Anime NYC Might Need To Change Its Name After This One Series Took Over Its Artist Alley

Anime cons are changing, sort of.

I was hanging out with a friend in Genshin Impact cosplay when I heard a 30-something anime fan utter a strange statement. “It’s Hololive and gacha games,” he said, referring to Anime NYC. “What the hell happened to the anime?”

Recommended Videos

He was right, after all. The anime fandom is no longer just about anime. Media adjacent to the anime aesthetic is more popular than ever, and its presence at Anime NYC this year was unmistakable. Case in point: The very first thing I saw when I walked through Anime NYC’s press entrance was an enormous banner for miHoYo’s latest major release, Honkai: Star Rail.

I spent six hours straight at Anime NYC on Friday, and from the start, I had a hard time putting a finger on the most popular anime series there. Chainsaw Man was certainly well represented among artists and cosplayers, but season one is done for now, the ongoing manga aside. Classics like Hunter x Hunter, Demon Slayer, and Jujutsu Kaisen all had their time in the spotlight at booths and merchandise tables, but you could easily miss merch for all three if you mostly hung out at the artist alley. Whereas Chainsaw Man was practically unavoidable last year, and Demon Slayer took over the convention the year before, Anime NYC 2023 didn’t have a stand-out series that set the stage for the whole weekend. Everyone is waiting for that next big release.

That’s where miHoYo came in to fill the gap. Despite the fact that the Genshin Impact and Honkai: Star Rail developer passed on tabling this year—a rarity, given that miHoYo appeared at both Anime NYC 2022 and 2021—Genshin in particular took over the artist alley. Like Chainsaw Man the year prior, every other artist had something for sale related to Genshin Impact. My poor friend cosplaying as Hu Tao wasn’t even able to complete his art run on the Friday pass alone. There were simply too many Genshin posters and key charms to check out.

Why Genshin Impact?

3 magical girls in 'Genshin Impact'.
(HoYoverse)

It’s easy to see why anime fans flocked to Genshin Impact. The game, which launched at the height of the pandemic in fall 2020, offers a magical fantasy world to explore with a wide range of regions and cultures represented. The game takes heavy inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, complete with dungeon puzzles, spontaneous combat, open-world travel, and even a cooking mechanism. Early on, the game was largely seen as an anime revamp of BotW.

But it’s not Genshin’s world and gameplay that keeps fans’ interest. It’s the game’s enormous cast of characters, each with distinct aesthetics and personalities. Players can unlock the lion’s share of the game’s cast by engaging in gacha rolls, an in-game gambling mechanic where players have a slim chance of acquiring a new character. Genshin has a built-in pity roll system that guarantees a character after spending enough in-game currency, which can be acquired by either playing the game or engaging in microtransactions.

The character-first nature of Genshin has given the game an enormous fandom, with players commonly obsessing over its heroes, villains, and supporting cast on social media. Over the years, the Genshin fanbase has created an enormous catalog of fan art and fanfiction dedicated to its favorite characters — along with a fair amount of NSFW material, from suggestive character studies to full-blown ships.

And yes, before you ask, Genshin hentai doujinshi was in strong supply at Anime NYC’s Hen Da Ne booth.

In theory, it’s easy to see why artists tabling at the artist alley would decide to lean into Genshin. A passionate fanbase tends to spend plenty of cash on its favorite characters. But Valorant, League of Legends, and Overwatch 2 all have dedicated fandoms obsessed with their respective series’ characters, and yet all three paled in comparison to Genshin at Anime NYC.

There’s another piece to the gacha puzzle, in other words. Genshin has a huge, huge following, one far greater than most of its fellow F2P video games.

Is Genshin really that popular?

Genshin is entering its silver years as far as ongoing live service games go: No longer a new release, instead relying on a dedicated player base coming back for more with new content updates every now and then. On Google, Genshin actually saw its largest dip in popularity over the past year, with mid-January to mid-August marking some of the lowest Google search queries ever for Genshin Impact since the game’s release, per Google Trends. Revenue for Genshin dropped shortly after Honkai: Star Rail’s launch, suggesting the drop off might have to do with Genshin players checking out Honkai instead. And while Twitch viewership numbers for Genshin remain strong, the game isn’t exactly returning to its highest spikes for average viewers in the same period as the year prior, per Statista.

In other words, if you aren’t much of a con-goer, Genshin Impact’s popularity at Anime NYC might come as a bit of a shock. But Genshin is still incredibly popular by most games’ standards, at least according to Google Trends. When comparing searches for Genshin against League of Legends, Fortnite, Valorant, and Apex Legends, only one game easily surpasses Genshin: Fortnite. Save for the rare, occasional search spike for Apex, the rest simply cannot break through Genshin’s lead.

Anime NYC 2023 Genshin merch acquired by one of Ana Valens' friends.
(Anime NYC 2023 Genshin Impact merch acquired by one of Ana Valens’ friends. Artists represented are lilistration, forgetmiso, Frog Well Studios, Ammybunny, and Ryethe.)

Google searches don’t tell us everything about player counts and long-term popularity, of course. But they can give us a reasonable assessment of proportional popularity. From November 2020 to November 2023, more people searched for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive than Dota 2, and more people generally played CS:GO (now called Counter-Strike 2) than Dota 2 over that same period. To that end, it seems fair to argue that more people are playing Genshin—a casual, easy-to-pick-up ARPG available on mobile, PC, and PlayStation—than they are playing Valorant, a tactical shooter with a high skill curve only accessible to players with a reasonable gaming PC.

