Anime-About-Art-Feature

The best anime and manga series about art

February 5, 2024

One of my favorite things about anime, and even more so about manga, is that there’s at least one series about practically every subject you can imagine. From farming to jazz music to sidecar motorcycle racing to abnormal psychology, there’s bound to be something related to your interests. And, as anime and manga artists are artists after all, there are plenty about art itself.

These are the best anime and manga series about art, perfect whether you’re looking for inspiration for your own artistic practice or just want a great new series to check out.

Anime-About-Art-0-Blue-Period

Blue Period

Yatora Yaguchi is by all appearances a well-adjusted high school student. He has an active social life and great grades… but no ambitions. Like many anime “everyboys,” he assumes he’ll go on to a regular college, get a regular job, and spend the rest of his life in a suit and tie — at least until he stumbles into the after-school arts club, where he’s blown away by a senior student’s oil painting, motivating him to take his own art class more seriously. He quickly finds the purpose he’s been lacking, and resolves to get into the elite Tokyo University of the Arts.

The driving themes of Blue Period are some of the big ideas behind art as a whole. The first is originality. Yaguchi has to find himself before he can express himself, which his teacher insists is the key to developing a unique voice. The second is hard work. When he joins the club, then later a prep school for art college, he develops an inferiority complex as he’s outshined by far more experienced students. To move forward, he has to overcome his misconception that great art is the product of natural talent and focus on honing his craft instead. And the third is the leap of faith it takes to pursue art as a career. He’ll have to abandon the middle-class life he’d planned for himself and risk his long-term financial prospects for a dream that might never pay the bills.

Anime About Art 2 Blue Period
Remember to read this, and all future manga screenshots in this article, from right to left.

Blue Period sets itself apart from the crowd of high school club manga by eschewing cliches and never dumbing down its subject matter. If anything, its encyclopedic detail on techniques, styles, movements, the art business, and Japan’s universities can be a bit much. But it’s not superfluous to the plot, and if anything, shows the amount of knowledge and passion that goes into the series.

Plus — minor spoiler — it continues past high school. Collegiate art students will find Yaguchi’s struggles with heavy workloads and hypercritical teachers painfully relatable. After all, it’s based on creator Tsubasa Yamaguchi’s own education at Tokyo University of the Arts.

I’m going to take a stance here and recommend the manga over Netflix’s adaptation – for artists, at least. The anime cuts a lot of the informational material to focus on character interaction, a decision that’s drawn a lot of fan complaints. Plus, the manga has a unique watercolor texture to the toning, and all the works of art created by the students are real pieces by guest artists. Even the covers and splash panels contain some delightful painting references. See this X thread for a list.

Anime About Art 4 Bakuman

Bakuman

Bakuman is the quintessential manga about manga. Created by Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata, co-creators of the legendary Death Note, it follows a team like themselves: writer Akito Takagi and artist Moritaka Mashiro.

We begin in middle school, with Akito as an untested but determined aspiring storyteller and Moritaka as a talented but aimless notebook doodler. Although the latter is loath to take on the workload of drawing a whole manga, he finds an incentive in his crush Miho Azuki, who aspires to be a voice actress. When he spontaneously proposes to her, she makes a deal that she’ll marry him if their manga is adapted into an anime with her in the lead role – but they can’t see each other until then, instead only communicating by text. This is a pretty big ask for middle school, but it works to motivate him. Our protagonists take up the joint pen name Ashirogi Muto, and from there, the story follows them over the course of ten years through every stage of a manga career.

The level of detail that Blue Period goes into about painting, Bakuman applies to manga techniques. If you’ve ever wondered what the differences are between dip pen nibs or how to cut screentone by hand, this series has your answers. It also covers the pressures of working in the industry, dealing with strict editors, deadlines, audience expectations, and competition for the top spots in reader polls.

Anime About Art 5 Bakuman

It received an anime adaptation in 2010 – a more faithful one than Blue Period’s, to better fan reviews. Many prefer it to the manga. It’s much slower-paced, though, and there’s something special about seeing the medium being made in the medium itself, so it comes down to preference.

It’s admittedly quite “tropey,” which leads to two criticisms. My personal one is that you should watch out not to let it reinforce unrealistic notions about the age you should expect success by, the same kind fueled by comparing yourself to prodigies on Instagram. No, it’s not normal to get published in early high school while still juggling homework, and neither should the sleep deprivation and illness our protagonists put themselves through to attain it be glorified. But since most anime focus on teenagers, it’s all in keeping with conventions. Just don’t take it too seriously.

The other, a more common complaint, is its dodgy portrayal of women. Female characters tend to fall into the camps of either obedient or nags, and we have Takagi dropping lines like, “A girl should be graceful and polite … she should be earnest about things and get average grades … a girl won’t look cute if she’s overly smart.” And Moritaka’s father says, “Men have dreams that women wouldn’t understand,” with no irony or pushback. 

But if you can get past those, you’ll find an entertaining, extremely passionate story that’s been hailed as one of the most accurate depictions of mangakas’ creative processes out there. Oh, and Eiji Nizuma is a treasure.

Anime About Art 6 Kakukaku

Kakukaku Shikajika

Kakukaku Shikajika is the autobiography of artist Akiko Higashimura, most famous for Princess Jellyfish. This one only exists in manga form, running from 2011 to 2015 as a side project that overlapped with five of her other works, but it’s emerged as a standout.

