Anime convention guide!
It’s the thing that we all love and enjoy. Anime conventions are what cosplayers prepare for days and months for. It’s where we go to have fun and dress up. The big convention is where we spend our time and hard-earned money on, for a lot of reasons. But most importantly, Anime conventions are where cosplayers show their costumes that they put their blood, sweat and tears into (or money if you bought it).
But if you’re new to this, what exactly is it all about?
What is an Anime convention?
In short, an Anime convention is the heart and soul of the cosplay community. Put simply, without them we would have no place to show off our costumes in person (at least not easily). We wouldn’t be able to take photos of our cosplay so easily, because conventions are the easiest place to do photoshoots. And we wouldn’t be able to meet other people in the cosplay community, which is completely important for social interactions. In short, cosplay conventions need cosplayers…and cosplayers need cosplay conventions!
If you’re new to the cosplay scene or you want to know everything about Anime/cosplay/comic conventions, then this post is for you.
This article is a complete guide about everything related to Anime conventions. I will answer 10 of the most frequently asked questions related to cons so you know everything about them!
My experience with Anime conventions and why you should listen to Senpai
I’ve been going to Anime cosplay conventions for well over a decade now. From the good old days where glomping and Yaoi panels were a thing (don’t ask!), to the present where we must pay attention to our safety in a pandemic-era. I’ve been to several conventions in Canada and the U.S.; I even made a post about the differences between American and Canadian cons (click here if you’re interested to know the differences). I haven’t been to many cons outside of North America, but I’m working on that (first European one I went to was in Portugal).
So you could say that Senpai has seen and experienced it all!
1. How do Anime conventions work?
To be honest, Anime conventions aren’t some exotic type of show that normies can’t comprehend; they’re not that much different from a “regular” convention. What do you have at a regular convention anyways? We have: big convention space, lots of vendors and dealers, a stage where big events take place, performances, celebrities, contests and more. And Anime conventions are pretty much the same.
Much like a regular convention, you can either purchase a 1-day pass or a weekend pass that lets you in for the entire convention. If you want to save money and want to attend multiple days, your best bet is to register for an early bird weekend pass online to get big discounts! Buying last minute will always cost more money.
And like many conventions, cosplay cons have tons of things to do. We will go into more detail in the next part, but in general, what you do at a con is totally up to you! If you just want to chill in the video game room all weekend, then it’s totally fine. Or if you just want to hangout with friends and walk around the con all day, hey why not! The sky is your limit when it comes to attending cons, and that’s why conventions are so attractive to congoers.
2. What happens at Cosplay conventions? What happens at Anime cons?
There is a LOT happening at Anime conventions. Some of the things happening at conventions include: Cosplay contests (ie Masquerade), dealer’s room, video game tournaments, celebrity guests Q&A and autograph lines, panels, photoshoots, Anime premieres and more. The list goes on. In short, you’ll never run out of things to do a cosplay convention or Anime convention!
Let’s go into more detail about each activity available at Anime conventions:
- Vendor/Dealer’s room. The heart and soul of a convention, this is where you spend all your money! Here you can find all the goodies you love, including T-shirts, Anime DVDs and manga, video games, artwork, posters and more. You’ll also find sponsors and vendors promoting their brand here. Most conventions also put their celebrity autograph line in the dealer’s room as well.
- Masquerade. Also known as the cosplay contest, the Masquerade takes place on the biggest stage at the convention. Here you get to see some amazing cosplay craftsmanship. You can sit and watch all the cosplayers on stage, or take part in it yourself. (4 divisions). The rules can vary but for the most part, you’ll have to make the costume yourself. No store-bought costumes allowed!
- Artist Alley. This is also in the dealer’s room, but at Anime conventions, there’s a separate section called the Artist Alley. This is where you can buy some prints from great artists.
- Panel rooms. Many conventions use the smaller rooms inside the convention center or hotel to host various activities, including: Q&A with voicr actors and celebrities, fandom discussion, video showings, games, activities and more. What’s nice is that a lot of these panels are run by volunteers, so you’ll get some quality discussion by the hardcore fans! These panels take place throughout the day, and often there are so many good panels, you’ll end up having to skip one to attend another.
- Video game room. Pretty self-explanatory, this is where you can hangout in a room full of video games to play! Some conventions like MAGFest, the video game room is the size of a dealer’s room. Other times, it’s just an afterthought. This is also where the video game tournaments take place, and you can win some great prizes if you’re best!
- Tabletop gaming. If you’re into board and card games, you should check out the tabletop gaming room. It’s a great place to wind down and relax with your friends and play Settlers of Catan. Or President.
