The 30 Best Podcasts of the 2010s

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The 30 Best Podcasts of the 2010s

Podcasting may have been born in the mid 2000s, but it bloomed in the 2010s. From storytelling, news and educational esoterica to comedy, music and fiction, creators adapted the new medium to anything they could imagine. But it was the true crime genre that completely exploded the form. Podcasts like Serial, Dirty John and In the Dark replaced television in water-cooler discussions across America. Podcasts have educated and entertained us, helping make commutes tolerable and helping build the careers of countless comedians and authors. And now we’re seeing a wave of film studios, TV producers and book publishers looking to the medium for their next hit. It was the decade of the podcast and the podcasts were our favorite examples of what the word “podcast” could mean.

Here are the 30 best podcasts of the 2010s:

in-the-dark.jpg 30. In the Dark
Years: 2016-present
Podcast Network: American Public Media
Host: Madeleine Baran
Though In the Dark begins as a true crime investigation into the kidnapping and murder of young boy in Minnesota in 1989, new evidence that came to light during the creation of the podcast led to a major change in its trajectory. Victim Jacob Wetterling’s remains were found and his killer confessed to the crime, steering host Madeleine Baran into looking at the toll the crime took on the small community. But even more so, In the Dark becomes a scathing look at the incompetence and mismanagement that hindered the original investigation, ultimately widening in scope to provide some damning statistics about murders and their chances of being solved nation-wide. In its second season, the series took on the winding case of Curtis Flowers, who was tried six times for shooting four people in Mississippi in 1996. The case then bounced around through the higher and lower courts over charges of racial bias, with updates posted to the podcast series as recently as July of 2019 regarding the Supreme Court’s ruling on the case and its aftermath. In the Dark is an incredibly weighty work, both because of the haunting circumstances of the crimes it investigates, and because of what Baran has been able to uncover about a system stacked against those it was designed to help. It is, indeed, pretty depressing, but it’s also vitally important. —Allison Keene


the-daily.jpg 29. The Daily
Years: 2017-present
Podcast Network: The New York Times 
Host: Michael Barbaro
Every weekday, host Michael Barbaro breaks down one of the day’s biggest stories in this 20-minute podcast from The New York Times. Barbaro’s guests are NYT reporters who’ve often spent weeks getting to the bottom of whatever hot-button issue is on their beat. It’s like All Things Considered, only much narrower and much deeper. This is the kind of podcast that would be impossible without the full weight of one of the biggest and best reporting institutions on the planet. From sexual-harassment scandals to major legislative fights to the stories of countless individuals who are affected by whatever the latest executive order or U.S. policy change is, The Daily provides a better understanding of a single piece of news that’s fit to print. —Josh Jackson


last-podcast.jpg 28. The Last Podcast on the Left
Years: 2011-present
Podcast Network: The Last Podcast Network
Hosts: Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks, Henry Zebrowski
For all of your horror, true crime and utterly bizarre cult needs, Last Podcast On The Left is your go-to podcast. Hosted by Marcus Parks, Ben Kissel and Henry Zebrowski, it’s the flagship show of The Last Podcast Network. You’ll definitely learn something new while listening to LPOTL, as each show is meticulously researched to the point of exhaustion. Whether you’re in the mood to hear about Scientology, horrific serial killers or insane alien theories, LPOTL has you covered. It’s hilariously informative, sometimes completely inappropriate, but always a good time. —Annie Black


