Going to your first anime, comic, or gaming convention can feel overwhelming. There is so much to do and so little time to accomplish it all! By looking at all the possibilities, you can decide which activities are your priority, so you have time for the most important events.
The main activities at conventions include cosplay photoshoots, anime screenings, autographs, and costume competitions. Evening activities will include live music and dance parties. Almost all conventions will also have a dealer’s room and artist room for buying merchandise, along with a game room for all-day-long gaming.
The events available will be different depending on the convention you go to. Larger conventions, like Otakon and Anime Expo, will have all the things on this list and more, while smaller conventions might have fewer things to do. It’s always a good idea to check the website and social media platforms of the convention to see what kind of programming will be available.
- Related reading: How to find a cosplay event near you
1. Panels and workshops
Almost every convention will have an assortment of different panels and workshops you can attend. These will focus on anything from voice acting, cosplay tips, industry announcements, fandom panels, and anything else you can think of. There are even workshops aimed to entertain the children that go to conventions.
Usually, convention staff will release a schedule of these panels and workshops about a week ahead of the convention. You can check out the topics and decide which ones you want to attend during the weekend.
It’s pretty standard for the schedule to change slightly as there are delays during the convention, so it’s also a good idea to check the convention website or scheduling app to see if the panel time or location has been moved. If you’re planning on going to a highly popular panel with well-known actors or a panel that has a reputation for being funny, then you’ll want to get in line well ahead of time to make sure you get a seat in the room.
In the evening, you will find some 18+ panels and events. To get into these, you have to provide your ID and get a wristband so the convention staff will be able to easily identify who is allowed into these panels.
Personally, I will always check the programming and decide on a handful of these panels that are interesting to me. But I always lose track of time at the convention and only end up going to one or two in the end.
2. Cosplay and photography
The cosplay and photography are my favorite parts of any convention. There are so many people who have done an amazing job at recreating the characters from anime, comics, movies, and games. If you find your favorite character roaming around the convention, you can ask for a photograph.
I like to scope out the convention center and find the places with the best lighting. Then I’ll wait for cosplayers to come through so I can get their photographs.
There will also be photoshoot gatherings during the convention. This is when members from the same show, game, or universe get together for a themed photoshoot. They used to be organized by fans with the time and location being passed around by word of mouth. Now it’s becoming more common for the convention organizers to schedule photoshoots is locations that won’t disrupt food traffic. So, you might be able to find a relevant photoshoot by looking at the convention programming.
Do you have to cosplay and conventions?
If this is your first time going to a convention, you may be a little bit confused about cosplay. While it is common for people to dress in costume at anime and comic conventions, it is not required at all. You can always go in your comfortable clothes and maybe try cosplaying next time.
- Read more: Rules for cosplaying at conventions
3. Get autographs
Many of the larger anime conventions will bring in famous voice actors and actors as guests. There might be panels and industry events with the actors to give fans a chance to get insider information and ask some questions.
There will also be certain times of day when you can queue up to get the autograph of your favorite actor. You can get a poster, DVD, figure, or even a piece of your costume signed. The times of day for autographs will be available in the convention programming guide, so you make sure you don’t miss it. If you want the autograph of a popular actor, you’ll want to line up well ahead of time.
4. The Masquerade (costume and skit competition)
A popular event at most conventions is usually known as the masquerade (the name will vary at different conventions). This is basically a costume and skit competition. If you make your own costume you can enter to have it judged based on your mastery of your sewing and construction skills. You don’t have to have a skit as well, but you can if you want to.
Alternatively, you can choose to perform a skit for the audience without having the costume construction judged. Funny skits make this an audience favorite event that can fill up the largest rooms at the convention.
5. Watch anime and premiere screenings
There will also be video programming at conventions. This is where I go when I want to relax after walking around for so long. You find everything from anime music videos to old cartoons and popular anime. Sometimes there will be showings of entire seasons of the show, and sometimes you’ll get a taste of four or five episodes to see if you like it.
The larger conventions will also have premiere showings of upcoming movies or sneak peek episodes of a not-yet-aired anime. You might need an extra ticket to get into these events since they are so exclusive, but in some cases you just need to line up early enough.
