The first Christmas gift my step-mom ever bought me was a Naruto t-shirt from Hot Topic. I can guess how this went down: My step-mom probably wandered bravely into the local mall’s Hot Topic, approached a brightly-colored-haired employee, and said to them, “My step-daughter is really into anime. What would you recommend for her?” Since Naruto is one of the most famous anime of all time, the employee probably figured there was a safe chance that if I like anime, I like Naruto. Unfortunately, I’ve never watched more than a few minutes of this show.
The problem with having loved ones who are into anime, but not being into anime yourself, is that “anime” is far too broad of a theme to shop for. It would be like someone saying “I like Netflix,” and you buying them merch for Supernatural or Stranger Things when they actually watch shows more like Gray’s Anatomy or Gilmore Girls. But that doesn’t mean anime fans are impossible to buy for. Here is a short list of gifts that the anime lovers in your life are guaranteed to appreciate; and even though Christmas is now less than a week away, 4/5 of them can be purchased at the last minute!
Gift card for Hot Topic or BoxLunch
What used to be the scary goth store that parents were afraid to walk past in the mall has become a lot tamer in the past few years as Hot Topic has broadened its scope to encompass a wider variety of fandoms. This includes anime. Instead of making the same mistake as my step-mom and just picking a shirt at random, the better option is to buy a gift card. That way, the recipient can pick out the merch themselves. Physical gift cards, which you can purchase both in store and online, come in a variety of fun designs, including one that says “IN THE ANIME SPIRIT.” Electronic gift cards are also available here. There is currently a promotion going on where if you buy a $50 e-gift card, you’ll receive a bonus $10 gift card for free! This promotion lasts through Sunday, December 24th, so even if you take last-minute shopping to the extreme and wait until Christmas Eve, you can still take advantage of this deal.
Alternatively, you can buy them a gift card for Hot Topic’s gentler sister store, BoxLunch. Since they are owned by Hot Topic, they have a lot of similar merchandise, but the store’s aesthetic is far less edgy and intimidating. It also does not have the unfortunate reputation of being “cringe” that Hot Topic does. You can buy physical BoxLunch gift cards here or in-store, and electronic gift cards here.
The great thing about cookbooks is that you don’t have to be a master chef to use them to cook with: you just need to be able to follow directions. Diana Ault’s Cook Anime: Eat Like Your Favorite Character―From Bento to Yakisoba is my personal recommendation for any anime fan. Every dish includes a photo of the completed meal, the serving size, a description of a scene where it has appeared in a specific anime, the recipe, food facts, and a list of additional anime that the food has appeared in. The latter is my favorite part, especially because many of the lists include some lesser-known anime rather than just mainstream titles. The hardcover book is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. It is also available as an eBook through the first two retailers.
Some other anime-inspired cookbooks are Minh-Tri Vo’s Studio Ghibli Cookbook: Unofficial Recipes Inspired by Spirited Away, Ponyo, and More! (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million) and Victoria Rosenthal’s My Pokémon Cookbook: Delicious Recipes Inspired by Pikachu and Friends (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million); however, these are less guaranteed to please, as not all anime fans are into Studio Ghibli and/or Pokémon.
Although you can find anime on pretty much any streaming service, Crunchyroll is the #1 source for legally watching anime online. They have a MASSIVE library (especially after merging with FUNimation), and some shows even come dubbed in several languages including Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, and more. Crunchyroll is available as a mobile app as well as a smart TV channel, and you can also use it in your browser.
While it is free to make an account, certain titles are only available to paying members, and free users have to wait a week longer to access new episodes of anything that is currently airing. There are three different tiers of Crunchyroll Premium: Fan ($7.99/month), which includes full access to both their anime and digital manga libraries; Mega Fan ($9.99/month), which permits offline viewing on the mobile app as well as streaming on up to four devices at once; and Ultimate Fan ($14.99/month), which allows streaming on up to six devices at once, an annual swag bag (although some members have complained about never actually receiving said bag), exclusive merch, and a special coupon for the Crunchyroll store. You can buy a Fan Tier membership (1, 3, or 12 months) for someone else here.
Tickets to an anime convention
Anime conventions are where thousands of anime fans gather to enjoy cosplay, merchandise, art, games, panels, and more. They’re basically a geek paradise. Most US states put on at least one anime convention per year; I am a New Jersey native and my state hosts no less than five annual cons (AnimeNext, DerpyCon, Anime NJ++, PuchiCon, and CloverCon). If your person doesn’t mind big crowds, some of the largest, most popular anime conventions on the east coast include Katsucon and Otakon in Washington DC and Anime NYC in New York City. But you don’t have to live in any of these states to be near an anime con: they exist all over the world. I was even able to find and attend an anime con when I was living in France! You can find local conventions on animecons.com using their interactive map. Click on a pin to see the name of the con at that location, and then go to that convention’s website to register for the event. But first make sure that the person you’re buying for is available for the dates of the convention, because most con tickets are nonrefundable and non-transferable.
Trip to Japan
Unless you’re incredibly wealthy, this will have to be a gift that counts towards at LEAST a year’s worth of birthdays and holidays. A single round-trip plane ticket to Japan from North America is typically between $1000-$2500, and that’s JUST the plane ticket—even on a tight budget, you’re going to need at least another $1000 for lodging, food, souvenirs, etc. A plane ticket is a bit of an incomplete gift if it requires the recipient to already have $1000 at their disposal, so to avoid trouble it would be best to save up at least a portion of the spending money yourself to give to them along with the plane ticket. I highly recommend using Google Flights and/or the app Hopper to monitor flight prices. I particularly like the latter because it will clearly tell you if you should wait to buy your tickets, or buy them now. You can also collect “carrot cash” to use towards future flights.
Although this would admittedly be an astronomically expensive gift, I can guarantee you it will be worth every penny for the recipient. Going to Japan is the dream of almost every anime fan. I had the life-changing opportunity to spend 12 days in Japan in 2019, and words cannot describe how surreal it felt when I was watching the anime Fire Force when I got back to the US and the characters were visiting a real temple that I had just been to myself. Every single moment spent in Japan feels like a dream come true. Most anime fans will be more than happy to go anywhere in this incredible country, but I specifically recommend Akihabara, which is said to be the anime capital of the world. You can read a lot of useful information about this city on japan-guide.com.