blank_check_2.jpg 27. Blank Check with Griffin & David
Years: 2015-present
Podcast Network: Audioboom
Host: Griffin Newman, David Sims
What began with a hyper-extended bit is now the logical opposite. When Griffin Newman and David Sims started recording together, their own little slice of the Internet was a podcast about two guys watching Episode I: The Phantom Menace but pretending that George Lucas did not have an Empire behind him when he released the prequels, attempting to divorce the Star Wars episode from all of the iconic context that has since made it almost impossible to judge the movies on their own merits. With Blank Check, #thetwofriends embraced all the context they once swore off. The conceit is simple: Producer Ben Hosley and a small group of (typically) New-York-based movie critic friends (as well as filmmakers like Lulu Wang, Alex Ross Perry, David Lowery and Chris Weitz, as well as comedians like John Hodgman and Demi Adejuyigbe, or actors Lola Kirke and Peter Serafinowicz), each episode takes on a film in a director’s filmography, focusing on those filmmakers who reached “early success” in order to make their “blank check” passion project. This means obsessive auditing of big names—Kathryn Bigelow, Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Michael Mann, Nancy Meyers and their just-completed series on Hayao Miyazaki—smattered with palate cleansers, like having their siblings in to talk about favorite movies (The Devil Wears Prada, Lost in Space), or having Producer Ben suggest a between-series one-off. Inside jokes and call-backs and segments abound throughout each series—the sheer weight of such threatening to occupy more pod-time than discussions of the films themselves—but nothing is ever alienating or too esoteric to wade through. Because at the heart of Blank Check is a devotion to movies, and all that love is an acknowledgement that nothing is ever devoid of context. You saw this movie on this particular day with this particular person. You memorize decades of box office numbers, as Griffin did, to bond with your dad. You watch Coming to America, as my wife does, to feel better when you’re sad or sick. You cry when Steve Zissou sees the shark that killed his best friend, as I do, and you also wonder if anyone will ever remember you. This is movie criticism as it should be. —Dom Sinacola


beautiful-anonymous.jpg 26. Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People
Years: 2016-present
Podcast Network: Earwolf
Host: Chris Gethard 
Chris Gethard has cultivated a fan base that loves his wonderfully weird sense of humor, and this writer considers herself part of that group. But in 2016, Gethard started a podcast, Beautiful/Anonymous and with it has created another fan base that is all about empathy and good feelings. Ever wonder what a band teacher has to say about high-school band? Want to hear from someone the day before they go to prison? These are the kinds of life stories you get to hear on the show. What makes the show beautiful is that people of all backgrounds just listen to someone else’s life experience, and in so doing a bit of judgement about others fades away, and the whole conversation is led by the friendly and kind of humor of Chris Gethard. It’s totally worth the listen. —Keri Lumm


night-vale.jpg 25. Welcome to Night Vale
Years: 2012-present
Podcast Network: Independent
Host: Cecil Baldwin
Welcome to Night Vale is proof that compelling storytelling can triumph in any medium. The podcast—presented as a faux radio show from the fictional desert town of Night Vale—reached the #1 spot on iTunes only a year after its inception in 2012. Its success has everything to do with the witty and endlessly creative storytelling capabilities of its creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who have constructed an absurdist world in a small desert town. In addition to the 157 audio stories, the show has now been adapted to book form and soon to television. ” —Paste Staff


who-weekly.jpg 24. Who? Weekly
Years: 2016-present
Podcast Network: HeadGum; Independent
Hosts: Bobby Finger, Lindsey Weber
Who? Weekly is a pop culture podcast, but it’s probably not for you if you’re looking for information on A-Listers. Those are what hosts Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber call the “thems” of this world, and honestly, we hear enough about them already. Who? Weekly is for the people who make you think, “...Who?” when you’re casually perusing the tabloids in the grocery line—Rita Ora, Bella Thorne… you get the drift. Finger and Weber’s commentary is smart and quick-witted with a perfectly-proportioned sprinkling of snark, making the podcast truly addictive and thoroughly entertaining. Give it one listen and you’ll be singing along to their theme jingles in no time. —Annie Black


game-studies.jpg 23. Game Studies Study Buddies
Years: 2018-present
Podcast Network: Ranged Touch
Hosts: Cameron Kunzelman and Michael Lutz
Guys, it’s time for some games theory. No, not that kind. Every conceivable knowledge niche has its own podcast series to shepard amateurs along, but few have the pedigree, specificity, or camaraderie of Game Studies Study Buddies. Hosted by a pair of PhDs and real-life friends, the podcast dives deep into different academic texts all centered around (or popularly applied to) games. Mostly, it’s videogames. Sometimes it’s not. Hosts Cameron Kunzelman [a Paste contributor] and Michael Lutz help bridge the gap between contemporary gaming (the latest Gears of War) and the older play discussed by the monthly text with an accessible charm that doesn’t pull its theoretical punches. Each episode feels like a grad seminar from your favorite young professors, somehow tag-teaming into the lesson plan whenever the other needs a boost to their considerable panache or insight. Gamers, lapsed academics, and all-around nerds will find lots to love in one of the smartest podcasts around. —Jacob Oller


