What are “manpu”? Anime and manga comic symbols and how to use them right! Part 1

Any manga or anime fan will surely have seen scenes and expressions like the one below before!

On the left, we have spiky yellow shapes to emphasise the character’s surprise, and on the right, we have a grey face with horizontal lines running down it, to emphasise the character’s shock and fear.

Expressive symbols like these are known as “manpu” in Japanese. They’re used to make a character’s emotions obvious to the audience, and to add impact and humour to a scene.

In daily life, people convey their emotions to others through subtle facial expressions and body language. The other person can read their emotion by reading their expression and body language, as well as the situation. In the case of manga and anime, we are sometimes limited by the story or art style, so it can be hard to pick up on more subtle emotions. That’s how this set of special “manpu” symbols came to be created! With a whole range of comic symbols like oversized sweat drops, spiral shapes as eyes, and striped lines down the face, we can make it instantly clear what our character is feeling!

Many of the symbols are unique to Japanese anime and manga, and aren’t seen in Western comics. International anime and manga fans will no doubt be used to seeing these marks, and understand the general feeling behind them, but it’s easy to feel lost when it comes to actually using them in our own work!

Having a good knowledge of these manpu, and being able to use them in the correct situations in your work will really elevate your work and make it look authentic. Not only that, but you’ll be able to make your characters and scenes more emotional, dramatic, and funny! Using them in the wrong way is likely to confuse your audience, or make the scene look strange. So let’s talk all about these manpu today, so you can use them like a pro!

1 – Rounded lines with crossed lines: laughing or chatting

This might be one of the marks that you often see, and get the general feel of, but wouldn’t know in what kind of situation to use it yourself! This mark actually represents laughter or friendly chat. You can use it to show a main character laughing, or maybe in the background of a scene to show that people are talking amongst themselves, without actually writing any specific lines for them.

2 – Sparkle marks: “all done!”/ bragging /celebrity entrance

Whether used on a delicious desert, or around a character as they enter the scene, these sparkles give a sense that something is amazing or special. For that reason, they’re also used when characters are bragging about something they think is amazing. We also often see sparkles around something that’s brand new, or freshly made, to give it a shiny new appearance!

3 – Vein mark 💢 : Anger

This mark represents the vein we see on someone’s temple as the blood rushes to their head when they get angry. This is the most basic symbol for anger in anime and manga.

3 – “Pun pun” mark: Anger or sulking

This mark is comically representing steam coming out from a character because of their rage. It’s a more over-the-top way of showing anger than the classic vein mark, and has some slightly different nuances. Because it’s more over-the-top, it can be more comical, and depending on the amount of steam and the expression of the character, it can also make for a more cute, sulky expression. Try combining just one or two small puffs of steam with pouty lips and puffed up cheeks for when a character is sulking, and using lots of steam with an open, shouting mouth for when they are fully enraged.

The sound “pun pun” is the onomatopoeic sound used in Japanese for a kind of comical, sulky anger.

5- Lightning marks: Anger/scolding

In Japanese, we refer to being told off or scolded as “being struck by lightning”. That’s the origin for this mark in anime and manga! We often see the whole background turn into a stormy, thunder and lightning scene to show when a character is really angry with someone. And that’s the nuance here – angry with someone. Unlike the previous two anger marks, these lightning marks definitely suggest the character is angry with someone, and telling them off.

6 – Sweat drops: Uncertainty, embarrassment, fear

These sweat drops are often seen in anime, and have even become commonly used all over the world thanks to emojis. Whether it’s cold sweat brought on by fear or worry, or sweat caused from blushing in embarrassment, these sweat drops have you covered! Use them to accentuate a character’s worry, fear, embarrassment or awkwardness.

7 – Sweat drops: Panic, rushing

These sweat drops are a different type to the ones we saw above. This kind of sweat gives the impression the character is unable to calm down, and the sweat is flicking up off from their face and body as they move about frantically. We use these sweat marks to show a different selection of emotions to the regular dripping sweat drop above. We might see these flying sweat drops when a character is in a rush, getting very flustered, trying to cover something up, or trying to tell a lie (badly!).

Make sure to pair these kind of sweat drops with a more exaggerated expression, to highlight the strong emotion!

So there we have it, the first selection of “manpu” comic symbols, and how to use them! We hope you found this article useful, and learnt something new about expressions in anime and manga. Try using these expressions and manpu in your work for an authentic anime atmosphere! We’ll be back with more useful comic symbols in part two!

Read part 2 here!

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