Great podcasts are like great books: every time you finish an episode, you can’t wait for the next one. Just like reading a cliffhanger at the end of a chapter, listening to a podcast can pull you in and ensure you’ll be downloading the next episode as soon as it’s released.
We have hand-picked a selection of 10 story podcasts for your listening pleasure. If you subscribe to any, or all, of these, you’ll experience some of the most innovative and addictive storytelling happening today. Who needs radio dramas when podcasts are this compelling?!
The podcast that introduced me to compelling audio dramas, Homecoming tells the story of Walter Cruz (Oscar Isaac), a former soldier, and Heidi Cruz (Catherine Keener), his therapist in an experimental rehabilitation program. This thriller is absolutely packed with twists and turns. Each episode reveals more about the characters, the program, and the unsettling truth behind it all.
In addition to Isaac and Keener, David Schwimmer (as Bergman’s impressively intense and infuriating supervisor), Amy Sedaris, and David Cross also provide voice acting. The talent of the actors and the very high production value make this a standout in a burgeoning genre.
The first season of six episodes has already been completed, and another is in the works. Be prepared for binge-listening (trust us, it’s a thing) this one.
A true innovator in the podcast drama world, Welcome to Night Vale nearly invented — and certainly popularized — the genre. The premise of the show is simple: each episode contains updates from the city of Night Vale. You’ll get the weather, the local news, updates from the Sheriff’s office, and information on various goings-on. But things in Night Vale are a little stranger than you’re probably used to.
The deadpan humor, unsettling paranormal events, and exploration of the mysterious Night Vale put on the scripted-podcast throne, and it hasn’t left. A little science fiction, a little horror, and a little comedy make this a unique show, and one worth listening to. And with over 125 episodes, you’ll be enjoying it for a long time to come.
Audio dramas have always been a great medium for horror stories. The Black Tapes focuses on a journalist and her mysterious subject, Dr. Strand. Throughout two seasons, listeners will learn more about the doctor, his paranormal investigations, and the possible sinister forces lurking just out of sight.
The style of The Black Tapes has been compared to Serial, so if you’re a fan of investigative-journalism-type podcasts and horror movies, it’s definitely one you should check out. Season three is in the works, so get caught up while you can. Just don’t lose too much sleep in the process!
“Ten years ago, over three hundred men, women and children disappeared from a small town in Tennessee, never to be heard from again.” How could you possibly not subscribe to this podcast after hearing that description? Another docudrama, Limetown evokes Serial in both execution and tone.
And despite only being seven episodes long, Limetown packs a punch. There’s no second season, and it doesn’t look like there will be one. But if you’re looking for drama and you like the journalistic style of The Black Tapes, this one should definitely be on your list.
5. We’re Alive
We’re Alive is a post-apocalyptic zombie survival horror. What more could you ask for? If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead, this is definitely podcast for you. A band of survivors has to work together to find food, water, shelter, and safety while being pursued by the shambling undead hordes. It’s a classic zombie story told in a classic way.
With over a hundred episodes, you’ll get all the zombie-evading action you can handle. And while We’re Alive has technically ended, the people behind the show are working on new things that may be related to the very popular series.
Each episode of Hidden Almanac is only a few minutes long. Reverend Mord, resident of Echo Harbour, reads the day’s news and a sponsored ad or two. That’s it. But the weirdness of the events and the humorous style of the podcast, which recently featured the Feast Day of the Genuflecting Log, makes every short episode entertaining.
A mix of comedy and weird-fiction-like strangeness, Hidden Almanac is unique in its content and presentation. Which is one of the reasons it’s been running for over three years and currently boasts over 300 episodes.
The group behind Night Vale have concocted this strange tale of a trucker on a cross-country trip to find her wife, who was (erroneously) believed to be dead. The podcast centers on the rather abnormal things she finds on her trip, including “not-quite-human serial murderers, towns literally lost in time, and a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.”
Alive Isn’t Dead is a great example of serial fiction and it’ll keep you guessing throughout the story as to what’s really going on. The first 10-episode season has been completed and season two is expected in 2017.
8. The Truth
Like an audio short story collection, The Truth presents a new story in each episode. Styling itself as “movies for your ears,” each episode of the podcast gives you a 10- to 20-minute short story. Some of them are unsettling, while others are funny, but all of them are unique.
Recent episodes have centered on a submarine crew that goes deeper than it thought possible, a man transporting himself into the body of a prison inmate, and an elf who gets a job in the Naughty or Nice division of Santa’s workshop. You never know what to expect, but you can be sure that it’ll be great.
Around the turn of the 20th century, two men founded a new town in Oklahoma. Calling it PleasureTown, they aimed to make it an oasis of free thought and hedonism. A place without judgment, where the only goal was happiness. But, as you might expect, things don’t always go as planned.
The story of PleasureTown is told by the ghosts of the townspeople, and the stories are written not only by the producers and writers of the show, but by the audience as well. Each season goes through the history of the town with stories of happiness, betrayal, ecstasy, and murder. And with over 300 episodes, you can expect a lot of it.
Have you ever wanted to listen to other people’s therapy sessions? How about superheroes’ therapy sessions? The Bright Sessions follows Dr. Bright and her clients, all of whom have supernatural abilities. But even with supernatural abilities, they have ordinary problems: emotions, relationships, identity, and just about everything else we non-supernaturals deal with.
These therapy sessions for the “strange and unusual” provide a look into the day-to-day lives of people who are anything but normal… or at least that’s how they seem. What is Dr. Bright’s story? How did she come to be offering therapy for people with special abilities? And why? The podcast is full of questions, but also of insight and empathy.
Although it’s just getting started at the time of this writing, Bronzeville promises to be one of the best podcasts around. With voice acting from Laurence Fishburne, Larenz Tate, and Tika Sumpter, and writing credit from Josh Olson (who wrote the screenplay for A History of Violence), it’s as star-studded as they come.
The show focuses on the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago in the 1940s. The characters are deeply involved in the illegal lottery run in the largely African-American area, and the show promises plenty of drama with the law, gangs, and organized crime. You’re definitely going to want to subscribe to this one immediately.
Are you currently addicted to any podcasts? If so, which ones? What kind of podcasts grab you and refuse to let go? Do you listen to any of the podcasts on this list? Or can you recommend others? Feel free to tell us about your favorite podcasts in the comments below!
Image Credits: Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock
Explore more about: Podcasts.