January 4, 2016

Ten Largest North American Anime Conventions of 2015

by Patrick Delahanty, Executive Producer, and

At the start of each year, takes a look back at the anime conventions of the last year to see which ones ended up being the largest in North America. Usually we get pretty much the same list with just a couple position swaps and maybe a different con coming in at number ten, but 2015's list has a rather dramatic shakeup!

Before we present the list, we first need to explain the different ways that a convention can count its attendance:

  1. The most common method, one used by most non-anime conventions and trade shows, is a "turnstile" attendance count. Under this method, if there are 1,000 people at a three day convention each day, they would report their attendance as 3, if each of those 1,000 people passed through a turnstile once per day. Although some anime conventions report turnstile numbers, they are often offered in addition to one of the following two counting methods. We do not list known turnstile counts on this site as we believe they are misleading and disingenuous.
  2. Another method is to count each person who was issued a badge. This is often referred to as "total attendance" or a "warm body count". This will include attendees, staff, press, vendors, guests, and anyone else who was wearing a convention badge. If they attended multiple days, they just get counted once. It does not include people without a badge such as hotel employees or convention center employees.
  3. The final method commonly used to report attendance is a paid attendance count. This simply counts the number of people who paid for a badge. Unlike the warm body count, it doesn't include staff, guests, press, or others with a badge...unless they paid for it. This method also only counts people once even if they're attending multiple days.

All the attendance figures we present in this report and on have been provided by convention staffs themselves. They have been announced on the convention's own web sites, on the convention's social media, reported directly to this site, or one of our site's staff have reported back a number officially announced at the convention. None of these numbers are guesses by staff. Where attendance is marked as "approximately" signifies that the number reported by the convention is likely rounded and not an exact count.

Our annual list also only consists of conventions with a primary focus on anime. This means that multi-genre conventions are not included. We also do not include conventions such as comic cons or sci-fi cons that have anime programming. To include those in this list would be impossible due to the number of those conventions in existence, the unavailability of attendance numbers for many of them, and the vast differences in counting methods. Anime conventions that share admission with non-anime conventions (such as comic or steampunk conventions) are also not included on this list because it is impossible to tell how many are attending the anime half of the convention.

Ten Largest North American Anime Conventions of 2015:

  1. Anime Expo - approximately 90,500 warm bodies (up 5.23%)
  2. Anime North - 32,651 warm bodies with 30,210 paid attendees (up 5.97%)
  3. Anime Central - 31,113 warm bodies (up 4.85%)
  4. A-Kon - 29,383 warm bodies (up 11.40%)
  5. Otakon - 26,877 paid attendees (down 20.78%)
  6. Anime Boston - 27,150 warm bodies with 26,475 paid attendees (up 6.50%)
  7. Anime Weekend Atlanta - 25,107 paid attendees (up 23.61%)
  8. Sakura-Con - 23,419 warm bodies (up 6.45%)
  9. Otakuthon - 20,210 warm bodies (up 14.43%)
  10. Youmacon - 19,200 paid attendees

Some other large conventions we've heard from include San Japan (18,411 warm bodies, up 25.36%), Katsucon (15,444 paid attendees, up 19.07%), and AnimeNEXT (estimated 14,500 warm bodies, up 21.44%). UPDATE: Due to an oversight on our part, we neglected to mention ColossalCon in Sandusky, Ohio which had reported 17,374 paid attendees. We sincerely apologize for the mistake.

The most noticeable change on this list is Otakon's significant drop in attendance. The convention went from 33,929 attendees in 2014 to a reported 26,877 in 2015, a drop of over 7,000 people. Although some attributed this to the Baltimore protests that took place between April 18 and May 3, that theory doesn't hold up when you look at BronyCon, which was held just two weeks later in the same venue. BronyCon grew 4.21% from 2014 to 2015.

A more plausible theory for Otakon's attendance decline, and one the Otakon staff may not wish to admit, is that the problem lies with the convention itself. The convention's attendance dropped slightly from 2013 to 2014, so this year's decrease appears to be a trend rather than an anomaly caused by Baltimore protests. Otakon has had issues with overcrowding and lines for years, particularly the registration lines as seen in 2014. A registration rate increase from $80 to $100 at the door (or from $70-$80 to $80-$95 in advance) likely did not help convince people they needed to return. Compounding the problem is the issue that most attendee information for 2015 wasn't posted until March, only about four months before the convention. (Otakon has yet to post any registration information or guest announcements for 2016. The only post since July was condolences on the passing of Takamasa Sakurai.) 2016 is Otakon's final year at the Baltimore Convention Center and it's while it seems unlikely that we'll see another attendance drop this large, but it also seems unlikely that it will immediately return to its 2014 attendance level.

Following a couple years of attendance increases of over 10,000 people, Anime Expo's numbers have increased by "only" 4,500 people. This may be the result of the excessively long registration lines of Anime Expo 2014. The lines were so bad that the SPJA issued an open letter addressing the situation and how it would be fixed for 2015. Although the SPJA has announced the cancellation of Anime Conji 2016 just three months before the convention was scheduled, it's unknown if anything related to Anime Expo played a part in the decision for the cancellation. The SPJA's official statement was that they "have collectively decided to focus on expanding and improving each of our events".

Anime Matsuri has shown larger than average growth over the last few years with a 43.82% increase in 2013, 29.51% increase in 2014, and 25.32% increase in 2015. However, the Houston market is only so large and faces competition from Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio. It seems likely that these attendance increases will have to normalize eventually. With the negative report the convention received in the Houston Press and the issues with the Lolita community, 2016 might be the year the attendance increase slows down. Anime Matsuri has been removed from the list. See update below.

Although it would have claimed the tenth spot this year with a remarkable 55.45% jump in attendance to 22,696 attendees, MomoCon is left off our list. On the convention's own FAQ page, they describe themselves as "a multi-genre fan convention". As such, it has to be disqualified.

As always, we remind you that these are merely the largest conventions and are not necessarily the best. If past history is any indication, this list is bound to be copied and used as some other site's "Best Anime Cons" list. That's a shame because there are some absolutely wonderful conventions out there that are not mentioned on this list. You can have a lot of fun at smaller events and we strongly urge you to find the conventions near you and try them out.

If you want to compare the growth of conventions over the last ten years, here are some links to our annual reports (either written or as reported in our podcast): 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003

UPDATE: Anime Matsuri has been removed from the list due to significant discrepancies between the numbers they reported (24,328 warm bodies) and the number of tickets sold reported by the venue.

Patrick Delahanty is the creator of and executive producer of AnimeCons TV. He is the host of The Chibi Project, Anime Unscripted, and is one of the founders of both Anime Boston and Providence Anime Conference. Patrick has attended 148 conventions, cosplaying at most of them.