All Things Cosplay at Zenkaikon 2023

Zenkaikon is a convention located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and took place from March 24-26, 2023. This year’s theme was Renaissance, with panels highlighting Tudor history. The most popular fandoms for cosplay was Demon Slayer, Critical Role, and My Hero Academia.

While Zenkaikon calls itself a “big con in a small place,” that doesn’t mean their programming is small either. Among diverse vendors and programming, the convention showcased multiple activities and events for cosplayers.

The Vendor’s Hall & Artist Alley

Like with all conventions, attendees scour the Vendor’s Hall and Artist Alley for merchandise and artwork from their favorite fandoms. And as usual, many attendees roamed around in their cosplay best. Check out this beautiful gown design of Studio Ghibli’s Totoro!

Beyond the sights of cosplay were lots of interesting exhibits and vendors. One booth that particularly stood out was The Chalk Twins, a duo of award-winning chalk artists. They were in the process of creating this incredible mural of Joel and Ellie from HBO Max’s The Last of Us entirely out of colorful chalk!

The mural was up for a silent auction, and according to their Instagram, took 25 hours to complete!

Other unique programming included a manga library, DIY workshops, tabletop gaming, and a video game room.

The Magic of Cosplay Exhibit

Imagine a museum dedicated to cosplay – that describes The Magic of Cosplay Exhibit perfectly. The exhibit began at AnimeNEXT, consisting of only 4 costumes. From there, the group encouraged people to donate their costumes, bringing the current exhibit total to 60 costumes, 10 wigs, plus various props.

“Over time you’re not wearing them, either [they] get tossed, or you try to sell them and usually nobody buys them because [it’s a] special fit and they just go to the wayside,” explained Lizzy, aka DizzyLizzy, the exhibit curator. “So we want to take them in because they’re still proud of their costumes and display them for everybody so they get to see how things are made and get up close to them without getting in a cosplayer’s personal space.”

In addition to marveling at the array of gorgeous costumes, visitors can talk to someone. While touching the costumes is not permitted, an attendant can show the details to curious guests. “We always have somebody in the room so they can talk about their costumes or even touch the costume to learn things,” Lizzy pointed out. “It’s all about learning things.”

When asked about her favorite piece – which was a difficult decision! – Lizzy selected Frau from Sakizo Designs (pictured above middle) created by Fire Lily Cosplay.  Though Lizzy also loves “the simple things,” referencing a Kakashi vest  – “when you get close, it’s all handmade. There’s pockets and buttons…even the simplest designs, is still really cool to see how its made.”

As shown above, visitors can thumb through various cosplay books and binders from different events. In these binders, readers can see progress pictures of builds and what the cosplayers went through.

What does Lizzy hope people take away from the exhibit? “We like to have different size and types of cosplayers. I hope someone is able to say ‘hey, they were able to make this – I can go ahead and try it too.'”

Professional Cosplay Photo Booth

Cosplayers got ready for their close up at the DCM Cosplay photo booth, providing professionally taken cosplay photos. What an awesome way for cosplayers to receive posed, high-quality pictures that they can cherish forever!

To the side, there was a mirror for last minute touch-ups. Then the cosplayer could choose from multiple background options, such as plain black or white, or special ones, such as a galaxy (which a Sailor Moon cosplayer appropriately chose). The booth even offered even color gel overlays.

Once the cosplayer selected their preferences, a professional photographer took the photos. After a few minutes, the cosplayers viewed their photos on a large screen and selected their favorites to purchase. Prices depended on the desired number of finalized images.

All the photos are available to view on their Facebook page. Props to the DCM Cosplay team for organizing a great experience to celebrate the cosplay at Zenkaikon 2023!

The Cosplay Masquerade

The most anticipated event of Saturday night was the Cosplay Masquerade. Korosensei taught Tiktok dances, two Kyoshi Warriors danced with ribbons and fans, and a Jinx  showed off their giant pistol prop. The final act was a Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure medley performed by a group of Golden Wind cosplayers – ultimately won Best in Show.

The masquerade featured cosplay skits and choreography from a multitude of fandoms. The performances exceeded all expectations, and Uncle Yo was a hilarious host.

DCM Cosplay took videos of each masquerade performance for your binge-viewing pleasure – see the Youtube playlist here.

Following the Masquerade was the Cosplay Contest, a more traditional display of cosplay. As opposed to performance, the judges of the contest examine needlework and craft. Again, attendees blew us away with their incredible cosplay!

The cosplay programming at Zenkaikon is truly something special.

Interested in more convention coverage? Check out all our convention features here!

About the Author


Cosplayer, creative writer, cookie connoisseur. Pronouns: she/they.

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