Using head-to-body ratio to adjust a character’s height and age (part 1)

Drawing characters the right proportions for their age

When drawing a character’s body, we have to keep in mind the ratio of their head and body size. This is very important in anime illustration, and we always use the size of the head to measure out the height of a character and make sure their proportions are natural. The size of the head in relation to the body will determine how young or old a character appears, so it’s very important in characterisation.

Let’s take a look at character’s height, and see how we can use it to make different ages and body types, without disrupting the balance of the body.

What is “toushin”?

Here I’d like to introduce a Japanese term that we’ll be using in this explanation. “Toushin” is made up of the kanji for head, and the kanji for body – we write it like this 頭身 in Japanese. It basically refers to how many times the character’s head fits into their body. The fewer times the head fits into the body, the smaller and shorter the character will look. Think about a baby – their head makes up almost half of their overall height! Then as the body develops, the head stays the same size, so the ratio gets smaller and smaller as the character gets taller. This is ratio is “toushin”!

Mini characters – “2-toushin” characters

Mini characters, “chibi” characters, or “super deformed” characters usually use a 2-toushin ratio. This isn’t realistic, but it makes the characters look comical and cute, with their tiny bodies and huge bobble-heads!

Hero body type – “9-toushin” characters

Reversely, when a character reaches 9-toushin size, they will look extremely tall. This kind of height is only usually used for characters who really need to make an impact – they will appear like supermodels or athletes, and could have quite an intimidating aura. We also call this a “hero body type”.

The character’s extra long limbs help to make them look cooler.

What does age have to do with height and proportions?

As I mentioned before, as a human grows, their head stays the same size, and their body grows and develops. For this reason, the smaller the head-to-body ratio, the more childlike and cute a character will look.

In anime and manga, we will often exaggerate the ratio as well – for example, in reality a baby is probably about 3 or 4 heads tall, but that is often exaggerated to “2-toushin” in illustrations to emphasise the cuteness.

Having a good understanding of the kind of age a character appears at using different “toushin” ratios will really help you realistically age your characters.

As you can see in the example images below, the characters keep developing until their are around 15 or 16, when their height and proportions will settle down and stay the same, right into adulthood. The most common height we see in anime and manga is somewhere between the 6 and 7 heads range, for women, and the 6-8 heads range for men. In school-based anime and manga, we see a lot of 6-toushin characters.

(Of course there are no exact rules – you will see all different heights and body types in manga and anime, so this height/age chart should only be used as a guide!)

How female characters’ proportions change with age

How male characters’ proportions change with age

Be sure to use this as a reference when drawing your own characters! Good luck and have fun!

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