San Diego Comic-Con has grown into the biggest gathering of fans, geeks, and pop culture enthusiasts in the United States. But it's far from the largest fan event in the world. In fact, the world's largest convention doesn't even need the prospect of exclusive movie trailers or celebrity appearances to draw a crowd more than three times the size of SDCC. And if big crowds aren't your thing, some of the dedicated fandoms in foreign nations have long-running, niche events that reflect a different perspective on our beloved entertainment than you might see here at home.
With that in mind, here are some truly outstanding cons around the world that will let you geek out on your next journey abroad.
1. Worldcon - Helsinki, Finland
Worldcon has been held by the World Science Fiction Society every year since 1939 (with a few understandable breaks during World War II). The literary society is most famous for handing out the prestigious Hugo Awards for science fiction books, comic books, TV, and movies. The event itself leans toward the printed prose side of sci-fi, with many notable authors making appearances. This year’s scheduled guests include George R.R. Martin, Joe Haldeman, Cixin Liu, and many more. Despite drawing upward of 10,000 attendees, Worldcon has commendably remained a non-profit enterprise and is staffed entirely by volunteers. While 2017’s event is being held in Helsinki, Finland, the convention site moves every year — in 2018 you can catch it closer to home, in San Jose, California. Future Worldcons are expected to be held in Ireland and New Zealand.
Next event: August 9-13, 2017
2. Lucca Comics and Games - Lucca, Italy
With nearly 250,000 convention-goers, Lucca Comics and Games dwarfs both San Diego Comic-Con (where a mere 130,000 fans attended in 2016) and Lucca’s own resident population of 87,000. This event originated in 1965 as the Salone Internazionale del Comics, or “International Congress of Comics,” and moved to the small city of Lucca the following year. In 2006, Lucca Comics combined with another Salone Internazionale del Comics that was previously held in Rome, and since then the con has ballooned to epic proportions. In addition to experiencing the massive turnout, exhibitions from artists, a tabletop gaming arena, and an “eSports cathedral,” you also get to visit beautiful Tuscany and an ancient city that has been continuously inhabited since 180 B.C.
Next event: November 1-5, 2017
3. Comiket - Tokyo, Japan
Comiket, or “Comic Market,” has the distinction of being the largest fan convention in the world, with more than 590,000 attendees twice every year. All those people descend on the Tokyo Big Sight to peruse and buy doujinshi, which are self-published comics, manga, and novels. You’ll see the big commercial industry booths in a separate hall, but the focus is on the 45,000-plus indie publishing circles creating their own work for little profit — all selling their books at tables in a massive artist alley. What drives that fervor? Scarcity. More than 10 million individual books are sold at Comiket, but print runs for each issue are small. The best of the bunch sell out quickly, making certain books highly desirable. At the same time, those in-demand artists will earn a little money and might even be hired by one of the mainstream publishers on the basis of their success.
Next event: August 11-13, 2017
4. Gamescom - Cologne, Germany
Held annually in Cologne, Germany, Gamescom is the second-largest gaming industry event in the world (next to Macau’s Global Gaming Expo Asia). Last year 345,000 people showed up to get a glimpse at upcoming games and cutting-edge hardware. The much-hyped E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, in comparison, drew just 68,400 people. Gamescom covers a huge space at the Cologne Exhibition Center, with all the major gaming companies erecting massive booths with 20- or 30-foot-tall display screens. Outside in the city of Cologne itself, there’s a raucous carnival with artists, live music, a beach-type area, activities and games for young kids, and a cosplay village.
Next event: August 22-26, 2017
5. The Asylum Steampunk Festival - Lincoln, United Kingdom
The aesthetics of steampunk owe much to the fashions of Victorian England, with a healthy dose of imagination and Industrial Age tech added for flair. So maybe it should be no surprise that the world’s largest and longest-running steampunk festival is held annually in Lincoln, 120 miles north of London. The festival itself is four days long, centered in and around Lincoln Castle, which was originally built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century. There are large markets selling props and other merch, classes on making costumes, live music, games, and special events like “tea dueling" — the competitors ritually dunk a cookie in tea, and whoever’s crumbles first loses.
Next event: August 25-28, 2017
6. FedCon - Bonn, Germany
Originally short for “Federation Convention,” FedCon began as a Star Trek-only event but soon grew to include all the other fan-favorite science fiction TV shows and movies. It’s a relatively small gathering, with just 8,000 attending, but FedCon draws an impressive list of celebrity guests for panels and signings, on par with larger U.S. comic-cons. This past year, fans could see David Hasselhoff, Matt Smith, Jenna Coleman, Michael Dorn, and LeVar Burton, while past events have included William Shatner, Richard Dean Anderson, and Edward James Olmos.
Next event: May 18-21, 2018
7. Comic-Con Experience Brazil - São Paulo, Brazil
CCXP is South America’s biggest fan event, covering the gamut of movies, comics, TV, toys, and video games. Similar in size and scope to San Diego Comic-Con, you’ll see plenty of big celebrity panels and exclusive previews. Since the event is usually in early December (which is, of course, late spring in the Southern Hemisphere), Hollywood marketing teams are looking to promote their big holiday releases and mid-season TV premieres. Two years ago, for example, attendees saw a special featurette for The Force Awakens, so this year you might see some last-minute news for The Last Jedi, which is being released on December 15.
Next event: December 7-10, 2017
8. TFCon - Toronto, Canada
While Toronto's TFCon is relatively small compared to other events on this list, its 3,000 annual attendees still make it the world's largest event dedicated to Transformers. The popular Michael Bay franchise takes a back seat here, as TFCon primarily celebrates the many generations of animated TV series and toys from the 1980s and 1990s. Guests often include the voice actors and other creators on the cartoons, you can find vintage and modern collectibles based on those series, and there's usually a TFCon-exclusive toy in the style of the older toys.
Next event: July 13-15, 2018
9. Walker Stalker Cruise - Cozumel, Mexico
Think of this cruise as a four-day con devoted to the Walking Dead that you never have to leave. The ship takes you to the perfect beaches of Cozumel, Mexico, and it’s bookended by a departure and arrival in the port of New Orleans. While you’re on the ship you’ll rub elbows with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and fan-favorite cast members like Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, with several others to be announced. They’ll be participating in panels and autograph sessions, and the cruise hosts different Walking Dead theme nights, live music, and a chance to try out your best undead makeup effects in the costume contest. And in between those events, you can kick back and enjoy all the usual amenities of a luxury Norwegian Cruise Line vessel.
Next event: January 26-30, 2018
10. Japan Expo - Paris, France
It’s not like you really need another excuse to experience the world-class food, art, and architecture of Paris. But on top of France's many qualities, a quarter-million fans of all aspects of Japanese pop culture attend this festival every year in the City of Light, making it the largest event of its kind outside of Japan. Celebrity guests include J-Pop stars, manga artists, anime creators and voice actors, and video game designers, along with wrestlers and martial arts experts. As you might expect, it’s also a major cosplay event, with top-level talent hosting workshops and contests in addition to displaying their best costumes on the convention floor.
Next event: July 5-8, 2018