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Manga Visual References

Manga are a Japanese form of comic books, and they have many similarities to American comics and their general illustrative techniques. However, they have many differences. Some of these differences are cultural and so ingrained in Japanese minds that there’s no need to explain what certain things symbolize. Typically, avid manga readers will catch on to these unique visual symbols, but figuring out their meanings can be daunting and confusing at first. Here is a list of some visual symbols found in manga.

Blush—Lines across characters’ cheeks (or somewhat darker coloring in cheeks) show embarrassment.
Chibi—Small and cute animals and people. Sometimes characters suddenly look chibi to show a mood they’re in. They might be feeling especially adorable, or their chibi-self could be more squat and dark, showing insecurity.
Eye size—Different eye sizes can bring about different moods. For example, large eyes can equal youth and innocence. Eyes with slit pupils could symbolize evil. Adult and mature characters usually have smaller eyes than young or especially cute characters.
Face changes—The size and shape of a face might change to show an emotion like horror or embarrassment. There isn’t one set way of doing this, and other clues like dialogue, the situation, and surroundings can help explain why a face may change.
Flowers—Flowers sometimes border panels. They’re not “literally” there, but they set a mood.
Fainting—Characters “faint” usually for laughs. They are often shown falling over or with just a foot sticking up.
Fangs—A character may suddenly have fangs in the mouth, symbolizing anger or evil. These aren’t “literal” fangs—that is, the characters haven’t suddenly morphed into vampires (unless you’re reading a vampire manga, of course).
Ghost—A ghost (maybe looking like a wavy bubble) coming out of someone’s mouth shows they’ve gone through something so traumatic they might as well have died. This can be used for comedic effect.
Nosebleed—Symbolizes sexual attraction. The idea is the character is having such a blood rush that blood actually comes out of the nose.
Sparkles—Creates a dreamlike quality.
Sweat drops—A large sweat drop (or multiple sweat drops) can mean embarrassment or fear.
Veins—Popping veins symbolize anger or agitation.