Friday, April 3, 2020

Manga Background Effects

In manga and anime, kouka-haikei 効果背景, "effect backgrounds," are backgrounds which express some sort of effect, like representing the emotion that a character is feeling.

A collection of different sorts of "effect backgrounds," kouka haikei 効果背景.
Anime: Bakuman. バクマン。 (Episode 4)


For reference, a list of various types of background effects.

Note that, among them, the ones that are rendered using only lines are also called "effect lines," kouka-sen 効果線.

Speed Lines

The "speed lines," supiido-sen スピード線, are parallel lines drawn across the background to represent the tremendous speed or characters or objects, making them one type of motion lines.

Manga: One Punch Man (Chapter 10)
  • hayai!
    [He] is fast!

These lines also have a different use: sometimes they're drawn vertically, going up, even though characters are standing still. In this case, they represent a surge of emotion, excitement, anger, or other sort of fervor.

Anime: Mahoujin Guruguru 魔法陣グルグル (2017) (Episode 1)

Focus Lines

Lines drawn from the edges of a panel in manga or from the edges of the screen in anime and going toward the center or to a focal point are called "focus lines," shuuchuu-sen 集中線.

They're used in various ways, including to emphasize a focused element:

Manga: Boku no Hero Academia, 僕のヒーローアカデミア (Chapter 48)
  • Context: Midoriya Izuku 緑谷出久 realizes something about himself.
  • kono taiyaki ga boku'...desu!!
    This taiyaki... is me!!
    • taiyaki たい焼き
      A sort of fish-shaped pancake.

Or when a character is focused, concentrated, and about to use a skill:

Manga: Naruto ナルト (Chapter 41, 悪魔の囁き・・・!?)

Radiated Lines

When lines are drawn radiating from a character, that means the character is cheerful, is happy.

Manga: One Piece (Chapter 9, 〝魔性の女〟)

Uneasy Lines

When lines are drawn curved like tentacles reaching out to a character or place, that means the place is creepy, the atmosphere feels weird, bizarre, the character feels uneasy, anxious, or angry.

These are called odoro おどろ, by the way.

Kageyama Shigeo 影山茂夫, example of odoro-sen おどろ線.
Manga: Mob Psycho 100, Mobu Saiko Hyaku モブサイコ100 (Chapter 55, 知らない)


In manga, when a pattern that looks like ropes is drawn in the background of a panel, that generally means the character is worried or anxious.

These are called nawaami ナワアミ, by the way.

・・・おくやみをつたえてください まことに残念ですと・・・・・・・・・・・・
Manga: Black Jack, ブラック・ジャック (Chapter 1, 報復)
  • ...okuyami wo tsutaete kudasai
    ...communicate my condolences.
  • makoto ni zan'nen desu to
    [Say] that [it was] truly unfortunate............
    [Say] that [I'm terribly sorry for what happened]............

Dripping Blue Lines

The "dripping lines," tare-sen タレ線, are vertical lines drawn dripping from the top of the panel, used when a character feels down, depressed, or shocked, among other uses.

They're typically rendered as blue lines in anime and colored manga.

Furuhashi Fumino 古橋文乃, Ogata Rizu 緒方理珠, example of parallel vertical lines on background and on a character's face.
Anime: Bokutachi wa Benkyou ga Dekinai ぼくたちは勉強ができない (Episode 1)

Beta Flash

The "beta flash," or betafura ベタフラ, is a white flash of light drawn on a background "filled with the black color," beta ベタ.

It's used when a character notices, realizes or deduces something.

Manga: Assassination Classroom, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu 暗殺教室 (Chapter 1, 暗殺の時間)
  • nyari


A lightning background is used when a characters feels shocked, when something shocking happens or when they come to a shocking realization.

Akino Sakura 秋野桜, example of osoroshii ko 恐ろしい子.
Anime: Ore wo Suki nano wa Omae dake kayo 俺を好きなのはお前だけかよ (Episode 2)

Soap Bubbles

A background featuring "soap bubbles," shabon-dama シャボン玉, or other light shapes, is typically used for a soothing, calming, endearing, or romantic effect.

元気・・・・・・出して下さいね? よしよし よかったねーあっくん なでなで ・・・優しさがつらい・・・
Manga: Aho Girl, Aho Gāru アホガール (Volume 1, Chapter 3, Page 26)
  • Context: Akkun あっくん, who doesn't have friends, makes his first friends.
  • genki...... dashite kudasai ne?
    [Cheer up,] okay?
  • yoshi yoshi
    [There there].
  • yokatta nee Akkun
    [Isn't that great,] Akkun.
  • nadenade
    *pat pat*
  • ...yasashisa ga tsurai...
    ...kindness [hurts]...