- Dance party rave. If you want to have some fun in the evening, this is the place to be. Lots of conventions have the dance party on both Friday and Saturday night. Sometimes it takes place at the convention hotel, but other times it can take place off-site.
- Maid Cafe. The maid cafe usually only happens at Anime conventions. This is a renactment of the maid cafes in Japan, where cute-looking maid serve you drinks and food!
- Group cosplay photoshoots. Conventions these days are scheduling photoshoot times in their programming for specific fandoms. This is where cosplayers from the same series get together at a certain spot to take some photos with each other! So if you’re cosplaying Iron Man and want to take photos with your fellow Avengers, this is the place to do it.
These are the main activities, but all conventions might have their own unique stuff to do!
3. What is the difference between Comic cons and Anime cons?
I feel like a lot of people believe that Comic Cons and Anime conventions are the same. While they do share similarities such as having a dealer’s room and guests/celebrities, there are also a lot of differences between them as well.
Here are the main differences between them:
- It’s more about the showroom floor. The main attraction of Comic Con is what’s happening in the big hallway. It’s where all the vendors, celebrities, sponsors and all the action that’s taking place.
- Much larger vendor/dealer room. Because of the focus on the showroom floor, the dealer’s room is MASSIVE. It could take you hours to get through and see everything inside this area
- Bigger name guests. Comic cons are big-budget, so you’ll be seeing big celebrities that are part of television, the comic book industry, video game industry and more. At New York Comic Con (https://www.newyorkcomiccon.com/en-us/guests.html), they had huge celebrities like John Cena, George Takei, Cowbutt Crunchies Cosplay, and David Harbour. So if you want to attend a convention to meet some big name starrs, Comic cons are the ones you should attend.
- Less Anime-focused. This might seem obvious to us who’ve been attending cons for a long time. But if you’re an Anime fan looking for that Otaku experience, you may be out of luck. While some Comic cons do have Anime-related events and guests, comic cons is all about the comic book stuff first.
- More catered towards normies. In my opinion, the events and panels that happen at comic cons appeal more to the normies.
- Shorter hours. Unlike Anime conventions that stay open way later (in many cases, 24 hours until Sunday), Comic Cons tend to end pretty early, around 8-9 pm the latest. I think it has to do with convention centers being insanely expensive to rent out, so event organizers don’t want to keep the building open if there aren’t many attendees late at night.
- Generally costs much more. A weekend pass for a large Comic Con can go well over $100+ USD. And while some large Anime conventions can be close to that badge, at a Comic Con you’ll also need to factor in the costs of paying for celebrity appearances and autographs. So you could be spending hundreds of dollars easily.
What about Anime cons?
- More things to do. While Comic Cons have enough things to keep you occupied (like the big showroom floor), at an Anime convention you’ll have waaay too many things to do! You can have a Masquerade, an interesting panel you want to attend, a cosplay photoshoot of a series you love, and Q&A of a guest..all happening at the same time! Put simply, at a large Anime convention, you’ll never run out of things to do!
- Less big name guests (at least to normies). Anime conventions will get some large name voice actors from an Anime or video game. Or an awesome Japanese guests. Or big name cosplayers. But if you’re a normie, these guests probably won’t appeal to you as much as the guests that would show up at a Comic Con.
- Much longer hours. Anime conventions tend to open really early and stay open SUPER late and in most cases, 24 hours on the Friday and Saturday. I remember at Anime Central, there were tons of attendees still partying and hanging out at 3:30 AM! Me and my friend were so tired, but the congoers there were still going at it! It’s pretty awesome if you’re a night owl.
- Night time activities. Going on from the previous point, being open late means more late-night activities, such as: the rave/dance party, 18+ panels, video game rooms (best time to go with little to no crowds), and video rooms showing some NWSW Anime wink wink.
- Dealer’s room: Otaku paradise. This is where the wallet of a Weeb gets emptied. Anime, wallpapers, figurines, video games, Japanese-related products. If you’re a Weeb or Otaku, you will find something you love at an Anime convention dealer room.
Which one is better? I say it depends on what you’re looking for. If you want big name guests and want to buy more stuff…or you’re more into comic book fandom, then Comic cons are more suited for you. But while Anime conventions generally have less guests and slightly fewer vendors, they offer far more activities, social interaction and longer hours. Generally, you would only spend the day at a Comic Con. But at Anime convention, you can spend the entire weekend there and still not see or do everything.
It’s no secret that I prefer Anime cons over comic cons for these reasons! But to each their own. You may prefer the big showrooms and celebrities of Comic Cons over the Weeb activities at Anime cons!
