Last March, Katsucon and C2E2 had just wrapped up, with fans gearing up for Emerald City Comic-Con later that month and a full year of fan conventions ahead. Then, the onset of COVID-19 flipped the world of fandom —and especially cosplay — on its head. Suddenly, every convention was put on pause and the main reason people cosplayed was gone. Photoshoots were highly discouraged. Meet-ups with others were unsafe. And now, as the Delta variant threatens to start the cycle again, the world of cosplay is still up in the air.
After 18 months of uncertainty and with major conventions still canceled, you may think that cosplayers’ drive to recreate iconic characters would slowly disappear. However, TikTok has stepped in as an unlikely hero, providing a convention-like atmosphere for cosplayers and opening up the world when everything was closed.
Cosplayers have been using other forms of social media both before and during the pandemic, such as Instagram and Facebook. But TikTok is different from these platforms in a way that greatly benefits cosplayers. Instead of simply being a photosharing app, TikTok encourages users to create content with trending audios and sounds. In the videos they make, TikTok cosplayers can lip-sync to songs in character, act out their character’s reactions to new situations, or recreate a character’s iconic catchphrase. TikTok is a whole new space for creative innovation, and some cosplayers decided to take full advantage of the platform.
Cosplayer @ceekayye — who prefers to go by her screen name, Cee Kaye — has more than 400,000 followers on TikTok and was already familiar with the app before the pandemic struck. Kaye began creating cosplay content back in 2019. For her first cosplay ever, she paid homage to one of her favorite Broadway shows, Hamilton, by cosplaying the titular role. As the views on her videos increased, she expanded her repertoire by cosplaying more Broadway characters, such as Persephone from Hadestown.
“Cosplayers helped build TikTok from the beginning,” Kaye says. “I know some people who had been cosplaying right at the start.”
Since the app first launched in 2018, cosplayers have directly created transition and audio trends that eventually take the app by storm. For example, there was a trend happening late last year that challenged creators to use a TikTok filter and dance to the song “No Mercy.” Many TikTok users credit this viral dance to cosplayers on TikTok who used this song to mimic character’s movements in different anime series.
That is one part of TikTok that draws so many cosplayers to its platform — the ability to fully get into character. Kaye, for example, would lip-sync to cast recordings in her Broadway cosplays, making the performance her own. This isn’t something cosplayers would typically do during conventions, but it certainly got her into character. During the pandemic, she has been able to branch out from Broadway and take on characters from popular franchises, such as Effie Trinket (The Hunger Games), Olivia Crain (Haunting of Hill House), Homelander (The Boys), and more. However, her content has completely shifted in the past month thanks to a specific costume — Lady Dimitrescu, from the popular video game Resident Evil. Her most successful video is now at a whopping 12 million views, featuring Kaye perfectly recreating a Lady D pose.
Mia Parco (@miamorcos) is another cosplayer who found success in the pandemic. She downloaded the app during lockdown, desperately looking for something to pass the time. As a cosplayer who mainly posted on Instagram and Facebook, she realized the potential TikTok had and started creating. Now, after just a year, she has more than 140,000 followers.
“TikTok and audio really help me hone my skills,” says Parco, who frequently cosplays beloved cartoon characters.
She’s tackled Disney princesses, Avatar the Last Airbender characters, and young heroines. Dressed up as her favorite childhood characters, Parco frequently lip-syncs to their songs or speeches. By hearing the characters’ voices and following along, she says her acting skills have significantly improved. Through this journey, Parco also says she has found confidence in herself. One of her most popular videos is her dressed as “Moana Montoya.” In the clip, she screams Inigo Montoya’s iconic speech from The Princess Bride while dressed as Moana. This TikTok exceeded 550,000 views, building her confidence that people are following her content not just for the love of characters, but for her personality.
Cosplayer Mercy Vasquez (@mercy.cosplay) also downloaded the app during the pandemic and saw people like Parco and Kaye cosplaying all over their “For You” page.