race-chaser.jpg 22. Race Chaser
Years: 2018-present
Podcast Network: Nerdist; Independent
Host: Alaska, Willam
Every pop-culture phenomenon inspires recap podcasts, but few are lucky enough to have imminently qualified insiders on the mic. Willam Belli and Alaska Thunderfuck, RuPaul’s Drag Race’s only disqualified contestant and one of its most decorated winners, respectively, “discuss, dissect, and disseminate” their way through the formerly niche reality competition, starting from the very beginning—and providing invaluable queer context often left on the cutting-room floor. As drag becomes more and more sterilized for the mainstream (Meghan McCain, really?), Race Chaser is not just entertaining gossip, but an invaluable expansion on an art form that extends far beyond what you’ll ever see on VH1. —Steve Foxe


harmontown.jpg 21. Harmontown
Years: 2012-present
Podcast Network: Starburns Audio
Hosts: Dan Harmon, Jeff Davis
Let’s get one things straight—Dan Harmon is, by all intents and purposes, a creative genius; however, like most people of this ilk, he’s also kind of a crazy person. The premise of Harmontown is as simple as you can get: Harmon gets in front of a live audience at the Nerdmelt Theater in Hollywood and talks about whatever topic happens to pop into his head. It can be about the creative process, alcohol, sexual politics, or a movie that he just saw and really wants to talk about (one of the first episodes has him delving into Inception). Often, Harmon will bounce ideas off of fellow co-host Jeff Davis and their rapport will lead into surreal, yet brilliant tangents. Sometimes distinguished guests like Patton Oswalt, Eric Idle or Arrested Development’s Mitch Hurwitz will even stop in for a visit. In the wake of the drama surrounding his much publicized dismissal from Community, Harmon truly established a cult of personality via his Harmontown shows. Rarely do you get a show that offers informative, occasional profound insight into the craft of storytelling alongside crass freestyle raps and countless poop jokes. But that’s Dan Harmon for you. —Mark Rozeman


wait-wait.jpg 20. Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!
Years: 1998—present
Podcast Network: National Public Radio
Host: Peter Segal
In a world defined by 24-hour news cycles and politics gone mad, NPR’s charming Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me! broadcast is a necessary weekly respite. The panel show is hosted by the exceptional Peter Segal and features a rotation of regular guests like Paula Poundstone, Mo Rocca, Roy Blount Jr, Amy Dickinson, and many, many more, who answer questions (and offer jokes) about the week’s news. The show’s winking tone is augmented by the reliably clever quality of its segments and games, including listeners calling in to play the Limerick Challenge and Who’s Bill This Time? (as Bill Kurtis, the show’s announcer, reads quotes from the week that was). Celebrity guests drop in for short, often hilariously illuminating interviews and play “Not My Job,” where they can win a prize for a listener. All in all, it’s a wonderfully fun time that is also incredibly informative—not just with the big political news of the week, but regarding smaller, often totally crazy stories that bring out some of the best improv from the panelists (and can be tucked away for great conversational anecdotes). Panel shows in general have never been as popular in the United States as they are elsewhere in the world, so the fact that Wait Wait’s following only continues to increase proves that it is one radio’s (and podcasting’s) brightest gems. —Allison Keene


you-made-it-weird.jpg 19. You Made It Weird
Years: 2011-present
Podcast Network: Nerdist; Independent
Host: Pete Holmes 
Pete Holmes may have his own show now, but such a thing would never have been possible were it not for the burst in popularity this podcast provided. While Pete Holmes uses a format similar to Marc Maron’s famed WTF program (he frequently jokes about stealing Maron’s idea), he nevertheless displays a more light-hearted, energetic interviewing personality than Maron’s darker, more morose persona. This infectious enthusiasm certainly brings out the best in his guests, whether they’re open books like Aziz Ansari or naturally guarded like Dane Cook. That said, don’t think Holmes avoids tough topics. During a Jon Hamm episode, Holmes got the Mad Men actor to open up about losing both his parents at a young age. Likewise, in the course of his almost uncomfortably candid interview with mentor Chris Gethard, the host discovers that Gethard had lost the chance at having his own TV show when Holmes’ own show was picked up. While several episodes can run a bit long, Holmes comes from the position that there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing. Looking at the quality of his show, the proof’s definitely in the pudding. —Mark Rozeman


