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Author Topic: How to make a manga from zero (Dark Strike: The making of)  (Read 2081 times)

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Offline Suuper-san

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How to make a manga from zero (Dark Strike: The making of)
« on: February 24, 2021, 12:27:16 PM »
I wanted to make this, partly as a tutorial, partly as a making-of, and partly just to make the concept concrete in my mind and to work out what I would do differently next time.

I suppose the most important part of this tutorial is that this is possible for anyone, at any skill level.
This is not how to make a GOOD manga, this is how to make A manga.
You need to take into account your own skill level and what's achievable, and what isn't.

The second most important thing is relevant for any project - you must know when to MOVE ON.
You could spend forever tweaking the story or the art and never get finished. At the end of the day, a complete manga, no matter the quality, is better than a fabulous idea, in your head.

I hope that this tutorial is helpful and maybe gives some insight into how you can make your own manga.
I'll use my recently completed manga as example reference throughout.

The Initial Concept

So where does an idea for a story come from? The chances are you have a story in your mind already.
I started Dark Strike from scratch which gave an interesting insight into rapid story development.
There are many ways to get inspiration, a scene from film/anime/manga/novels, a phrase someone says, a location you see on TV, or in my case, a writing prompt.

Writing prompts are useful because they often make you think of characters and places that might not naturally come to the front of your mind on your own.
You don't need to create an entire story at the moment, just create an interesting idea or situation that you can develop further.

I make my own writing prompts by combining random words from different lists, and the prompt for Dark Strike was "Angry, Exercising, Windy, School".
You don't have to combine all the prompt words into a story, or even any of them, it's just to give you a random starting point. I could have done for example:
  • Students get trapped inside a school as a hurricane approaches (School+Windy)
  • A student at a school for magic is expelled because he uses wind magic which is a taboo (School+Windy+Angry)
  • A schoolgirl has put on a lot of weight over the winter holidays and now has to take up a sport to loose it all (School+Exercise)
  • A new student at school keeps to himself and always looks angry, but there's a soft side that he doesn't show to everyone (School+Angry)
And I could go on and on. Basic ideas are just that, incredibly simple one liners that describe some aspect of your story. And depending on the prompts, you'll come up with different ideas.

In retrospect these all sound better than my actual idea:
-A girl told her friend that she'll still go jogging in the rain, and now that the weather is bad she's angry at herself for making such a promise (School+Angry+Windy)

Developing the Concept

So now you have a basic idea, it might be just a character, a scene, or a setting.
You now have to fill the remaining gaps.

You can always change anything you decide, so move quickly forward by filling out the idea with basic blocks that you can rearrange. It doesn't matter if it's bad, what matters is that you create content which you can improve. You can't improve what isn't there.You're basically building up a larger picture and expanding the plot forwards and backwards, answering questions and justifying decisions.

Using the previous ideas as an example:
  • Students on a camping trip get caught in a really bad (unpredicted) storm and the tents are starting to blow away. They seek shelter in the nearby woods, but one of the schoolgirls is missing. The teacher tells everyone to stay put but one student (perhaps who has a crush on her) goes off on his own to search for her.
  • A girl growing up in the countryside knows nothing of the larger world of magic. Her parents encourage her to go to the "inner city" to study magic as she has an aptitude. On application she is asked to perform magic, and she creates elemental magic, such as generating fire/water. This is viewed as an incredibly basic spell (equivalent to being able to read to a 4 year old ability). The inner city has such a high focus on magic education that their students are incredibly advanced. Not only is she at a disadvantage being underskilled compared to everyone else, the other students look down on her and bully her. She doesnt want to disappoint her parents and decides to stay on and learn magic.
  • A schoolgirl learning how to cook starts making lots of cakes for her friends, but once the winter holidays start, she couldn't meet up with anyone as she went back to her families home in the country. She ended up eating all the cakes she made herself. Now back in school she has gained a lot of weight and her friends are trying to help her to lose it by trying out different sports. but she can't stop herself from eating more cakes that she makes herself and so it's a constant struggle.
  • A boy was constantly bullied for liking cute and "girly" things, and so when he moved into upper school, he put on this facade of being tough and angry to avoid being picked on. But a girl learns his secret one day, running into him on the weekend. Now she threatens to tell everyone if he doesn't help her to be more feminine, as she has the opposite problem of not being girly enough and she wants to blend in with the other girls.
Ok first of all, what the heck. These are all pretty cool ideas, no? This wasn't the intention of this tutorial.

Anyways, you'll notice that for almost all of them I have changed the core idea already. The first one I changed the setting from a school to a camping trip, the second I changed the taboo magic to incredibly basic magic, and the protagonist to a girl. So your seed of an idea can change very easily at this point, and for that reason it's good to change things around while it's so short, until you're happy with the basic concept to develop further.

