Ah, Christmas. The lights, the music, the decorations... I don't know about you, but for me it's genuinely the best time of the year. As I write this, I have over 5 gigs of Christmas music playing on shuffle, a mug of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and extra-extra whipped cream steaming beside me, and the lights of my Christmas tree twinkling next to “ornaments” (really keychains) from my favorite shows of years past.
"Why do you need an entire set of Sailor Moon keychains again?" "Reasons. Festive reasons."
Meanwhile, Japan may not be much into Christianity, but they sure do like celebrating the romance of Christmas Eve and eating traditional meals of KFC chicken. That means that while there may not be quite the same number of special holiday episodes in anime land as there are for American cartoons, there's still enough to write a favorites list and have plenty more left over to argue about on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Here are some of my favorite Christmas episodes and chapters from anime and manga to get you in the holiday spirit. When you're done reading, share your own favorites or how you've decorated for a merry manga Christmas and happy anime New Year.
K-ON! (episode 7)
Cute girls doing cute things meets the holidays in this sweet episode that gives the bulk of the plot to Yui and her sister Ui. Relaxing, humorous, and a little nostalgic, this Christmas episode is K-ON! all over. If you're feeling gloomy about the holidays, there are much worse things you could do to lift your spirits than re-watch the Light Music Club's Christmas talent show.
Toradora! (episodes 17-19)
Toradora devotes an entire three-episode arc to Christmas as the Palmtop Tiger gets closer to figuring out her true feelings and Ryuuji does his best to confess to his long-time crush. In true Toradora!-style, it's heartbreaking how much everyone wants everyone else to be happy even as they put aside or misunderstand their own feelings, but this arc provides many sweet scenes and proves a catalyst to setting up the fulfilling conclusion six episodes later.
Sword Art Online (episode 3)
If you've seen Sword Art Online, then this episode hit you right in the feels and it did it only three episodes in. Christmas is a time for fun in-game events in most MMORPGs, but in SAO, where the players are all trapped until they beat the game or die, it offers a tantalizing rumor of hope. As Kirito attempts to find and defeat “Santa” to get an item that will let him bring a player back from the dead, the crushing reality of the game is brought home to the audience. And that's before you get to the letter that closes out the episode and makes everyone cry.
The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (the movie or novel 4)
Christmas takes a backseat to changed-reality shenanigans in this movie/novel, but that's okay. Those shenanigans lead to one of the most moving Haruhi storylines and some of the best moments in the whole series. There's a reason they saved this arc for the movie, and that reason is Kyon finally coming to terms with his feelings about the crazy life he leads in general and the existence of Haruhi Suzumiya in particular.
Sweet Rein (all volumes)
Sweet Rein comes from one of my very favorite authors, Sakura Tsukuba, and it is the purest of pure, sweet Christmas fluff. The chapters mostly jump from Christmas to beach episodes and then back to Christmas again, but since the plot is about Santas, sort-of-human reindeer, and the red strings of fate connecting them (look, it makes sense in context – sort of) even the beach episodes count as Christmas stories. Caution: this series is so sweet you may need to brush your teeth after reading.
The Irresponsible Captain Tylor (OVA 4 or 6 depending on numbering)
Of the character-driven Tylor OVAs (that is, the ones that aren't basically mini-movies/expanded episodes of the original series), my hands-down favorite features the irresponsible captain himself. Tylor is headed towards a Christmas date with Yuriko, but he gets irresponsibly yet compassionately distracted on the way. It's touching, funny, and very, very Tylor.
Cardcaptor Sakura (episode 35)
Look, just assume every "favorite" list I ever write will contain Cardcaptor Sakura. This anime-only episode finds Sakura worrying over what to get Yukito for Christmas and then when to give it to him. Heating things up is a loose Clow Card, and it's an extra-powerful one: the Fiery. Like just about every Cardcaptor Sakura episode, it's just the right blend of action and cuteness - with a little extra magic thrown in because it's Christmas.
The Ancient Magus' Bride (volume 6 or episodes 16-18)
Rather than Christmas, the holiday we see Chise and Elias prepare for is Yule in The Ancient Magus' Bride. Appropriately, the tone is darker than a typical anime Christmas episode, and the visuals (gorgeous as always) take us to snow-filled woods instead of bustling Tokyo streets or a cozy indoor kotatsu. Regardless, the stories fill you with holiday warmth and show the characters growing both as mages and as human beings (or, well, sort-of human beings).
Skip Beat (volume 20)
Skip Beat throws a Christmas party that's quite deliberately not a Christmas party in volume 20. You see, little girl Maria has bad memories associated with her birthday and Christmas and can't stand the thought of celebrating the holiday, so Kyoko cooks up a "Happy Grateful Party" instead where they'll thank all of the people who have been good to them during the year. But it's the readers who are really happy and grateful as the arc gives us what we really want: Kyoko having a good time for multiple chapters in a row with no bad news looming and an amusing subplot in which Ren and Moko compete for Kyoko's affection.
Christmas is also a time for remembrance, so let's hear some shoutouts for those no longer with us: the Love Hina Christmas Special, The Big O, Tokyo Godfathers, Full Moon o Sagashite TV, Gintama series 1-2, Pokemon Christmas Bash, and many more. May they see print again someday and may that someday be soon.
Lisa is not giving Santa a Pikachu this Christmas and furthermore wishes she could get that terrible song out of her head. Long-time Right Stuf fans may recognize Lisa as Marie from the Anime Today podcast or as the OG RightStufSpecialsMinion on the Anime News Network and Fandom Post forums. Her non-anime articles can be found at PositivelyEditorial.com.