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The Subculture of Cosplay

created by Aleyah Luzares (S00308624)

what is cosplay?

Cosplay is a compound word created by combining "costume" and "play" or "role-play". This practice of cosplay consists of people dressing up as characters from their favourite video games, anime, and movies... the options are endless! Cosplay is unique in its practice as the people who participate put the most intricate details in their character and role-play as them as well. They may only engage in the subculture for special occasions like conventions but some do it all year round (Rahman, et al., 2015).

why do people participate?

Cosplaying consists of a community of all sorts of people and is inclusive of everyone. A common factor from this community is that they are "geeky" or "nerdy" in one way or another. From the videos included, all participants engage in cosplay to feel a level of confidence and to feel like they belong to a community. In Savage’s case, he found comfort in the subculture as he grew up dressing in costumes as a child such as the shark from Jaws, an Astronaut and a knight like in Excalibur. This led him to join the cosplaying community of Comic-Con where he cosplayed No Face from Spirited Away and Hellboy. He brought this hobby into his career where in his show Mythbusters, Savage dresses up as a plethora of characters for the enjoyment of the show and himself. Along with these videos, I have included commentary made on these Youtube clips (please click to see them easier).

These comments from the cosplayers provide more reasons why the subculture is so attractive and important to other people. People have their own unique and individual stories but everyone finds comfort and belonging within this subculture. 

the subculture explained through a participant's perspective

This blog post consists of a cosplayer's experience and what he considers to be the pros and cons of the subculture. From Roger’s experience, cosplay is seen as a way to express oneself artistically, allows the participant to challenge themselves and the subculture is fun! He also says he finds cosplay to be a confidence booster which is consistent amongst all the participants previously shown. Roger also recognises there are cons to being a part of the subculture. Cosplay can be expensive and stressful, having a deadline to complete a costume before a convention or spending hundreds on one piece of the final look can be tough and challenging for the participants. There are also cases of cosplay having a “toxic community” in which people will essentially gatekeep the subculture from others especially if they are not skinny, not a certain race, not crafty enough and many other factors discouraging people from the practice. Although this is only Roger’s take on the experience, there are certainly many other people who agree with his take and have the same pros and cons. The rest of “the Senpai Blog” is dedicated to giving cosplayers advice on their costumes, news on new events and hangouts for cosplayers and general blog posts on the subculture.

authenticity in cosplay

Authenticity in the cosplay subculture can be seen through the participant’s practices of dressing up as a beloved character and being in tune with the pop culture atmosphere. These practices are often tainted when cosplayers are subject to gatekeeping. "Gatekeeping" is a practice where certain people of the subculture will limit access to information or exclude an outsider from the subculture's activities. This behaviour can be found in almost every subculture where these people may say "you don't belong here" to a person willing to learn or join the subculture. In the Reddit discussion board I have included, there are two Joker cosplays. The cosplayer who made the post flaunts the amount spent to make his detailed cosplay and describes his experience in acting, highlighting his “authentic” cosplay whilst also making fun of the other cosplayer who does not have an expensive costume. This is a classic act of gatekeeping and may be a jab towards the less expensive cosplay but does not at all mean that they are less authentic. Many people in the replies to this discussion board also believe that money and acting do not equal authentic cosplay.

feminism in cosplay

With women in cosplay, comes a lot of discussion surrounding feminist ideologies and what it does to the general societal view of women. I have included a thesis and journal article on women in cosplay. The thesis, written by Amber Grissom (2019), highlights the women empowerment that is upheld in the cosplay community using the many Wonder Woman cosplayers at conventions in the United States. Grissom’s accounts find that the women who cosplay as Wonder Woman look at her as an icon and symbol of feminine strength, highlighting the power cosplay has in the feminist movement. The journal article attached (Kettrey et al., 2021), explores the dangers women face on social media. The article looks at women in a more general sense but does touch on the issues women in cosplay have to face, where female cosplayers need to reiterate “cosplay does not equal consent” due to costumes often being revealing. This issue stems from the original costume design for female characters in various anime, movies, comics etc. which cosplayers abide by to reach an accurate and detailed costume. Female cosplayers experiencing this have been subject to many catcalls and unwanted comments from men. From both the thesis and journal article, we can see the positives and negatives that women in the cosplay subculture have to face.

