Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (2023)

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Many think of manga as nothing more than "comics from Japan"—which is true to an extent, but there are some big differences.

One of the more significant elements that stand out in manga is how manga artists use a different set of symbols, icons, and illustrative images to depict certain emotions and effects. This is called iconography.

Manga iconography is the visual language used to show character expressions when dialogue bubbles and narration can't be used due to an overcrowded frame. The common style was popularized decades ago, and some mangakas have even developed their own iconography.

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Manga iconography gives manga a unique storytelling feel, able to show things about the character, the frame, the panel, or the plot using nothing more than drawings that express and define what the audience sees.

Manga icons and symbols are collectively called manpu or mampu, and include character facial expressions and movements. It draws the reader's attention away from the dialogue and narration, emphasizing the art itself and placing more meaning in the drawings.

Here are some of the most commonly used manga iconography and what they mean. They're so popular that even anime series have started incorporating manga iconography in their animations!

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16. Popping Out Veins

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (3)

A crucifix-like symbol appearing on (or above) a character's head depicts their anger or annoyance with whomever they're talking to.

The larger the symbol (or more of the symbol) to appear, the higher their anger or annoyance—which is often followed by a comical uppercut that sends someone flying, or at least with a giant welt on their head.

It's derived from the image of a forehead vein popping out when someone is angry or strained. Some manga artists use smoke puffing out the ears, while others use sharp and jagged teeth to show extreme anger.

15. Lightning or Electric Spark

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (4)

Lightning and electricity sparks between two characters' eyes show that a revelation was just dropped, something urgent and important suddenly came to mind, or one character just learned something offputting.

Often, these lightning sparks are used between two characters who are competitive with one another. They're usually separated into their own frames, with lightning coming out of their eyes and meeting at the middle of the screen or between frames.

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14. Sweat Droplet

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (6)

A huge water droplet that appears on a character's forehead (or behind their head) can depict all kinds of emotions, with the most common ones being confusion, embarrassment, relief, and dismay.

On the other hand, a continuous flow of sweat from the head (or sometimes splashing out of the head) denotes that the character is hiding something, being interrogated, or otherwise feeling pressured.

13. Discolored Pupils

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (7)

The eyes of manga (and anime) characters do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to expression of emotion—including death and unconsciousness, which is shown by removing the pupils' lively color and discoloring them with pale black, gray, or brown.

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It can also denote that the character is possessed by a ghost or being controlled by someone with a manipulation technique. Less commonly, it can be used to indicate that a character has no emotion at all.

12. Spiral Eyes

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (8)

Spiral symbols in the eyes of a character denote that they're dizzy, nauseated, or even knocked unconscious. It can also be used to depict a hypnotized character. Less commonly, it can indicate a character who's so overloaded with information that they can't keep up.

11. Heart-Shaped Eyes

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (9)

Heart-shaped eyes say that a character is in love with (or infatuated with) someone. It's mainly used for comic effect, as more serious romantic developments instead use cheek blushes and other more-subtle forms of emotional expression to indicate affection.

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10. Sparkling Eyes

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (11)

When a character's eyes sparkle with giant yellow four-pronged stars, it indicates that they're amazed or in awe.

It's commonly used when the plot introduces new characters, elements, or factors that are uncommon to the story, particularly if those things are legendary or highly valuable. It's often reserved for characters who literally see something important for the first time.

9. Lines Over the Face

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (12)

Lines over the face of a character indicate frustration, disbelief, or extreme annoyance. The lines usually only cover the eyes (omitting the actual eyeballs and filling in with a dark shadow instead), and less commonly can be accompanied by lines behind the character in the background to match their mood.

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8. Waterfall Eyes

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (13)

Water flowing out of the eyes like waterfalls indicates extreme joy or sadness, and it's usually played for comedic effect. When the emotion is pushed beyond its limit, the water doesn't just stick to the face—it can splash out sideways in greater volume.

7. Blank Eyes

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (14)

When the eyes are blank (or nearly blank with barely visible pupils), the character is shocked or afraid. Less commonly, it can be used to indicate unconsciousness or being knocked out.

Blank eyes can also be used in tandem with other iconography to amplify those expressions. For example, blank eyes with blushed cheeks can indicate heightened embarrassment, while blank eyes with shadowed lines over the face can indicate heightened fear.

6. Pink Ovals on Cheeks

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (15)

Pink ovals on a character's cheeks represents a blush, but it's a blush that's more more indicative of happiness and cheerfulness than affection or romantic interest. It usually means the character is in a good mood and/or in the presence of someone they're comfortable with.

