Dispatches

China’s Anime and Cosplay Obsession

How the rise of “2D culture” helps Chinese teenagers escape pressure and find purpose – Tanner Greer

“Most people have no idea I do this,” said Wu Na, beaming, as costumed conference-goers stopped to take her picture. The 14-year-old was wearing a thin cotton cloak over a knee-length tunic. As I talked to her, a boy walked into the convention hall sporting spiked hair, a neon-purple trench coat, and a bare chest. Like the hundreds of other cosplaying teenagers in the convention hall, he was not going to allow Beijing’s frigid January temperatures to cramp his style. “I have trouble connecting with most other people at school,” Wu reflected. “But in the two-dimensional world there is a sense of community I can’t find anywhere else. My second-dimension friends mean so much more to me than my third-dimension friends do.”

Wu is just one of the hundreds of millions wrapped up in what young Chinese call the “second dimension” (二次元). The closest English parallel is the ACG, or animation-comic-gaming sector, the market’s favorite acronym for a certain class of Japanese pop culture exports: anime, manga, and the merchandise inspired by them. The two-dimensional world Chinese teenagers such as Wu Na live in includes all of these elements, but their self-styled “second dimension” extends further – and is not limited to Japanese ACG, also factoring in anime-styled cartoons drawn in Korea, China and the United States.