4. How much is an Anime convention?
The price of a cosplay convention ticket or pass can vary depending on: the size of the convention, how many days you plan to attend and how early you register. But if we’re strictly talking about the biggest conventions, you can expect to pay $100 or more for a full pass that lets you in for the entire weekend. Anime conventions tend to be a little cheaper than Comic cons.
However, you can reduce the cost of a convention badge by doing the following:
- Buying your weekend pass early. Conventions always have cheaper prices for their early bird rate. I know it’s easier said than done; it’s hard to know if you can attend that convention 4-6 months in advance, especially in these weird times. But if you know for sure you’re going to go, then don’t hesitate and buy your pass when it’s cheapest!
- Buying next year’s badge at the convention. Often times, conventions will sell badges for the following year before the current convention ends. This is another way to get a huge discount. Again, it is hard to know if you can make it to a con so far in advance. But if they have a refund policy, then I’d recommend buying it. And if plans change, you can always get a refund.
- Attend only 1 day. Almost all conventions also sell single-day badges. So if you can’t make it for the entire weekend, then that’s fine. You can buy a badge for only the Friday, Saturday or Sunday of the convention. This is another way to save money, as a single-day pass is cheaper than a weekend pass. With that said however, if you plan to attend more than 1 day, then you’re better off just buying a weekend pass. Buying 2 single-day badges will always cost more than just buying a weekend pass.
- Go on Sunday. Although Sunday usually has the lightest schedule and cosplayers tend to go more casual on this day, it’s also the cheapest day to attend. So if you just want to hit up the dealer’s room and hangout with some friends and don’t care much about the programming, then come on Sunday to save some money. If you’re interested to see which day is best to attend, check out my article here
- Go to smaller conventions instead. Listen, if you can afford to attend the biggest conventions every single month, you’re doing financially well in my opinion! You don’t always have to attend Anime Expo and Comic Con; there are tons of smaller conventions worth attending as well. And they are much more budget-friendly, as ticket prices are usually much cheaper than a large convention. If you want budget convention and cosplay tips in general, check out my comprehensive guide about it here.
5. How old do you have to be to go to an Anime convention?
There is no age limit in order to attend an Anime convention; cons are for all ages! Whether you’re a teenager, Millennial, Gen X, boomer or older, or even just a kid, there’s an activity for everyone at the con. While the issue of cosplaying when you’re older is definitely a worry for many, there really is no limit.
Yes, we are used to seeing beautiful cosplayers who are young adults, but we also have cosplayers like Kamui, Jessica Nigri and Yaya Han who are cosplaying just as beautiful into their 30s and 40s. If you want to read about whether 30 is too old to cosplay or not, check out my article about it here.
Some events at a convention are age-restricted, such as the dance party and 18+ panels. So if you’re under 18, you probably won’t be able to attend these activities.
In some parts of the world, there are curfews enforced at night where anyone under 18 has to go home by a certain time. I experienced this when I was at Sakura-con in Seattle, USA. At around midnight, someone went over the PA to remind everyone about the curfew. Afterwards, a good portion of attendees left the convention. So if you plan on traveling with minors to a convention, be aware of any local curfew laws that apply.
There are also noise laws for adults as well! Yes, when I was at Holiday Matsuri in Florida, after 2 AM, everything had to shut down because of Floridian noise rules. The bylaw officers actually came to the con to ensure all the parties shut down and everyone go home or to their hotel rooms. Such a shame, you could tell that people wanted to party some more.
If you’re really young though, there are some special rules which I’ll talk about in the next part.
6. Can kids go to Anime conventions?
Absolutely! Kids can definitely go to cosplay conventions. In fact, there are many activities at the con that cater to the young ones. However, there are some special rules when a child is at a convention.
With kids, I’m referring to anyone 12 and under.
With many cosplay conventions, either the parent/guardian has to be with the child at all times. Or the parent/guardian has to fill out a special form giving their kids permission to attend. So if you have kids and want to bring them to a con, you of course will have to watch over them at all times.
7. Do Anime conventions cost money?
Except for a few rare exceptions, conventions will always cost money to attend. From an event organizer point of view, conventions are insanely expensive to run. Having to rent out a large building, inviting guests and vendors, insurance, hiring staff and much much more stuff that costs tons of money. They have to make up for this money somehow, and that is through selling badges.
For the most part, conventions don’t make much if any profit at all; it’s all fan-driven for the love of our geek hobby. So yes, cons do cost money and for good reason!
8. What are the biggest cosplay conventions?
Cosplay conventions are not a secret hobby anymore! In fact, there are hundreds of thousands of people who attended conventions every year (before the beer virus took over). If you’re looking for big conventions, check out this section.
