Stay in school, though, kids, because it’s probably not as easy as it sounds.
Ask cosplayers how they got their start, and the answer will probably contain a mix of their passion for anime, interest in fashion design, and the allure of being able to take on a new persona while in costume. On the other hand, it’s doubtful that any of them will say they got into cosplay for the money.
That’s probably a good thing, since for the vast majority of people who dress up as their favorite anime or video game characters, it’s definitely a cash-negative activity. For a select few, though, cosplaying can be so lucrative that it wouldn’t even be accurate to call it a hobby.
For example, 22-year-old cosplayer Enako recently appeared on Japanese talk show Nakai no Mado as part of a special feature on Comiket, Japan’s semiannual independent comics extravaganza, and the otaku lifestyle. While speaking with the show’s hosts the subject of Enako’s cosplay earnings came up, which she gave as “more than one million [US$9,700] a month.”
▼ Enako on Nakai no Mado
「ナカイの窓」放送終わりました！ 今回の放送を機に、コミケやコスプレに少しでも興味を持っていただけたら嬉しいです。 見てくれた方ありがとうございましたv(´∀｀*v) #ナカイの窓 https://t.co/98sUB5AKsn—
えなこ (@enako_cos) September 14, 2016
So where does all that money come from? Enako says that she can take in between 300,000 and 400,000 yen for a live appearance in front of fans. The real money-maker, though, seems to be sales of merchandise such as photo collections, which she says brought her roughly 10 million yen in just two days during the last Comiket, a figure that seems to be separate from the one-million-a-month income she mentioned separately.
東京ゲームショウ2016 9/18(日) GameMarketブース 11：45～12：45 「幻獣契約クリプトラクト」のコーナーにシシルちゃんのコスプレで出演します！ 撮影タイムもあるのでお楽しみに🐿✨ https://t.co/LXlsAavxZf—
えなこ (@enako_cos) September 13, 2016
Those are some eye-popping numbers for what’s ordinarily thought of as a fun way to express your love for your favorite animated show. A second look at what she’s saying, though, makes it all seem pretty logical though. Enako’s earnings come from sponsors paying for her to endorse their product or event, and also by creating and selling photo collections. In other words, take a step back from the fact that those products are anime and video game-related, and it’s clear that while Enako is referred to as a cosplayer, she’s actually working in commercial modeling, an industry where incomes like hers aren’t at all unheard of for top-level talent.
▼ Here’s Enako, dressed as Harley Quinn to promote the release of the Suicide Squad move in Japan…
映画『スーサイド・スクワッド』のハーレイクイン公式コスプレイヤーとして ジャパンプレミアのレッドカーペットに出演してきました❤️💙 #悪カワハーレイになってみた #スースク https://t.co/MLRYtv1V6N—
えなこ (@enako_cos) August 25, 2016
▼ …and here she is again at an event for the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha multimedia franchise.
えなこ (@enako_cos) September 03, 2016
In Japan, the otaku economy has grown to the point where it needs, and shows a monetary demand for, specialized models. With that, though, comes all the competition and quality demands that you’ll find in any other viable business sector. Enako also shared on Nakai no Mado that she has no other form of income aside from cosplay, and it’s doubtful that she’d be able to hold down another job while still devoting enough time to achieve the success she has in her field. So while she definitely seems to have a lot of enthusiasm for her chosen profession, in her case it’s really gone from being just cosplay to being coswork.