It’s this relativity that truly matters more than anything. Since 2021, Genshin has had a strong presence at artist alleys, outliving other trends like Hades (certainly hibernating in popularity until Hades 2 launches) and Spy x Family (a fan-favorite last year, but with a relatively muted presence this year).

Artists like to study other artists at cons as well, so it makes perfect sense that a fan artist would add Genshin merch to their roster if the series is clearly drawing throngs of Genshin shoppers straight to their neighbors’ booths. This perfect storm allows Genshin to dominate art tables, creating a feedback loop where Genshin players show up, merch sells well, and more artists offer Genshin fan art as a result.

So, is Genshin the one to watch for at Anime NYC 2024?

More can be said about Anime NYC 2023’s various fandom presences, of course. Valorant merch was more popular than ever this year, a common trend I noticed from Flame Con as well—and while Valorant certainly remains a niche interest, its emergence among artists nonetheless represents the game’s growing popularity among Gen Z. Overwatch art, meanwhile, was barely available across the artist alley; a far cry from the game’s once-dominant presence at both Anime NYC and New York Comic Con.

To the aforementioned bystander’s credit, gacha wasn’t the only thing taking over Anime NYC. VTuber merch could be seen throughout the expo hall, with Hololive, Nijisanji, and even VShojo receiving their fair share of artwork and key charms. And then there’s Chainsaw Man, still well represented among cosplayers and artists alike, suggesting the series has cemented itself into anime culture as a staple fan art offering.

But it’s Genshin Impact that interests me the most right now. That anime fan who complained about “gacha” was right. The anime convention landscape is no longer just about anime, manga, light novels, and visual novels anymore. Anime-esque games with enormous fanbases, like Genshin, are making a home for themselves within the con too.

I can’t say for certain whether Genshin Impact will take over Anime NYC 2024. But miHoYo is applying the character-first Genshin formula to Honkai: Star Rail, which also saw its fair share of fan art across the show floor. We’ll have to wait another year to know for certain whether Star Rail is the next Genshin, but I expect it to slowly dominate conventions’ artist alleys over 2024 and 2025.

(featured image: HoYoverse)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more
related content
Read Article Give Up Your Hearts, Because ‘Attack On Titan: The Musical’ Is Coming Our Way!
Eren Yeager after the loss of Carla Yeager from Attack on Titan: The Musical
Eren Yeager after the loss of Carla Yeager from Attack on Titan: The Musical
Eren Yeager after the loss of Carla Yeager from Attack on Titan: The Musical
Read Article ‘Shounen Jump’ Hit ‘Sakamoto Days’ Anime Announced for Netflix
Taro Sakamoto and company in the teaser trailer for Sakamoto Days
Taro Sakamoto and company in the teaser trailer for Sakamoto Days
Taro Sakamoto and company in the teaser trailer for Sakamoto Days
Read Article ‘I Almost Didn’t Voice Gojo’: ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’s Kaiji Tang Told Us All About His Voice Work
Satoru and Suguru arguing during their high school days in Tokyo Jujutsu High in Jujutsu Kaisen.
Satoru and Suguru arguing during their high school days in Tokyo Jujutsu High in Jujutsu Kaisen.
Satoru and Suguru arguing during their high school days in Tokyo Jujutsu High in Jujutsu Kaisen.
Read Article ‘Kaiju No. 8’ Needs More Episodes
Kafka Hibino in kaiju form from Kaiju No. 8, Episode 7
Kafka Hibino in kaiju form from Kaiju No. 8, Episode 7
Kafka Hibino in kaiju form from Kaiju No. 8, Episode 7
Read Article Counting Down to When We Can Watch ‘Sakamoto Days’
Sakamoto Taro in a flashback from Sakamoto Days teaser trailer
Sakamoto Taro in a flashback from Sakamoto Days teaser trailer
Sakamoto Taro in a flashback from Sakamoto Days teaser trailer
Related Content
Read Article Give Up Your Hearts, Because ‘Attack On Titan: The Musical’ Is Coming Our Way!
Eren Yeager after the loss of Carla Yeager from Attack on Titan: The Musical
Read Article ‘Shounen Jump’ Hit ‘Sakamoto Days’ Anime Announced for Netflix
Taro Sakamoto and company in the teaser trailer for Sakamoto Days
Read Article ‘I Almost Didn’t Voice Gojo’: ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’s Kaiji Tang Told Us All About His Voice Work
Satoru and Suguru arguing during their high school days in Tokyo Jujutsu High in Jujutsu Kaisen.
Read Article ‘Kaiju No. 8’ Needs More Episodes
Kafka Hibino in kaiju form from Kaiju No. 8, Episode 7
Read Article Counting Down to When We Can Watch ‘Sakamoto Days’
Sakamoto Taro in a flashback from Sakamoto Days teaser trailer
Author
Ana Valens
Ana Valens (she/her) is a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship, and sex workers' rights. Her book "Tumblr Porn" details the rise and fall of Tumblr's LGBTQ-friendly 18+ world, and has been hailed by Autostraddle as "a special little love letter" to queer Tumblr's early history. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her ever-growing tarot collection.