How to draw “kemono mimi” animal ears on characters

Animal ears are often seen in anime, and are known as “kemono mimi” or “kemomimi” in Japanese – they make for really cute and fun characters!

Kemomimi are a fantasy trope, but because they’re so popular and common, there are some rules that have come into place over the years that we need to follow – especially in regards to the placement of the ears on the character’s head. So that’s what I’m going to be showing you today!

The way the ears are placed can change the whole atmosphere of a character, so I’ll show you a few examples and explain the differences, so you can choose the right ears for your anthropomorphic characters. 


Placing kemomimi on top of the head

Most animals have ears on the top of their head, so when you place ears here, you can make the character look more animal-like. We usually use this style of kemomimi for animal characters that have transformed into humans, or for magical half-human-half-animal creatures.

These kind of ears will also sometimes appear on characters that are fully human, for comedic or expressive effect. In these cases, the ears will only be present for a couple of seconds, or for a single scene – for example, in a scene where a character is “pricking up their ears” like an animal.

Kemomimi help with a character’s expressions too – for example, having the ears pricked up can make the character look surprised or wary.

When drawing an anthropomorphic character, we usually make the “animal” ears their only ears, and don’t draw in normal human ears on the side of their head. For this reason, we need to be careful when showing the area where the human ears would usually be. Usually the area will be covered with hair, but remember that there are no ears underneath, so the flow of the hair will be a little different to how it is on normal human characters. Think carefully about the logistics when drawing in a kemomimi character’s hair.


Placing kemomimi at the sides of the head

If you choose to draw in the kemomimi at the sides of the head, in the position human ears would usually come, this will give them a more human appearance. We usually use these kind of ears for different fantasy races, who have more human traits. 

Because the position of the ears is the same as human’s, we can be more creative with the hairstyles and accessories we give these characters.


Giving a character multiple sets of kemomimi

There are rare cases where we want to give characters more sets of ears, for an even more fantastical appearance. For multiple kemomimi, try to place them both on the top of the head and in the position regular human ears would come. This will make them more believable to your audience. Think about where ears “could” be on a character like that, to give reality to this otherworldly creature. 

You could even make the ears on the sides of the head human or elf shaped – whatever fits with the world you’re creating!


And there we have it! Three different ways to place your kemomimi for more realistic and expressive kemono characters!

Recently kemomimi are more popular than ever, with the release of all different anime series like “Kemono Friends”, “Spice and Wolf” and “Uma Musume”, so be sure to try them out in your own work too.

Learn more about character design on our online illustration courses at Anime Art Academy!

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