buffering-vampire.jpg 18. Buffering the Vampire Slayer
Years: 2016-present
Podcast Network: Independent
Hosts: Jenny Owen Youngs, Kristin Russo
As I noted in my love letter to the genre earlier this year, rewatch podcasts are a natural result of the last decade’s concomitant boom in both podcasting as a democratic art form, and pop culture nostalgia as a generational commodity. But while the 2010s produced plenty of equally excellent rewatch podcasts—some of them, like Slayerfest 98, about the very same IP—it’s Jenny Owen Youngs and Kristin Russo’s original-song-laden, queer-reading, joyful-community-building Buffy the Vampire Slayer rewatch project, Buffering the Vampire Slayer, that most exquisitely reflects the heights that critical pop culture podcasts, at least in the 2010s, could reach. With Kristin and Jenny on hand to talk all things Buffy, and with “queer buds” Brittany Ashley and Laura Zak now filling in every other week on Buffering’s Angel-watching sister podcast Angel on Top, the early aughts are new again. Better still, this pair of podcasts gives me a reason to look forward to my own little bubble of Appointment TV, even as the ever-growing number of new shows threatens to overwhelm me along with all my fellow TV critics. I love Buffy. But as Jenny’s punk rock “Spike” jingle that’s been long serving as my ringtone suggests, I adore Buffering. May it live, like Buffy, forever. —Alexis Gunderson


lore.jpg 17. Lore
Years: 2015—present
Podcast Network: Independent
Host: Aaron Mahnke
Lore’s best asset is host Aaron Mahnke’s soothing cadence. If you’re a regular listener, just seeing his name probably tricked your brain into reading this in his voice. Were he not obsessed with spooky stories, Mahnke could carve out a successful niche recording bedtime stories for children. Instead, he inspires restless nights by researching ghastly historical crimes, unexplained disappearances and creepily confounding footnotes in history. Some would argue Lore has overstayed its welcome—the format of, “here’s something bad that happened…but is that the whole story?” is certainly familiar at this point—but it’s that comforting pattern that makes Lore such a dependable listen for horror fans who want to have the hairs on their arms raise up without crossing into full-blown terror attacks. —Steve Foxe


ear-hustle.jpg 16. Ear Hustle
Years: 2017-present
Podcast Network: Radiotopia (PRX)
Hosts: Earlonne Woods, Nigel Poor, Rahsaan “New York” Thomas (as of Season 4)
Of the 1500+ submissions received when PRX’s Podquest bat-signal lit up back in 2016, it was Ear Hustle, the slice-of-life prison podcast produced from inside the walls of California’s San Quentin State Prison, that won its way into the Radiotopia family. Since that win, co-creators Nigel Poor, Earlonne Woods and Antwan Williams—along with Rahsaan “New York” Thomas, who stepped up as Poor’s co-host on the ‘inside’ after Woods’ sentence was commuted in 2018—have been telling compassionate, clear-eyed stories from a side of the American justice system that so many listeners would normally never get insight into. These stories, which range from the mundane (what are snacks like in prison?) to the funny (misadventures in dating while incarcerated!) to the astonishing (the literal pennies prisoners get paid to work, and the obstacles put up by the outside world that prevent former inmates from building careers off the technical/first responder training they worked so hard to earn when incarcerated), but they are always, always illuminating, and never less than deeply human. It’s really only been this last decade that anything like a mainstream (read: white and middle-to-upper-class) audience has finally started to take notice of the chilling statistics and even more chilling anti-democratic legacy of America’s mass incarceration culture, and, at least insofar as seeing others as human is the first step to agitating for real change, Ear Hustle has had no small part in that. Reform is still a long way off, but in the meantime, the stories Ear Hustle is telling are, and will continue to be, critical listening. —Alexis Gunderson


