Veronica, a 27-year-old artist who lives in Southern California, can trace her love of slaying beasts back to a modded PlayStation 2.
It was 2004, and her cousin had gotten his hands on a Japanese import of a video game series called Monster Hunter, in which teams of weapon-wielding warriors go off in search of titans to kill. “The original game was a wonder for young me,” says Veronica, who requested that we use only her first name for privacy reasons.
That experience sparked a deep love affair. Monster Hunter inspired her to make her living creating artwork, under the name Kinokashi, and selling self-made merchandise, as KinoKreations. She has attended Monster Hunter conventions across the U.S. and forged lifelong friendships in the community.
In fact, Veronica first met her partner, Justin Cheng, after finding his Monster Hunter–themed YouTube channel when the community was still small and “good Monster Hunter YouTubers were rare to come by,” she says. Cheng now serenades her with piano renditions of the game’s Pokke Village score — “a theme that means a lot to our relationship,” says Veronica.
Capcom’s Monster Hunter debuted in 2004 and follows a relatively simple premise: You hunt monsters. But it’s much more than that. Some gamers have put in their 10,000 hours mastering a game so addictive that it comes with a warning urging players to take regular breaks. So strong is Monster Hunter’s influence that the release of the new title Monster Hunter Rise, which hit shelves on March 26, was treated as an official holiday by a Japanese tech company.
Until fairly recently, Monster Hunter remained largely a Japanese phenomenon. The 2018 release Monster Hunter: World changed that, becoming the fastest-selling game in Capcom’s history. To date, it’s shifted over 16 million copies worldwide.
Late 2020 saw the release of a Monster Hunter movie starring Milla Jovovich. Meanwhile, there are Monster Hunter-themed bars in Tokyo dedicated to the pursuit of crafting fantastical swords and flashy armor from the skin and innards of gigantic toppled rabbits. The game has inspired countless fan-made artworks. Naturally, it’s also the subject of erotic fanfiction.
As with any successful game with an obsessive fan base, there are ridiculous amounts of tie-in products and collectibles. There are Monster Hunter Funko Pops, energizing potions, and faux monster-flesh purses, which retail for around $400. Monsters with names like Lagombi and Rathalos are immortalized in a hundred different incarnations of plush teddy. There is an abundance of fan-made keyrings, baseball caps, T-shirts, and stickers depicting battle cats known as Palicoes.
With such a treasure trove of merchandise, there’s a vibrant industry dedicated to tracking down statues of legendary Wyverns and Congalalas, fanged monkeys that fart poison. But only for those committed to the hunt. Veronica is one such person. She owns more than 500 pieces of Monster Hunter merchandise, a collection she has spent some $9,000 building but is worth many thousands more. (She has never had it officially appraised.)
Wesley Surber, from San Antonio, Texas, is another committed individual. He’s a retired health specialist for the U.S. Air Force and short story author and blogger whose Monster Hunter collection has completely taken over his home — and home life. A single dad in his late thirties, Surber owns figurines of giant, ice-breathing dragons; framed 11-by-17-inch prints of the Monster Hunter game covers; and little toys depicting his favorite monster Brachydios, who attacks hunters with explosive saliva.
“Most of my home is Monster Hunter,” says Surber, who sleeps in Monster Hunter–themed bedsheets surrounded by plush Monster Hunter dolls. “My children have learned that they need to wait until I’m done with a hunt before asking for anything.” Do his children share his passions? “They’re more into Minecraft at the moment,” he says. “Hopefully they’ll grow up to be hunters.”
For Veronica, it all started with volume one of Monster Hunter Illustrations, a book she purchased from a vendor at Anime Expo in Los Angeles around 2009. Now, her bedroom houses numerous glass cabinets showcasing pristinely kept figurines and plush toys as if they’re artworks in a museum. She cleans them all, individually, every month with an electric duster. Every cherished belonging has its place.
Tiny hammers litter her bedroom. So do life-sized ones weighing eight pounds that she made herself out of expanding foam, buckets, and faux-leather straps. There are posters signed by Ryozo Tsujimoto, Monster Hunter managing director and son of the current Capcom CEO. Veronica has Nintendo 3DS games she won at cosplay competitions and jars of Monster Hunter-branded pickles and packets of beef jerky. “The pickles had a nice crunch to them,” she says. “The jerky tasted strongly of vinegar.”