In the case of Dark Strike, I developed the story adding fantasy elements like this:
A girl jogging in the rain finds a boy by the side of the river beaten up. It turns out he has super powers and is part of a secret organisation that fights to protect society. But she must now choose to join, or have her memory erased.

Expanding the plot

So you now have a relatively solid idea of some of the things that happen in your story, but still no sense of where it begins and ends. The concept needs to be expanded both ways until you reach a decent starting point and ending point.

Having a solid grasp of the genre you are writing and the scale of your project will help in this regard. If you are aiming at a serial manga or longer project, then your story will be much longer with arcs and lots of events happening. If it's a one-shot then the story needs to be smaller, with basically less stuff happening. If it's a romance, it'll typically end with a couple being formed, if it's a mystery, it gets solved, if its a shounen, then the big boss is defeated. You can work from a typical ending backwards and fill the gaps.

I started by introducing the character and her worries in a school setting, where she tell her friend that she still goes jogging even if it rains. Then I had to figure out why she doesn't just call an ambulance for the injured boy and takes him to her friends house. And then since her friend I decided is overprotective, I had to decide on how she convinces him to let her join this organisation, and so I added her friend getting injured in a previous superpower related incident, so she has personal cause to try and protect her friends.

So at this point you have a rough idea of the beginning, middle and end of your story, and probably some of the characters and events as well.

The Event List

This is sort of a cross between a scene list and an expanded synopsis.

You start writing what scenes happen and events or shots that you want to include. You can fill this out all the way through, or work through the bits you know first and gradually fill out all the gaps. You may also find that you rearrange events and move individual events around to make the plot flow better.

At this point my manga looked like this: (excerpt)

Emily sees a person half in the river
Drags him unconscious out of the river, he suddenly starts coughing up water
She attempts to call ambulance but he prevents her.
She sees his wounds – he’s been stabbed/bleeding
He tries to get her to leave him alone/walk away but collapses
He gives in to her taking him to her friend’s house (Sam)
On seeing the injured Joshua, Sam also goes to call for an ambulance but is stopped by Joshua
Sam reluctant but agrees.
They treat his wounds as best as they can and Joshua passes out/collapses
Sam voices his concerns to Emily about this stranger. Especially what if he dies on them.
It is night-time, Emily is not sleeping
Sam talk with her, a little about how she has grown up.
Emily eventually falls asleep on a chair while Sam is talking.
3pm Next day
It is afternoon, Joshua wakes up (looks at broken watch on wrist). Sam is already awake – he has been awake the whole time? (don’t underestimate a writer!)
Joshua has a  small conversation with Sam, mostly chit chat, name/age
Sam gives Joshua some food
Sam wants to know why Joshua is injured and why he is avoiding the hospital and if they are being endangered by him (to protect Emily)
Emily wakes up before he can answer
Sam has called in sick for Emily at school
Emily also asks about Joshua
Because he has been saved by them he agrees to tell them what happened
Joshua reveals he is an Ability User and the existence of the Secret Organisation Dark Strike
He was on (his first?) solo mission to capture another Ability User but they were stronger than the reports or they had extra help. It was a recruitment mission but the user turned out to not be suitable and went berserk. Weather power.
Sam expresses his disbelief
Joshua demonstrates his ability of Telekinesis
Sam probes for more info
Explanation of Ability Users and the damage they can cause – mentions the shop collapse in which Laura was injured.
Emily is angered

If you are writing a serial manga then it will be difficult/long to write this for the whole story in such detail, so for later chapters you can use less detail and it will sound more like the previous step.

"Events" as I use the term, can vary between an entire scene, "Emily eventually falls asleep on a chair while Sam is talking", or just a single shot "Emily is angered". It can also be a notation that is just informative for the next writing step such as, "3pm Next day".

Generally at this point there is no speech yet although if you think of specific phrases you want they could go in here, such as, "don’t underestimate a writer!", which made it into the final manga.

There should be nothing missing that is essential to the plot at this point, and the story is basically quite clearly laid out.

Character Design

I actually did this much later in my process, and I regretted it, as character design is not just the looks of the character but also their personality. Having a clear idea of their personality helps to write their dialogue and to write specific intereations between different characters. It also gives you a chance to draft any scenes you like or expressions to show how the character looks showing different emotions.

I sketched the characters loosely on a draft page like so:

And then cut the chosen images into a word document where I wrote about their personality and extra information, their past and future events that are relevant to them

This should definitely have been filled out in more depth as I think it would have helped to write the characters better, as well as write more characters into the story rather than just the 3 main ones I had.

Expanded Events (Script v0)

Since you conveniently have a bullet point list of events you can go ahead and fill in the gaps with even more detail now, writing in a script format that suits you. I just used:
Name: (action) Speech/(Thoughts)
as a general format although I will probably use
Name: [Action] (Thoughts)
Name: [Action] Speech
moving forward to have a distinction between an action and a thought.