“As someone who has always been interested in all of these things, I thought, ‘Why couldn’t I show my creativity through cosplay as well?’” Vasquez explains.
Vasquez began to pay tribute to their favorite shows, including She-Ra: Princesses of Power, Adventure Time, and Legend of Korra. Vasquez slowly started cosplaying all the princesses from She-Ra, and one of their most popular videos (with more than 1 million views) features a Glimmer cosplay. In the video, Vasquez’s pink-and-purple hair isn’t a wig — it’s their real hair dyed perfectly pink and purple! Fans of the show quickly recognized Vasquez’s skills, and now 144,000 people follow to see which character this cosplayer will tackle next.
Kaye, Parco, and Vasquez all stress how important TikTok cosplay became to them the pandemic. It all gave them a reason to get out of bed and work on a project. It also allowed them to experiment a bit more with their costumes, now that there was significant downtime.
“TikTok can jumpstart creative juices now that conventions aren’t happening,” Parco says.
Parco was finally able to take part in the Disneybound challenge, where she made modern costumes inspired by different characters for a whole month. She specifically loved this challenge because she says it notes an important shift TikTok has brought to the cosplay community.
“TikTok changes how we make cosplays. It doesn’t have to be as expensive,” Parco says. Basically, creators no longer feel as pressured to create the picture-perfect image of a character. Creativity is embraced on the platform, and Kaye even noted that the strong community increased her mental health.
For all three creators and the entire cosplay community, TikTok is essentially a viral convention. With the duet feature available for all users, cosplayers can even collaborate with others without having to leave their house. However, as with any social media platform, there can be downsides.
At a physical convention, numbers don’t matter, as everyone is equally dressed up and cosplaying together. But TikTok counts views, audience retention, and likes. For Parco, it can feel like these numbers determine how much people like — or don’t like— her cosplays. According to Parco, when a TikTok performs well, it’s a shot of adrenaline and provides a quick high. But if a video doesn’t meet her expectations, that happiness fades away to nothing.
“I have to remind myself that numbers don’t equate to my worth,” Parco explains, reflecting on the impact of analytics. “I tell myself, ‘This is just a part of you. You’re more than views.’”
Both Vasquez and Kaye also note the potential censorship that cosplayers face on the app. Many of Kaye’s characters are known for their weapons, but no weapons of any kind can be shown in a video, or it will get taken down. Getting a video removed can result in content strikes, and can even threaten the status of her page. She also faced severe drops in viewership when she cosplayed Grace from the film Ready or Not. In the video, Kaye had recreated Grace’s bloody, tattered wedding dress and, because of the scarlet splatters, the content was deemed “sensitive” despite it all being fake.
Vasquez also pointed out TikTok’s issues with its algorithm. While TikTok is great for sudden growth, the app only pushes out what it thinks viewers will want to see. For Vasquez, who makes it a goal to spread awareness of certain social issues, this can be a problem. If Vasquez deviates from their main cosplaying content, TikTok will assume their audience won’t be interested, and the video will be shown less.
But despite these setbacks, TikTok has created a vibrant cosplaying community filled with people who want to create together.
“Cosplay and content creating has opened so many doors for me, and I am truly grateful for the love and support I have received thus far,” Vasquez says. “Through doing things like replying to comments and being on Live, you can slowly begin to recognize familiar screen names, and you truly appreciate everyone who supports your content.”
While TikTok cosplay content has spiked due to the absence of conventions, there’s no sign of it stopping, even as the world starts to re-open.
“TikTok was great at passing time in the pandemic, but now it’s created a hobby for me,” says Kaye, who intends to further her TikTok growth, even after in-person events return.
Parco agrees, and though she’s been creating for over a year now, she still feels her skills developing every day. “If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be on TikTok,” Parco says. Without it, she wouldn’t have made an inclusive, creative community that she talks to every day. “I met so many amazing people thanks to TikTok.”
To see more of these creators’ cosplay content, follow: