Cosplay is a youth subculture originating in Japan. The moniker is derived from the words "costume" and "play", and is believed to have been first thought up in 1984 by a Japanese studio executive named Nov Takahashi. When he wrote for Japanese science fiction magazines about the impressive costumes worn by attendees at the Los Angeles World Science Fiction Convention, he gradually adopted the portmanteau term cosplay, which is used to describe the trend today.
The main feature of cosplay is that participants enjoy dressing up as their favorite characters from anime, comic books, and video games. It has developed to include, particularly when adopted in the west, people dressing up as characters from popular non-Asian fantasy and science fiction movies and games, such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who and World of Warcraft.
As a fashion concept, cosplay has also been seen to extend towards a style of dressing up not only as established, famous characters, but as characters that the enthusiast has developed themselves. This is often a crossover into the Japanese Lolita style of dress, where girls wear a distinctive, cute style. This allows girls who like the look but do not want to fully adopt the Lolita style as street dress to enjoy the less serious "Cosplay Lolita" style at cosplay events and venues.
Additional trends and sub-genres in cosplay include "crossplay", which involves wearing the costume of a character of the opposite sex, and participants called "dollars", who wear full body suits and masks to play characters without their own faces on show, rather like sports mascots.
Cosplay is usually something that takes place at parties, concerts, conventions and venues where likeminded people meet to show off their (often hand crafted) costumes, socialize, and photograph other enthusiasts. The most popular area for these kind of activities is the fashionable Harajuku area of Tokyo. In the district of Akihabara, a number of cosplay themed cafes have been opened during the last decade to cater to the cosplayers, and the staff all wear anime themed costumes themselves.
Twice a year, hundreds of thousands of cosplayers flock to Tokyo to visit the Comiket convention and market - the largest event in the world for cosplay enthusiasts.
The concept of dressing up and of taking part in role play based around popular characters also exists in the west, where cosplay style outfits are worn to attend science fiction and comic book conventions. The largest of these is held annually in San Diego.