The best podcasts out there have one thing in common: you can listen to them no matter what’s going on around you
The golden age of radio didn’t end – it evolved. Now we live in the time of peak podcast, an era where we can get a direct infusion of knowledge, comedy, music, opinion, intrigue and discourse while showering, working, running or just lazing about. There are seemingly infinite podcasts out there, from influential squawk-boxes like Joe Rogan and Howard Stern to amateur shows produced in basements. That’s the beauty: Anyone with a mic and a hard drive can make a podcast.
The best podcasts maximize the medium’s potential, incorporating interesting voices, immaculately curated topics and an ear for storytelling. They include true-crime opuses and whip-smart comedy. Among them, you’ll find enriching lessons in history and deep-dive nerdery, stories that hit close to home or transport you to faraway lands. Together, they have the power to make you gasp, giggle, scratch your head and walk away feeling smarter. From old-school trailblazers to brand new names, these are the 50 best podcasts to listen to right now.
Contributors: Anna Rahmanan Eddy Frankel, Andy Kryza, Phil de Semlyen, Alex Plim, Dave Calhoun, Andrzej Lukowski, Cass Knowlton, Dalia Barth, Isabelle Aron and Alexandra Sims
Best podcasts to listen to in 2022, ranked
1. Start with This
You know a podcast is making you cleverer when it involves homework. Each episode of ‘Start with This’ (the second brainchild of the creators of ‘Welcome to Night Vale’, a creepy podcast set in an imaginary US town) gives listeners something to consume and something to create: usually a book or TV show in the first instance, and a writing assignment in the second. The object is to help boost your creativity, and the subjects of the episodes are satisfyingly varied, from ‘Present Tense’ to ‘Non-Lovecraftian Horror’.
2. Philosophy Bites
Sure, your Platos and your Nietzsches are still famous long after their deaths, but most philosophies remain pretty obscure. Had any chats about the importance of metaphysics to our understanding of the world? Know what verificationism is? If you listened to this lovable UK podcast, you absolutely would. ‘Philosophy Bites’ hosts Nigel Warburton and David Edmonds invite guests for great intros to the debates, thinkers and thoughts that have shaped our world.
3. Crime Show
Launched in 2021, ‘Crime Show’ delivers on its promise to tell ‘stories about people. And sometimes crime,’ with each episode offering a standalone story that doesn’t exclusively fall back on the grimly overused ‘women getting murdered’ trope (though murder is a common topic). Some shows involve ghosts, others scammers and identity thieves. And in one particularly bizarre episode, we even meet a singer whose voice was stolen by a chart-topping imposter. This isn’t your typical true-crime podcast.
4. Maintenance Phase
The ‘wellness’ industry is crawling with snake-oil salesmen hocking miracle cures. Maintenance Phase is here to help sort fact from fiction with its funny, erudite look at the BS clouding the market. From fad diets to vibrators, fat-shaming to whatever Gwyneth Paltrow’s doing at every moment, the show is here to demystify an extremely complicated topic in a way we can all understand.
5. Black Girl Songbook
In this podcast from The Ringer, former Vibe editor-in-chief Danyel Smith offers a lovingly insightful deep dive into a different Black woman in the music industry each week, focusing on craft, impact and legacy while telling very specific moment-in-time stories. That includes a show dedicated to Whitney Huston’s explosive 1992 Super Bowl performance, the rise of Sade, a dissection of the searing Lauryn Hill diss track ‘Lost Ones’ and much, much more.
6. This American Life
‘This American Life’ originated as a public radio show (which it still is) in the 1990s and eventually took on the podcast format as well. Hosted by the instantly recognisable Ira Glass, each episode of this weekly show has a theme that is explored, usually through first-person narratives, by folks from all walks of life in the US and beyond. Think ‘stories about being little’, the pros and cons of therapy and the tale of a flute player who steals a million dollars’ worth of dead birds.
7. Scam Goddess
Actor and comedian Laci Mosley presides over a true-crime podcast that revels unashamedly in the most twisted, tenacious and cunning hustles on record and analyses them as works of art. Part-con investigation, part-comic riff-along, ‘Scam Goddess’ drags enjoyably-monikered scammers like ‘the Deutschland Duper’ and ‘the Hoodwinking Hipster’ into the light. Mosley and a guest will chew over these devious schemes with a forensic eye and the odd entertaining tangent.