It shares some common ground with both previous entries. It opens with an arc about traditional painting and art school, then progresses to the protagonist’s manga career – although it should appeal to those who want a change of pace from the larger-than-life drama of Bakuman, depicting a slow artistic growth marked by setbacks. Higashimura starts off expecting her rise to be meteoric, but within the first chapter she has her delusions of genius shattered by a brutal art tutor.

This pattern continues; failure is a large part of her journey. She does not burn with the determination of a shonen manga protagonist. She slacks off, she gets artist’s block, and she wastes her college years by prioritizing shopping, hanging out, and her boyfriend. Then she has to move back in with her parents, dealing first with unemployment, then trying to eke out time to draw while working unrelated jobs. Looking back twenty years later, she calls her younger self a “terrible girl,” for which she’s now “filled with regrets.” But in spite of her relentlessly self-deprecating narration, most of her failings are those of a normal aspiring artist. And seeing as she’s now a renowned mangaka, that’s more reassuring than the story of someone who’s spent their life working like an automaton.

Anime About Art 7 Kakukaku

But motivating her through it all is her sensei, who, despite his borderline abusive teaching style, cares deeply for her. Their relationship is the heart of the manga. Whenever she’s in danger of losing her way, he drives her to get back to work and push past her limitations, ultimately leaving her with the mantra “Just draw.”

One way it diverges from the other entries, though, is that little of it focuses on technique; it’s about the mental and emotional sides of the artist life. There also aren’t high stakes or even a linear plot, as it’s told in a stream-of-consciousness format with frequent digressions. This is indeed the source of its title — the Japanese equivalent of “blah blah blah” — although the English release is called Blank Canvas. But as rambling as it may seem, it all goes to demonstrate the many, many life experiences that go into an art career, and ties up into a breathtakingly poignant ending… With the moral being that even the best of us make mistakes along the way. 

Anime About Art 8 Eizouken

Keep Your Hands off Eizouken

I’m going to gush a little here, because this is my favorite anime of all time. Originating as a manga by Sumito Ōwara, Keep Your Hands off Eizouken is another one about high school extracurriculars, but couldn’t be more different in style or execution from your typical cutesy slice-of-life.

It starts with the eccentric Asakusa, who’s obsessed with animation, dragging her odd-couple friend Kanamori, a natural-born businesswoman who couldn’t care less about it, to a screening where they run into wealthy teen celebrity Mizusaki. She’s a fellow student who also wants to be an animator – but her parents forbid it, wanting her to pursue an acting career instead. That rules out them joining the school’s anime club, but it’s not a problem: the trio will start their own, the Film Studies Club (Eizō-ken)… with the little catch that the films will be animated, and their studies will be on how to make them.

The three girls emulate the departments of a studio: Asakusa pulls double duty as the writer-director and background artist, Mizusaki does characters, and Kanamori uses her managerial smarts to become the producer. The plot mirrors the difficulties of animation as a business too, with the club having to contend with tight deadlines for presentations, threats of having their funding cut, and authorities who don’t understand what they’re doing at all. The way studios run on a razor’s edge to survive, it’s a constant struggle to get external forces to… keep their hands off Eizouken. But above all, the story is an ode to the power of art to realize dreams.

Anime About Art 9 Eizouken

It splits its focus between the roles of both imagination and technique, giving equal attention to the girls’ fantasies and the actual work it takes to execute them. It makes the tools and tricks of animation, even common cost-cutting hacks, fascinating. And it’s the only of these series that delves into digital art, since no modern anime’s made without it, and even touches on industry-standard software. It’s the perfect balance of inspiration and education, and will make you want to go out and work on your own projects as soon as the credits roll.

This is one where I’d wholeheartedly recommend the anime. It’s helmed by genius director Masaaki Yuasa, alum of The Tatami Galaxy – another of my personal favorites – the funky Ping Pong Club, the psychedelic Mind Game, and Netflix hit Devilman: Crybaby. Eizouken’s anime adaptation takes the material to the next level in a true showcase of the medium’s transformative potential.

Ōwara’s art style is singular, and impressively detailed, but it’s also quite rough. The anime refines it to perfection, and puts the extra dimensions of movement and sound to full use. The motions and expressions are as energetic as the girls’ personalities. We get to see their actual short films, and the daydream scenes — with their watercolor art and vocal sound effects — are landmarks in animation. The opening credits are also iconic:

Finally, the series is also commendable for its inclusivity. Although it’s never explicitly stated, it’s well-known among fans that Asakusa displays many traits of autism and ADHD. And as Ōwara has come out about having both himself, and has claimed her character is based off of him as a kid, it’s not a stretch to put two and two together. I also appreciate its frequent and seamless inclusion of Black and brown characters, a relative rarity in anime. It’s similarly not called attention to; they’re just part of the student body. This is a breath of fresh air and a brilliant hint at the show’s near-future setting.


Hopefully this list inspired you to apply to your country’s most exclusive art school, aim for the top spot in Shonen Jump at fifteen, recount your bittersweet emotional journey with your mentor, or start a club where you make short films about giant robots fighting crab-turtles.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out some of the other anime/manga content on Wacom’s blog, like Nine great YouTube channels for aspiring anime artists or The best Skillshare classes for learning how to draw anime and manga.


CS Jones avatar

About the Author

Cameron “C.S.” Jones is a West-Philly-based writer and illustrator who’s been contributing to Wacom for four years now. You can see more of his work, including most of his contributions to this blog, at thecsjones.com, or follow him on Instagram or Twitter.

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