Veronica spent two years searching for an item that would seem like nothing more than a handheld music box to most. But to Veronica, it is a future heirloom that plays the Pokke Village theme, her and her partner’s special song. Eventually, she found it on a Japanese Yahoo auction for the bargain price of $20.
New product drops often sell out in advance. Older items will generally be more valuable than newer ones. Limited runs of official Capcom merch or items specific to a discontinued game will always demand a high price. One highly coveted item is a commemorative figurine of a winged monster called Espinas. Veronica is one of only 300 people to own this item, from 2007’s Monster Hunter Frontier. It’s currently being listed on eBay for $2,700.
Merch that isn’t super-rare is also sought after. The company Fangamer, based in Tucson, Arizona, designs almost all its own merchandise. This season, its must-have item is a 17-ounce wooden tankard that sold out on the day of its release. “There’s room for both types of merch in the market,” says Dan Moore, a copywriter at Fangamer. “Some people really love chasing rare merch and promotional items; others just want to know they’ll be able to get something once they see it.”
As in any other collector market, bootlegged merch is a problem in Monster Hunter circles. Most bootlegs are pirated or unlicensed copies of official Capcom figures and plushies. The quality is poor, they’re made with cheap materials, and they mostly change hands on sites like Wish, eBay, and Amazon at prices too good to be true — typically around half or a third of the standard price.
“Bootlegs drive me mad,” says Jamie MacKenzie, owner of online collectors’ store Korekuta. He believes that fakes and knockoff copies not only rip people off but hurt the community itself. “I can understand when you’re young, don’t have much money and you want merch,” he says. “But when you can afford proper merch, get proper merch. That’s a way to support the creator.”
MacKenzie lives in Dunfermline, Scotland, a town known as the birthplace of Scottish kings. He now spends his time traveling back and forth to Japanese conventions to find figurines limited to runs of 20 that, due to strict copyright restrictions, legally cannot be sold anywhere beyond the convention hall, and trawls hidden stores across Tokyo for hours. “In an ideal world I would love to just do that,” he says. “Visit Japan, buy stuff for people, and then repeat. Meeting and selling to fans is so rewarding. You can chat for hours about your favorite weapon or which monsters you love or hate.”
When not on reconnaissance missions in Tokyo, MacKenzie imports blind boxes — collections of random items — and eight-inch statuettes from Japanese and German wholesalers, and keeps an eye out for rare merch. “Being a massive fan means I know what to look for,” he says. (He has clocked between 300 and 400 hours on every title since 2008’s Monster Hunter Freedom Unite.)
MacKenzie is reluctant to say how much he earns on Monster Hunter gear. “The way I can put it is that no matter how much Monster Hunter merch I take to conventions, I am guaranteed to sell out,” he says. “I have regulars who will buy each thing that comes out, even the most expensive item we sell. Statues that are between $160 and $250 sell out on the day.”
If not through places like Korekuta, collectors source items through big Japanese retailers like Kotobukiya and Mandarake. “The most popular Monster Hunter items are the realistic-looking action figures,” says Azusa Iwanaga, chief of PR at AmiAmi, Japan’s largest online figure shop. “Isn’t it exciting to see in front of your eyes these monsters that do not exist in real life?”
“Monster Hunter has been the biggest influence with what I do till this day.”
AmiAmi releases over a hundred new Monster Hunter products each year, from official tie-in plushies to T-shirts. Depending on the product, over half of sales come from overseas, with the U.S. being its lead market. “The popularity of the series is continuous,” says Iwanaga. “It’s succeeded in achieving a dedicated fanbase. It isn’t just a passing fad.”
The success of Monster Hunter Rise is testament to the franchise’s staying power. Worldwide sales of the game topped 5 million units just 10 days after the game’s release, and with it came a gold rush for new collectibles. Twenty-two-inch long sleeping Palamutes that sold out at $100 are reselling for over $250 on eBay. Thirty-dollar Amiibos are being resold for $100. Limited-edition Monster Hunter Nintendo Switches can’t be made fast enough.
Some were lucky. “I have all I wanted for Rise,” says Veronica, whose commitment to the hunt brought her the elusive Switch, the Amiibos, and an official Switch controller embellished with a gold etching of Magnamalo, Rise’s flagship monster. But for her, it’s about much more than the merch.
“Monster Hunter has been the biggest influence with what I do till this day,” Veronica says. “It's how I met my significant other, who’s fully supportive of my ever-growing collection. Friends send me figures and keychains as gifts. My dedication to the series and the franchise is why I do this, but the community keeps me going.”