Cosplay, short for “costume play”, is a popular hobby and artform that involves dressing up and roleplaying as fictional characters from video games, anime, manga, movies, TV shows, books, and more. With its origins in Japanese anime and manga fandoms, cosplay has grown into a worldwide phenomenon and subculture celebrated at conventions, events, and gatherings around the globe.

Cosplay Definition

The term "cosplay" refers to the act of dressing up and portraying a specific fictional character. Cosplayers, or people who participate in cosplay, use costumes and props to embody the persona of their chosen character. Cosplay is often seen as a form of fan expression and appreciation for fictional works that cosplayers admire or connect with on a personal level.

At its core, cosplay centers around creativity, craftsmanship, roleplaying, and community. Cosplayers spend significant time and effort designing, sewing, crafting, or buying costumes and accessories to transform themselves into their favorite characters. This process allows cosplayers to showcase their skills, passion, and knowledge of the source material. During cosplay events, cosplayers get into character not just through their costumes but also through mimicking poses, mannerisms, speech patterns, and other quirks of the characters they are portraying.

History of Cosplay

The origins of cosplay can be traced back to 1939 when the first Worldcon science fiction convention was held in New York City. Attendees showed up dressed as their favorite sci-fi characters, establishing early roots of costumed roleplay. However, the term “cosplay” itself originated in Japan in the late 1970s.

Early Cosplay in Japan

Cosplay culture initially emerged from Japanese anime and manga fandoms. In the mid-1970s, Japanese fans started dressing up as manga and anime characters at conventions and events. The term “cosplay”, blending the English words “costume” and “play”, was coined in 1984 by Japanese reporter Nobuyuki Takahashi while attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles. He witnessed fans dressed up and was inspired by their creative costumes, coining the new word to describe the phenomenon.

As anime and manga gained popularity internationally, cosplay caught on as a way for fans to express their passion for specific series and characters. The first World Cosplay Summit was held in Nagoya, Japan in 2003, bringing together cosplayers from around the world to showcase their elaborate costumes and skits. This helped spread cosplay on a global scale.

Growth of Cosplay in the West

Cosplay spread beyond Japan in the 1990s and 2000s, taking hold most prominently in the United States. Western anime conventions like Anime Expo, Otakon, and Comic-Con attracted thousands of cosplaying fans. The internet also enabled cosplayers to connect, share tips, and showcase their work to wider audiences.

Today, cosplay is a staple of fan conventions like Comic-Con, DragonCon, PAX, Anime Expo, and Fan Expo that draw tens of thousands of attendees annually. It is also practiced at fan meetups, photo shoots, and other community events. Cosplay’s popularity reflects the rising mainstream appeal of fandoms and pop culture.

Cosplay Culture

Cosplay has developed its own unique culture and community over the decades. Some key aspects that define cosplay culture include:

Craftsmanship and Creativity

Many cosplayers take pride in handmaking and customizing their costumes and props. Popular techniques include sewing, armor crafting, wig styling, prop building, make-up application, and 3D printing. Cosplayers spend countless hours bringing their designs to life, showcasing immense creativity and skill in the process.

Community

The cosplay community shares tips, offers guidance, and bonds over their common interests. Cosplayers help each other with costumes, meet up for photo shoots, and coordinate group cosplays of characters from the same series. Conventions provide a central hub for cosplayers to connect and share their passion.

Self-Expression

For many cosplayers, the hobby is a means of self-expression and tapping into their creativity. It allows them to literally step into the shoes of their favorite characters and pay homage to beloved fictional worlds. The cosplay community embraces unique forms of creativity and passion.

Roleplaying

Many cosplayers create authentic reproductions of a character’s costume and accessories, then learn to accurately portray the character through body language, poses, facial expressions, voice, and mannerisms. This immersive roleplaying takes cosplay to the next level.

Photography

Photography is integral to the cosplay community, with cosplayers and photographers collaborating to achieve stunning shots that bring characters to life. Many cosplayers have a portfolio of high-quality photographs of their costumes.

Certain fictional characters are especially beloved in the cosplay community and frequently brought to life at conventions. Some current popular cosplay characters include:

Anime & Manga

  • Sailor Moon – The magical girl protagonist of the classic anime/manga series inspires colorful and dazzling costumes.

