I have a confession to make… I only started listening to podcasts when I was convinced to give Serial a try back in November 2014 (I was that ‘bandwagoner’), but four years later and I have found my permanent spot on the train. Yep, I do actually listen to all the podcasts listed in this guide!
Podcasting is slowly but surely gaining popularity as a medium for entertainment, news and frank discussions. Business Insider reported an increase in podcast listeners in the US (21%, up from 17% in 2015) and the rest of the world definitely isn’t behind either. Podcasts aren’t new, but with viral hits like Serial taking it into the mainstream, the number of available podcasts has dramatically spiked. So where do you even start?
First step, use your Apple Podcast app or download a podcatcher app of your choice (here are some good recommendations). You can also listen on iTunes or Spotify, if you don’t want any new apps clogging up your phone. Most apps will also let you download episodes to your phone, if you’re not able to use your mobile data to stream content.
Now that you’re set up, scan through our list below! This is, by no means, an extensive list. Since I couldn’t list and recommend every podcast out there, I’ve chosen some of my favourites by genre, as well as a standout episode for you to get started on. While this is a great starting point, I found some of my favourite niche podcasts by exploring my Podcasts app and I would recommend that you do the same!
Editor’s Note: Though a couple of these are okay to have playing with the kids around, most are parents-only, best played on personal headphones. Perfect for your work commute and mama-only downtime.
Let’s begin with the genre which got me hooked: true crime. Whether you’ve spent way too long Wikipedia-ing some morbid murders (me) or you’re just interested in getting inside the head of criminals, these are for you…
Start With: Serial (Season 1, Episode 1 – The Alibi)
This is the show that (arguably) made podcasting popular in the last few years. Season 1 deals with the 1999 murder of high school student, Hae Min Lee as journalist Sarah Koenig looks into the circumstances and characters surrounding her untimely demise. Warning: this is as addictive as it gets. Expect to binge-listen.
Move Onto: Criminal (Episode 51 – Money Tree)
Each episode of Criminal takes you through a series of criminal acts, ranging from stolen petrified wood to cases of identity theft and murder. Served in bite-sized chunks of 20-30 minutes, these are mostly standalone episodes, making them perfect for your commute.
Honourable Mentions: Sword and Scale (Episode 5 & 6 – Johnny Gosch)
This is intense, friends, and I would only recommend Sword and Scale to the genre’s most hardcore fans. It doesn’t shy away from terrible crimes or gory details, and it is straight up unnerving at times. If you’re looking for morbid, this is it.
For My Ladies
There are some epic female-led podcasts out there on the internet, but these are some of my favourites. Great for mornings when you just need a bit of #inspo with your coffee – especially if you’ve been up all night tending to the kids.
Start With: Call Your Girlfriend (Episode 78: Bey-eus Ex Machina)
Hosted by lady bosses, Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, this podcast is for “long distance besties everywhere.” These are two very well educated and intelligent women who can talk pop culture just as well as they can talk about politics (and also periods… there’s a lot of period chat in this one #notsorry). You’ll want to be their best friend by the end of this.
Move Onto: Lady Problems (Andrea Silenzi)
The ladies behind Lady Problems are absolutely unafraid to call out pop culture on its treatment of women, and I love it. They’re funny and opinionated and are exactly the type of friends you and your girlfriends should aspire to.
Honourable Mentions: Strong Opinions Loosely Held (The Kardashian Industrial Komplex)
Lead by badass, Eliza Kreisinger of Refinery29, SOLH brings on today’s “culture makers and rule breakers” to chat pop culture, ranging from social media influencers and their income generation to why exactly the Kardashians are popular – all through the lens of a modern, feminist woman.
If you’re interested in getting to the nitty gritty of somebody’s life, these podcasts are for you. They take a deep dive into the world of its protagonist and have opened my eyes to worlds I would never have heard of otherwise.
