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Is XBMC for the Raspberry Pi an operating system?

Or is it built on top of another, such as Debian?

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XBMC is not an operating system, but a cross-platform media player. It needs an existing operating system in order to be installed and run.

From the XBMC website:

XBMC is an award-winning free and open source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub for digital media. XBMC is available for Linux, OSX, and Windows. Created in 2003 by a group of like minded programmers, XBMC is a non-profit project run and developed by volunteers located around the world. More than 50 software developers have contributed to XBMC, and 100-plus translators have worked to expand its reach, making it available in more than 30 languages.

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Just a little addition to IRO-bot's answer, someone has bundled XMBC together as image for the Raspberry Pi: http://www.raspbmc.com/about/

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As an addition to the addition: I tried Raspbmc/XBMC to connect to my Plex media server on my Synology NAS. I'm surprised how well it performs.

In fact, it performed so well it became my main media player, and I bought a new Raspberry Pi for my other projects.

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You can try Raspbmc, XBian or OpenELEC for XBMC on the Raspberry Pi. They all compile a Raspberry Pi version based on Raspbian that is single focussed on performance on the Raspberry Pi. I have found so far that Raspbmc is the most feature rich, but XBian is rocking too.

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