8 Popular Cartoon Art Styles You Should Know

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Anyone who watches or reads cartoons will know that there isn’t just one style. Different cartoon art styles have a very different look and feel to them, and there are specific styles that define eras or even geographical locations where the artwork might hail from. In this guide, we’re exploring some of the top types of cartoon styles that are popular around the world and what sets them apart. Many cartoons and cartoon animations have their own signature look and feel to them.

Best cartoon art styles

Let’s look at some of the best cartoon art styles, from the cute and playful to the more serious and life-like.

Old cartoon style

The old cartoon style is something you may associate with classic early television shows, films, and even comic strips. The old cartoon drawing style usually involves short bodies and long legs and arms. Think of Mickey Mouse for the classic example. Though he has a stumpy body, the arms and legs move pretty freely, sometimes referred to as ‘noodle’ drawing because they look like they move like noodles, with no bones or structure.

Top examples: Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop

Chibi

Chibi is a popular form of animation and cartoon that has its origins in Asia, like so many of the cartoon styles. Chibi is Japanese, and this translates to “short”. The character design certainly fits the “short” description. The bodies are not realistic at all, and the cartoon characters have tiny little bodies and oversized heads. This style doesn’t aim to be realistic, its goal is to be cute, and it definitely achieves this perfectly. Chibi avatars are popular, and the style is used in a number of different shows. 

Top examples: Hello Kitty, Avatar: The Last Airbender

Manga

Manga is very popular, with many fanatics watching manga shows, reading the graphic novels, and being fans of the style, which is also its own movement in the world of animation. Manga has some staple characteristics, and the proportions are normally fairly realistic, in terms of human bodies and animals. However, one huge difference is in the eyes, which tend to be very large.

A lot of the manga-style cartoons also have longer limbs in them, and the facial style can sometimes be quite angular. Characters in Manga also tend to have very thin bodies.

Top examples: Sailor Moon, Hellsing

Realistic

It may seem a little bit odd to describe any form of cartoon as realistic. No animation style looks like a photograph, of course. So what is meant by realistic cartoon style?

Well, this style tends to not stray too far from the lifelike aspects of life. There aren’t any strange ways that the bodies have been tweaked or altered to look different. Instead, the proportions stay pretty true to life. Some Disney films use this form of animation, and there are some of the more adult animation films that tend to also go with a realistic vibe to them. If you watch a show like Archer, you can see that the characters are clearly animated, but this doesn’t mean that they aren’t based on real life.

Top examples: Archer, Ugly Americans, The Lion King

Disney

Disney is a behemoth of animation, and it is no surprise that they are on our list as one of the very top animation styles. Of course, there are a few different subgenres within Disney films, but when it comes to 2D cartoons, they tend to have some similar looks to them. 

Disney films often stick with a fairly realistic viewpoint of characters in terms of their size and proportions, but have a lot of room for exaggeration or even perfecting characters with bigger eyes and perfect skin. Disney films can also have some different styles to show the ‘bad guys’ such as the green-skinned witches in some of their movies. Disney princesses are perhaps the most iconic of all of their characters, and these tend to have a big-eyed, blemish-free look to them.

Top examples: Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella

Simpsons style

The Simpsons is such a culturally-significant show that it has its own animation style that many people can instantly recognize. The characters are known for their four-fingered hands and the fact that they usually have bright yellow skin. On top of this, we see some interesting quirks such as hairlines that may become part of the characters’ head (such as Bart and Lisa’s hair) and slightly more wild and wacky hairstyles and looks in the case of Krusty the Klown and even Marge Simpson. 

Top examples: The Simpsons

Anime

The anime style is another that is iconic all over the world, and stems from Japan, like so many of the other options for cartoon styles. It has colorful artwork and quirky characters that are also known for their large eyes, perfect for displaying emotion. 

Anime has a lot of fans who specifically seek out this style. Perhaps the best known all over the world is Pokémon, the Japanese phenomenon that became absolutely huge in the 90s and is still very popular today. Pokémon had even more of a challenge in its characters, but used some of the design principles in the design of the Pokémon themselves.

People access anime in lots of different ways, and there is also a lot of fan art besides the cartoons most people know. 

Top examples: Pokémon, Attack on Titan

South Park style

Another show that has shown immense staying power and longevity, and certainly has its own unique style, is South Park. When South Park was originally in production, the idea was for the characters to have a very simple look to them, which is pretty comical in its appearance. South Park uses rudimentary shapes, and the characters look like they could be made on Microsoft Paint. In fact, the animation style is also pretty basic and simplistic, the legs of the characters don’t even really move as they do! This show has given its own style and there are people who can draw portraits using this style in their artwork. 

Top examples: South Park

Edit photos on your computer with Movavi Photo Editor

Movavi Photo Editor is a powerful photo-editing software that can allow you to take your images and turn them into a variety of styles using filters. The sketch filter allows you to see what your image would look like in a cartoon style, effectively turning it into a drawing. This can serve as inspiration for your own artwork, or it can be a way for you to create digital drawings without having to do the drawing itself!

Movavi Photo Editor is about far more than just editing pictures to look cartoonish though, there are lots of powerful features and functions for editing photos. From simple things like cropping the image, through to AI-enhanced background removal and full control over the colors. Movavi Photo Editor gives you a variety of different functions that are both easy to use and highly professional.

Summary

Whether you are just looking to differentiate between the different cartoon art styles or you want to be a pro at character design, there are many different popular styles to explore. The most common forms of modern cartoon art are explored in this guide.

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