It can also indicate that the character simply has rosy cheeks, a common feature of lovable characters in both manga and anime.

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5. Dark Under the Eyes

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (17)

When the area directly below a character's eyes are darkened—almost like they're bruised—it indicates sickness or sleep deprivation. Sometimes it appears as a solid shape for comedic effect, while more serious depictions involve a more subtle shading.

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4. Cat Mouth

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (18)

The cat mouth indicates mischievous intent. While it can be cute depending on the character, it's often coupled with devious intent as a character is thinking of a plan of action that will benefit themself in some way at the detriment of another.

But it rarely enters into full-blown malicious territory. A cat mouth can also be used to show one is playing innocent or in denial of something.

3. Chibi Form

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (19)

Sometimes, in certain situations, manga characters are drawn in a very child-like appearance, which is called their "chibi form." The chibi form features a softened, diminutive figure with a head that's proportionally much larger than the rest of their body.

Chibi form is most often used to denote cuteness, but it can also be used to indicate total embarrassment: the smaller the character, the greater their embarrassment. It can also indicate frustration, like when other characters aren't paying attention to them.

And when it's accompanied with other symbols of expression, the chibi form can be used as an enhancer for moods—like anger, hunger, or fright—all while being cute.

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2. Tiny Pupils

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (21)

While the aforementioned "popping out veins" imagery indicates anger and frustration in a comedic way, tiny pupils within enlarged eyes are used to indicate anger and frustration in a more serious way.

Otherwise, tiny pupils can indicate surprise or shock, usually by something that's dark, sinister, violent, or frightening.

1. Shadowed Eyes

Manga Iconography, Explained: 16 Common Symbols for Emotions (22)

Whereas the aforementioned "lines over the face" imagery is more mild, shadowed eyes also indicate annoyance and frustration but in a way that's darker, more serious, and potentially more violent.

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Shadowed eyes can also be used to depict that a character has malicious intent and/or evil desires. When it's combined with other emotional depictions—like tiny pupils—it can really ramp up the fearsome vibes.

Learn More About Manga

To reiterate, manpu is commonly used as a shortcut for showing character emotions and moods, which—when used properly—can infuse a scene with a thrilling, exciting, or comedic touch. Manga iconography isn't limited to one art style and can vary depending on the creator.

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What do anime emotion symbols mean? ›

Red vertical lines typically mean anger or embarrassment. Blue wavy lines shows awkwardness, depression, or sadness. Purple shows shock and feeling sick in the stomach. Horizontal lines can mean the character's attention is grabbed by something.

What is manga symbols? ›

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. ...
  • 2 – Sparkle marks: “all done!”/ bragging /celebrity entrance. ...
  • 3 – Vein mark 💢 : Anger. ...
  • 3 – “Pun pun” mark: Anger or sulking. ...
  • 5- Lightning marks: Anger/scolding.
Feb 21, 2022

What is the pain symbol in manga? ›

A white cross-shaped bandage symbol denotes pain. In older manga, eyes pop out to symbolize pain, as shown in Dragon Ball. Thick black lines around the character may indicate trembling due to anger, shock or astonishment. This is usually accompanied by a rigid pose or super deformed styling.

What are the elements of manga? ›

Manga also has what is called the elements of manga or the grammar of manga: 1) picture (depicting objects and figures), 2) word (including onomatopoeia), 3) balloon (indicating words), and 4) frame (surrounding pictures) (Natsume, 1997).

What does 💢 mean in Japanese? ›

Share on Twitter. Marks and Symbols. In anime, the " anger mark ," or ikari maaku 怒りマーク in Japanese, is a symbol used when a character is angry, mad, or irritated.

What is the Japanese emotional symbol? ›

Kaomoji (顔文字) is a popular Japanese emoticon style made up of Japanese characters and grammar punctuations, and are used to express emotion in texting and cyber communication. The word kaomoji is also synonymous to be referred to as Japanese emoticons.

What are the 4 types of manga? ›

Primarily, there are five demographics of manga:
  • Shonen: Manga targeted at tween and teen boys. ...
  • Shojo: Manga targeted at tween and teen girls. ...
  • Seinen: Manga targeted at adult men (18+). ...
  • Josei: Manga targeted at adult women (18+). ...
  • Kodomomuke: Manga targeted at young children.
Dec 27, 2018

What are the little dots in manga called? ›

Screentones (halftone dots) are a crucial element when drawing black-and-white comics or manga. After applying a tone layer in Clip Studio Paint, you can change the density, number of lines, type of halftone dots, etc. ※ Tone layer and tone conversion cannot be used in DEBUT.

