The Scene from the Kyoto International Manga Anime Fair 2019

Anime conventions in Japan are a very different experience than the ones in the United States. Almost all American anime cons sprang up as places for fans to discuss their favorite series, and while for-profit cons exist, they still take their cues from the grassroots events by combining industry programming with those run by fans.

In Japan, there's a bigger divide between the industry-focused cons and the fan-focused ones. The biggest fan-driven convention, the biannual Comiket, is essentially a gigantic artist's alley for doujinshi (fan comics); there are corporate booths there as well, but the numbers pale in comparison to the thousands of fan artists who are the focus of the convention. In contrast, the biggest industry-based conventions, such as Anime Japan in Tokyo and the Kyoto International Manga Anime Fair, operate more like giant dealers' rooms, the focus being on whatever stuff the big anime studios have to sell and promote.

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KYOMAF has two full floors of industry booths, promoting new shows and selling exclusive merchandise. Even the food is themed around anime, this year a promotion for the Nijisanji virtual YouTubers. Local animation studios and businesses trying to reach the otaku crowd naturally have a strong presence. This makes this year's major absence all the more notable. In the aftermath of the horrific arson attack that took 35 lives, Kyoto Animation has good reason to sit this year out. Those hoping for some sort of tribute event to celebrate the studio, however, were out of luck at the Miyako Messe convention center (the Kyoto International Manga Museum is still taking donations for KyoAni).

RELATED: Why We Love Kyoto Animation

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The big promotions this year at KYOMAF are mainly focused on new seasons and spinoffs of established properties. My Hero Academia was everywhere, at every booth with even a sliver of a connection to the Shonen Jump hit. The second season of Re:Zero and the Madoka Magica spinoff series Magia Record also had prominent displays. The series that spent the biggest on promotion, however, might just be Sword Art Online, receiving a full exhibit room of just Sword Art Online figurines.

kyomaf sword art online

As for panel programming, there are two rooms for panels. One requires special tickets for each panel. The other is an open stage. All the panels are industry-based, with a few concerts thrown in for good measure. Probably the most exciting programming at KYOMAF for those who apply in advance are the portfolio reviews with manga editors and the anime/game industry job fair.

RELATED: My Hero Academia Vs. Naruto: Which Anime Has the Most-Hated Character?

kyomaf fate grand order

Perhaps the biggest difference between American and Japanese conventions is the relative lack of cosplay at the latter. Aside from a few people hired to promote the Fate/Grand Order mobile game and upcoming anime adaptation, you just didn't see anyone on the main floors in cosplay at KYOMAF. There is a dedicated cosplay area with changing rooms in the convention center, but it's small and hard to take good photos in such an awkwardly laid out space.

kyomaf cosplayers

You actually saw more cosplayers outside the convention center, across the street in Okazaki Park. KYOMAF as confined to the convention center is ultimately not the most exciting con; unless you've pre-registered for one of the special events or want to wait in every shopping line, you can see most of what it has to offer in a couple hours. The way it bleeds out into the rest of Kyoto, though, is something special. Cosplayers dance in Okazaki Park, ROHM Theater does anime concerts, Toei Kyoto Studio Park does special events.

kyomaf kyoto manga museum

Best of all, it's the perfect excuse to check out the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which sells tickets packaged with the Miyako Messe tickets and extends its hours to celebrate the occasion. This year for KYOMAF, it added two special limited time exhibits for the manga Chihayafuru and the illustrator Kamogawa. It's a good time to visit the museum, but really any time is great for a comics fan. With walls and walls of comics to read at your leisure, many available in multiple languages, this is a place you can spend a lot of time at.

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