January 12, 2010

Ten largest North American anime conventions of 2009

by Patrick Delahanty, Senior Editor

Looking back on 2009, there seem to be two black clouds hanging over the anime convention world: the economy and the swine flu scare. While they may have been a concern for those attending anime conventions, the anime convention industry still saw some growth throughout the year, even if that growth wasn't as rapid as it had been several years ago.

With 2009 unemployment rates in the United States ranging from 7.7% to 10%, the economy impacted many conventions as people cut back on the number of conventions they attended and opted to visit nearby conventions rather than travel to larger conventions.

The threat of swine flu started to affect anime conventions in the spring when some Japanese guests cancelled appearances out of fear. Pony Canyon cancelled an appearance at A-Kon and Animazement had a number of guests cancel. Although there were no reported cases of anyone contracting H1N1 at an anime convention, nearly 100 cases were reported from attendees of Penny Arcade Expo.

Our anime convention database contains 257 conventions for 2009. That's down two from the 259 we have listed for 2008. Although there were some new conventions which popped up, a few did not return in 2009. Most of those returning conventions had fairly steady attendance with very few, if any, conventions experiencing surprising growth.

Starting when the site was launched in 2003, has been collecting attendance figures from anime conventions around the world. Anime conventions will often report two types of numbers: either the total number of paid attendees or the total number of people with a badge (which includes paid attendees, staff, guests, dealers, and others). We strongly encourage conventions to release both figures. Whenever both figures are available, we list them on this web site. All numbers included in this report and found elsewhere on this site were reported by staff members of the conventions themselves and posted on the convention's web site, announced at the convention, or sent via e-mail directly to

Last year's list was presented in the premiere episode of the Podcast and this year's list marks the start of season 2 of the podcast. Each episode covers the latest news from anime conventions along with content such as convention reports, guest interviews, tips, Q&A, and a rundown of upcoming anime conventions.

As presented in the podcast, the ten largest anime conventions in North America during 2009 were as follows:

  1. Anime Expo -- 44,000 estimated people total
  2. Otakon -- 26,350 paid attendees
  3. New York Anime Festival -- 21,388 people total
  4. Anime Central -- 17,249 people total / 15,463 paid attendees
  5. Sakura-Con -- 16,586 people total
  6. A-Kon -- 16,037 people total
  7. Anime Boston -- 15,438 paid attendees
  8. Anime North -- 14,800 estimated paid attendees
  9. FanimeCon -- 15,000 estimated people total / 14,000 estimated paid attendees
  10. Anime Weekend Atlanta -- 11,717 paid attendees

Anime Expo and Otakon held onto their rankings for yet another year, even with relatively slow growth. Anime Expo is only up 1,000 people while Otakon's paid attendance only grew by 88. In September, Anime Expo terminated its contract with BAM! Marketing, Publicity, & Promotions, who had been conducting public relations for the organization for the last six years.

In its final year as a standalone show, New York Anime Festival brought in 2,989 more people than 2008.

The largest growth seen in 2009 was from Anime Central, which drew 3,349 more people than their 2008 convention which had very long waits at registration due to issues with their system. Those registration issues were resolved in 2009 and they moved from #8 on the list up to #4.

Coming in fifth is Sakura-Con. A couple months ago, the convention released a press release claiming to be "the third largest convention of its kind in the United States." Asked to define "of its kind", a representative from the convention stated that they were only counting conventions with non-profit status and were not aware of Anime Central status as a non-profit convention or their reported attendance numbers.

Ever since we've started tracking the attendance for the ten largest conventions back in 2003, A-Kon has always maintained the #3 or #4 spot. Starting back in 1990, the convention is currently the longest-running anime convention in North America, but they have not had any years of rapid growth recently like many of the other conventions on this list have seen. With slower growth, they've now dropped to sixth on this list. In a few years, if trends continue, they may no longer be on the list.

One of the big convention news stories of 2008 was Anime Boston's registration troubles that caused lines reported which were reported to be up to ten hours for some people. Those troubles didn't keep over 15,000 people from returning in 2009, where anyone who pre-registered waited no longer than 45 minutes thanks to a new registration system. Most people were able to get in with no wait at all, causing many people to wonder if they were in the right place when they didn't see a line. With assurances that registration lines are a thing of the past, we can likely see more people returning to this convention in 2010.

Rounding out the list are Anime North, FanimeCon, and Anime Weekend Atlanta. Each of these three reported relatively stable attendance increases over the prior year. They each appear to be conventions with many dedicated local attendees that draw in some additional attendees from away.

Looking forward into 2010, the most obvious change we can expect to see on the above list is that New York Anime Festival will not be on it. The event is merging with New York Comic Con and we do not include combination conventions (such as Dragon*Con, San Diego Comic Con, or Fan Expo Canada) on our list of the largest anime cons.

With NYAF not on the list, we are guaranteed to see the inclusion of one convention currently not on this year's list. Two possibilities are AnimeNEXT, which was ranked as #11 in North America in 2008 but has not released attendance numbers for 2009, and Ohayocon, which will be holding it's tenth convention at the end of January.

As we do every year, 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 the smaller conventions that are out there and many people say that some of the smaller cons are their favorites.

Patrick Delahanty is the creator and senior editor of 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 over 80 conventions, cosplaying at most of them.