What do the bubbles mean in manga? ›

Speech balloons (also speech bubbles, dialogue balloons, or word balloons) are a graphic convention used most commonly in comic books, comics, and cartoons to allow words (and much less often, pictures) to be understood as representing a character's speech or thoughts.

What is the symbol of suffering? ›

The cross probably is the most easily recognized and widely known symbol in all the world. It can be seen everywhere in human culture and history. It is so simple that we overlook its importance.

What is the manga laughing symbol? ›

In manga and anime, a segmented arc crossed by perpendicular lines drawn over a character's head means they're having fun, laughing, or just being cheerful and lively in general. In Japanese, these are called niko-sen ニコ線, "smile lines."

Who is the 7 Pain in Naruto? ›

Nagato (Japanese: 長門), known primarily under the alias of Pain (ペイン, Pein), is a fictional character in the manga and anime series Naruto created by Masashi Kishimoto. Nagato is the figurehead leader of the Akatsuki who wishes to capture the tailed beasts sealed into various people around the shinobi world.

What are 3 characteristics of manga? ›

The Artwork and Style of Manga Comics

Many characteristics make manga distinctive as an art style. Manga characters almost always have large eyes, small mouths, and abnormal hair color. These things give their characters a very western look to them.

What are the main themes in manga? ›

Themes and settings of manga and anime are endless and include romance, action adventure, science fiction, comedy, sports, and can also venture into darker subject matter for adults, such as horror material; though the latter tends not to be acknowledged in everyday life and culture.

What are the four major fundamentals of manga structure? ›

In his book, Araki discusses his four key elements of manga: character, story, setting, and themes.

What is Ara Ara in Japanese? ›

Ara ara (あら あら) is a Japanese expression that is mainly used by older females and means “My my”, “Oh dear”, or “Oh me, oh my”.

Why is w LOL in Japanese? ›

The use of wwww to represent laughing comes from the Japanese wara (笑), “to laugh.” With the rise of text-messaging and the internet in the 1990s–2000s, Japanese users adapted the kanji 笑 to denote laughter, similar to LOL. People eventually found it easier, though, to use the letter w, from the romaji of 笑, wara.

What does DEKU mean in Japan? ›

If you take a leaf through a Japanese dictionary, the first definition of deku you'll find is simply “puppet” or “wooden puppet”.

What symbolizes sad in Japan? ›

- Japanese Kanji character for Sad, Sorrow Art Print.

What is the Japanese fear symbol? ›

means 'afraid' or 'tremble'

What is the Japanese symbol for tears? ›


What is a manga for girls called? ›

Shōjo manga (少女漫画, lit. "girls' comics", also romanized as shojo or shoujo) is an editorial category of Japanese comics targeting an audience of adolescent females and young adult women.

What are the big 3 of manga? ›

The Big Three was a term used to describe the three most popular running series during their golden age in Jump - One Piece, Naruto and Bleach. All three series got their common title due to their worldwide popularity and length.

What are the 8 manga storytelling techniques? ›

Eight methods of visual storytelling techniques found in manga (from top left, clockwise): iconic characters; wordless panels; genre maturity; small, real world details; emotionally expressive effect; variety of character design; subjective motion; and strong sense of place.

What are manga eyes? ›

Something very characteristic of anime and manga eyes are the small circles added to represent light reflection and glare. These are typically drawn covering a portion of the pupil and iris, and are left uncolored.

What is manga shading called? ›

Screentone is a technique for applying textures and shades to drawings, used as an alternative to hatching.

What is 4 panel manga called? ›

Yonkoma manga (4コマ漫画, "four cell manga" or 4-koma for short), a comic strip format, generally consists of gag comic strips within four panels of equal size ordered from top to bottom.

What is the shaking effect in manga? ›

In manga and anime, lines are drawn surrounding an object when it's supposed to be wobbling, trembling, or shaking, or, alternatively, lines drawn around a character when they're quivering or twitching because they're afraid, startled, shocked or excited.

What does dotted line text bubble mean? ›

Bubbles drawn with dotted lines mean that the character is speaking quietly. Other kinds of bubbles have other uses. If the tail is made up of smaller bubbles, that means that the character is thinking rather than speaking.

What does exclamation mark mean in manga? ›

The exclamation point or mark (感嘆符 kantanfu) is usually used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume, and generally marks the end of a sentence.

What is the symbol of heal? ›

A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing. A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing. The staff belongs to Asklepios, the mythical Greek god of medicine.