  • Naruto – The orange jumpsuit and ninja gear of this iconic manga/anime ninja are recognizable worldwide.

  • Attack on Titan – The military uniforms and 3D maneuver gear from this popular anime make for dramatic and complex cosplays.

Video Games

  • Overwatch – The diverse hero shooter game offers cosplayers a huge roster of characters to embody.

  • Final Fantasy – Characters like Cloud Strife and Yuna have iconic, elaborate outfits perfect for cosplay.

  • The Legend of Zelda – Link, Zelda, and other characters are brought to life straight from the fantasy world of Hyrule.

Movies & TV

  • Star Wars – Jedi, Sith, bounty hunters, and more from the sci-fi saga are a cosplay staple.

  • Harry Potter – The robes and uniforms of Hogwarts students and professors are recreated in magical detail.

  • Game of Thrones – The intricate medieval fantasy costumes are a popular challenge.

Comic Books

  • Spiderman – Spidey’s signature red and blue suit is a crowd favorite.

  • Deadpool – The “merc with a mouth” and his black and red outfit make for fun cosplays.

  • Batman – The Dark Knight’s imposing batsuit is a classic.

The list goes on and includes characters from series like Pokemon, Dragon Ball Z, Overlord, One Piece, RWBY, and countless other fictional worlds that inspire cosplayers.

Cosplay Tips and Tricks

For beginners looking to dive into the world of cosplay, here are some helpful tips and tricks:

Choose a Character You Connect With

Pick a character you genuinely love and feel a personal connection to. This passion will motivate you through the long process of bringing the cosplay to life.

Set a Realistic Budget

Cosplay can get expensive between materials, tools, wigs, accessories, and professional services like commissions. Set a reasonable budget and work within it.

Start Simple

If new to cosplay, start with a simple costume that won’t require intensive sewing, armor building, or other complex skills. Build up your abilities over time.

Use Cosplay Communities

Join forums, groups, and follow cosplayers online to get advice, ask questions, learn techniques, and find inspiration.

Make or Commission

Consider your skills and budget. Sewing your own costume is rewarding but time-consuming, so commissioning from talented cosplay creators is another solid option.

Plan Ahead

Give yourself ample time to design, source materials, and create the various elements of your cosplay. Rushing it will show.

Practice Roleplaying

Get comfortable acting in-character through poses, body language, facial expressions, and voice. This helps bring the cosplay to life.

Have Fun!

Cosplay is about fueling your passion, being creative, and celebrating fandoms, so make sure to enjoy the process and final result!

Cosplay Events and Conventions

Cosplayers converge at various conventions and events to showcase their costumes and artistry. Some major cosplay events include:

Anime Expo

One of the biggest anime conventions in North America, Anime Expo is held annually in Los Angeles. Cosplay is a huge part of its over 100,000 attendees.

Comic-Con International

The massive pop culture celebration in San Diego draws thousands of cosplayers recreating comic book, movie, and TV characters.

DragonCon

DragonCon in Atlanta hosts cosplay contests and panels among its wide-ranging sci-fi/fantasy programming.

PAX

The Penny Arcade Expo gaming festivals include a cosplay parade and contest drawing elaborate costumes.

World Cosplay Summit

This international championship held in Japan gathers elite cosplayers from over 30 countries to compete and walk in a parade.

BlizzCon

Blizzard’s gaming convention features stunning cosplays from Blizzard game universes like Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and StarCraft.

Fan Expo Canada

Spanning comics, sci-fi, horror, anime, and gaming, Fan Expo Canada brings together Toronto’s cosplay community.

Sakura-Con

The premier anime convention in the Pacific Northwest, Sakura-Con hosts the Pacific Media Expo masquerade ball for cosplayers.

In addition to established conventions, cosplayers organize their own dedicated meetups and photoshoots to collaborate and show off their costumes.

Conclusion

Cosplay empowers fans around the world to creatively express their passion for fictional characters and stories. Through elaborate costumes, in-character roleplaying, and celebrations of fandoms, cosplayers form a vibrant, artistic community centered around craftsmanship, creativity, and enthusiasm. As cosplay continues to gain mainstream popularity, this unique hobby promises to thrive for years to come by welcoming new fans to shape the future of costume play.

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