hardcore-history.jpg 15. Hardcore History
Years: 2006—present
Podcast Network: Independent
Host: Dan Carlin
For more than a decade, Dan Carlin has served as the internet’s history teacher, tackling a different war each semester and bringing to life the people who shaped the world through their military brilliance, incompetence or preference for poetry over the horrors of battle. A typical syllabus might included a couple six-hour episodes on the beginning of the Nuclear Age and the The Celtic Holocaust. He digs into primary sources and scholarly analysis to cut to help explain events that were mostly reduced to names and dates in high school. His exhaustive World War I season brought the scale of that tragedy to life in intricate, horrific detail. —Josh Jackson


chapo-trap.jpg 14. Chapo Trap House
Years: 2016-present
Podcast Network: Independent
Hosts: Will Menaker, Matt Christman, Felix Biederman, Amber A’Lee Frost, Virgil Texas
The bare facts of cult podcast Chapo Trap House are these: three minor Twitter celebrities—Will Menaker, Matt Christman and Felix Biederman—who straddle the worlds of Left Twitter and Weird Twitter, after years of collaborating on the Internet, got together to mock a movie, 13 Hours, on a friend’s show. They carved the beast well, and got such a response that they decided to record their own podcast. They named it “Chapo Trap House,” because they wanted the title to sound like a mix tape. Chapo has become an underground cult hit for up-all-night weirdos, MMA aficionados, Twitter fetishists, and most of all the irreverent left. It’s unlike any comedy or political podcast I’ve ever listened to, and I’ve heard ’em all. To say Chapo is in “poor taste” is to mistake taste for clear thinking. Chapo is not depraved—it sees clearly. It is not deliberately offensive, but unapologetically honest, which explains the exhilaration of listening to it. This highly irreverent, profane show is so hilarious and delightfully vulgar I can barely stand it. —Walker Bragman


the-best-show.jpg 13. The Best Show
Years: 2000-present
Podcast Network: Independent
Hosts: Tom Scharpling, Jon Wurster, Mike Lisk
What began as an old-fashioned radio show on WFMU returned to us in 2015, after a depressing year-long hiatus, ditching terrestrial radio entirely for the cyber future of today. Tom Scharpling’s weekly podcast delivers top-notch comedy guests, surly caller participation and elaborately orchestrated phone calls with Jon Wurster returned intact, making it feel like the show had hardly left. The Best Show’s labyrinth of in-jokes and callbacks might be off-putting to new listeners, especially when Scharpling and Wurster dig deep into the arcane history and ecosystem of Newbridge, N.J., but once you give yourself over to The Best Show it’s hard to ever really pull away. Scharpling and Wurster have spent the last 15 years constructing their own idiosyncratic comedy world, with its own peculiar rhythms and outlook, and it’s as impressive as radio (or, now, podcasting) gets in the 21st century. —Garrett Martin


doughboys2.jpg 12. Doughboys
Years: 2015-present
Podcast Network: HeadGum
Hosts: Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell
We shouldn’t eat fast food, but we do; Nick Wiger and Mike Mitchell probably think their show shouldn’t be so widely beloved, but it is. “The podcast about chain restaurants” is ostensibly that, but no one who listens regularly—or subscribes to their wildly successful Patreon—will deny that the most salient appeal of Doughboys is the hosts’ dynamic: delightfully confrontational, borderline abusive, but grounded in a uniquely refreshing kind of sincerity and friendship that feels worlds apart from the insufferably irony-poisoned realm of Twitter or whatever neo-liberal bullshit is happening on SNL anymore. Each week, Wiger and Mitch welcome a guest (the likes of John Hodgman, Sarah Silverman, Jon Gabrus, Sam Richardson, Carl Tart, Christine Nangle and even fellow self-made fast food critic Bill Oakley) to share a meal at some local dining establishment boasting numerous locations, and then return to Mitch’s apartment to rate the experience from zero to five forks. Conversation gets blue quickly, and the hosts clearly know that the food and the podcast are actively bad for their health—despite Mitch declaring that his favorite restaurant is Taco Bell—that the stuff they’re celebrating is destroying this planet and everyone should just stop eating meat altogether, but it’s also funny to hear two talented comedians internalize all that guilt and bad feeling (physical and emotional) in real time. (At their recent live show in Portland, they originally chose to review Burgerville, until local workers informed them that Burgerville was actively attempting to union bust, so they dutifully changed the chain at the last minute. It was the right thing to do.) And it’s hard not to relate, both to all the self-deprecation, and to the knowledge that you will keep doing something no matter how direly you know you shouldn’t. It makes Wiger’s weekly sign-off—”happy eating!”—feel that much more poignant. —Dom Sinacola


