January 1, 2007

Largest North American anime conventions of 2006

by Patrick Delahanty

The year 2006 is now behind us and it's time to look back on the last year of anime conventions.

The year was off to a rocky start when Kevin Lillard, the legendary convention photographer, suffered a heart attack at Ohayocon. To the delight of everyone, he made a quick recovery and was back covering conventions in no time.

Unfortunately on January 13th, Jeff Thompson, a producer and director for The Right Stuf International, passed away unexpectedly. The tragic loss came as quite a shock to those who had seen him in good spirits at Ohayocon just a few days earlier.

Artists' alley became the hot topic when Otakon's Artists' Alley staff posted an "official" notice in their forum that got artists into an uproar over banning fan art. Although it turned out that people had misinterpreted the information, they were not actually banning fan art, and it was not intended to be an official announcement, it still created quite an uproar. The artist uproar was reborn again when Katsucon announced revisions to their artists' alley policies at the end of the year.

In terms of guests, Anime Boston hoped to surprise a lot of people with the March announcement that they would be the first anime convention to host a live performance by Kaiju Big Battel, but that was overshadowed less than a month later. In April, Anime Expo (with the aid of quite a few sponsors) surprised many people with the announcement of CLAMP.

On one weekend in May, three of the largest anime conventions were held at the same time: Anime Boston, Anime North, and FanimeCon. Over 30,000 people went to at least one North American anime con that weekend.

In October, the folks behind AnimeNEXT presented us with MangaNEXT, the first convention to be dedicated to manga.

It's unfortunate that the year came to a close on a negative note with a couple new start-up conventions either copying a large convention's web site content word-for-word or copying a long-running convention's name. There are plenty of innovative ideas out there and it's too bad that any copying takes place.

In terms of attendance at conventions, has continued collecting attendance figures from anime conventions around the world. Sometimes a convention will report the total number of paid attendees and other conventions will report the total number of people with a badge (which includes paid attendees, staff, guests, dealers, and others).

Each year, assembles a list of the ten largest anime conventions in North America. This year's list was a bigger challenge to assemble than it has been in the past. In more than one case, a convention releasing "total attendance" (or "warm body") numbers had figures just a few hundred higher than a convention releasing "paid attendance" numbers. In these cases, we had to refer to available staff, guest, and dealer lists in order to compare the two figures. In the future, we strongly encourage conventions to release both figures. Whenever available both figures are available, we list them on this web site.

In the event one convention's total and paid numbers fall in the range between another convention's total and paid numbers, we will give preference to the total number. Our reasoning is this: Even if people didn't pay, they are still a part of the convention. Staff, guests, dealers, and press are able to enjoy a convention just as much as paid attendees...and they each take up seats and hall space just like everyone else.

The ten largest anime conventions in North America are as follows:

  1. Anime Expo: 40,647 total, 32,930 paid
  2. Otakon: estimated 32,902 total, 22,302 paid
  3. A-Kon: 12,500 estimated paid
  4. Anime North: 12,500 estimated total, 11,286 paid
  5. Anime Central: 11,500 estimated total
  6. FanimeCon: estimated 10,000 paid
  7. Anime Weekend Atlanta: 8,949 paid
  8. Anime Boston: 9,354 total, estimated 8,854 paid
  9. Sakura-Con: 8,300 estimated total, 7,500 estimated paid
  10. Katsucon: 6,400 estimated total, 5,664 paid

Anime Expo is once again the largest anime convention in North America. Although they issued a press release that claimed "over 41,000 attendees", their staff has released their exact attendance of 40,647 people. This figure is roughly 8,000 people more than last year. While that may seem like a lot, it's well within their typical yearly growth percentage. This indicates that the addition of CLAMP to the guest roster had little to no affect on attendance.

One convention that's growth percentage seems to have dwindled is Otakon. Although they had an attendance cap of 25,000 paid attendees, they only reported 22,302 paid attendees -- an increase of only 302 people over 2005. It was the slowest growth in the convention's history and reported on several theories that could have been the cause.

Seeming to be in the third spot in perpetuity is A-Kon. However, with the gap between the third and fourth spots getting smaller each year, it seems like it is only a matter of time until another name fills the space.

It should be noted, before comparing the rest of this list to last year's list, that FanimeCon 2005's attendance numbers were reported incorrectly before the article was written. Their correct numbers for 2005 were 10,438 people total (or 8,264 paid attendees), which bumps the convention way up to the fourth position on last year's list if you go by total attendance or sixth if you go by paid attendees.

Taking that into consideration, FanimeCon is in the sixth position for 2006 with Anime North moving up to the fourth position with Anime Central close behind in the fifth position. This also swaps Anime North and Anime Central's positions once again, a trend that has happened each year this site has assembled the list.

Anime Weekend Atlanta and Anime Boston once again occupy the seventh and eighth positions. It seems to be very likely that both of these convention could pass the 10,000 mark next year.

Sakura-Con has jumped up to the ninth position with a large increase in attendance in 2006.

Katsucon, which at one time rivaled Otakon in size, has only seen a meager attendance increase over the last few years. If the current attendance trends continue, it seems likely that AnimeNEXT will be appearing in the tenth slot on next year's list.

The above list only includes conventions with a majority of their programming dedicated to anime and manga. Therefore, it does not include large events such as Dragon*Con and San Diego Comic-Con.

As usual, would like to stress that the above list is not a list of the "best" conventions, but only the largest. There are many, many other great anime conventions out there worth checking out. Each year, thousands of anime fans have a great time at many of the smaller conventions that are out there and many people have said that some of the smaller cons are some of their favorite.

As for what's ahead in 2007, there are already many new conventions in the works and most of the ones from 2006 seem to be returning. If the coming year is anything like last year, there are sure to be plenty of surprises along the way...both good and bad.

We encourage everyone to head on over to the new Forums to talk about their experiences from 2006 and their plans for 2007. The forums are a great place for anime convention attendees, guests, and planners to come together to share information.