Figure collecting is a fun and most often expensive hobby. How expensive it is depends on the number of figures you buy, the type, and the quality of the figures. Some figures are fairly expensive and made with the highest quality, while others are made more cheaply with less precision for detail and more quality check errors. If you collect a lot of figures, you may also find a need to buy or make display cases.
There are different types of figures and different sizes. Most often, figures are made at 1/8 scale, but scale sizes vary. They can be as small as 1/12 scale or as big as 1/4 scale. There are even 1/1 scale figures that exist. Figures can be posable or nonposable and can sometimes have changeable parts. Two types of figures that always have changeable parts are figmas and Nendoroids. On the cheap side, there are prize figures and trading figures. Prize figures are made with lower quality and often have painting mistakes. Trading figures are very small figures that usually come in sets. On the very expensive side of figure types, there are RAH (Real Action Heroes) figures. RAH figures are posable, have changeable parts, and have fabric clothing.
If you don't care about having high quality figures and want to save money, you can buy prize figures instead of expensive high quality scales. A prize figure might cost $15 compared to a scale figure that costs at least $80. Figure prices have gone up more recently, so the starting price for a decent scale figure is now around $100. Another option in place of getting expensive scales is to buy Nendoroids, which are small figures with big heads. Nendoroids have good quality and cost around $35-40.
For those who possess the knowledge and skill to piece together and paint figures themselves, there are also garage kits. Despite the name, they are usually good quality figures, if not excellent. These are very unlike other figures. They are not made by companies and are made in very small quantities. There is only an extremely brief opening in which to buy them before they sell out. Some sell out within hours. They are also usually expensive, with many costing between $100-300. Unlike other figures that all come prepainted, they come in separate resin pieces that must be put together and painted. Sometimes garage kits are offered already put together and prepainted, but the cost is significantly higher.
When looking to buy a figure, there are some things to keep in mind. If you're buying a figure that isn't a pre-order or recently released, you'll probably have to buy through someone who has already bought the figure and is reselling it. This can be through places like MyFigureCollection, Amazon, or eBay. When buying figures this way, you need to be careful about the possibility of getting a bootleg. If a listing on Amazon or eBay says that it's being shipped from China or Hong Kong, it's almost assuredly a bootleg. Be aware of what the figure should look like and ask for pictures if you aren't sure of what you're getting. There are some figure selling websites where you may still be able to find figures that have since sold out elsewhere, but these places can tend to sell figures overpriced.
An option that can be better for finding older figures at a good price is by looking on a few Japanese websites. There are a couple websites that sell figures from shops in Japan. These are Rakuten and Mandarake. There is no guarantee that you will find the figure you want at any one time. If you really want a figure, you need to keep checking the websites and wait. The figures may be new or used. You need to check the listing for a specific figure to see the details. Not all of the shops selling figures on Rakuten offer international shipping. In this case, it's necessary to use a forwarding service. Another option for finding already released figures is by checking Yahoo Auctions Japan. This website functions like eBay, where individuals sell their things and can have items listed at either a fixed price or with bidding. It's necessary to use a forwarding service to buy from YAJ as shipping is only within Japan.
If you are buying a figure that's available for pre-order or has recently been released, check as many figure selling websites as you can, keep in mind if the cost is given in dollars or yen, and convert prices to compare if necessary. Also check the shipping costs if possible, which can vary from website to website and make a difference in overall cost. Check the popularity of the figure as well. If a lot of people are interested and buying it, you should try to buy as soon as possible while it's available for pre-order. There are some figures that sell out before they're even released, and pre-order discounts can be decreased if figures are selling well. If you ever want a new figure that's up for pre-order, the cheapest price is most likely to be AmiAmi. They always have good discounts for pre-orders, despite adding Japanese tax that they shouldn't for international orders. The only time when they don't have pre-order figures at a discount is when they're exclusive figures. They also have excellent packing for shipments, although the packing materials they use add to the shipping weight and therefore to the shipping cost. A good second place to check is HobbyLink Japan.