By far the biggest cosplay convention in the world is Comiket in Tokyo, Japan. How many? 730,000 attendees in 2019! Isn’t that crazy? While the Comiket is a huge open market more so than your traditional cosplay event, I had to include it in this list because cosplay is still a thing here.
While there aren’t any other cosplay conventions that even come remotely close to Comiket’s attendance numbers, there are still lots of large conventions around the world that surpass 100,000+ congoers.
Note that I will be using various years, as it’s hard to get numbers for 2019 (the most recent year that was “normal”). And as we all know, 2020 and 2021 was a mess. But surprisingly, I do have one convention with big 2020 numbers! You’ll see.
Without further ado, here are the top 10 largest cosplay conventions in the world:
- New York Comic Con (260,000 attendees in 2019)
- Japan Expo (over 250,000)
- San Diego Comic-con (130,000 attendees in 2018)
- Anime Expo (over 100,000 in 2016)
- MCM London Comic Con (over 100,000 in 2014)
- Megacon (more than 100,000)
- Fan Expo Canada (100,000+)
- Emerald City Comic Con (98,000 in 2019)
- Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (95,000 in 2020) The only convention where I have 2020 numbers. C2E2 took place in March 2020, just before the beer virus took over!
- Dragon Con (over 85,000 in 2019)
On a side note, I want to point out that a large convention doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best convention. Smaller conventions can be just as fun if not better sometimes. YetiCon is a great example. And large conventions aren’t perfect either: long lineups, big crowds and expensive prices are a few things that suck with them.
9. How much money should I bring to an anime con?
The amount of money you need will vary, with the convention being in your area or not being the biggest factor. If you’re going to a convention that’s in your hometown, then you can do it with less than $20 in your pocket! All you literally need is a pass to get in, transportation to/from the convention (can take public transit if you want), and maybe money for food after the convention is over. It can be that cheap!
However, if you’re attending a convention outside of home, then the costs will dramatically increase. Here are expenses for a typical three-day Anime convention:
- Registration: $30 to $100
- Food: $30 to $300
- Hotel/Accommodation: $0 to $400 for the whole weekend
- Travel costs: $20 to hundreds of dollars
- Cosplay: $0 – $1000
- Swag: $0 to whatever you can spend
- Travel Insurance: $25 or more
Total costs for a typical Anime convention weekend: $80 on the low end, $300-$400 for the average congoer attending a large local convention, $500-$600 for the average congoer out-of-town, $1000 on the high end.
So if you really wanted to, you only need $80 or less to enjoy an Anime convention. If you tell me you cannot save at least $80-$100 within a year for a con, then something is seriously wrong with your financial life, and you need to get that sorted out first!
Now, is it ideal to spend only $80? Absolutely not. You’ll have a much better time if you have more flexibility with your budget.
Just because an Anime convention outside of your hometown will cost much more, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. There are tons of amazing conventions held all across the country and the world that are worth every penny. Just ask the thousands of cosplayers who travel every year to an out-of-state convention!
10. Where are most cosplay conventions held?
The most notable ones are from the United States. Much like with everything, the U.S. gets all the attention for everything and that includes cosplay conventions! But to be fair, U.S. conventions truly are the best experiences though.
With that said, cosplay conventions take place all over the world! Even in places like Egypt, cosplay conventions do take place there (I did an interview with Egyptian cosplayer Pikachan Cosplay regarding her con experiences in Egypt).
There are quite a few conventions that happen in Canada as well, such as Anime North, Fan Expo and Otakuthon. There are tons of smaller cons across Canada, and the big ones happen in Toronto and Montreal.
In Europe, there are several cons across the continent as well! Big and small.
Are Anime conventions fun?
Absolutely! Where else you attend an event with like-minded geeks who are into the same fandoms and culture as you are? And meet your favorite celebrities and have personal conversations with them? Where else can you buy all the cool stuff you’ve been looking for? And where else can you cosplay your favorite character and getaway from life for a weekend? A cosplay convention of course.
And there you have it; a complete guide on cosplay conventions and answering some of the most commonly asked questions regarding them. I hope this helps you with planning your next convention.
If you want more useful guides and tips regarding cons, check out these articles I’ve written as well: If you have any other questions regarding cosplay conventions, leave them in the comments below and I will answer them. 🙂
My name is Roger Senpai. I’m a cosplayer that’s been in the community for well over a decade now. I’ve traveled all over the world to Anime and Comic conventions and hosted my own cosplay events. Now I’m writing articles for new and experienced cosplayers like you to help inspire, save you money and improve your cosplays!