This post was written by Tom McCallum

13 of the Best Japanese Illustrators Working in the Industry Today

Japanese illustration has a proud history, and has had a great influence on many contemporary illustrators and artists working across the world today.

Modern Japanese illustration is perhaps best known globally for manga art, distinguished by its unique style; however, there is much more to modern Japanese illustration than manga.

Meet 13 of the Japanese illustrators who are continuing to honour their traditional roots while expanding the global appeal of Japanese illustration across a number of distinct genres.

Discover what they feel the strengths of the industry are, and what it’s like to work as a Japanese illustrator in a global industry.

1. TATSURO KIUCHI

Illustration by tatsuro kiuchi

Tokyo-based illustrator Tatsuro’s portfolio includes work produced for The New York Times

“Being an illustrator in modern Japan, you can get acquainted with talented people from all over the world.

If you keep making something awesome, you can eventually get recognised by those talented people yourself.”

2. YORIKO YOUDA

Yoriko youda illustration of dragon

As well as working with watercolours, Yoriko also produces 3D artworks and clothing

“When I create, I often explore the theme of Japanese motifs. By ‘Japanese’, I do not mean traditional Japanese style. My ‘Japanese’ is to be understood as ‘Japan as seen through the eyes of the rest of the world’.

Let me introduce an example of the Japanese motifs that especially attracted my attention in the illustration above.

For this example I used WASHI (Japanese paper), transparent watercolours, pigment and ink.”

3. KENJI URATA

Image by japanese illutrator kenji urata

Kenji’s distinctive illustrations often depict “deformed” versions of reality

“I think there is a line that is peculiar to a Japanese illustration. I find representation that is between the reality and the symbol (deformed) particularly interesting.”

4. YURI HAIBA

Illustration by yuri haida

Yuri’s Tumblr page hosts a collection of similarly gorgeous illustrations

“I think the best aspect of Japanese illustration and Japanese art is the variety of genre. There are a huge amount of all genres of illustration, from various perspectives.”

5. KO. MACHIYAMA

illustration by japanese artist kotaro machiyama

Illustrator and painter Ko has seen his work featured in numerous books, magazines and advertising materials

“I like various types of Japanese illustration. Especially the simple ones that come from Ukiyo-e technique which uses simple shape, colour and composition.

This traditional technique almost has an attractive texture which adds layers, colours and materials. It also gives blank space and atmosphere to allow people to imagine something in.

I also think it’s becoming more interesting to mix Japanese culture with others.”

6. HIROYUKI IZUTSU

illustration by Hiroyuki Izumoto

Hiroyuki’s illustrations are consistently vibrant and colourful

“Since the 80s, there has been almost no border between illustration and contemporary art. Now there is a lot of diversity in Japanese illustration.

But Japanese illustrators, including me, seem to have inherited the genes of the Ukiyo-e craftsmen. Tradition and new representation of tradition is a new challenge for illustrators now.

At the same time, we need a personal freedom and the dignity too. Personally I want to draw a chic and colourful picture.”

7. TAKAHIRO SUGANUMA

illustration of japanese river and bridge

An example of Takahiro’s excellent, moody landscape illustrations

“There are many people drawing excellent landscape illustrations in Japan. I particularly like the illustrations that have emptiness and a quiet atmosphere.

“I’m not so sure about the mainstream Japanese illustration scene, however, I like illustrators who draw with the unique humour and beautiful illustration methods that are traditionally Japanese.

“I draw various illustrations now. My aim is to fuse the typical Japanese ‘quiet feeling’ with other golbal illustration themes.”


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8. IC4 DESIGN

image by ic4 ilustration

Illustration and graphic design team IC4DESIGN focus on making fun and detailed artworks

“We like to have an influence of Ukiyo-e artists, such as Hiroshige and Hokusai.

We are drawn into the people who live in the landscape which is cut as a picture, and are influenced by a structure which has a depth in surface and a depicted world in its outline.”

9. COZY TOMATO

cozy tomato illustration work

Koji Tomato (A.K.A. Cozy Tomato) has illustrations featured on postcards, fabrics and bank cards, as well as articles and books.

“Japanese illustration has a greater variety of genre form – from “Kawaii” (cute) to cool – than other countries. I think the playing field for illustration is wider here.”

10. KOTA NAKATSUBO

illustrated dragon by Koda Nakatsubo

Kota often makes use of unconventional drawing materials when producing his illustrations

“Japan has a very traditional approach to illustration that is: habit of the composition; habit of the perspective; habit of the line. I draw things which heighten my sensitivity to these.

The materials I use are sumi, acrylic paints, transparent watercolors, mineral pigments, airbrush paint and others, and I use them in various ways.
I don’t just draw onto paper, I draw on many things – including a tree and acrylic boards.”

11. AIKO FUKAWA

aiko fukawa illustration

Aiko produces her sunny artworks for a wide variety of clients internationally

“In Japan we can see illustrations in many places such as in magazines and book covers, I think this is the case not only in Japan though.

However, in Japan, illustration work is also close to our daily life. There are many shops in which illustrators can sell their own products.”

12. TSUYA TSUYA NEMURY

tsuya tsuya nemury mona lisa illustration

Nemury prefers to produce illustrations in a unique, minimalist style

“I’m interested in simple and geometric form. Recently, I started using an iPhone drawing app from last year.

By using the app, my artworks became more abstract and minimal.”

13. TSUIN SO

Illustration of children huddled round a campfire from japan

As with many Japanese artists, Tsuin So is influenced by the country’s classic ukiyo-e genre

“My work is using acrylic and I mostly choose children as a motif. I like the old Japanese picture, Ukiyo-e, and I think it still influences many Japanese illustrators.

Added to this, we have been surrounded by manga and animation since we were children and this is being reflected in my illustration work as well.”


If you enjoyed this blog be sure to check out our recent interview with Japanese illustrator Kaori Mitshushima and get some illustration tips from a pro!

You can also check out our Illustration section for more articles like this.

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