You dont have to write a solid script at this point, I sort of jotted down dialog ideas as I went through the bullet points. Having the event so clearly laid out meant that I could skip points that I wasn't sure of, and come back to them later, and the story still flowed properly.

So at the end of this stage I had a fully laid out, rough script. I didn't fix typos at this stage because it would be pointless, as the next stage makes a lot of alterations and fixes, in which typos are corrected then.

Full Script (Script v1)

Now go through the entire script, removing the bullet point event headings, and joining each section to the next so that it flows smoothly. Sometimes they will join up quite nicely, other times they need a bit of gap filling or moving around.

So now you have a solid script, with panel descriptions where necessary although not too relevant at the moment. I save panel design for quite late on as the panel layout shouldn't affect the story, that is, you should be able to plan the story freely without having to think about how you would draw it or what sort of shot you want.

At this point you have a full script, You can review this a couple of times to make sure the flow works and to change parts that dont sounds right etc.

I only reviewed once, and moved on. You can easily spend hours editing to get the "perfect" script and it will still have errors in it. One thing I have noticed is that you can change the dialogue of the speech bubbles at any time, so you can make last minute changes to what characters say to make it sound better at even such a late stage.

Paginated Script & Thumbnailing

The script needs to be sectioned off into pages and panels for the actions and speech.
I found that you start to imagine the panel layout out of necessity, to see what can fit on each page, and so both the pagination and the manga page thumbnails I did together. It doesn't make sense to split them up.

The reason I didn't write down camera angles and shot types, in the script, was because it would take ages to write down each one, and so I decided that the drawing of the stick figure in the thumbnail would be my reference as to what camera angles I was using.

I had my windows in side by side mode so I coudl see both my page thumbnail and the script. I split the script into panels first by separating sections into individual paragraphs, and used the page break to mark separate pages

At the end I had this:

The white space is very annoying though, but word can hide whitespace as an option, so during the designing stage it actually looked like this:

Pretty cool right?

This is the actual size of the thumbnails that I drew:

The main reason for this was so that I could copy and paste it into Word and the size would be correct and I wouldn't have to resize it, so it's a speed thing.

By the time you get to the end of yyour script, you have your manga page count as well. If you are splitting into chapters then you'll need to keep an eye out for places you can break the script to have a normal page count for your chapter (especially if you have a weekly target!)

Initial Page Draft

Now comes the hard part, drawing it all!!
Since you have a script you already know what you're drawing, so it's just a matter of putting pen to paper (or screen) and getting down a rough idea of what you want.

I dont think this stage was of any help to me really, as the script had a lot of the details for actions and expressions, and the draft wasn't like a sketch for the final version, it was literally a rough draft. I think that because I had a solid script and thumbnails already done, that I could have just gone straight into guidelines for the final version, but this is a step I did this time round nonetheless.

I pasted the speech in using a larger font than my final font (to make sure that I didn't make the panels too packed and gave the speech room to comfortably fit in the panel. Looking back this stage also wasn't helpful as I had to change the font for each box once I got to the final version, and it was faster to delete them and paste in the text again. Next time I would paste in with the correct font straight away and just be very careful with the bubble size to give the text space.

I also adjusted some panels and borders to adjust the space for certain shots.

Panel Borders

Now all the drafting has been done, it's time to make all the final versions of everything. Starting with the panels, since having a solid panel edge will help with the placement of bubbles and the sketches in each shot.

Here is a crash course on how I do it.

In a new layer, make a black border around the outside (the margins basically)
Draw solid black lines to divide all the areas of each panel.

"Colour select" the white areas.
In a new layer, fill the selection black, then shrink selection by how thick your panels will be (8px I think for me), and paste white in the selection.
Delete the black mask layer.

In this case I had to make an additional insert panel, which I used the rectangle select to draw it, and the same fill/shrink/fill to make the border.

Bam. Insta-panels.

Speech bubbles

I should have done this stage after the final sketching of the guidelines/characters, because in some places I moved the characters and the speech didn't look like it was coming from them anymore, and had to be redrawn.

Because of having pasted the text in previously in the draft, I know what size to roughly make the bubbles. In the future I'll paste the final text in straight away and I'll still know what size to make the bubbles.

I use a similar technique to the panels, creating the outside shape as a solid and then deleting a portion of the inside. I don't have the steps I used for the final version but here's the test version page.

This time I used the "layer alpha to selection", shrink by 3px and then fill white
I used the pen to manually draw in the areas where the bubbles overlapped. In the final version I did the bubbles in stages and so I didn't have to do that step.

Bam. Insta-bubbles

I found that it was hard to get the shape I wanted and they just looked like wonky ovals, so in the final version of my manga I used the ellipse tool to make perfect ovals.

