An Extrovert’s Guide to Anime Conventions

Imagine a place where you are surrounded by thousands of people who all share at least one of your interests. For anime lovers, this paradise exists in the form of anime conventions. From 2011 to 2018, I attended at least one anime convention each year (well, except for 2017 when the only “convention” I attended was just a Comic Con-themed dinner at my university). I ended up taking a break from the con scene for a few years, but after returning in 2023 I immediately remembered just how insanely fun these events are. For a nerdy social butterfly like me, anime conventions are a wonderland of potential friendships, or at the very least memorable interactions. Are you an extrovert too? Here are some ways you can make the most of your con experience!

Not an extrovert? Check out Hailey’s article, “An Introvert’s Review of Zenkaikon 2024.”

1. Attend cosplay meetups
Group picture from the SK8 The Infinity meetup on 3/23/2024 at Zenkaikon

Although cosplaying isn’t a requirement for conventions, seeing people dressed up as their favorite anime characters is one of the biggest appeals for many congoers. A common occurrence at anime cons is cosplay meetups for specific fandoms. These meetups are an awesome opportunity to meet other fans and take lots of pictures. For some cons, you’ll need to scour Facebook, Discord, or Meetup to find what events are planned; but for others, such as Zenkaikon, meetups that are approved by the convention organizer beforehand are shared on the con’s official schedule. Even if you aren’t cosplaying a character from that fandom—heck, even if you aren’t cosplaying at all—you can still attend meetups as a spectator or photographer. At Zenkaikon 2024, I intended to visit the Hazbin Hotel/Helluva Boss and My Hero Academia meetups as a spectator, would have liked to see the Percy Jackson and Haikyuu!! ones as well (but unfortunately none of them fit into our schedule). 

You can also go one step further and organize a meetup of your own! This year was my first time attending Zenkaikon since 2013, so I decided to make my comeback with a bang by organizing a cosplay meetup for one of my all-time favorite anime, SK8 The Infinity. I filled out a form on Zenkaikon’s website where I chose a time and location, and then I advertised the meetup in advance by creating a Facebook event for it. In addition to me as JOE, fellow Fandom Spotlite writer Hailey as Langa, and Hailey’s wife Allyson as Reki, we had 11 other SK8 cosplayers join us! There was also a decently sizable audience joining in on the fun and taking pictures despite not being dressed as SK8 characters themselves.

2. Participate in panels
Panelists and audience at “Between Us Fujoshis & Fudanshis” panel on 3/22/2024 at Zenkaikon

Panels are one of the defining features of anime conventions. From cosplay tips to the basics of learning Japanese, con panels can cover a wide array of topics. While audience participation is rarely a requirement, it is sometimes at least an option, which presents extroverts like us with an opportunity to make our voices heard in a crowded room. On our first night at Zenkaikon, my group attended an 18+ panel called “Between Us Fujoshis & Fudanshis: A Conversation on Gay Romance Novels, BL, and Danmei.” The panelists did an excellent job of involving the audience by occasionally asking us questions instead of just talking at us the whole time. I am of the rare breed who utterly adores icebreakers and derives immense pleasure from talking about myself in front of people, so I raised my hand for almost every question. The next day, I went to another panel called “Cosplay for Anyone: Wigs, Contacts, and Makeup! Oh My!” and although this one was more informative and less interactive, I still asked a few questions. Now that I’m re-entering the con scene, I would like to host a panel of my own soon!

3. Ask for pictures
Me as Rook Hunt and aphantomchimera as Vil Schoenheit at the Twisted Wonderland meetup on 3/24/24 at Zenkaikon

Whether you’re a professional photographer or just like taking photos with a smartphone, it’s a great way to document your experiences and collect memories. One of the biggest challenges a more introverted person may face at an anime convention is building up the nerve to ask someone in a cool cosplay to take a picture with or of them, but talking to people is an extrovert’s specialty, so don’t be afraid to grab that photo op! 