Start With: Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty (Part 1 – That Beat, That Beat Right There)
A recent fave, Mogul is an in depth look at the life and death of hip hop and R&B legend, Chris Lighty. Give him a quick Google and you’ll understand why this is such a big deal. Hosted by Reggie Ossé, Mogul is a fascinating window into the evolution of hip hop, featuring interviews with industry heavy hitters that will have you hooked right from the get go. Music lovers, don’t skip this one!
Move Onto: S-Town (Chapter 1)
S-Town has been making huge waves within the podcasting world (and beyond) recently, and for good reason. This is a character study like no other – raw, honest and a little uncomfortable, but well worth the listen. Caution: this is intense, and not really bingeable. Take your time with it.
Honourable Mention: Crimetown (Chapter 1 – Divine Providence)
You may think that you’re not interested in politics and organised crime in Providence, Rhode Island… but you will be. Buddy Cianci and his story will pull you right in – trust me. Just give it a go.
All Things Culture
I’ll confess, I am the biggest pop culture nerd ever. Therefore, these are my favourite podcasts of the bunch, and I don’t miss a single episode. You can count on them to be interesting, thought provoking and most importantly, hilarious.
Start With: Pop Culture Happy Hour (Riverdale and Other Teen Soaps)
If for nothing else, listen to PCHH for the “What’s Making Us Happy” segment at the end of each episode because it will make you happy too. The panelists are incredible (Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson and Glen Wheldon are #goals) and all know exactly what they’re talking about when it comes to culture. If you love discussing ‘what’s what’ in pop culture with your friends, this is the one for you.
Move On to: Reply All (#33, @ISIS)
Internet nerds, this is the one for you! Reply All is a podcast about tech and the internet, and if you’re anything like me and obsessed with internet culture (including memes and funny Tweets), this is a no brainer. Hosts PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman cover a whole wealth of topics and you can always count on it to be a good time and, believe it or not, incredibly informative. My favourite episode? Definitely the one where they explore communicating with ISIS online. Yep.
Honourable Mentions: Anna Faris is Unqualified (Episode 72: Terry Crews)
Listen in on comedic actress, Anna Faris as she talks life, love and culture with her celeb friends. It’s great for the banter and the surprising openness of conversation and genuine discussions on what life is actually all about.
To Have a Good Time
Don’t say I didn’t warn you when these podcasts make you laugh out loud on the bus or MTR.
Start With: My Dad Wrote a Porno (Episode 01)
You think I’m kidding, but I listened to this walking down Caine Road and laughed the whole way, out loud. I was alone. The title basically gives the premise away, and I won’t ruin the rest for you! Caution: Definitely NSFW.
Move Onto: Part Time Genius (Why Are We Obsessed With World Records?)
Let hosts Will and Mango take you through some of the life’s most important questions that you’ve been waiting to hear the answers to. They may seem ridiculous at surface level, but uncover some pretty memorable facts along the way that will leave you with a nugget of new knowledge and a smile on your face.
Honourable Mentions: Ask Me Another (Tim Gunn: Make It Smirk)
Trivia enthusiasts, download this right now! Full of random general knowledge questions packaged into games guaranteed to make you laugh, this will ensure that you’re the pub quiz legend in your group for years to come. Recorded in front of a live audience, it means you’ll be even more inclined to laugh along with the crowd, and it usually has a celebrity guest segment for some star-studded chuckles.
Tech and Business Lovers
I didn’t think I’d be someone interested in the ins and outs of business (what entrepreneurial spirit?) but these will evoke enthusiasm in even the most ‘business un-savvy’ souls.
Start With: StartUp (#1 – How Not To Pitch A Billionaire)
The one that started it all, StartUp is a podcast about, well, starting up a podcasting company. Yes, you, me, and host Alex Goldman are all aware of how meta that is. Follow Alex as he fumbles his way through his first pitch to investor, Chris Sacca (even I cringed) and figures out just how much it takes to start your own business.