As some people have mentioned, and I already thought it myself, it's strange that the bubbles go outside the panel borders - most manga have the bubble cropped to the panel edges and so I'll be doing that in my next work.

Text Formatting

It's quite easy to go through the script and copy and paste in all the text. I don't have an image of it but I went through the entire script and just pasted all the text in roughly, I didn't edit it to fit the speech bubble at all at thig stage.

Once all the text was pasted in, I went through and adjusted the textbox size and location to make sure the text looked alright. In some places I added manual breaks to push the words onto the next line so the lines were all even to the eye.

I also added the sound effects at this stage. In some places I used a different font or a larger font, but this can also be hand drawn. I'm still not sure what I want to do at the moment as both have a different appeal. Generally Japanese manga is all hand drawn sound effects which are nice.


Since I was working on a small time and quality budget, I chose the fastest route to a tolerable quality, that is, a single guideline layer, and a final inked layer. This is actually very hard, and for any shot that was out of the normal, I found that the guidelines weren't quite enough. But since it was a sketchy style, any extra guidelines I needed I drew on the ink layer itself and left them in for flavour. Mostly they can't be seen because I hatched over them to hide them :P

I used the same style figure as my figure regime that I have been doing lately, so it was quite easy to treat each page as a continuation of that regime and draw each figure in the right place and pose.

What was new and difficult, was working with figures for multiple characters, male/female, and different sizes of figure for different shots (i.e. a smaller shot vs closeup)

The main background lines are also drawn in, sometimes I used a proper vanishing point, sometimes I just guessed, or the scene was in almost-isometric and the lines were mostly parallel.


I really dont have an explanation for how I produced this level of inked quality from just those simple guidelines. A mixture of luck and comfort zone I think, as well as a healthy level of experience from other quick sketch regimes.

One way I made the sketch look better than it "really" was, was to add a lot of hatching, half as shading and half as texture, to make the piece more interesting without actually adding any specific details.

Partly because my character designs were weak, and also because of the lack of intermediate stages, the faces were quite different in each panel, and varied more than I would have liked.


I split colouring into two steps, although they overlapped a lot when I was actually doing the colouring.
"Actual Colour" and "Shade"

Actual colour being where someone has black hair and you colour it black, Shade being an overlay on the whole panel, such as because it's nighttime.

Mostly i used the pencil tool to outline an area of colour and then filled it with the paint bucket tool. I didn't use gradients too much but I'll need to have a wider range of colouring skills as I aim at a higher quality manga in the future.

Just colour:

With Shade:

I didn't add too much shading with areas of colour and left it mostly to the hatching to show shade, partly because of timing, but also because of lack of skill - I didn't actually know what to colour at all, and would have struggled to figure out which parts needed shading. This isn't as much of an issue when hatching as I can guess a lot more and it sort of works out.


You'll have noticed that the shade and the lines extend beyond the panel boundaries, this needs to be removed.
I actually cover it with a new layer rather than deleting anything.

Remember that black panel border layer that I said to delete?
Well don't delete it :P

Fill the black parts white and bring it to the front of the sketches, but under the speech bubble layer, and it will cover all of the unwanted sketch lines

You now have a finished manga page!
Now to repeat those steps for all the pages and you will have your very own manga.

TL;DR have a step-by-step GIF, you know you love them :P
I tried to include the script iterations as well, although these were never on the image as they appear in the GIF.
Also I made it slow transitions to see the details easier.
click to enlarge

« Last Edit: February 24, 2021, 02:37:07 PM by Suuper-san »
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Offline KatDeMilo

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Re: How to make a manga from zero (Dark Strike: The making of)
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2021, 06:53:15 PM »
Oh this is really good advice. And hard to find all in one place. Thankyou for posting this, I would have love this about 5 years ago :3

One hard part that not everyone experiences is finding your manga style. Including art, text and panel style etc. I made 7 attempts while starting, testing various options available to find the right fit.

Sometimes finding your thing just takes lots and lots of trial and error haha. Others it just seems to click straight away.
I am quite jealous of those people. But then again if I just went with my first attempt my work wouldn't nearly be a quarter as good as I feel it is now. Phew.

Offline Suuper-san

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Re: How to make a manga from zero (Dark Strike: The making of)
« Reply #2 on: February 25, 2021, 12:05:47 AM »
thanks :)
ah true, I would have liked to know a lot of it earlier too :P

while it's certainly true that the longer we wait to start out manga the better it will be, we probably will learn the most by actually starting it when we can't draw hardly at all. But it certainly does feel like we are wasting a story or using up time for a project that has far too low quality.

I'm still searching for a style that I like, both as you say artwise and panel/speech bubbles and so on.
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Offline readnovels

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Re: How to make a manga from zero (Dark Strike: The making of)
« Reply #3 on: June 14, 2022, 01:12:15 PM »
very informatif thanks for the tips :)
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