I've been collecting anime figures for many years now and at the time of this writing I'm up to over 130 figures in my collection, on top of other anime merch like art books, wall scrolls and cards. This type of collecting is a fairly niche hobby, and there's a lot of misinformation outside of the experienced hobbyists, so I thought I would write a quick overview to introduce anime figure collecting to others.
Anime figures are basically small 3D representations of anime characters. There are other types of figures of course, such as vehicles, animals, or even western comic book heroes, but here I'll be mostly talking about the anime type which are based on Japanese animation characters, and thus typically originate from Japan.
Most figures are made of plastic such as PVC or ABS, although some are also made of polystone. The main difference is that polystone is heavier and feels more premium, however it is more fragile than PVC. I personally prefer plastic figures.
Anime figures can typically be divided in the following types:
When starting figure collecting, both prize figures and ichiban kuji can be good options since they are typically much cheaper. While both types are made to be won at games or lotteries, they can typically be found in some stores as well, so even foreigners can buy these figures by looking around a bit. They are typically found at around $10 to $50 USD. While they used to be significantly worse, recent figures from well known companies like SEGA, Banpresto and EXQ can be quite close to scale figures in quality.
Scale figures are the main bread and butter of the serious collector. These are typically higher quality and more complex, but also more expensive, usually around $100 to $200 USD. Some of the well known companies include Alter, Good Smile Company, Kotobukiya, Alphamax and Phat Company. Bootlegs should be avoided at all cost, not only because it's illegal and your money doesn't support the original creators, but also because the quality is typically much worst.
To show the difference between a low end and a higher end figure, here is a comparison of the same character in a $20 prize figure versus a $120 scale:
There are a few websites you can use to get information on anime figures, but the most popular one is My Figure Collection. You will typically find most anime figures there along with both stock pictures and user pictures, along with comments and links to stores where you can buy the figure. Another good place is the subreddit. YouTube also has quite a few reviews and unboxing videos for pretty much every figure out there.
Here are some of my favorite YouTube channels about figure collecting. Note that some are in Japanese but if you're only interested in seeing the figures, that can be overlooked:
When it comes time to buy, there are several options. Of course if you can afford a trip to Japan, or if you live there, that's going to be the most practical option. Akihabara is the main location where you will find the most anime figures by far. However, the main thing you will save is the shipping cost and shipping delay. In most cases, prices aren't cheaper in store versus what you can find online. If you can speak Japanese and use a proxy service, you can also use Yahoo! Japan which is a very popular marketplace over there. I would avoid eBay and AliExpress since bootlegs are very common on there.
Here are popular websites for foreigners to buy anime figures from:
Most serious collectors display their figures in glass cases, but it's not a requirement. I display all of my figures on open shelves, because I dislike watching them through glass panels. IKEA sells decently priced glass cases, and the main benefit of a closed case is that dust accumulation will be lower. You can also buy strips that will block the openings and reduce the dust collection even more.
Dust is always going to be the main issue when it comes to maintenance, and figures should be dusted on a regular basis. I dust my figures using a make-up brush once a week. In cases where dirt is present, you can also use water with a bit of soap, and a toothbrush for reaching into small parts. The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure figures are not subject to direct sun light or excessive heat. The UV light from the sun will change colors over time, and heat from a heater that's too close may damage the figure. This also means that you should only use LED lights close to your figures, since that type of light doesn't produce much heat.
I hope this was a good overview of anime figure collecting. Let me know if you have any questions.