Ask Boichi about Manga 2 – Inking


Inking is like brick masonry

Hello Boichi-sensei, How do you train your inking skill? You display a lot of different techniques when drawing things like trees, stone, water, fire, etc…

Any Tips you can share with us about it? or Any daily training (homework) we can do to improve our drawing skill?

– Gabriel Hour

Hello, Gabriel.

Nice to meet you, and thanks for your great question.

I think pen and ink techniques (aka inking) are the most important part in manga artworks.

Some may underestimate their importance, but they are crucial in manga. To put it simple, it’s like building using brick masonry.

Most people like to see and enjoy good designs, styles and stories they love to read in manga.

It’s the same when people visit a house or a building where they want to live, they mainly see how the house looks good and enjoyable to live in. But sadly they don’t give much notice to the brick masonry of the house’s structures.

But if the brick masonry isn’t good, then that house will easily fall down. No matter how good its design and style are. The basics and strong techniques are what support design and quality.

The brillant buildings that survived through history (ages, dynasties) are results of the efforts and sweat from the craftsmen who put down the bricks one by one. I think the relationship between manga and inking is similar to this.

Now, I will tell you how I studied inking for manga.

Actually, my inking skills are still not good enough so I can’t tell you much about it but I’d like to share with you how I learned them.

When I was kid, the means to study manga were limited. I didn’t even know that a pen or pen brushes for inking were necessary to draw manga until I became a high school student.

One of my friends told me after school that pens and ink are the most crucial tools to draw manga. So I bought some cheap pens and ink from a shop near my school. That’s when I started to study inking for the first time. But I didn’t focus much on studying inking itself.

I started practicing inking seriously when I became a college student and I met a manhwa (Korean manga) professor named Chung San Lim.

I studied my Physics major at the university (for very complicated reasons), then I met Professor Lim and learned manhwa from his class.

Professor Lim was the first man who set up a manwha class in a college in Korea and then became the Dean of the department of manhwa arts.

He opened a free manhwa tutorial class every Saturday for two hours, welcoming every students interested in drawing manhwa.

I studied manhwa in his classes.

The year I spent in his class was my sole experience studying manhwa from a professional manhwa artist. 

He didn’t teach me what we call manga (Japanese manga) techniques, but he taught us about history and theories of cartoon and story telling for comic strips.

Every time when he finished his class, he gave us some assignments asking us to trace out a copy of pen drawings. I finished two pen drawing arts books and I still have one remaining. 

I moved a lot since then so I had to abandon 20 000 manga and books, but this pen drawing book still remains in my bookcase along with the memories of my professor.

inking practice book

This is the book I studied for inking practice in Professor Lim’s class.

Every weeks, he gave us a homework to copy the page he selected from this book.

It was published in 1990.


The contents are like this.

I’m ashamed to tell you this but I have a confession to make. During that year, many students aiming to be mangaka went and left, including me.

Once he told me that I was the student he had lectured for the longest time and had done the most assignments. Not just copy the drawings but also draw and some more.

If you’d ask me if copying someones else’s drawing was helpful, I’d tell you it was like salt in my life.

In my life as a mangaka, Professor Lim’s assignments were like brick masonry to me. 

After I became a mangaka, a few students and assistants spent some time working in my studio, I gave them the same assignments that I had studied under Professer Lim.

In fact, mangakas in Japan don’t give or teach inking techniques to their students and assistants nowadays. There are many reasons but it’s becoming kind of an past tradition now. I will tell you the reasons after.

In fact, I also no longer give assignments to my assistants these days. But if you’d like to study inking more seriously, then I’d personally recommend drawing copies of pen drawing books.

drawing with pen & ink

This is the book that I used to give inking assignments to my students in the past.


The inside is look like this.

Apart from that, in the past there was a unique subject when study inking in my studio. It’s called “drawing manga balloons (speech bubbles)”.

As you know, manga balloons’ shapes are round and have a small point (a tap). The thin line goes all around, changes its curvature and connect back to it. 

It’s a very very awesome inking practice subject I came up with. There are several advantages to practice drawing manga balloons.

First, it’s the easiest work when drawing manga. It’s a very useful training for beginners.

Practice drawing manga balloons and after you finish drawing as many as you can (I liked to try this for 1 month every day), you will see how different your inking skills evolved.

As this is a very simple and very boring practice, you can develop your patience as well.

People who find fun and meaning in drawing manga balloons will continue to walk the path of manga and will be able to keep working harder. Because the rest of the work in manga is much more interesting than drawing manga balloons.

Beside, drawing manga balloons can also be fun. You can design your own manga balloons as well.

And they have a curved line. Both large and small manga balloons, but most of them have a curved line. Curves are the most important lines in modern manga and art.

Every basic lines is a curve. Cars, airplanes, robots, human body, faces and folds, everything you see and draw are curves.

If you can draw manga balloons quickly, and clearly, it means you can draw cars, faces and every other objects quickly and cleanly.

I wanted to show you some samples of manga balloons but I couldn’t find them.

I’m sure there are somewhere in my computer, but I give up on finding them. I really need to finish the rest of my work. I’m sorry.

But I will show you what kind of pens I’m using for my works.

These are the pens on my work tables.


I have bamboo pens and glass pens.

Do I use them all in my work everytime?

I rarely use all of them at once, but yes. Sometimes I use a toothpick and wooden chopstick as inking tools. 

For less then 10 pages in my manga works, I even used my fingernails as inking tool.

old pen brush

These are the old pen brush I used.

They are like a history record of my life as my mangaka so I can’t throw them.

Actually I collect my used pens and inking bottle. I have old and new ones.

Thankfully, most of my brushes still remained even though I moved from place to place.

inking tools

These are the inking tools I currently use to draw manga.

Pen brushes are the main inking tools that used in my works and the spoon pen is my sub-inking tool for <Origin>.

G-pen is my sub-inking tool for <Dr. Stone> and also the main inking tool for <Manga Lab>.

I put my ink in a Korean traditional celadon bowl. 

Do you have any other questions? Need more manga drawing techniques?  Please visit time to time.

I still don’t know much but I’d love to help you with anything within my reach.

study topic

This drawing is one of the study topics I gave to my assistants in the past.

In fact, time are changing so nowadays most manga studios don’t give homework or practice exercises to their assistants and students.

But, some mangaka still think personal manga tutorial are very important. They can’t give up the assistants’ manga education because helping someone’s dream (become pro mangaka) is so precious.

Nevertheless, like many other, Japanese mangaka don’t train their assistants and students in their studio. The main reason is that it takes too much time.

It’s very difficult to invest so much time like that and sadly modern manga arts don’t usually need traditional inking skills (and other techniques) as much as before.

And there are more serious reasons.

Assistants in Japan these days are already very skilled and talented. They come visit the publishers with their portfolios and try to find some jobs and chances to become a pro’s assistant. 

Many manga artists prefer to work with them so it’s no longer necessary to personally teach from the basics. 

Finally, you asked me if I can give you a homework. Well… I can’t.

But I will give you my cheers and support! I’ll pray for your dream! Kanbare!!! 

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask to me.

Hope you study well! Keep it up!! 

– Boichi

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