Cool. Thanks a lot for the help guys and gals. I'm new to so much of the digital end of this stuff that almost any information helps. I've got the income tax refund coming and didn't want to buy something only to find out 3 months later that it isn't useful and blindly typing into Google wasn't working. Certainly anything free is going to get a good look first.
Again, I really thank you all for this and would be happy to hear anything else you'd like to share. I need to go post a few questions in the hardware forum next.
I some times use DAZ Studio to pose 3d characters for reference. It's free and its similar to Poser. Might have a tune render feature, I don't know.... I mostly just use it to create reference material. Saves a ton of time though, once you get the hang of doing all the posing.
Manga Studio can import 3D models to use as reference. I have looked into this myself but with background objects instead of characters. Like cars and buildings. One program I have worked with is Metasequoia, a 3D modeling program. There is a free version and is has a built-in toon render feature. To do this with characters you would have to model them and bones to pose them. In fact Metasequoia is one of the main programs used to create models for MikuMikuDance and if you have seen the MMD videos on YouTube many have that toon render look.