Although most cosplayers won’t be surprised by a request for a picture, you still need to be tactful about your approach. Make sure to be considerate and respectful when asking for pictures with/of a cosplayer. Never touch a cosplayer (not even a hand on their shoulder) without asking permission and receiving their explicit consent. If they seem like they’re taking a break (sitting down or eating, for example), don’t bother them; there aren’t many places to hide at a con when you’re feeling worn out, so just because someone is still in a public space doesn’t mean they want to engage with the public at that moment. Everyone has the right to say no to a picture, no matter how incredible their cosplay looks. While some of this may seem self-explanatory, it can be easy to forget basic decorum when you’re suddenly face-to-face with a 4D version of your favorite anime character. Just remember: cosplay is not consent!!!

4. Talk to vendors
A print by artist potachipi and Hailey cosplaying the character featured in the center (Firestar from Warriors)

It’s a fairly typical convention experience to end up spending hours wandering around the Artist Alley and Dealers Room. So much merch, so little time! But something congoers often forget is that behind all those prints and stickers and pins is a real person (like, literally behind them, sitting at the booth).  I understand the guilt you might feel if you walk away without buying anything, but in my opinion, it still might be worth it to talk to the artist. If you love any of the characters or ships they’ve drawn, or if they have art of a niche fandom you belong to and don’t see a lot of merch for, or if you just really admire their talent, tell them! Of course, their ultimate goal is for you to buy something—the whole idea of being a vendor is to make money off of their products, after all—but sometimes a meaningful conversation will stick with them longer than a brief transaction with a person whose face they’ll never remember. And if you like someone’s work but don’t want to spend money right then, ask for a card or their social media so you can find them again later! 

When Hailey and I attended AnimeNEXT 2023 last year, we scoured the Artist Alley and Dealers Room for anything related to Hailey’s favorite fandom, Warriors. We were unsuccessful, but at this year’s Zenkaikon, we nearly exploded with excitement when we found an artist selling several Warriors prints. In her elation, Hailey bought three prints and mentioned to the artist that she would be cosplaying as Firestar, who is the protagonist of the first six books in the series. She promised to return the next day to show her cosplay to the artist, and when she did, the artist gave her a free sticker as a thank-you for remembering her and actually coming back to her booth. Interactions like this are what having a fandom community is all about!

5. Promote your social media

One of the most magical aspects of anime conventions is that they can lead to lifelong friendships. A large portion of my Facebook friends list consists of people that I met at an anime convention over 10 years ago, and although many of us haven’t actually spoken since then, we still see and react to each others’ posts and have watched each other grow up from a distance. In the age of social media, staying in touch with people is easier than ever. My personal go-to for exchanging social media is the classic word-of-mouth: after engaging in a conversation with someone at a con, I will make sure to ask if they have Instagram/Snapchat/Facebook before we go our separate ways. However, there are also other methods of promoting your social media. Badge ribbons are a concept that have grown in popularity over the past few years, and this year at Zenkaikon I encountered someone (he was actually one of the Reki Kyan cosplayers at the aforementioned SK8 meetup) who made badge ribbons with his Instagram handle printed on them. You can also have business cards printed, or give out handwritten notes like someone who left their Instagram handle in the goodie bag below.

6. Hand out goodies

I don’t know exactly when this became a trend (on account of my five-year hiatus from attending anime conventions), but I was absolutely delighted when two cosplayers on two different days at Zenkaikon gifted me with adorable, sparkly goodie bags. One of them contained two stickers, a nine-sided die, two lollipops, and a slip of paper with their Instagram handle, while the other one contained three pieces of Japanese candy.

“Con swag” is a popular element at Dragon Con, with options ranging from something as simple as handing out badge ribbons, to hiding swag bags around the con and a massive “swag & seek” event where people trade items. 

If you have the money and resources to spare, this is a wonderful way of leaving a positive, memorable impression on the people you interact with at a con! It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, either: for example, Hailey handed out a tiny bell to every fursuiter she spoke to, and someone gave me a flower after asking for a picture of my Rook Hunt cosplay.

What is your favorite thing to do at an anime convention? Let me know in the comments!

About Gabby Bibus

Gabby has been obsessed with anime since she was just 9 years old, and is proud to say she has watched over 200 different series. But that’s not even her biggest claim to fame: she also lives on a farm with over 80 goats! Although anime and animals are her two favorite things in the world, she also loves music, books, and movies. Her day job is a middle school ESL teacher, and she is also a staff member at the New Jersey Renaissance Faire.

View all posts by Gabby Bibus

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