What is cosplay?

That is the penultimate question that EVERYONE seems to ask when they first step into the cosplay world. I mean, there are tons of scholarly articles out there explaining the literal definition of cosplay. TLDR: costume and play put together. Pretty simple right?

Well, let’s do something different! Let’s figure out the different meaning of what is cosplay…by cosplayers…for cosplayers! Because cosplay can have so many meaning for so many people, I think to summarize cosplay in scholarly terms would be doing this lovely hobby injustice.

So in this post, I’m going to go through 5 different definitions and perspectives of what is cosplay.

We will go through cosplay from the perspective based on my experience and of others! That way, by the end of the post, you can make up your own definition of how you view it. Doesn’t that sound fun?

Here we go!

1. Cosplay is a subculture

Photo by Mooshu. Licensed by CC BY 2.0.

So what is my first interpretation of cosplay? Cosplay is a subculture.

If you’re involved in the cosplay world in some shape or form, then you’re part of the cosplay community.

You know for me, I don’t really think of myself as a cosplayer. Sure, I dress up as fictional characters pretty often. So technically I am a cosplayer. But my sense of cosplay has more to do with being in the cosplay community, because I run this cosplay website and also host cosplay events (back then).

So when I tell people I’m a cosplayer, I view it in a way that I’m associated with the cosplay community because I help keep it running. Not so much that I also dress up myself; that is secondary to me.

Like I mentioned in my article about do you have to cosplay at conventions, you don’t have to cosplay to be a part of it. There are tons of people involved in the cosplay community who never dress up at all. People such as: photographers, convention event organizers, cosplay assistants, costume suppliers, online stores, etc.

2. Cosplay is more than the costume

Attending cosplay conventions is just one aspect of the cosplay life!

And like I was saying in the beginning of the article, we shouldn’t pigeon hole our definition of cosplay to just the costumes themselves. There is SO much more to the cosplay experience. Whether that’s making the costume, having fun at the photoshoot, being able to meet your friends at a convention, posting photos of yourself on social media, taking photos yourself, etc. The cosplay community is a subculture where truly wonderful experiences can be had.

So when someone asks me, “What is cosplay?” I could just give them the standard definition of costume and play that everyone does. But I know that cosplay subculture is much nuanced, I like to think of cosplay as a big experience.

To some, cosplay can be everything to them. Because their friendships, their free time, even their livelihood, can be tied to cosplay itself. And that is why cosplay is totally amazing and I highly recommend anyone interested to be part of it. 

3. Cosplay is a lifestyle

Living that cosplay life!

For many cosplayers, this hobby is truly a lifestyle for them. Not only do they take part in creating the costume for the character, they’re living the Weeb/geek lifestyle as well. Whether that’s watching Anime or cartoons, or playing video games, a lot of cosplayers embrace the geek hobby that cosplay can bring.

We take pride in wearing our Dragonball and Sailor Moon shirts. Whenever there’s a big announcement of a new video game or Anime series, we get excited about it and share it to our friends. When a convention announces a new guest, we are ecstatic. So unlike Halloween costumes where you probably take off your geek hat after October 31st (for more on that, click here), cosplay you never take off your hat! And that’s what makes cosplay so awesome; it’s more than just the costume itself. It’s a lifestyle!

4. Cosplay is rewarding

The final product of a beautiful Dorothea cosplay (timeskip version) after months of crafting the costume to full accuracy. Cosplayer: silent_pr1ncess.

Cosplay = rewarding experiences. The challenge of making a costume yourself can be pretty hard. But there’s a lot of sense of fulfillment and joy in the progress of making something so awesome and magnificent. That’s why cosplayers like to show off their cosplay works on social media; to see how they’re come with their costume. It’s why many cosplayers stay for the long haul; the process of making your own costume is a rewarding experience. Check out my article about cosplay accuracy to see how amazing it is when you make your own costume!

And best of all, when your cosplay is finished, you get to show it off to the world at a cosplay convention. It is the BEST feeling when someone asks for your photo. It truly validates the work you’ve done with your costume. 🙂

5. Cosplay is fun!

You can’t spell cosplay without “play!” Cosplayer: katsukioz.

Last but not least, if you were to ask a bunch of cosplayers, “What is cosplay?” They would say cosplay is fun! Honestly, we wouldn’t be in this hobby or lifestyle if it wasn’t fun for us. What other hobby allows you to: make your own costumes, hangout with other geeks, living that geeky lifestyle and engage with others geeks at conventions? Cosplay does!


To summarize, here are the 5 different definitions of cosplay:

  1. Cosplay is a subculture
  2. Cosplay is more than the costume
  3. Cosplay is a lifestyle
  4. Cosplay is rewarding
  5. Cosplay is fun!

And there you have it; the ultimate answers to what is cosplay!

I know it’s not the usual literal definition that many other places give. But I thought I’d mix it up so you get an insider’s perspective of what cosplay is really about.

Which definition of what is cosplay resonates most with you? Let me know in the comments below!

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