An Introduction to Comiket

As an otaku, it is your sacred duty to attend Comiket. It doesn’t matter if you go as a vendor, cosplayer, or tourist--simply being there is what’s important. Japan’s largest event by fans for fans can’t exist without people like you!

Comic Market, known colloquially as Comiket, draws over half a million attendees and thirty-thousand exhibitors during its 3-day run. The only convention hall massive enough to contain the excitement is Tokyo Big Sight, its entrance topped by a futuristic framework of steel girders that form a quartet of pyramids pointing down at the structure like one of Evangelion’s Angels poised to blast the GeoFront.

The bi-annual event is conveniently scheduled around two major national holidays, O-bon in the summer and New Year’s in the winter, allowing people from as far away as Kyushu to make the pilgrimage to Tokyo. Most are there to buy dojinshi, fan manga that can either be original or bootleg, all-ages or adult-only. Dojinshi vendors set up shop as a group of artists known as a circle. But not all circles are created equal.

Popular and long-running circles are given premium space along the walls or isle endcaps to help control the long lines, some of which even snake outside the hall! Everyone else is grouped together by genre and assigned to the sprawling rows of tables that spread out as far as the eye can see. Venture into the heart of the beast and you’re liable to be crushed by the press of bodies. Veterans don’t call the event a war zone for nothing!

Standing in line and being elbowed by strangers all day is one thing. Imagine how bad the cosplayers have it. Compared to the orderly lines inside the convention hall, the outdoor cosplay pit is pure chaos, with clumps of photographers clustering around a single model. Volunteer staff patrol the otherwise lawless land and break up camera bandits if the cosplayer needs to take a break--and bikini armor does not protect against heat stroke.

Yes, the scantily-clad girls and adult manga are what make Comiket legendary. But there’s so much more if you look past the sensationalism. Pornographic dojinshi only makes up 1/3rd of all titles, and that’s not counting the non-dojinshi items--handmade crafts, novels, role playing source books, computer games, digital music, and more. Come for the smut, stay for the sub-culture.

The founders launched Comiket with high ideals. Looking to challenge mainstream manga that they criticized as being overly commercialized, Yoshihiro Yonezawa and his classmates at Tokyo’s prestigious Meiji University gathered thirty-some doujin circles for the first Comic Market in 1975. Attendance grew exponentially, from barely seven hundred to nearly ten-thousand by the 80’s and many times that in the years to come.

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As the number of visitors continue to climb, the barriers to entry sink lower and lower. Word of mouth draws in more first-timers each year, some out of obligation, but most out of curiosity. It turns out you don’t need to be a hardcore otaku to attend--just hardcore enough to survive the crowd.