When flowers are used as background effect, it means a character has a gentle, fluffy personality, happy-go-lucky, to being in love or thinking about romance.

This effect is related to a few flower-related Japanese expressions, like saying someone's head is a flower field meaning they have a good humor. A related, non-background visual symbol is a flower sprouting on a character's head.

Harpy, ハーピィ, wearing overly long sleeves (moe-sode 萌え袖) that are also detached sleeves, デタッチドスリーブ, with flowers in the background.
Character: Harpy, ハーピィ
Anime: Maoujou de Oyasumi 魔王城でおやすみ (Episode 5)


Sometimes, lilies in the background of a scene featuring girl on girl romance is a visual pun on a Japanese term for lesbian fiction: yuri 百合, which means literally "lily," the flower.

An example of "lilies," yuri 百合, used as a visual pun for lesbian romance.
Left: Moritani Hiyori 森谷ヒヨリ
Right: Kotoura Haruka 琴浦春香
Anime: Kotoura-san 琴浦さん (Episode 5, Censored)


Similarly, roses in the background in a scene featuring gay romance is a pun on bara 薔薇, "rose," which is a term for gay fiction.

Example of BL shipping Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom.
Left: Neville Longbottom
Right: Harry Potter
Anime: Asobi Asobase あそびあそばせ (Episode 4)


Besides the background effects listed above, here are some terms for techniques and patterns typically used in backgrounds.


In art, "stippling," or tenbyou 点描, is the use of dots to shade an area. In manga, stippling isn't a very common technique, but it's sometimes used to shade light areas, like sand and soap bubbles.

An example of tenbyou 点描, "stippling," used as a shading technique to render sand.
Manga: Black Jack, ブラック・ジャック (Chapter 2, シャチの歌)


In art, hatching is the use of lines to shade an area. Cross-hatching is the use of lines that cross each other.

In manga, kakeami カケアミ is the term for a common hatching pattern in which lines are drawn in bundles, like scratches, and the bundles don't cross each other, but the lines within a bundle may cross each other.

Example of kakeami カケアミ pattern used to shade characters in manga.
Manga: Bokura wa Minna Kawai-sou 僕らはみんな河合荘 (Chapter 2)

In some cases, the bundles are outlined, turning into overlapped rectangles.

Example of kakeami カケアミ.
Manga: AQUA (Chapter 5, 希望の丘)


Halftone is a printing technique to render tones by using a pattern of dots with varying sizes and spacing. There are actually two types of halftones, and both are used in manga.

AM Halftone

The term amiten 網点, "dot net," refers to amplitude-modulated halftone. They look like a net, a grid made out of dots, points. At certain densities, it looks like a polka dots pattern.

まぁいいわ・・・ 始めましょう
Manga: Gabriel DropOut, ガヴリールドロップアウト (Chapter 5)
  • Context: Vignette ヴィネット just wants to get with the program.
  • maa ii wa...
    Whatever... (never mind that.)
  • hajimemashou
    Let's start. (already.)

Often this halftone is too small for the pattern to be discernible.

An example of "halftone," amiten 網点, used in manga.
Manga: Yuru Yuri ゆるゆり (Volume 1)

FM Halftone

The term suname 砂目, "sand grain," refers to the frequency-modulated halftone. It's a random noise often used to render gradients, though it can also be used on grainy textures.

Example of suname 砂目 pattern gradient in the background.
Manga: Houshin Engi 封神演義 (Chapter 1, 封神の書)


A "screentone," sukuriin-toon スクリーントーン, is a semitransparent sheet of paper with one or more patterns or textures printed on it. Artists slice out pieces of the screentone in the shape of the areas that they want to apply the pattern to, and then paste it onto the drawing.

An example of screentone.
Anime: Bakuman. バクマン。 (Episode 4)

Most background effects you see in manga come from screentones, including the amiten, suname, and kakeami patterns, among others, like parallel strips, soap bubble patterns, flower patterns, and so on.

Furthermore, nowadays there are also digital artists who use digital software that can apply textures like these digitally.


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  1. I have to say thank you as your post assisted me working on my thesis.
    My lecturer demanded to use some references to prevent the arbitrary in deciphering the usages of manga or anime effects, for example, why the usage of beta flash, so I found yours and use it.
    For the second time, I say thank you very much.

  2. Thank you - really informative!

  3. Hey! I'm a teacher creating a lesson about iconography in comics, and as someone who doesn't consume much manga, this post was SUPER helpful to me. Thank you so much for writing this up and sharing it!