Ultimate Guide to Surviving Your First Anime Convention
Imagine a weekend surrounded by fellow friendly nerds, all hyped up for the weekend’s fun and memorable festivities. It’s a wild fantasy playground for all geeky types, chances to meet new friends, hopes of seeing one of your favorite characters live and in cosplay, and even waiting for that special moment where you can finally meet your all-time favorite voice actor. All of this and more will happen at your 1st anime convention. But, where do you start? What do you need to know to make it through? Read on for a complete guide that will let you know everything about anime cons and the best way to prepare!
What is an anime convention?
An anime convention (“anime con” for short) is a formally-organized gathering of anime fans, who get together for a few days at a hotel or city convention center and share their enthusiasm for anime. To see what anime cons are coming to your area, Google Anime Conventions. Fans from far and wide come together for a weekend filled with fun memories and once in a lifetime experiences.
What do people do at Anime cons?
There are many things to do at an anime convention! Whether it’s meeting for a cosplay gathering, catching your favorite voice actor or animator live, shopping exclusive anime gear, playing video or board games, and more, you are sure to have a great time.
At all anime cons there is usually a line up of Guests to check out. These guests of honor may be voice actors for some of your favorite anime, writers, directors, mangakas, artists, cosplayers, or even popular content creators. Autographs are usually available, either for a price or for free if you are lucky. On some occasions guests often host their own panels where you sit in for a casual meet-and-greet setting with other fans.
Autograph lines usually are a long wait and may cost money to have your favorite items signed. A lot of the times guests are kind and will allow you to take a picture with them, but don’t always expect this from them. Before going to a con be sure to check out the Guests lineup online on the convention’s website. This can be a handy spot to plan out your schedule and will be loaded with information on their guests of honor, listing the work that they have done. Most of the time the guest line-up can make or break your need to go to a convention as well so if you find someone that you can’t pass up on the chance on meeting, take the chance!
Dealer’s Room, Vendors Hall
A convention really isn’t a convention if there’s no shopping involved! At most cons you’ll find a huge room full of different tables with vendors and artists selling awesome stuff. This room is usually called the Dealer’s Room, Vendor’s hall, and Artist’s Alley. You can find anything and everything here ranging from fan art, otaku pillows, clothes, and kawaii huggable stuffed animals!
The Dealer’s Room or Vendor Hall will be the spot to find some amazing and unique anime memorabilia. Usually you can find different vendors selling everything from plushies, otaku pillows, clothing, costumes. You can even find items you would never be able to find in store like rare imports such as special Japanese candies, movies & cd media straight from japan, collector’s items, and even rare manga and anime. Make sure you set aside some extra money to blow here as there will be many wonders to find at every turn.
Artist Alley features many creative artists ranging from comic creators, writers, illustrators, crafters, and even cosplayers. Here is your chance to score some neat art especially for an anime crowd usually handcrafted (or drawn) exclusively by the artist behind the table. You can take this chance to meet and connect with other creatives and the perfect chance to support a local artist. Best tip here is to make sure you don’t skip out on artists alley as you can find some amazing artwork that you would never be able to find in store. Also who doesn’t love supporting another persons small business?
Entertainment / Programming
Panels at a convention are pretty great, especially if they’re about anime. A panel is a controlled gathering similar to a presentation where the panel guests will host a segment from 30-mins to an hour and up. Panels all vary in topic and can range from discussing and can range from everything under the sun.
A few popular panels that you may find are:
- Popular Anime Series Discussions
- How to construct cosplay
- Everything wrong with x anime
- How to run an anime panel
- K-Pop Dance Challenge
- Anime Trivia
- How to write a comic book
- Top Videos Games
- Afterhours Hentai Comedy Show (18+)
- … and many more!
Most conventions have some sort of cosplay masquerade and it usually one if not the largest event of the anime convention. The Masquerade is a cosplay contest featuring a line up of different cosplayers on stage with usually :30-1:00 to strut their stuff across the stage. Contestants run against each other in judging to win prizes which sometimes can even win money.
Entrants must register in advance to be a part of the display and sometimes there is even an entry fee. Contestants are judged on different categories such as craftmanship, talent, best group costume, etc. There are even usually contests to see who has the best cosplay and Lolita dress. Winners may take home some sweet Anime swag. As a viewer you can expect to see some of the most elaborate costumes, crazy funny anime themed skits, and even live talent to keep you entertained for a few hours. This is an event you don’t want to miss, especially for your 1st convention.