6. The dealer’s room and artist alley
Everyone’s favorite part of the convention is checking out the merchandise available in the dealer’s room and artist alley. Many people go to conventions with the intention of spending a lot of money here, so I recommend planning out a budget ahead of time to avoid overspending.
You can get anything from comic books and manga (sometimes in the original Japanese) to figures, dice, tapestries, T-shirts, rave gear, and so much more. If you need a last-minute wig or piece of your costume, you might be able to find something perfect in the dealer’s room.
While the dealer’s room gets more attention, the artist alley is my favorite. You can find so many talented people that you would never have found otherwise. I love to get new posters, cute bags, and hand made hats, but there is so much more that you can check out. You can even find artists to commission costumes with or create custom drawings of your favorite characters.
7. Cultural events
Some anime conventions will also have cultural events. Since the appeal of anime also introduces a lot of fans to Japanese culture, you’ll find panels aimed to educate people about different aspects of history, mythology, and cultural aspects of Japan outside of anime. You’ll even find some conventions with workshops teaching fundamental flower arranging and how to perform a Japanese tea ceremony.
8. The game room
Anime, comic, and gaming conventions will have large rooms set aside with all sorts of games available to play. You can play all kinds of console games. There are old N64 consoles, and I’ve even seen SEGA games at conventions. Of course, you can also play on the newest consoles available as well, but you may have to wait in line for a chance to play.
The game rooms also offer space for tabletop gaming. You can bring your deck of Magic cards to play with other people at the con. There may even be a tournament going on. Most conventions will also have an assortment of board games that you can try out in the game room.
9. Resting areas
As much as you might want to do everything at the convention, you’re going to need to take time to rest. By taking the time to sit down, get off your feet, and recharge your phone, you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the convention much more. Many people will go back to their hotel room to take a break, but if you commute or your hotel is far away, you’ll want to take advantage of one of the many rest areas.
The most common place to find rest areas is near a food court area. Even if there are no tables available, you’ll often find people hunkered down next to the wall to stay out of the way of foot traffic. You’ll also find areas like these next to the dealer’s room and artist alley exits.
10. Live music
While it’s not common to see any well-known bands and artists at conventions, you will often see talented musicians scheduled to play for live shows. At anime conventions, you’ll see up-and-coming Japanese bands going on a tour through America and Canada.
Once upon a time (10 years ago), live music like this was a main attraction of anime conventions. However, it seems to be waning in popularity recently so there are many conventions that no longer include live music as part of their programming.
11. Art displays
You might also find different types of art displays at conventions. This can be anything from a gallery of comic or anime-related art set up like a museum exhibit to chalk art that you can watch being drawn during the convention. You might also get to watch an art fight, where talented artists go up against each other to create funny drawings according to the prompts they’re given.
12. Dance parties and raves
A typical evening activity at conventions is the dance parties. These will be anything from club-like rave settings to formal dance parties. Typically people will change out of their daytime cosplay or comfortable con-clothes into club clothes with glow sticks and dancing shoes.
Most of these events are meant to be appropriate for teenagers, so they are often pretty tame for an older audience who are used to going to clubs. However, they can still be a lot of fun if you just want to dance and hang out with friends and other con-goers.
13. The Thursday pre-show
It’s become more common for people to book hotel tickets starting on Thursday for a weekend convention. To entertain these early guests, there will be some Thursday night entertainment. Sometimes there will be a live band playing; sometimes it will just be some scheduled meetups. But, if you arrive at a convention early, you may as well see what kind of programming is available on Thursday evening.
14. Explore the convention
No matter what convention you go to, half of your time is going to be spent walking and trying to find the next place to be. Wear comfortable shoes and embrace it! You can get your Fitbit steps in while you wander around the convention.
Take the time to explore some of the lesser-known areas in the convention center and the surrounding blocks. You might find some amazing locations for photographing your costume or getting a quick bite to eat.
15. Themed food spots
At anime conventions, it is common to find Japanese snacks and food stalls. While it can be a bit expensive, these are often treats that are difficult to find outside of Japan. The convention might also set up a maid or host cafe where you can have a relaxing lunch during the afternoon.