Two key elements for a great main character

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One of the main challenges we have as writers, illustrators and animators, is to create a great, likeable main character that the audience will want to follow through to the end of a series.

What if I told you there are just two key areas that will allow for you to create an awesome character that your audience will fall in love with??

There are of course lots more subtle areas to consider, but the technique for creating a great main character can be summed up by two key words – relatability and respect!

As long as you have these two areas down, it’s hard to go wrong!

Relatability

When we see part of ourselves in a character, it helps us connect with them, and can even allow us to imagine ourselves in the story. It doesn’t even have to be a trait we have ourselves – just some kind of flaw that makes the character human. Nobody wants to cheer on a perfect character without a single flaw!

Common examples of “relatable” character traits:

  • Clumsy
  • Not good at studying
  • Has “otaku” hobbies like anime or video games
  • Loves to eat a lot/has a weakness for a certain food
  • Not good at talking to their love interest
  • Down on their luck/broke

Respect

Okay, now that we’ve humanised our character by giving them some flaws, or putting them in difficult circumstances, we need to give them something that allows us to respect them. This could be something physical or mental. Often the impressive element of a character is simply their bravery and loyalty.

This trait ties together really well with the relatability, because if the character is both relatable and impressive, it makes us as readers believe that we’re capable of great things too. The humanising element needs to be there, because it’s more satisfying to see ordinary people pull off remarkable things.

Common examples of “respectable” character traits:

  • Intelligent/top of the class
  • Special or superhuman ability
  • Courage to stand up for what they believe in
  • Sacrifice themselves for their friends
  • Tough and resilient – never gives up

Examples

If you start looking at some examples from anime and manga, you’ll see that almost all main characters have both a relatable, humanising element and something about them that we can respect.

Honoka – “Love Live!”

[Relatability]
Honoka from Love Live! isn’t the smartest in her class, and she’s clumsy and lazy at times
[Respect]
But she’s ready to push herself to breaking point for the sake of her friends and their dream

Ash – “Pokémon”

[Relatability]
Ash is introduced as a character with bad timekeeping, who sleeps in and almost misses out on getting his starter Pokémon
[Respect]
But he later shows his bravery and selflessness by protecting his Pikachu

Summary

I hope this article will prove helpful when you come to create characters of your own! Just think of it as a balancing act – for everything cool or amazing about your character, try to give them a small negative trait to balance it out.

Maybe they’re a master thief, but their weakness for cute girls always gets in their way?? Or perhaps they’re a pirate who can’t swim or fight, but creates cool mecha weapons?? Maybe they’re shy and unpopular at school, but create amazing fashionable clothes in their spare time??

This works for all genres of anime and manga, and is even useful for creating sub characters and villains, so be sure to use it when planning out your characters’ personalities!

As for the illustration side of things, be sure to check out our courses at Anime Art Academy for loads of lessons on character creation. Some are totally free to watch, so be sure to take a look!

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