gender explored through cosplay

This article written for Xtra Magazine explores the world of cosplay and how it helps people who are questioning their gender and those who are afraid to openly come out as transgender. Cosplaying as characters that are not their assigned sex at birth, gives people the opportunity to feel how it is like to be another person and a different gender. Having experienced many different conventions, Wells expresses their love for the art of cosplay and showcases other trans and gender-questioning people. The subculture allows this exploration as many do not question the cosplayer and their gender, solely expressing their admiration for the art and the character they are cosplaying. The article also goes into how there is a level of transphobia in the community of cosplayers, where the people around the gender-questioning person often assume the gender of the cosplayer underneath the costume and use the wrong pronouns to address them. This is difficult for trans people as they cannot go out of character to correct them and have to deal with it. Nonetheless, the subculture of cosplay allows many trans and queer people to explore new genders and be someone whom they cannot or may not express to the outside world.

“I loved that my cosplay replaced my body as the primary signifier of my gender; that, at a convention, my physical form mattered less than the physicality of my character.” – Excerpt from the article.

moral panics relating to cosplay

The moral panic of cosplay is rooted within the characters that people dress up as and the institutions that the characters come from. A very prominent form of media that this moral panic may come from is anime, having shows and films surrounding incest, ageplay, sexualisation of women and many other issues. The following Reddit discussion forum also details people who commit crimes relating to anime, endangering young women and doing unspeakable things to them. People who associate themselves with anime and cosplay are often seen as weird or creepy by the general public, the extreme version of this being otakus. Without being properly educated, society may look down upon the subculture and marginalise those who participate. This moral panic may add to societal views of women, giving more reason for men to sexualise and degrade cosplayers who dress up as characters from anime and pop culture.

race in cosplay

Many cosplayers who are not white or the race of the character they are cosplaying, experience racism or discrimination for not sticking to the characters that they look like. The below article showcases black cosplayers who do not cosplay as black characters and instead dress up as characters that they love. People commenting on their cosplays often express how their costume is not “accurate” or “authentic” as they do not have a lighter skin tone. From the article, Mimi the Nerd expresses that “When I cosplayed as Sailor Moon, people would leave comments referring to me as n*gger moon or calling me the Black version of the said character.” This form of racism is very prominent within the cosplaying community and the general public as well. This article gives voice to black women cosplayers who experience such discrimination and give reason as to why they still do what they do. With the subculture of cosplay, comes the opportunity for cosplayers to take the character and personalise it to themselves and how they perceive the character to be. As anime and other forms of pop culture have a very small amount of black representation, black cosplayers do not have as wide of a selection as fair-skinned people do. Thus, darker-skinned cosplayers try to change the status quo and bring another level of resistance within the subculture itself.



Rahman, O, Wing-Sun, L & Cheung, B. H. (2015). “Cosplay”: Imaginative Self and Performing Identity. Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture. Volume 16 (Issue 3), 317-341, 


As/Is, (September, 2014). Why I Cosplay. [Video]. YouTube,

TED, (August, 2016). My love letter to cosplay: Adam Savage. [Video] YouTube,


Roger Senpai, (2022, July 3). The Pros and Cons of Cosplay. The Senpai Blog. 


md_reddit, [@md_reddit]. (2022, October 15). Gatekeeping Cosplay. [Discussion board]. Reddit. 


Grissom, A. (2019). The Wonder Women: Understanding Feminism in Cosplay Performance. (CFE0007641). [Master's thesis, University of Central Florida]. STARS. 

Kettrey, H. H., Davis, A. J. & Liberman, J. (2021). "Consent Is F#@king Required": Hashtag Feminism Surrounding Sexual Consent in a Culture of Postfeminist Contradictions. Social Media + Society, Volume 7 (Issue 4).


Wells, V. S. (2020, July 8). Why cosplay can be so liberating for trans and non-binary folk. Xtra Magazine.


MCP_Ver2, [@MCP_Ver2]. (2019, June 1). Questions about moral panics and controversy involving anime. [Discussion board]. Reddit.


Johnson, S. (2020, February 24). The Black creatives changing the face of cosplay. Vice