Every Christmastime, special themed episodes of animated shows for people of all ages grace viewers’ screens, hoping to become a new holiday staple. But if some think they’re limited only to the shows intended for children, they’d be sorely mistaken. Even adult animated shows such as The Simpsons, Family Guy, Rick and Morty, South Park, and others have created specials that are beloved by many – especially IMDB users.
Some Christmas episodes aren’t entirely regarded as the best episodes by fans, while others rate remarkably high compared to standard episodes. Some of the best holiday episodes and specials inject genuine pathos and holiday sentiment, and some break the formula entirely and dissect the yuletide for all it’s worth. Whatever fans are in the mood for during the most wonderful time of the year, it’s bound to be among the best that adult animation has to offer.
10 “Murray Christmas” – ‘The Cleveland Show’ (2010)
IMDb Rating: 6.6/10
While performing with his class at a senior center, Rallo (Mike Henry) strikes up a friendship with Murray (Carl Reiner), who teaches him about Hanukkah. Noticing Murray alone at his home, Rallo decides to cheer him up by taking him to the Brown house. After an initial breach of trust, Rallo and Murray bring the rest of the senior citizens to spend both holidays together. Meanwhile, Cleveland (Mike Henry) reveals to his son (Kevin Michael Richardson) his unique Boxing Day tradition – fighting his father (Craig Robinson) to win his gifts.
Although The Cleveland Show never took off as its own series and was canceled after just four seasons, “Murray Christmas” shows that the Family Guy spin-off had its moments. The Cleveland Show‘s Christmas-themed episode is far from perfect, but while not all the gags land, it manages to combine crass humor and heart in a way only adult animation can.
9 “Sabrina’s Christmas Wish” – ‘BoJack Horseman’ (2014)
IMDb Rating: 7.1/10
It’s Christmas morning in Hollywoo, and BoJack (Will Arnett) and Todd (Aaron Paul) are celebrating the only way they know how – getting drunk, sitting on BoJack’s bed, and watching the Horsin’ Around holiday special. The main plot line of BoJack and Todd in the real world takes a backseat in favor of showing the actual special as it would have been produced, with some interjecting moments.
In classic BoJack fashion, BoJack Horseman dissects the “holiday special” trope to such a degree it becomes uncomfortable but powerful in its own right. Applying adult comedy to a family-friendly occasion is something only a few shows can do right, and BoJack is thankfully one of them. Its high rating on IMDb proves that it’s one of the best Christmas episodes to stream on Netflix.
8 “‘Twas the Nut Before Christmas” – ‘King of the Hill’ (2000)
IMDb Rating: 7.5/10
Hank (Mike Judge) and his family have been through some exciting Christmases in King of the Hill, but no more fascinating misadventures came like Bill’s (Stephen Root) post-yuletide crisis. This year, he’s put up a unique Christmas village for the neighborhood in his front yard – but he’s not interested in taking it down even after the holiday’s over. His friends get confused and concerned, while petty delinquent Wally (Ryan Phillipe) decides to take advantage of the poor old guy. But, by the time Bill comes to his senses, will it be too late for him and the rest of the neighborhood?
King of the Hill cleverly shines a spotlight on one of its most tragic characters during the holiday season, with Bill’s sadness and longing for connection on full display. His character’s experiences are not only comical, but force his friends to seriously consider how they should react to his latest antics. With a Hulu reboot of King of the Hill in the works, it’s the perfect time to revisit the show this Christmas.
king of the Hill
- Release Date
- January 12, 1997
7 “A Very Solar Opposites Special” – ‘Solar Opposites’ (2021)
IMDb Rating: 7.7/10
After the Pupa has begun acting like a real Scrooge, the Solar Opposites attempt to find the true meaning of Christmas. Stealing the only part of Ready Player One that he liked, Korvo (Justin Roiland) has invented the machine that will aid them by living out a holiday movie classic. Unfortunately, the movie they chose was Jingle All the Way. And things only get wilder from there. Dystopian futures, questionable reindeer behavior, and touching reunions between estranged family members.
Somehow, the wacky Solar Opposites special maintains respect and love for the holiday while going entirely off the rails with it, which is a testament to the creativity that gets poured into the show. As the characters discover that the holiday isn’t quite like the Shlorpian ones from the Homeworld, they devise increasingly absurd ways to enjoy it in an attempt to be normal, resulting in some hilarious situations.
6 “Road to the North Pole” – ‘Family Guy’ (2010)
IMDb Rating: 8.2/10
This special begins with a characteristic Family Guy opening musical number full of beautiful music and cameos from popular characters. As it continues, Stewie (Seth MacFarlane) and Brian (MacFarlane) decide to make a trip to the North Pole. The problem is Stewie wants to go there to kill Santa, and Brian thinks Stewie intends to go to a theme park and doesn’t think Santa is real. Once they get to their destination, they find that Santa (MacFarlane) wants to be killed because the increasing stress of the holiday is already doing a number on him and his workshop.
