Every January, AnimeCons.com looks back at the last year of anime conventions to figure out which were the largest in North America. This isn't meant to be a list of the "best" anime cons, but merely the largest. By looking for any attendance trends among the largest cons, it may indicate any overall trends affecting the entire anime convention industry or perhaps fan conventions as a whole.
Before we present the list, we first need to explain the different ways that a convention can count its attendance:
- The most common method, but one that is very misleading, is used by most non-anime conventions and trade shows. A "turnstile" attendance count method counts people multiple times for every day of the convention that they attend. For example, if there are 1,000 people at a three day convention each day, they would report their attendance as 3,000...as 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. Although this site considers turnstile counts to be misleading and disingenuous, we've recently started listing them in order to be able to help people distinguish the difference and be able to compare attendance numbers more fairly.
- 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.
- 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 AnimeCons.com 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 AnimeCons.com staff and none have been pulled from anonymous sources such as unsourced Wikipedia entries. 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.
Eleven Largest North American Anime Conventions of 2016:
- Anime Expo - approximately 100,420 warm bodies (up 10.96%)
- A-Kon - 32,639 warm bodies (up 11.08%)
- Anime Central - 31,469 warm bodies (up 1.14%)
- Anime North - 29,973 paid attendees (down 0.78%)
- Otakon - 29,113 paid attendees (up 8.32%)
- Anime Weekend Atlanta - 28,781 paid attendees (up 14.63%)
- Anime Matsuri - 30,215 warm bodies, 28,270 paid attendees (up 24.2%)
- Anime Boston - 26,975 warm bodies (down 0.64%)
- Sakura-Con - approximately 23,000 paid attendees
- Youmacon - 21,036 paid attendees (up 9.56%)
- Otakuthon - 21,315 warm bodies (up 5.47%)
Anime Expo's top ranking should surprise exactly nobody. They've been the largest anime convention in North America for 13 straight years. This is their first time with an attendance of over 100,000 people and they're the first anime convention to hit that mark after adding nearly 10,000 additional attendees in 2016. Anime Expo will likely continue to grow as it is often cited by attendees as the most common convention that they'd like to visit someday. However, AX's own growth has often been the source of problems as overcrowding is often cited by its attendees as one of the biggest issues at the convention.
Climbing to the #2 spot from #4 last year is A-Kon in Dallas which had consistent growth (at about 11%) from the previous year. Starting in 1990, A-Kon is the longest continuously running anime convention in North America and this is the first time the convention has moved above the #3 spot for as long as we've been publishing our annual list.
Chicago's Anime Central holds on to the #3 spot for the seventh straight year. They only reported an increase of 356 warm bodies (about 1% growth). Following some years of significant growth, this is their third year of growth under 5%.
Anime North in Toronto reported 29,973 paid attendees in 2016. This is down 237 people from 2015, but still enough to come in at the #4 spot.
Once considered a lock for the #2 spot, Otakon dropped down to #5 last year with the largest attendance drop we've ever seen by any convention. They hold onto that spot for 2016 and seem to be back on track and added 2,236 additional paid attendees for their final year at the Baltimore Convention Center. It will be interesting to see how their move to Washington, DC affects attendance for the next couple years.
Moving up to the #6 spot is Anime Weekend Atlanta with a very respectable growth rate of about 15% and an additional 3,674 attendees.
Continuing with yet another year of exceptional growth, Anime Matsuri in Houston has moved into the #7 spot for 2016 with an additional 5,887 people in 2016. They've seen growth rates of 44%, 30%, 25%, and now 24%, but as was said last year, 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. A growth rate of over 20% cannot continue forever.
Anime Boston has moved from its rather consistent location in the #6 spot to #8 this year with a drop of 175 attendees. However, the convention seems to have attracted more single-day attendees as the convention reported a higher turnstile attendance count of 78,661 in 2016 over their count of 78,008 in 2015. Boston's anime convention is still feeling the effects of increased convention center security as a result of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing a block away from the Hynes Convention Center and guns that were seized during a 2015 Pokemon Championship at the venue. The increased security has resulted in longer lines as attendees try to enter the facility. The staff has been working with the venue to try and resolve security checkpoint issues for 2017.
Sakura-Con in Seattle reported "member attendance" for 2016, which we're interpreting as paid attendance, was "over 23,000 individuals". This is obviously a rounded estimate, but we have been unable to obtain a more specific attendance figure with which to compare to last year's warm body attendance count.
With 10% growth and 1,836 additional paid attendees, Youmacon makes their first appearance in the #10 slot since they last appeared on the list in 2011. They're closely followed by Otakuthon in Montreal which actually reported a number 279 people larger, but that was a warm body count compared to Youmacon's paid attendance count. However, we're including them both in the list because they're both so close and over 20,000 people.
It's worth noting that there is a difference of less than 2,500 people between the second and sixth conventions on the list. This just about puts these five conventions in a five-way tie. Furthermore, the difference between the second convention and the seventh is less than 4,000 people.
View graph with linear scale - View graph with logarithmic scale
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 AnimeCons TV podcast): 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003
To start planning your 2017 conventions, our AnimeCons.com and FanCons.com sites are an excellent resource to find lists of conventions in your area or around the world. We've also recently re-launched VideoGameCons.com, FurryCons.com, and SteampunkCons.com for some more niche interests. For Amazon Echo or Alexa device owners, we also have free Flash Briefing skills for FanCons.com and AnimeCons.com which can audibly tell you what conventions are coming up in the next week.
UPDATE: In an earlier revision, we incorrectly had Anime Weekend Atlanta listed as paid attendance when they had submitted a warm body count. The article now correctly lists AWA in the #7 slot.
UPDATE 2: It turns out that AWA's reported attendance was a paid count and we had it right originally. Changing it back.
Patrick Delahanty is the creator of AnimeCons.com and executive producer of AnimeCons TV. He is the host of Anime Unscripted and is one of the founders of both Anime Boston and Providence Anime Conference. Patrick has attended 160 conventions, cosplaying at most of them.