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What is Cosplay and How Popular Is It?

When playing casino games online, reading your favourite pop culture site, or even just watching something on TV, you may have come across something called cosplay. You may have seen images of people dressed up in all sorts of costumery and wondered, “what is this?” In this blog, we’ll provide you with an answer to that question and explore how popular this hobby, and now profession, has become.

What is cosplay?

Cosplay is an amalgamation of two words: costume and play. The practice of dressing up in costumes is embedded in many cultures and serves a multitude of purposes, but cosplay, as we know it today, is all about paying homage to your favourite characters. People have been dressing up as their own creations or as their favourite characters from shows or books for as long as there have been fans of them, but the formal use of the term was first recorded in 1984. Nobuyuki Takahashi, the founder of an anime studio, visited the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention, more commonly known as Worldcon, in Los Angeles. Upon his return to Japan, he was asked to write an article about his experience and decided to create a new term specifically to capture the essence or spirit, as well as passion, of fan-created costumes. He came up with the word “kosupure,” which, when translated into English, means cosplay.

It took a while for the word to catch on, but it eventually was picked up as the practice became more and more popular in Japan’s anime convention scene. Japanese cosplayers focused on characters from popular anime and games over the years, with titles such as Dragon Ball, Final Fantasy, One Piece, and other megahits getting much of the attention. As anime and anime culture increased in popularity in the West, so did the terms associated with the Japanese anime scene, including the word cosplay, which became anglicised at some point.

The Western cosplay scene started with its roots in the Japanese practice, but in its transition to the West, cosplay soon found a home in many other subcultures, including comic books, films, and video games. Western cosplayers were drawn to classic superheroes like Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman, characters from hit TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, icons from books like The Witcher and Harry Potter, and even popular board game heroes and villains were brought to life, such as the Ultramarines and Orks from Warhammer.

As the scene grew across the world, so did the quality of the costumes that people were producing. This intense competition between cosplayers would result in something that costumed fans from the 20th century could only dream of.

ALT: A man wearing a Thor inspired costume.

As cosplay became more popular and the costumery improved, people began to realise that it offered a potential career path for those who were really good at it. Many fans with great costumes (particularly those who were attractive) found themselves being invited to events, and while many of these cosplay celebrities were initially happy with just having extra perks (like VIP access and free merchandise), they soon realised that they could charge to attend events, as their own fans would want to come to see them, in turn driving up ticket sales for convention organisers.

In addition to appearance fees, many cosplayers discovered they had many other earning opportunities, such as charging for autographed photos, modeling for brands, selling a variety of merchandise, running cosplay-related YouTube or Twitch channels, or even assisting film production companies with costume design.

While recent worldwide events have no doubt hurt cosplayers' income streams, in 2019, it wasn’t uncommon for the most popular cosplayers to be paid upwards of $100,000 (£74,700) per year.

Even those who weren’t cosplayers had a chance to get involved. Some of the best who worked behind the scenes on props and costumes for cosplayers have also found themselves with opportunities in film and television, doing the same work they once did purely out of love!

Where to experience cosplay in person in the UK

If you’re in London in February 2022 and would like to find out what cosplay is all about, the London Anime & Gaming Con will be taking place on the 12–13th of February. There will be cosplay guests, lectures, and workshops, as well as the opportunity to take photos with many of these great costume artists!

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/ 24 February 2022