make characters look more expressive. Here’s a look at why huge eyes are so common in anime and manga.

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The history and western influence behind the big eyes trend

Astro Boy in the 80's flying through space.

Osamu Tezuka was a popular Japanese anime and manga author during the 20th century. Often referred to as the “God of Manga,” Tezuka is the forerunner of modern manga and anime. He was heavily influenced by Disney, and that inspiration is reflected in his work. His main influences were the big-eyed characters, such as Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Betty Boop.

In all of these cases, the large eyes were drawn merely to exaggerate the facial expression. Tezuka designed his characters in a very specific way, and they all have the same type of eyes. Later, due to his influence, other artists began to paint their figures in this way, and this quickly became a trend. Now, almost every series features characters with huge eyes.

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The symbolism behind the big anime eyes

Chris Thorndike cries as he heads back to his home planet from Sonic X.

There is also a symbolic meaning behind the big anime eyes. In the western parts of the world, the eyes are known to be the ‘windows to the soul’. In other words, it is believed that the eyes instantly reflect a person’s feelings, fears, and innermost souls. Larger eyes in animation make it easier to depict emotions more accurately, making the characters more relatable. The position of the eyes, and the shapes and colors of the pupils and irises and their gradations allow animators and designers to fully depict the character and story of the character with only the face. It is difficult for artists to create a story using only basic facial features, and because anime and manga are storytelling media that use art as a medium, artists have to condense human features into simpler drawings. Therefore, it is easier to portray multiple characters with ease using large eye shapes.

Traditional Japanese Art by Junichi Nakahara

Traditional Japanese Art by Junichi Nakahara

Traditional Japanese aesthetics value the artist’s ability to make viewers feel real with stronger emotions. Aside from Tezuka, there is another person who has introduced characters with big eyes. Jun’ichi Nakahara was a Japanese graphic artist and fashion designer who became famous when his work appeared in the magazine Shoujo no Tomo. He pioneered shōjo manga characters characterized by their thick skin, large irises, and pure white reflections. According to the book by Nozomi Masuda International Perspectives on Shojo and Shojo Manga: The Impact of Girl CultureNakahara “greatly developed the eyes of shojo manga characters”, helping to increase the popularity of the tradition known today of big-eyed manga and anime characters.

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