Cosplay costumes vary greatly and can range from simple themed clothing to highly detailed costumes. It is generally considered different from Halloween and Mardi Gras costume wear, as the intention is to replicate a specific character, rather than to reflect the culture and symbolism of a holiday event. As such, when in costume, some cosplayers often seek to adopt the affect, mannerisms, and body language of the characters they portray (with "out of character" breaks). The characters chosen to be cosplayed may be sourced from any movie, TV series, book, comic book, video game, or music band anime and manga characters. Some cosplayers even choose to cosplay an original character of their own design or a fusion of different genres (e.g. a steampunk version of a character).
As the popularity of cosplay has grown, many conventions have come to feature a contest surrounding cosplay that may be the main feature of the convention. Contestants present their cosplay, and often to be judged for an award, the cosplay must be self-made. The contestants may choose to perform a skit, which may consist of a short performed script or dance with optional accompanying audio, video, or images shown on a screen overhead. Other contestants may simply choose to pose as their characters. Often, contestants are briefly interviewed on stage by a master of ceremonies. The audience is given a chance to take photos of the cosplayers. Cosplayers may compete solo or in a group. Awards are presented, and these awards may vary greatly. Generally, a best cosplayer award, a best group award, and runner-up prizes are given. Awards may also go to the best skit and a number of cosplay skill subcategories, such as master tailor, master weapon-maker, master armourer, and so forth.
The most well-known cosplay contest event is the World Cosplay Summit, selecting cosplayers from 20 countries to compete in the final round in Nagoya, Japan. Some other international events include European Cosplay Gathering (finals taking place at Japan Expo in Paris, France), EuroCosplay (finals taking place at London MCM Expo), and the Nordic Cosplay Championship (finals taking place at NärCon in Linköping, Sweden).
Portraying a character of the opposite sex is called crossplay. The practicality of crossplay and cross-dress stems in part from the abundance in manga of male characters with delicate and somewhat androgynous features. Such characters, known as bishōnen (lit. "pretty boy"), are Asian equivalent of the elfin boy archetype represented in Western tradition by figures such as Peter Pan and Ariel.
Male to female cosplayers may experience issues when trying to portray a female character because it is hard to maintain the sexualized femininity of a character. Often interpretations can be misconstrued as parody, or men can be asked to change their outfits because of their scantily-clad nature. Male cosplayers may also be subjected to discrimination, including homophobic comments and being touched without permission, possibly even more often than female ones when it is already a problem for women cosplayers, as is "slut-shaming".
The animegao players represent a niche group in the realm of cosplay. Their approach makes them a subgroup of, what is called in Japan, kigurumi; that is, mascot-style role players. They are often male cosplayers representing female characters. Female animegao are also found to represent male characters, especially male characters that lend themselves to the treatment, such as robots, space aliens and animals. Animegao wear bodysuits and masks that completely hide their real features so the original appearance of their characters may be reproduced as literally as possible, and to display all the abstractions and stylizations such as oversized eyes and tiny mouths often seen in Japanese cartoon art.