comedy-bang-bang.jpg 11. Comedy Bang! Bang!
Years: 2009-present
Podcast Network: Earwolf
Host: Scott Aukerman 
Comedy Bang! Bang! launched in 2009 as Comedy Death Ray Radio. But while the name might have changed, the quality has remained the same. Host Scott Aukerman invites celebrity guests, but thanks to the studio’s open-door policy, is always interrupted by all sorts of characters. With some of the greatest improvisers of today—like James Adomian and King of Podcasts, Paul F. Tompkins—Aukerman leads this insane ship to some of the funniest and most incredible podcasts you’ll ever hear. He understands that sometimes all you need to do is place a bunch of funny people in a room together and, by the sheer force of one-upmanship, something great will inevitably emerge. Just to assist the process, however, the latter half of the show will feature colorful, albeit nonsensical, games—“Would You Rather?” and “Freestyle Rap Battle” to list a few— that never cease to give the last third of the show a killer conclusion. —Mark Rozeman & Ross Bonaime


how-did-this.jpg 10. How Did This Get Made
Years: 2010-present
Podcast Network: Earwolf
Hosts: Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas, June Diane Raphael
In the realm of bad movie podcasts, How Did This Get Made? stands as a giant among men. The basic gist of the show centers on the three hosts attempting to sort through the plot line of a specific bad movie, whether it’s a straight up stinker (Howard the Duck), a fun bad movie (the last two Fast and Furious installments) or just a baffling mess (the morbid 1991 comedy Nothing But Trouble). From the very start, the show has firmly established the roles that each of the hosts play. Scheer is the more levelheaded straight man, Raphael is the more compassionate, empathetic one while Mantzoukas is the loose cannon joke machine who blurts out whatever’s on his mind, regardless of how offensive it may be. Together, along with guests that range from The League’s Nick Kroll to Lost creator Damon Lindelof to comic-book maestro Ed Brubaker, the How Did This Get Made? crew proves there is indeed a silver lining to even the worst of movies. If nothing else, you can get a nice laugh out of them. —Mark Rozeman


homecoming.jpg 9. Homecoming
Years: 2016-2017
Podcast Network: Gimlet Media
Hosts: Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer, Oscar Isaac 
Before being adapted into a stellar Amazon show, Gimlet’s first fiction podcast (from writers Micah Bloomberg and Eli Horowitz) made innovative radio drama an A-list activity. Constructed with aural bric-a-brac, Homecoming’s disjointed and unreliable formal elements reflected a story that’s compelling mysteries inspired plenty of string-and-corkboard guesswork. Great performances from a cast including David Cross and Amy Sedaris as well as Keener, Schwimmer, and Isaac made the piecemeal recordings—of phone calls, therapy sessions, and more—into a moving collage of conspiracy. Few stories are fun to revisit after their twists become known, but those that are (like Homecoming) are all the more rich for it. —Jacob Oller


stuff-you-should.jpg 8. Stuff You Should Know
Years: 2008-present
Podcast Network: HowStuffWorks
Hosts: Josh Clark, Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant
The incredibly fun and informative Stuff You Should Know podcast hinges on the charisma of its two hosts, whose casual, down-to-earth style makes anything they talk about essential. Clark and Bryant’s excellent rapport aside, SYSK (as it is known to fans) covers an exceptional range of topics that the amiable duo research and bring their own experiences and anecdotes to, often surprising each other with what they’ve learned rather than working off of a script or being restrained by a time limit. Listening to SYSK is like sitting down with friends and organically sharing interesting facts from articles you’ve recently come across; it’s relaxing, interesting, and educational. The podcast has spurred several live tours, a short-lived Discovery Channel TV show, and a legion of devoted fans who (this listener included) enjoy going back through the massive catalogue over and over again. —Allison Keene


