Tales from Anime Expo 2023

From artists to cosplayers to singers, take a look inside the community behind one of the biggest anime conventions in the world.

Photo of a large crowd of people walking through a hall full of booths and screens

Fourth of July weekend: a time where many Americans gather with friends and family to eat, watch fireworks and enjoy the holiday. But each year, the Los Angeles Convention Center is the destination for more than 100,000 people from across the globe. The reason?

Anime Expo, a massive four-day convention that draws in crowds of people who line up around the entire building early in the morning to prepare for days of panels, performances, photo ops and merchandise focused on anime, manga, and popular culture.

While it is infamously dubbed “linecon” with its large crowds, stuffy halls and long lines even for the vending machine, it is an exciting annual tradition for many who attend.

The hall’s main entrance this year is decorated with a massive banner promoting a new “Naruto” video game with fans piling in to pick up complementary bags and take pictures with the photo booths set up.

This lobby is the hotspot for one kind of attendee – the cosplayer – fans who spend months crafting elaborate costumes of their favorite characters so that they can pose, waiting for photographers and eager attendees.

Around the main lobby, visitors can spot familiar characters. A crew of “Across the Spider-Verse” cosplayers draw in a crowd as massive mecha suits designed after “Gundam” tower over onlookers.

But donning a brilliant gold suit of armor, Jean Baredes glows as the sun shines through the glass, reflecting off his armor. He’s dressed as Aquarius Camus from the 90′s series “Saint Seiya,” and is excited to see fans of an older series.

Jean Baredes: Because we are cosplaying old characters, these people that come in and they’re like, “I didn’t think I was going to see that.” It’s really nice to see their faces and light up when they see characters that they love.

Past the main hall are a row of stairs that lead into the busy exhibition hall. Here, vendors, brands, and companies set up decorative booths and displays with activities, merchandise, and of course free swag. In the first two days, some of the busiest booths had to close their lines because of how many people piled in.

As attendees squeezed their way through the aisles, some tried snagging pictures of cardboard cutouts of their characters they recognize or checking out demos for up and coming video games. One of these booths is SEGA, the company behind popular video games like “Persona,” “Sonic” and “Yakuza.”

But one highlight was “Hatsune Miku: Colorful Stage,” a rhythm game people can play on their phones. Fans lined up to try the game and win free prizes for playing at the convention. Lindsey Lichtenberger is a Community Coordinator for the game. She says that this is her second time working at a booth, and says that she enjoys the different experience.

Lindsey Lichtenberger: I love it because I used to be an attendee a long time ago and coming in early, it’s a whole different feeling being away from the crowd, the sea of people waiting downstairs. It’s kind of euphoric kind of.

She says that these events allow her to connect with people she normally knows virtually.

Lichtenberger: Honestly, it’s great to talk to the players and see more than just a face on like Discord or social media.

Beyond the exhibition hall, is another popular draw at the convention. Down below the center in what is normally a parking lot, is Artist Alley, the place where hundreds of independent artists can set up shop and sell their unique artwork.

Cindy Duong, or sakuradragon on Instagram, creates cute, relatable artwork featuring characters like a small dinosaur who loves to eat. Her booth, adorned with plushies, binders full of art prints, and keychains draw in curious attendees.

Cindy Duong: I love this energy. I love that everyone I know comes out to this event, so it’s kind of like once a year, you see everyone you know and you see your friends that you haven’t seen in forever.

But this event means even more to her as an independent artist, as she is finally able to connect with fans without the divide of a digital screen.

Duong: When I was having a hard time, it was my fans that were my lights. I’d like to provide that for them… Every year you see the same customers and they come back and say, “I love your stuff,” “I’m using your stuff in my room,” or “Your socks are really comfy.” It’s just love all around.

But that’s not the only kind of artwork showcased in the alley.

This year, a makeshift tattoo parlor sprouted up in the middle of Artist Alley, with a line snaking around the booth with fans hoping to get art branded on their body. Taurin Hurley works with Mimik Tattoo, a company with shops all around Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s their business’s first time at the convention, and Hurley comments on how fruitful it has been.

Taurin Hurley: We were booked half way through the day. All of our artists’ books were filled. We had people in lines until the end of the day, asking questions, inquiring about coming back.

But a tattoo is a permanent commitment, which makes this experience all the more unique.

Hurley: For the clients, a special event being able to be tattooed at the biggest convention for anime in the country, getting something permanent on your body, it’s special for the clients, it’s special for the artist to be able to do that for them.

While some come for the art and the merch, there are some who attend Anime Expo looking to see some popular stars in the industry, whether it be voice actors... Or idols... Or even Japanese rockstars.

One of these guests performed at AX’s Summer Fest, their annual concert held at the Novo. MIREI (Mirei Touyama) is a singer-songwriter from Japan. She mentions how the audience here is unique compared to other performances she has experienced.

Mirei Touyama: I think at the concert hall, I feel like they have a connection to each other by me, like my music. But at the convention, they all have connection in the audience by their culture and the topic of anime, and that makes the bond much stronger.

And despite all the different events, many of the attendees say that the biggest highlight is exactly that: building a new community based around shared passions.

Cosplayer Keek Forsyth wears the black armor and cloak of Guts the Black Swordsman from the series “Berserk.” They say they have made countless connections through these kinds of events.

Keek Forsyth: I’ve made like hundreds and hundreds of friends through cosplay and through conventions that were Internet friends and now are real life friends that hang out with and see all the time, and it’s just awesome that we have this community.

Yuka Matsushita has attended the convention a few times before. But this time, her experience was vastly different. She met new friends during the weekend and ended up walking around and attending panels with them throughout the expo.

Yuka Matsushita: I couldn’t survive and make it all by myself. I don’t know where to go, what to see, but my friends help me through. So it’s had so much meaning to meet great people here because this is the first time I met them, but they helped me through a lot, so it’s really amazing.

To some, the hordes of people are a turn off, but to others, the merch, the stars, and above all else, the friends they make in a single weekend makes it all worth a while. For Annenberg Media, I’m Ethan Huang.