Cosplay with the Cool Kids: Manga in Barcelona

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Every fall, Barcelona travels down the rabbit hole and into the world of Japanese manga.

Earlier this month, we noticed a surge of heavily costumed young people wandering around Barca. Were they Halloween refugees who went out too hard on October 31st and never found their way home?

Not even close: It was the Barcelona Manga Convention, the largest event of its kind outside of Japan. And for four days each November, it takes over our fair city.

It might seem strange, but the truth is, Catalonia has always had a soft spot for Japanese comics. Before manga officially even made it to Spain, there was an underground black market for it. No, really.

And, in true Spanish style, revellers at the event found a way to turn things up a notch from simply thumbing a few comics. If you're thinking it's little more than an array of vendors selling overpriced "Death Note" key chains, think again.

See, in Barcelona, it's all about the costumes. We're talking everything from manganime characters of the moment to hopped-up Pac-Man ghosts to a particularly forlorn Max from Where the Wild Things Are.

And at this costume party, it's impossible not to get a little lightheaded from the buzz of a shared passion that spreads through the event. Here, visitors yell out in excitement when they spot someone dressed as their favourite character. Up-and-coming artists offer their services as cartoonists: "We'll draw whatever crosses your sick mind," reads a poster on one stand. 

Sure, manga fans may often be associated with nerd culture--in Spain they're often called frikis, after the phonetic pronunciation of freaks--but this is a world where outrageous quirk was, and always will be, the currency for cool.

Photos courtesy of Marta Armengol Royo