Cosplay Gatherings & Meet Ups
With any good anime convention come the many, many cosplayers. Cosplayers are the people that you see dressed as anime, video game, and even comic characters. Many cosplayers do this just for fun and you may even spot some real professionals. Grab as many pictures of awesome cosplays as you can!
Cosplay Gatherings and meet-ups are a fun way to meet others of your favorite anime series and also get some dope pics. Make sure you check out the convention schedule beforehand so that you can plan our your cosplays accordingly. You can find large groups of characters from an anime usually outside for a photo shoot or indoors at a specific location. Use this time to get some cool photos with others from your beloved series and you may even find a new friend along the way.
Raves, Dances, Concerts and Burlesque
Most of the larger Anime conventions will offer a rave Friday night and a huge dance on Saturday evening, or vice versa. These things are fun! Although there is mostly techno and j/k-pop being played there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Go ahead, dance with Pikachu. I know you’ve always dreamed about it. Along with dance music and a DJ sometime there will be guest performers.
Some conventions will also offer music concerts and special performances such as burlesque, or also called nerdlesque, and even traditional Japanese arts and martial arts displays. These performances are fun and great way to support the local scene in the town that you’re in. You can even find Formal Balls and themed dances where guests are expected to dress in formal wear and dance the night away.
There’s usually a watchable screening going on somewhere at the con. Most of the time these will be either really well hyped anime, underground works or even AMV contest entries. Guests at the cons may even show you a bit of their previous works and if you’re lucky you may be catching an exclusive sneak peak to a popular anime movie or series at some larger conventions.
Gaming (Video Games, Table-Top, Role-Playing & Trading Card Games)
Nearly all cons will feature a video game programming room. This arcade usually consist of home brought gaming systems, video game cabinets, and a whole lot of people (and funk!). If you can get past the stuffiness, you will find some amazing thing here from old imported video games, to new consoles and even video game tournaments. You can most typically find a group gathered around a set of game consoles playing popular fighting games such as Street Fighter and an old-school DDR dance machine.
Table-top game rooms feature many board games, trading card games, and even role-playing. In here you may find gamers playing Magic The Gathering, Werewolf, and even Dungeons and Dragons. Werewolf is a popular hit where you play a game similar to Mafia, where the group tries to figure out who amongst the group is the vile creature. These rooms will usually be packed (and stuffy) but go on ahead and pull up a seat next to some really cool people. You might find your next DnD group here!
Getting to an Anime Con
Now that you know what an anime convention is and what there is to do, you’re wanting to go to one! First things first, check out local anime con in your area.
This website here has the largest list of anime conventions going on in the world! It’s not uncommon to travel over a state or two for an anime con. Some people even travel globally just for a convention. If this is your first anime convention, I recommend going to one locally or close to your area. For example, if you live in Gurnee, Illinois, Anime Central (ACEN) is the Midwest’s largest anime convention and would be a great convention to venture out to. With ACEN being near Chicago, it’s only a bus and train ride away and a couple of bus transfers away. It’s close enough to get to, and easy enough to back from as well without much traveling.
Purchase Tickets Early for Savings
For any anime convention, it is usually best to purchase your tickets in advance to save yourself some money and guarantee your place in the con space. Purchasing tickets months in advance can save you up to $20-$40 and even more in some cases. Once a convention is 1st announced, the tickets are usually cheapest. Closer to the date prices will rise, and you can guarantee to pay full price at the door. Much larger conventions may even have a capacity limit and if you wait too long to get your ticket, the event might just sell out.
While it is not necessary, buying your tickets on line in advance can save you HOURS of waiting in line. I recommend getting them as soon as you can if you know that the con is a-go. Con lines can be the worst, but if you do need to wait until the day of, you might make some friends in line. Most tickets can be mailed directly to you if purchased early enough, some can be printed from home and may require you to still wait in a “Will Call” line at the convention to picked up the tickets. If you plan on buying your tickets the day of the convention, expect to wait in a registration line and in some cases, a “Pick Up” ticket line after that. Yikes!
Traveling for a Con
If you know that you’re going to have to do a bit of traveling, be prepared! Plan your transportation in more than one step, as in always have a plan B. I recommend traveling with someone or a group. Search the surrounding area online to see what is available in the area (transportation, hotels, convince stores, restaurants, etc.). It’s also a great idea to look into Facebook groups for the convention to ask questions and connect with other attendees. Check out the main convention’s social media accounts and website to find any information about the area and directions. Make sure you know your route to get there and back!
Hotels are something that you should have taken care of way before the convention date. Reserving your rooms early will eliminate the stress level and grant you with peace of mind. The anime convention website usually will have a list of the closest hotels in the surrounding area. There are hotels that tons of con-goers have stayed at and most of these hotels are recommended based on user opinions. The downside is that lost of these hotels are extremely expensive! For ACen which is hosted at the Donald E Stephens convention center in Rosemont IL, has a hotel built in called the Hyatt. The Hyatt can range from anywhere $200 and up for just a night. So it’s all what you’re looking for. Is location more important than affordability?
If you do pick a hotel that isn’t on location of the convention, check to make sure how much parking is. Most hotels offer free parking that are off location of the convention center. And if you’re not driving, make sure that the hotel has a shuttle that will take you to the convention or at least if there is a bus route that’s easy to take.
Make sure to reserve hotel rooms asap! They will all book up very quickly as the convention time starts to close in. I recommend booking a room at least 4-2 months in advance. This gives you time to guarantee that your room will be saved, check out reviews on the hotel, find the best route to get there and it will give you most importantly, peace of mind. The anime con website may offer a special group rate in which under certain hotels you let them know while reserving that you are in that group and there may be a certain pricing offer. It’s only available on a first come first serve basis. If you miss that window of opportunity then you’re expected to pay regular rate.
If the hotel provides, make good use of the amenities. If there’s a mini fridge available, ask for it. Some other amenities that may be offered could be a microwave, iron and ironing board, mini fridge, rollaway bed (good for last minute people that decide that they want to come to the con or those that dread sleeping on the floor), and even ice boxes. Don’t go overboard with packing food. Most hotels have a ton of restaurants nearby (or even in the lobby) that will deliver to your door. Every hotel operates differently. There will be food vendors at most conventions as well, but it is also smart to bring your own snacks too.
Time for Cosplay!
One of the most fun elements to attending an anime con is cosplay. Not a requirement but you will just have a much more awesome time if you do choose to don a unique costume. Decide if you want to cosplay for the convention or not. I’ll say that about 1/3 of con attendees do cosplay, but if cosplaying is not for you, no problem. Don’t worry about it at all. But I will say that you might want to suggest it.
Cosplay (short for costume play) is the art of representing a character or idea. With many Anime and Manga fans, cosplay is very common. Cosplayers often dress up as Anime/Sci-Fi/Video Game characters at special conventions. Cosplay may be done professional for a photo-shoot, or just for fun.
Who should cosplay?
I choose to cosplay at Anime Conventions. It’s fun to cosplay because you’re just having fun dressing up as your character. Some people take it way too seriously and believe that only professionals should be cosplaying. So what! If you’re going to cosplay, do it and make sure that you’re having fun. Of course some cosplays are much better than others, but do not let that discourage you. I recommend cosplaying at anime conventions because you will see many other people in their cosplays and it’ll make you want to. Plus it will present an easy conversation starter to any potentially new friends!
What if I don’t look like the character?
There are going to be mean and ignorant people out there that will make sure that you know that you don’t look like your cosplay. Do not let that get you down at all. There are many cosplayers that are of all ethnicities, colors, shapes and sizes that do an amazing job at their cosplays! If the character that you would like to cosplay doesn’t look like you don’t feel that you can’t be that character. You love them and that’s all that should matter.
Some people look for perfection and need to only cosplay characters that they do look like. I just have to say that these people should be more open-minded and go for something out of the box. Just because you’re not the same height, skin tone, gender, or shape than your character… none of that matters! If you have a good personality and can get into your character, that’s all that matters. Stop thinking about what you can’t do and SHOW people what you CAN do! Some of my favorite cosplays feature spins or twists to original characters. Think Afro-puff Sailor Moon, Swole Elder Aang, or even Supa Thick Master Roshi. Trust me, supa thikk Roshi exists!
To Make, Buy or Thrift a Cosplay?
Now that you’re in it, you have a few options for your cosplays. You could make your own, buy a ready-to-go costume, or even thrift pieces together. No option is wrong so pick what fits in your budget, timeline and stick with your pick. Lost of cosplayers do construct their own cosplays which takes a lot of time and effort. It’s a great accomplishment and everyone will admire your craftmanship. But if you are short on time, you may look towards purchasing a ready-made costume or thrifting pieces together. Whatever you decide, the decision is up to you.
Making cosplay/custom order
Creating your own cosplay is the most rewarding option. It will take time for construction and buying parts but it’s all worth it. Just think about it; your cosplay will fit you perfectly since you’re going off of your own measurements, will be unique because you created it yourself and you can create virtually anything! It may even save you a huge chunk of money if you can be crafty enough to create your own cosplay.
A few cosplays can be easily created. Think of school girl/boy costumes such as Shuffle! Girls, Light Yagami, Deku for example. Most of the time you could find a nice blouse or dress shirt, add spark to it, and then you pretty much just need a pleated skirt or slacks. There are many tutorials out there that you can use to guide you through the process of creating your costume. YouTube will be your best friend in this process. Trust me, it’s a lot easier than it sounds to create your own cosplay. Scavenge thrift stores every so often and search online cosplay boards for any other parts you may be missing. Take advantage of Halloween/party stores as well. You never know what you can find on a dime.
If you’re not so handy with a sewing machine, look to a family member or friend that likes sewing. A mother or aunt that loves sewing can come in handy. If you need an extra piece or an adjustment someone close to you can able to do that. You can also search locally for a tailor or seamstress to help create something for you. Buying material should be no problem. Check out when Hobby Lobby has their bi-weekly sales promotion running on the items that you need and use it to your advantage. JoAnn’s Fabrics and Walmart stores have fabric as well. Even if you can’t find anyone to create these options for you, why not pick up a needle and thread and start making something up yourself? You might just learn yourself a new skill!
Buying a Cosplay
Ordering cosplay online seems to be the easiest method of getting your cosplay. The most work you’d have to do is first find research on the seller that you’re wanting to buy from and taking measurements. And if you’re even luckier, you can easily find a nice cosplay through Amazon if you need it fast.
It’s important to check out the reviews on the cosplay seller or amazon/party city shop that you are wanting to order from BEFORE you purchase! Lots of places online where you can buy cosplay from will be international wholesale sellers. What this means is that the seller ships mostly bulk warehouse items from overseas. Don’t get me wrong, not all wholesale sellers are bad. Some of them deliver great quality costumes and have good communication. It’s the lower rating ones that you want to watch out for.
My experience with ordering cosplay hasn’t been as horrifying as others have experienced. The first cosplay that I ordered was a Shuffle! school uniform from an overseas costume shop (that sadly does not exist anymore). The outfit that I ordered looked exactly how it was pictured! The only thing that I did differently when I received it was to replace the white ribbon on the hat with brown as in the anime. Here are pictures to compare what I ordered to what it came out to be:
Not the best pictures ever, but you guys get the point. This cosplay that I ordered from cosplaysky.com came out to be exactly as pictured.
On the other hand, I’ve had my fair share of amazon costume purchases that were way off in size and were shipped right back. Also some Ebay purchases left me with bum wigs and completely different colored pieces to the costume, not as they were shown in images. Please plan ahead and make sure that you are guaranteed with taking the risk ordering something from overseas, because you might not see your money back and returns are usually not worth the amount of overseas shipping. Also be aware that most overseas (usually from Asia) size charts can be way off, so it’s not uncommon to need to size up 2-3 sizes larger than you usually would.
Be aware of websites that host the same exactly images as other websites. These are usually the “wholesale overseas” shippers that I was talking about. I’m not saying don’t order from these places but use caution. From what I’ve read online about some of these websites, people have been ripped off, received incorrect sizes, quality wasn’t as good, lost in communication, and have experienced slow shipping. And that’s the majority of them. Usually these are met with not great return services and end up just being a complete lost on money. There are a few good reviews out there but still, do your research. This is an example of what I’m talking about:
Someone’s lying on which image is theirs. Do your research before ordering online and use caution. Ordering from wholesale shops, remember that the outcome may be different from what’s shown in the picture. Possibly expect to see others wearing the same exact thing too. It’s completely your decision though. Wholesale is good if you want to save money but I’d hope that you get your money’s worth. When ordering from overseas shippers try to make contact with them if you need any adjustments asap. Keep in mind that shipping will take a while. It’s best to order your cosplay at least 1-2 months BEFORE the convention.
Thrifting a Cosplay
Sometimes thrifting a cosplay is a perfectly good option if you are on a budget and on a time crunch. Think about characters usually wearing casual clothing that you could purchase. Their outfits look like real things that anyone can pick up and wear. I thrifted multiple cosplays including my Emma from The Promised Neverland, Yumeko Jabami from Kakegurui, and even my Michonne from The Walking Dead cosplay. These cosplays just required a wig (bought from Amazon or at my local beauty supply store), and every other piece of the costume came from my closet or right off the thrift store rack.
