How to Make Backgrounds for Manga
Just as in writing, backgrounds are important for every manga. It anchors the characters and settings in a specific time and space. Without them, readers have only dialogue to follow the story.
Drawing from scratch
Creating a background from scratch may be time consuming, but it is one of the most fulfilling parts of drawing. Once you’re done, you sigh and yell, “I did it!” The best way to create a background from scratch is to take a picture of the locations or buildings you want to use and draw it from that picture.
The reason why I don’t prefer drawing at the location is because many factors change as you’re looking between your drawing and the actual place. The sun and clouds move, shifting the shadows around, and people hover over your shoulder with indignant questions, peeling your gaze from your focal point. A picture will stay whatever you want that picture to be.
Turning out a picture
With a picture of a location, you can also create unique backgrounds. Ai Yazawa turns images into shadows with almost pixelated points.
Notice the background in Ai Yazawa’s Paradise Kiss and NaNa. It’s her trademark. (From Pinterest)
You can also turn pictures Into vectors in Adobe Illustrator or Manga Pro. To vectorize an image in Illustrator, select to “Trace”.
Using stock pictures
If drawing or vectorizing pictures are too much, you can buy Deleter background booklets or get free stock manga backgrounds on DeviantArt or Pinterest.
Deleter and Manga University both have books with backgrounds you can print onto adhesive sheets and apply like screentones or digitally place them in your manga using layers. They’re good for hard-to-find pictures such as Japanese classrooms, common streets, and convenience stores. The books aren’t free. They price anywhere from $2.50 to $12.00 online.
Here are a few generous artists:
Manga Backgrounds by Humon
TakataRikuzen’s Free Manga Backgrounds
Loganna’s Manga Cityscape
If you want to be a well-rounded artist, my advice is to learn how to do perspective drawings. Even if you plan on becoming a traditional artist (drawing, painting, sculpting), learning perspective will only be a tool.