limetown.jpg 7. Limetown
Years: 2015-present
Podcast Network: Two-Up
Host: Annie-Sage Whitehurst
Horror lends itself to audio storytelling, as listeners truly can’t see what’s coming, nor can they put a comforting distance between themselves and their earbuds. Yet with the exception of a few like The Magnus Archives and parts of The Black Tapes, many scripted horror podcasts are hampered by iffy acting and drawn-out pacing. Limetown, recently adapted to TV by Facebook, is probably the most successful creepy riff on the Serial format, as an investigative journalist looks into a shady neuroscience research facility with genuinely unpredictable results. Limetown’s biggest strength, beyond solid voice work, is in knowing its scale. The cast is small, and the central premise isn’t far removed from actual experiments the U.S. government attempted decades ago, allowing listeners to easily suspend disbelief that what they’re listening to is a “real” record of one woman’s search for answers. —Steve Foxe


planet-money.jpg 6. Planet Money
Years: 2008-present
Podcast Network: NPR
Hosts: Robert Smith, Stacey Vanek Smith, Jacob Goldstein, Ailsa Chang, Noel King, Kenny Malone, Karen Duffin, Sarah Gonzalez, Cardiff Garcia
The most assuring guidance to the deregulation fetish sweeping this fine country isn’t found in news print or talking heads, but in the amiable conversation between a group of econ nerds fully aware of how impenetrable their favorite subject is. NPR’s Planet Money is simply an anomaly of entertainment. Though the publicly-funded media org hosts a slew of podcasts tethered to more accessible, fun strata, this nine-year-old production is the most addictive whether you know which side of the ledger to slide your debits and credits. The Planet Money team takes labyrinth topics of undeniable importance and makes them bar-banter palatable, whether that means sprinting through the federal budget in 10 minutes, explaining why there aren’t enough women in tech or condensing the federal tax reform with a clarity few of the folks who passed it possess. But PM isn’t just a news filter with guests—the team builds weighty, emotional features that demonstrate just how deeply cash flows dictate our lives. The show’s soul converts numbers into narratives anyone can relate to, and it’s well worth the investment. —Sean Edgar


serial.jpg 5. Serial
Years: 2014-present
Podcast Network: This American Life
Host: Sarah Koenig
Though its subsequent two seasons were not nearly as compelling as its first, Serial deserves a mention in this list because it really kicked off the podcast craze, legitimizing it as a full-blown phenomenon. Our collective obsession with the 1999 murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee, and the questionable conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, riveted the nation and lit up message boards across the internet with theories. It was appointment listening, something that really hasn’t been the case for decades. Still, listeners were disappointed when the first season ended with a question mark about what really did happen in that case, and were doubly so when the second season announced it would focus on Bowe Bergdahl. The pivot from an unknown case to one of the most public-facing stories of recent years was not particularly well received, though as a look into some of the military’s practices when it comes to POWs and PR scandals it was interesting (as was the third season, based around the criminal justice system in Cleveland, Ohio). But nothing can compare to the breathless obsession with the Syed case, recently turned into an ill-advised HBO documentary, as it still lingers in the minds of those who followed Koenig’s investigation so closely. —Allison Keene


dirty-john.jpg 4. Dirty John
Years: 2017
Podcast Network: Wondery and the Los Angeles Times
Host: Christopher Goffard
In this quick, eight-episode series, L.A. Times journalist Christopher Goffard takes listeners on a twisted and surprising story of a Newport Beach family’s altercation with a talented grifter, John Michael Meehan, known to his friends as Dirty John. Businesswoman Debra Newell met the charming Meehan on a dating site and the two were secretly married not long afterwards, to the confusion and suspicion of Newell’s children. Goffard bookends his narrative of the events with a murder, but the victim and perpetrator aren’t revealed until much later in the story (until then, it could really be almost anyone). Though on its face the podcast seems like a tabloid retelling of suburban dating nightmare, at its core Dirty John is about the psychological effects of manipulation, trauma, and abuse. The Valley Girl-like trio of the Newell women is in sharp contrast to the dark and twisted figure of Meehan, and the story of how he forced himself into their lives is horribly enthralling. So much so, in fact, that Bravo launched an underrated TV miniseries of the same name starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana in late 2018. But as with almost all podcasts translated to screen, the original is still the best. —Allison Keene