Packing for the convention
So you’ve taken this guide into consideration and now you’re ready to pack and head out to this convention. You have your ticket purchased, hotel room booked, reliable transportation and even picked up yourself a spiffy new cosplay. If you’re going to be staying at the convention for the full weekend you’re going to need a bunch of things. Most importantly, a packing check list!
- At least 2 pairs of pajamas
- Your cosplays
- Any extra cosplay accessories (sword, tights, mini-nuke)
- Fresh pairs of clothes for each day (you probably want actual clothes to wear while at the dance. Don’t funky up your cosplay there. Also you’ll need a pair on the last day when you’re traveling from the convention)
- Undergarments (includes underwear. bring extras! slips to wear under cosplays and things like that. And don’t forget socks)
- Accessories (earrings, jewelry, glasses, contact lenses, hair)
- Extra hosiery (ladies, it’s going to suck if you get a snag in your tights. Make sure that you have a backup for sensitive stuff such as that)
- Jacket (it doesn’t have to be big and bulky. Just a light jacket incase of rain)
- Shoes (bring an extra pair of flats in case your feet hurt. Don’t forget cosplay shoe covers and boots)
- Tooth brush
- Tooth paste and mouthwash
- Any medications that you must take.
- Extra medications (aspirin, ibroprophen, allergy meds, cough drops, pepto bismalt)
- Extra towels/toilet paper (might be necessary if you’re rooming with a huge group of people)
- Hair supplies (gel, moisturizer, shampoo, conditioner, hair spray)
- Hair tools (straightener, blow-dryer, comb, brush, curling iron)
- Smell Goods (lotion/perfume/cologne/body spray)
- Shower Gel and bar soaps
- Make-up (mascara, eyeliner, powder, foundation, concealer, primer, eyeshadow, lipstick, gloss)
- DEODORANT (Very important!!)
- Extra hygiene products (Extra prespiriant, baby powder)
- Feminine products (you never know)
- Facial moisturizers/cleansers
I hope I didn’t forget anything here. These are basically things that you use every day. Remember that you’re not going to be at home to grab whatever you need, so bring things just incase. At conventions you may be walking around all day. So bring a travel stick of deodorant to carry with you in your bag. Sanitation items are also very necessary. Use hand sanitizer religiously because colds and sicknesses like to hover in convention centers.
- Cell Phone
- Cell Phone Charger
- MP3 Player/Handheld Game
- Charger for MP3 Player and Handheld Game
- Camera Charger
- Books/magazines or better yet, Manga!
You really don’t want to bring too many electronics. Bring some stuff for the road trip but at the convention I guarantee that you’ll be so busy wrapped up in the awesomeness standing right in front of you! Keep your cell phone with you at all times. You never know who might be trying to contact you or when you may end up lost.
Everything else that IS necessary
- Photo ID/Drivers License/Passport
- Your convention Badge
- Extra batteries
- A bag/purse to carry stuff around the convention (you will want extra bags to carry your goodies around, trust me. Especially if you plan on shopping. Those Green shopping bags will come in handy)
- Mini sewing kit, safety pins (to repair torn cosplays)
- Gum and breath mints
- Water (sip on this to keep yourself hydrated)
- Snacks (good to carry some chips/granola bars/candy around with you at the convention.)
- Food to store in hotel room (If there will be a microwave, bring microwavable meals like ramen bowls, pasta. Don’t pack too much food, remember there are usually restaurants that deliver)
- Badge receipt confirmation page printed
- Directions to convention printed
- Directions to the hotel printed
- Money with you in cash (for spending at convention)
- Notepad (for autographs, also contact information to give to new friends)
Definitely don’t forget to bring confirmation items like an ID and printed directions and receipt for you badge. We don’t want any trouble going on for you when you get there. I REALLY suggest bringing a certain amount of cash with you to the convention daily. Reasons being is that you don’t want to spend all of your money on one day and in the dealers room when your shopping, most of them will only accept Cash. There will be ATMs there but they’ll end up broken or out of money by the 3rd hour or so. If you can get some cash at the Hotel before riding to the convention each day. Also don’t carry a ton of cash with you at once, what if someone jacks your money?
Phew! That may be everything.
I hope that this guide has prepared you all with some of the best information out there for going to your anime convention! This info comes from personal experience. My biggest worry is thinking that something may go wrong, so it’s always great to have more than one option available for you! If you keep everything organized, plan ahead, group with others and do your research. I guarantee you that you’ll have an amazing time that you won’t ever forget!
Take pictures! You want these memories to last you for a long while!