What makes a drawing Kawaii?

What makes a drawing Kawaii?

Jan 18, 2023 Tags 

When you look at kawaii drawings, you’ll notice that their design is minimalistic and simple. They are also black-lined, patterned after round shapes, and feature a youthful essence. With these descriptions, we’re pretty sure that by now, you’ll recall some of Japan’s popular kawaii creations, which include Pikachu and Hello Kitty.

Looking at kawaii art often evokes calmness, happiness, and warmth. So if you’re planning to create kawaii characters and drawings, this post is for you. We will discuss the different elements that make up kawaii characters to help you successfully conceptualize your artwork.


What makes something kawaii?


Kawaii Mascots


For starters, the word kawaii (可愛い or かわいい) roughly translates to cute. In the English language, it can also mean adorable, innocent, or even cool (depending on the connotation). 


What are the characteristics of kawaii art?


Kawaii can be different from one drawing to another. But the commonly seen characteristics include a big head, big eyes, small nose, with a slight expression or no expression at all. Humans, animals, and fictional creatures can be made into kawaii characters.


Kawaii in Anime and Manga


Attack on Titan characters in chibi form


Animals and animal-like creatures exist in the world of anime and manga. To create an appeal of cuteness, artists draw their characters in kawaii style.

As we’ve said before, even human characters can be kawaii. Chibi (also called super-deformed or S.D.) is a prevalent concept in both media. It’s more than just caricatures that we’re familiar with. Original characters are converted into chibi by making them about one-third or two-thirds of their real height. All their body parts are simplified and deformed. And just like all kawaii characters, their heads are big.

And what’s even more interesting is that no matter how evil a character may be in the original piece, they can easily be turned into a cute little thing through chibi-style drawings. So if you’re a fan of the bad guys in anime, you can appreciate them in a different light by looking at or even making their chibi versions.


How do you do a kawaii style of art?


Kawaii Bunnies


To create kawaii art, you have to apply the elements we’ve mentioned above. But how exactly do you add these aspects to your characters? Let’s break down the elements so you can achieve the style you’re going for.




Keep it straightforward. Overwhelming your design with intricate details and adding realism isn’t ideal. Otherwise, it might look unsettling instead of exuding happiness and warmth.

Another thing you’ll notice about the kawaii style is that the colors are flat. Moreover, the thickness of the line art is uniform and comes with small features. 




Kawaii Color Palette


Every color can be used to express oneself artistically, but you cannot deny that some colors express cuteness. So when looking at kawaii art, you'll see that it mostly has pastel and rainbow colors. The style shares many similarities with child-friendly designs.

Bright colors need to be used to complement the simplicity of linework and details. The vibrance of the kawaii color palette makes the characters pop. A cute design combined with cute colors makes the work sweet and lovely.

If you’re stuck and don’t know which colors to use for your kawaii character, think about colorful candies, ice cream, marshmallows, and a variety of sweets.

You can work with a set of three colors on one character. A scheme of two to four colors works when you plan to screen print your artwork on your merch.



ZenPop Stationery Box


Make Everything Round


Kawaii Round Shapes


The absence of pointed edges contributes to the kawaii-ness of a character. Think about it. If you create a plushie of your kawaii character and it has no pointed edges, it makes them squishy, soft, and most of all, huggable.

Do you plan on having a spiky character? The spikes don't have to be pointy. Design them with rounded points so your character will look like a furball.


Cute Faces


Kawaii Faces


It’s all about anthropomorphization if you plan to create kawaii, non-human characters. And the first step to achieving this is to give them a face! Whether you’re drawing Mr. Sun or the fluffy clouds make them adorable with big eyes, a small nose, and a smiling mouth. Use simple strokes and you’re done!


Add Emotions


Kawaii Emotions


Now that you’ve got the faces covered, it’s time to add emotions. The simplicity of the lines combined with the cute colors will make every expression adorable — and that includes the angry face too!

Draw a variety of emotions to bring life to your characters. But if you want to stick to the basics and just add a slight expression, that’s okay too!


Kawaii Artists To Help Inspire Your Drawings


Before you start creating your own kawaii characters, learn from the experts first! Draw some of the most popular cute characters so that you’ll get used to the elements of kawaii drawings. Here are some of the prominent kawaii artists you can get inspiration from.


Yuko Shimizu


Yuko Shimizu Hello Kitty


The artist who brought the first Sanrio character to life is none other than Yuko Shimizu. Aside from Hello Kitty, her kawaii creations include a bear named Coro Chan and two cat characters called Angel Cat Sugar and Rebecca Bonbon. Her creation remains iconic to this day.


Setsuko Tamura


Setsuko Tamura


Tamura has been promoting happiness through her creative pursuits for over 5 decades. She is known for her colorful pictures of bright and joyful girls.


Miyuki Okumura


Miyuki Okumura


The artist behind the Cinnamoroll franchise is the Japanese illustrator Miyuki Okumura. She is also known for providing original artwork for the Jewelpet franchise.


Brief History of the Kawaii Concept


Unico by Osamu Tezuka

Unico by Osamu Tezuka


Kawaii culture reportedly started in the ‘70s, a time when young girls began creating letters that were more distinctive than the typical vertical writing style of hiragana. They made the characters puffier, creating cute lettering. This was an effort to express their own personality and individuality.

Godfather of manga Osamu Tezuka made the cute art style popular, but it wasn’t until Sanrio’s release of Hello Kitty that the kawaii trend started. 

With Hello Kitty printed on merchandise and the character becoming a toy, the kawaii trend skyrocketed in popularity and more companies produced lineups of cute characters. The trend was further boosted by global consumerism.

Today, kawaii characters are all around the world. You can find them in toy stores, bookstores, and everywhere! You can even have them on your phone.


Create Your Kawaii Characters Today!


The concept of kawaii may have come from Japan, but that doesn’t mean that we, foreigners, can’t create something kawaii. Take inspiration from Japan’s kawaii characters and you’re on your way to creating your original cute creation.

For a more detailed explanation of how to make your first kawaii drawing, head over to this article!