s-town.jpg 3. S-Town
Year: 2017
Podcast Network: Serial, This American Life
Host: Brian Reed
S-Town starts as an investigation into a murder in Woodstock, Alabama, a topic suggested to This American Life by local horologist John B. McLemore. As host Brian Reed begins investigating the crime, which turns out to not have existed, he readjusts his attention to the eccentric McLemore, a depressed but charismatic resident of what McLemore calls “Shittown” (hence the censored podcast title). Tragically, while the podcast was still in production, McLemore took his own life by drinking cyanide, and the rest of the episodes focus on his life and what his death meant to those who knew him (including a contentious division of assets, the lack of a will, and criminal charges for actions described in the podcast). S-Town was controversial when it launched because the troubled McLemore could not consent to the invasive podcast turning to investigate him (which outed him, among other things). Others worried that it was a parade of small-town sundries trotted out to the amusement of coastal elites. But despite the ethical quandaries it raises, speaking as a southerner, S-Town does a wonderful job of illuminating some of the strange tales and hidden gem personalities that populate rural towns without ever judging or mocking. McLemore was a fascinating person, and his relationship to the town he so despised but was such an integral part of made for an engrossing story. Ultimately S-Town is the gentle tale of an unfolding tragedy, one that creates its own lore and nearly becomes a literary act in doing so. —Allison Keene


wtf.jpg 2. WTF with Marc Maron
Years: 1995-present
Podcast Network: Marc Maron 
Host: Marc Maron 
Back in September of 2009, comedian Marc Maron saw the writing on the wall and decided to start his own podcast. As a former contributor to the liberal radio network Air America, he certainly had experience voicing his feelings and concerns in a public forum. Whereas his radio work was directed outward, however, WTF emphasizes the internal. Maron emerged into the podcasting world as a man with great baggage—drugs, broken relationships and marriages, career detours—as well as numerous bridges that he had burned in his darker years. WTF served not only as a way for Maron to talk openly with fellow comedians and share experiences but also to help reconnect with the colleagues and friends he’d lost touch with over the years. After more than four years and hundreds of hours of conversations, listeners can’t be blamed for thinking they know the man on an intimate level. Now, over 1,000 episodes in, Maron hasn’t lost his edge, his honest insight or, most importantly, his sense of humor. Between the extended stream-of-consciousness monologues that occupy the first third of the episode and the in-depth conversations that constitutes the rest, WTF with Marc Maron not only makes for a great source of laughter but also encourages listeners to actively examine their own lives just as Maron does his own. It’s constructive talk therapy masquerading as a hilarious comedy program and listeners certainly wouldn’t have it any other way. —Mark Rozeman


this-american-life.jpg 1. This American Life
Years: 1995-present
Podcast Network: Public Radio Exchange
Host: Ira Glass 
His voice is not the deep baritone of most of his public radio colleagues. The music, clips and questions have a distinct homeyness, and the stories aren’t typically what you’d call newsworthy. Yet Ira GlassThis American Life, now in its 25th year, remains one of the most vital, intelligent and delightful radio programs over the airwaves or downloadable from your podcast provider. Glass and his team spend hundreds of hours each week sifting through story ideas, conducting interviews and transforming it all into a series of narratives based on a theme. The show uses everything from the superficially mundane to the extraordinary and bizarre. The only thing you’ll count on each week is that you’ll hear interesting and unexpected stories and encounter the host’s quirky wit and inquisitiveness. In many ways, This American Life was the prototype for all story-based podcasting, compiling essential narratives that brought to light incredible tales that we can (crucially) hear from those who lived it, allowing our imaginations to conjure up the settings and people involved. Some of those stories have served as the basis for TV and film scripts, and the show’s investigative format has also spun off some of podcasting’s most celebrated titles (including many that are on this very list). But the influence of This American Life’s original style and continued excellence cannot be overstated. —Josh Jackson & Allison Keene

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