A word of caution about buying from figure selling websites is also necessary. Cancelling orders is never looked well upon. It can cause problems for companies when people cancel orders and they end up with too many figures. Some companies don't allow orders to be cancelled at all. In that case, the only way to not get your order is if you fail to make the payment in time. That is considered the same as cancelling an order. To prevent people from making too many cancellations and failing to make payments, companies will delete people's accounts for doing these things and not allow them to buy from the website again. Some may even go so far as to block people from being able to access the website. It varies from company to company how many cancellations or missed payments are allowable. It can also depend on how much you've ordered from a specific website over time. If ordering from the Good Smile website, they do not allow cancellations and will block someone from buying from the website after missing only one payment. It's advisable to only order figures that you know you want and will have the money to pay for.
When buying figures, payment can be three different ways depending on the website: payment when the order is available, payment at time of the order, or partial payment at time of the order and the rest when the order is available. In general, Japanese websites don't ask for payment until figures are available to ship. Some other websites, notably American ones, ask for payment when you place an order, even though you might not get the order until almost a year later. This is a trade-off between not having money taken while waiting months to get what you've ordered and not worrying about needing to have the money to pay months later. If paying when an order is placed, you also know the exchange rate that you will be charged. The exchange rate could be very different over half a year later. This has the potential to be good or bad.
More recently, figures have started to go up for pre-order with the release dates further back. Instead of figures scheduled to come out around 5 to 8 months from the initial pre-order date, many figures are going up for pre-order with the release date as much as a year later, although there are still figures with short lengths between going up for pre-order and the date they're released. This can depend a lot on the company that's making the figures. Delays have also become more common, where the release month initially stated gets moved back. The chance of delays somewhat depends on the company, with some companies having delays almost all the time and some seeming to always release on time. Figures can be delayed by up to a few months, or more in rarer cases. It's also possible for there to be multiple delays. Longer lengths of time before figures are scheduled to release may be to try to prevent delays. If combining orders by month, or even just expecting to get a figure by a certain time, delays can be very annoying.
Something that can be a bit of an annoyance with collecting figures is the existence of exclusives. Some figures can be bought as a regular version or exclusive version. The exclusive version costs more, is limited in the places it's sold, and comes with something extra, like an extra head, accessory, rubber strap, keychain, poster, or various other things. Unless you can find someone who bought an exclusive version and decides to sell the bonus, there is no way to get the bonus item on its own. Because exclusive versions are sold at limited places, sometimes only the manufacturer's website, the company that makes them can price them high and offer no discount. The countries they can be shipped to can also be limited. Sometimes exclusive versions aren't even available to ship outside of Japan. That makes them cost even more due to paying forwarding fees and potentially double shipping fees. However, there are often at least one or two extra places that somehow get exclusive versions for sale. This includes websites like MyKombini and Nippon Yasan.
There are countless figure manufacturers, but a couple of the most notable ones that tend to have the best quality are Alter and Good Smile Company. Alter is widely thought of as the best in quality that you can get. There's a running joke that Alter means "later" because they always delay figure release dates.
The best place to go for information about figure collecting. You can manage the figures you own and easily keep track of the ones you want. It includes a complete database of figures with user submitted information, pictures, and comments. The database also includes countless other merchandise items. Users will occasionally point out where a figure is up for sale, or a sale at a particular website may be directly stated on a figure's page, although many of these are overpriced. Figures can be bought directly through other users that may be more expensive or unavailable elsewhere. If you have any questions or problems, the community is always happy to help out. It's necessary to note that there have been severe changes made to the website that have greatly decreased the appearance and functionality.
There are several websites that sell figures. Here are links to some of them. Some sell items besides figures.
Here are links to two companies that can be used for buying from places that don't allow international shipping. The first one is also a figure seller, while the second one is solely a forwarding service.
If ordering from Tokyo Otaku Mode for the first time, the following invite link can be used to get extra money off your first order.