What is the symbol for fear of death? ›

The Grim Reaper

The image of the Grim Reaper typically shows a skeletal or robed figure carrying a scythe, which is sometimes referred to as the “sickle of death.” The image of the Grim Reaper is often used to represent death itself, or the fear of death.

Is there a symbol for grief? ›

Candles are used in many cultures as a symbol for loss and grief, along with a white dove, or here in Ireland, the triskele has been adopted by the Hospice Friendly Hospitals Programme as a bereavement symbol to let visitors and staff know that a recent bereavement has occurred.

What is the red symbol in anime? ›

A red symbol found in Anime/Manga and used to represent the veins popping on a very angry person. Also used in other comic books to indicate a punch landed, perhaps next to the words “Bam” or “Pow”. Anger Symbol was approved as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 and added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015.

What does a circle mean in Japanese manga? ›

Here 麦 is masked by the circle in order to avoid issues regarding trademarks or conflict of interest. This is a common tradition in Japanese anime/manga industry.

Who is the symbol of peace in anime? ›

All Might became the Symbol of Peace at a time when society needed it in My Hero Academia.

Why is Nagato so skinny? ›

Linking with the Demonic Statue of the Outer Path left a number of black receivers embedded in his back and caused his body to become very emaciated, limiting his mobility. For this reason he spent most of his adult life in a mechanical walker from which he controlled the Six Paths of Pain.

Who killed Kakashi? ›

When the Akatsuki leader, Pain, invades Konoha, Kakashi engages him in battle, and dies from exhausting all his energy.

Who is most painful in Naruto? ›

1) Itachi Uchiha

Undoubtedly one of the most tragic characters in Naruto, Itachi Uchiha shouldered the burden of killing his own brethren to stop a coup d'état in the Uchiha clan, orchestrated by his own father. All this, in order to protect the village.

What are some anime expressions? ›

Japanese Expressions Used In Anime and Daily Life
  • かっこいい, kakkoī, Cool.
  • 可愛い, kawaii, Cute.
  • しょうがない, shou ga nai, It can't be helped.
  • もちろん, mochiron, Of course.
  • お腹すいた, onaka suita, I'm hungry.
  • 無理無理, muri muri, That's impossible.
  • 助けて, tasukete, Help.
Mar 13, 2023

What does the anime angry symbol mean? ›

anger symbol 💢

This emoji depicts a red symbol usually used in manga, anime, or comic book dialogues to represent anger or frustration. The symbol shows four curved lines almost forming a square, it actually represents popping veins due to anger, but of course, in an exaggerated manner.

What is a symbol for emotion? ›

The heart symbol is an ideograph used to express the idea of the "heart" in its metaphorical or symbolic sense. Represented by an anatomically inaccurate shape, the heart symbol is often used to represent the center of emotion, including affection and love, especially romantic love.

What is the anime symbol for love? ›

Writing love in Japanese is represented as the kanji symbol which means love and affection.

What is anime slang for girl? ›


“Shounen” means “boys” and “shoujo” means “girls.” These terms are often used to differentiate between intended audiences.

What is the most used word in anime? ›

The Top 10 Words You'll Hear In Anime!
  • Kawaii (かわいい) ...
  • Sugoi (すごい) ...
  • Baka (ばか) ...
  • Oniisan (お兄さん) ...
  • Daijōbu (大丈夫) Definition: Okay, good.
  • Imōto (妹) Definition: Younger sister.
  • Ureshiii (嬉しい) Definition: Happy, glad.
  • Otaku (おたく) Definition: Someone who is obsessed with something, usually referring to anime/manga.

What symbolizes anger in Japan? ›

means 'angry'

What is the anime laughing symbol? ›

In manga and anime, a segmented arc crossed by perpendicular lines drawn over a character's head means they're having fun, laughing, or just being cheerful and lively in general. In Japanese, these are called niko-sen ニコ線, "smile lines."

What is the symbol for strong emotion? ›

The exclamation point is an excitable symbol that is perfect when you want to express strong, powerful emotions like surprise, anger, fear, and doughnut mania.

What is the symbol of strong feeling? ›

An exclamation mark is a grammatical sign used to express strong feelings.

What color represent emotion? ›

In Brief #
  • Red: Passion, Love, Anger.
  • Orange: Energy, Happiness, Vitality.
  • Yellow: Happiness, Hope, Deceit.
  • Green: New Beginnings, Abundance, Nature.
  • Blue: Calm, Responsible, Sadness.
  • Purple: Creativity, Royalty, Wealth.
  • Black: Mystery, Elegance, Evil.
  • Gray: Moody, Conservative, Formality.
May 20, 2021


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