“Road to the North Pole” showcases everything fans know and love about the Family Guy characters’ tendencies, especially the beloved duo Brian and Stewie. At the same time, the episode throws in some clever twists about Santa that just make sense, injecting some relatable adult problems to what should be a magical scenario.
- Release Date
- January 31, 1999
5 “Anatomy Park” – ‘Rick and Morty’ (2013)
IMDb Rating: 8.3/10
While not having the most to do with traditional Christmas tropes, Rick and Morty‘s “Anatomy Park” still maintains a holiday setting. Inside a drunk, homeless man dressed as Santa, Rick (Justin Roiland) has built a theme park – Anatomy Park. But with the man dying, Morty (Justin Roiland) must be injected inside to save the park from destruction. Meanwhile, Jerry (Chris Parnell) has plans for a traditional family Christmas but starts getting grouchy when his parents bring over a new partner in their relationship.
Can anyone name a Christmas special that ends with a giant, naked Santa floating over North America? Rick and Morty establishes some of its classic hijinks and escalates them to absurd levels in this Christmas episode, which leads to gut-busting moments that are some of the best in the entire show. As the third episode of Rick and Morty‘s very first season, it had shock factor on its side and hinted at how far the show would go in the near future.
4 “Marge Be Not Proud” – ‘The Simpsons’ (1995)
IMDb Rating: 8.5/10
The Simpsons’ first episode was a Christmas special, so they’ve always had a special knack for the holiday. Season 7’s “Marge Be Not Proud” stands out for being by far the most heartbreaking and beautiful of the entire selection. In the episode, Bart (Nancy Cartwright) gets in trouble again when he shoplifts a violent video game after Marge (Julie Kavner) refuses to get it for him. Marge, deeply disappointed in him, decides to exclude him from the family’s Christmas activities, which soon gets to Bart’s heart. Finally, he decides to make it up to her in a way that is appropriately Christmas.
Marge and Bart have one of the most iconic parent-child relationships on TV, which is why “Marge Be Not Proud” is especially hard-hitting.The Simpsons episode has viewers believe that Marge may actually be giving up hope that Bart has any shred of kindness and decency in him, and the way Bart proves everyone wrong perfectly captures the spirit of the holidays.
- Release Date
- December 17, 1989
3 “Rapture’s Delight” – ‘American Dad’ (2009)
IMDb Rating: 8.8/10
American Dad has produced several Christmas specials over its run, but what makes “Rapture’s Delight” different? Probably the fact that it deals with the apocalypse. The top-rated American Dad Christmas special begins almost like any other day – the Smiths are going to Christmas service at the Church. Then, thanks to a bit of fooling around, Stan (Seth MacFarlane), Francine (Wendy Schaal), and Roger (Seth MacFarlane) are left behind because of the rapture. While Stan is more concerned with getting into Heaven, Francine meets Jesus Christ (Will Forte) and becomes his girlfriend while he wages war on the Antichrist (Andy Samberg).
While American Dad‘s fans are used to the series being more or less grounded in reality, “Rapture’s Delight” throws all that out the window in favor of some zany fantasy. The special seemingly starts as an ordinary episode, but soon escalates into unbelievable levels of wild storylines that highlight how the series can still surprise audiences and critics alike.
- Release Date
- February 6, 2005
2 “Woodland Critter Christmas” – ‘South Park’ (2004)
IMDb Rating: 9.1/10
All across South Park, everybody is preparing for Christmas. Even a group of talking woodland critters are getting ready, much to Stan’s (Trey Parker) initial confusion and indifference. Then the critters reveal that one of their own is set to give birth to their lord and savior, only for a mountain lion to eat them year after year. To help them out, Stan inadvertently kills the lion, only to find the critters are actually celebrating the birth of the anti-Christ. So now Stan and the lion’s orphaned cubs must save Christmas – and prevent the end of days.
Offensive, controversial, and certainly blasphemous, “Woodland Critter Christmas” isn’t just one of the show’s greatest Christmas episodes, but one of South Park‘s best episodes of all time. The animated series has never been afraid of offensive storylines, but the holiday episode really turns it up a notch and reminds fans there’s nothing sacred in South Park.
- Release Date
- August 13, 1997
1 “The Plight Before Christmas” – ‘Bob’s Burgers’ (2022)
IMDb Rating: 9.6/10
“The Plight Before Christmas” might be Bob’s Burgers’ most recent Christmas special, but it might be its best. All three of the Belcher kids are performing in holiday productions at the same time on the same night. Gene (Eugene Mirman) is playing in a large xylophone group, Tina (Dan Mintz) is the star of her production (but not the one her mom thinks she is), and Louise (Kristen Schaal) is doing a poetry contest. Of course, Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and Linda (John Roberts) will have to try to attend all of them.
The special showcases a relatable set-up that balances all three characters’ storylines with laughs and a genuine heart. “The Plight Before Christmas” has most aspects that make the sitcom great, but is most importantly one of the most emotional episodes of the show to date. The heartwarming ending will have audiences wanting to reach for their own family members, with Bob’s Burgers‘ focus on familial love at its very best.
- Release Date
- January 9, 2011