8. The New Yorker Fiction Podcast
Merely looking at a copy of the New Yorker can make you up to 15 percent cleverer, and the same goes for listening to its flagship fiction podcast. A current staffer reads a short story by a former New Yorker writer – often several decades former – and discusses it with the magazine’s fiction editor Deborah Treisman. It’s entertaining, sure, but it’s the delving into the thought processes of a succession of extremely smart Americans – think ZZ Packer, Bryan Washington, Jhumpa Lahiri – that gives it its zing.
9. How to Do Everything
NPR’s popular podcast wrapped up about four years ago without literally telling us how to do everything. But there’s still a treasure trove of knowledge stored in its archive, as hosts Mike Danforth and Ian Chillag solve problems that you hadn’t previously realised were problems: from mounting an impassioned defence of weasels, to tips on bluffing your way through a conversation about golf. Its 265 episodes are all standing by to help enhance your brainy parts.
10. The Shrink Next Door
Not all crimes involve a severed head in a forest. ‘The Shrink Next Door’, one of the most shocking – and funniest – stories of manipulation you’ll ever hear, is the second kind. It’s about a New York psychiatrist who takes his relationship with one patient way, way too far. It’s full of swanky country pads and amazing New York Jewish accents, and it will leave you saying ‘oy vey’ like you really mean it. Once you’ve finished, check out Apple’s new adaptation starring Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd.
11. How Did This Get Made?
Very funny people Paul Scheer, Jason Mantzoukas and June Diane Raphael (plus a roster of very funny special guests) love movies. Especially questionable ones. In this hysterically nerdy pod, the trio go lovingly ‘Mystery Science Theater’ on a cross-genre spread of so-bad-they’re-good films, from the Schwarzeneggerian wonders of ‘Jingle All the Way’ to the kid-mobster weirdness of ‘Bugsy Malone’. As a bonus, they also dive into great films that are certifiably bizarre, including John Woo’s action classic ‘Face/Off’ and Patrick Swayze’s ‘Road House’.
12. Writers on Film
On the flip-side of the film-nerd spectrum from ‘How Did This Get Made,’ John Bleasdale’s ‘Writers on Film’ features conversations with historians and authors who literally wrote the book on your favorite films and filmmakers. The conversations are full of insights, factoids and anecdotes on the making (and impact) of everything from ‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Midnight Cowboy’, ‘Highlander’ and much more.
13. No Such Thing as a Fish
The very funny team of researchers behind British game show QI spends its days discovering weird, wonderful and completely unrelated factoids. And every week, they spill the most random, gobsmacking stuff they’ve discovered. Consider it the podcast equivalent of meeting a group of giddy trivia champs at the pub… people who are excited to tell you tales about red pandas, seafaring vegetable detectives and ancient air conditioners.
14. 10 Things That Scare Me
This one’s pretty self-explanatory. During each episode of this podcast, a new person will literally sit in a room alone and talk about his or her biggest fears. From cockroaches to death, flying, large crowds and even boredom, the discussions on ‘10 Things That Scare Me’ run from funny to deep and everything in-between.
15. Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend
When in need of some laughs, tune into ‘Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend,’ the former late-night icon’s hysterically funny corner of the internet. In each episode, the late-night host interviews a funny celebrity, including Ali Wong, Will Arnett, Judd Apatow, Sarah Silverman, Quentin Tarantino, Kid Cudi and plenty more.
16. Jemele Hill is Unbothered
Emmy-winning journalist Jemele Hill has always come off as a person who knows a lot about everything, and her witty, insightful, often hilarious Spotify pod furthers that notion by covering a wide swath of topics relating to film, journalism, music, literature and beyond. The show has included interviews with Lisa Ling, Dan Rather, Tiffany Haddish, Kamala Harris, Stephen Colbert Michael B Jordan, Jill Scott, Chuck D and many other luminaries exploring the weight of their work and the larger cultural diaspora in depth with one of the best interviewers in the game.
Every band is somebody’s favorite band. But some bands transcend simple fandom and generate their own legion of dedicated followers. Spotify host Yasi Salek dives deep into a different cultishly beloved band each week, complete with curated playlists with the potential to win new converts. Shows focus on drastically different band lifestyles, from the tour cultures of Phish and Dave Matthews to the ‘family’ of Juggalos devoted to Insane Clown Posse and the downright puzzling Gin Blossoms devotees still screaming for ‘Hey Jealousy’ all these years later.