Hibari-sensei’s Guide to Cosplay: cosplay taxonomy

Today, we will be stepping out into the wilds of Japan to explore the Cosplay Kingdom. This is a unique group of individuals, and their world is one of color, texture, knowledge, and skill. I have created a special taxonomic system to classify the individuals we come across today.
Kingdom: Cosplay
Phylum: Group – categories I have created based on similarities between the source materials (in bold)
Class: Genre – type of source material
Family: Title of source material
Genus: Character
Species: Cosplayer – often an alias the person goes by on-line

Classification is not always as simple as I have outlined above, but the hierarchy remains the same for this presentation. I will also mention all known classes in the phylum and the phylum’s habitats (public events where such cosplayers can be found).  Now that I’ve given you a brief explanation, let’s go on a safari!

Quickly, we have come across a small herd.  Contrary to initial impressions, cosplayers are social organisms.  This group belongs to Cosmode’s Big Three. The Japanese cosplay magazine Cosmode divides its event photos into four categories: anime, comics, games, and other. The first three genres dominate the cosplay scene. In my taxonomy, the Big Three also includes non-Japanese equivalents.
Known Classes: anime, cartoons, comic books, computer games, manga, Korean manhwa, video games, webcomics
Habitats: conventions, cosplay cafes, cosplay events

This Code Geass group displays an elegance in the way they pose in their elaborate garments.  They do not seem to be bothered by the summer heat at all.  What fine specimens we have encountered!
Layers Eden01
Kingdom: Cosplay
Phylum: Cosmode’s Big Three
Class: Anime
Family: Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion
Genus: Lelouch Lamperouge, C.C., Euphemia li Britannia, Suzaku Kururugi
Species: Papiko, Kuusuke, Sakura, Akiru
Spotted at Layers Eden Sendai 6/27 in Shichigahama, Japan.

Live-Action is a rapidly growing phylum that is finding more ties to Cosmode‘s Big Three with the number of live-action adaptations. This type of cosplay is not as geographically limited as one may think. We may come across a Japanese cosplayer dressed as a character from the American musical RENT or a German cosplayer dressed as a character from the Chinese drama, Return of Condor Heroes.
Known Classes: dramas, film, television, theatre
Habitats: conventions, midnight movie premieres

Here we have a proof that live-action cosplay is not limited to human characters.  Don’t let this alien’s innocent appearance fool you; she comes from a fierce race bent on intergalactic domination.
SFE2010 - Dalek1
Kingdom: Cosplay
Phylum: Live-Action Fiction
Class: Television
Family: Doctor Who
Genus: Dalek Supreme
Species: SciFiHun
Spotted at Sci-fi Expo ’10 in Richardson, TX.

The Personality and Things phylum encompasses musicians and comedians, as well as inanimate objects, mascots, and characters from the music software Vocaloid (which are like virtual forms of musicians).   The majority of this phylum belong to a sub-class of Musician known as Visual Kei.  Cosplayers are drawn to the elaborate outfits of visual kei artists, and dressing up is another way for fans to express their love for a band.
Known Classes: comedians, mascots, musicians, inanimate objects, TV personalities, Vocaloids
Habitats: Akihabara, conventions, concerts, cosplay events, Harajuku

This cool individual was spotted with companions in what appears to be their usual haunt. Visual kei cosplayers tend to group more than others perhaps due to the nature of the people they are dressing as.

Kingdom: Cosplay
Phylum: Personality
Class: Musician, Visual Kei
Family: the GazettE
Genus: Reita
Species: unknown
Spotted on the Meiji Jingu Bridge in Harajuku.

Ah, look at these two rare beauties!  They are from the phylum, Art and Literature. It is distantly related to Cosmode’s Big Three and Live-Action Fiction, again as a result of adaptations. Moreover, a manga artist may produce stand-alone drawings, and the distinction literature and performance is blurred with plays. Cosplayers from this phylum employ great creative skill, as they must overcome the challenge of having few visual references for costume-construction.
Known Classes: artwork, literature
Habitats: book release parties, conventions, Renaissance festivals

The species on the left is an example of how taxonomy is not always clear, as her character comes from both a video game and artwork. Her companion is a famous species of the Cosplay Kingdom, known for her skilled creations and alluring looks.
anime matsuri 07-23
Kingdom: Cosplay
Phylum: Art and Literature
Class: Artwork
Family: Yoshitaka Amano, Nene Thomas
Genus: Terra Branford, Gothic Princess
Species: Space Invader, Yaya Han
Spotted at Anime Matsuri ’07 in Houston, TX.

Lastly, there are some cosplays that cross over into live-action role-play, historical re-enactment, and fashion, hence the name Crossovers.  These can be original designs, new interpretations of popular characters or archetypes (such as a guro-Lolita March Hare), or historical replicas (such as military uniforms). The venues for these cosplays vary depending on the costume itself: conventions, Renaissance festivals, and even book and movie premieres.  Crossovers reveal that the cosplayer is only limited by his or her imagination.
Known Classes: fashion, historical, original characters
Habitats: any of the previously mentioned venues

We have come across a warrior genus from the olden days of Japan.  He is also an example of the ambiguity among Crossovers, as the Shinsengumi are often featured in anime and manga.
Kingdom: Cosplay
Phylum: Crossovers
Class: Historical
Family: 19th century Japan
Genus: Shinsengumi
Species: Philip T.
Spotted at AnimeFEST ’10.

Well, this concludes our journey through the Cosplay Kingdom.  While we’ve encountered several colorful characters, we only skimmed the surface of what this kingdom has to offer.  It can be an intimidating world, don’t be afraid to do some exploring of your own.

Listening to: “Listen!!” by Hokago Tea Time

Leave a comment


  1. Ah! Yaya! I don’t know a thing about cosplay but I saw her website a while back and was so jealous of her mad sewing skills.

    • Yaya was probably the first cosplayer I could identify by name. I love seeing what she comes up with next.

  2. Fox

     /  December 14, 2010

    Yatta! Exterminate!! Exterminate!!

    I got your birthday/Christmas gift today. I think you’ll love it!!

  3. Rubab

     /  December 17, 2010

    Ahh I love how you classified them so scientifically XD

    After attending so many cons in the past year or so I’ve noticed more and more Lady Gaga cosplayers, making her one of the most prevalent live action type cosplayers currently, I think.
    I have yet to take a picture with one though :<

    • Thanks! I’m obsessed with categorizing things so this was fun.

      Lady Gaga is probably the most cosplayed Western artist. Before her, it would be hard to say because you really didn’t see. There was supposed to be a “Gaggle of Gagas” at A-kon, but I only spotted two of them.

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