Move Onto: The Pitch (S2E01 – Babyscripts)
Ever wondered what happens when a business owner actually pitches his company to a panel of potential investors? This is Shark Tank and/or Dragons Den without any B.S or added drama – just a founder, four (or five) investors and unedited, unscripted conversation.
Honourable Mentions: How I Built This (WeWork: Miguel McKelvey)
There’s something about taking an unfiltered peek into how someone has started their business, flourished (or didn’t) and exactly what they went through. That’s exactly what How I Built This does, and it’s a place for some serious inspiration and invaluable insights.
Something to Chew On
Want to spend your commute listening to something that will broaden your view of the world and leave you thinking a little? These are the ones you need to start with…
Start With: Invisibilia (Reality Part One)
Finally back after a (far too long) hiatus, Invisibilia is about “the invisible forces that control human behaviour” and there’s no episode that isn’t absolutely engrossing. Listen for yourself and you’ll see.
Check out Radiolab for its epic sound editing, with hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich weaving together stories, science and music for your listening pleasure. 99% Invisible is for all design nerds (or wannabe nerds, like me) and explores the design detail behind everyday thingsthat you wouldn’t look twice at, but that still shape your world.
Every Little Thing takes you down a rabbit hole of things you would never question… like the Dewey Decimal System and why chairs are misunderstood (seriously). Code Switch looks at race and identity in our culture and what these changing times mean for us as a society. It’s sure to get your brain going, and are conversations we really should be having with each other.
I’m also a huge TV buff, and these podcasts are basically TV shows, but for your ears. They’re exceptional at creating a world that you can picture, even though there are no visuals for you to physically look at.
Start With: Homecoming (1. Mandatory)
This podcast tells the story of the “Homecoming Initiative,” a mysterious project controlled by the government? The military? We’re not quite sure. It’s just kicked off Season two, so it’s not too late to start catching up! It also features the familiar voices of David Schwimmer, Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac, so you know it’s legit.
Move Onto: The Black Tapes (Episode 101: A Tale of Two Tapes Part I)
A paranormal docu-drama, I thought this world was real for a solid two episodes… whoops. It follows journalist, Alex Reagan on her quest to uncover the truth behind the enigmatic Dr. Strand and his black tapes.
Honourable Mentions: Welcome to Night Vale (1 – Pilot)
The less explained about Night Vale, the better. Trust me when I say this is the most famous fictional podcast for a reason – you will get sucked right into the desert town of Night Vale and its bizarre community happenings.
Nonfiction Storytelling/Human Interest
I love storytelling, and there are so, so, so many good storytelling podcasts out there for you to enjoy – these are just some of my most loved human interest series…
Start With: The Moth (The Curse by Dame Wilburn)
I had the opportunity to watch a live show of The Moth and I was instantly hooked. It’s everyday people sharing their stories, and will make you laugh, cry, sigh, whoop and even hurt with the narrator.
Move Onto: This American Life (Episode 589: Tell Me I’m Fat, Episode 451: Back to Penn State)
The great granddaddy of all podcasts, This American Life is revered for a reason. Host, Ira Glass will pull you into some of the most interesting everyday stories told by the people living them. Two standout episodes for me were #589, where Lindy West talks about body acceptance and the stigma of being fat in our society, and #451, where Glass goes back to Penn State after the university was rocked by the uncovering of a huge sexual abuse scandal within their football team.
Honourable Mention: Modern Love (#10: A Millennial’s Guide To Kissing)
This New York Times column turned podcast is guaranteed to give you all the feels. Modern Love tackles all kind of love in our life, with reader submitted essays read out by guest stars. This will tug at your heartstrings, make you laugh and make you cry, all at once. They even do a Q&A with the author of each essay at the end, so you can understand what they were going through when they submitted their piece to the NYT.
Thriller and Horror
Finally, a genre I literally never thought I would like (I used to be scared of the dark, serious). These are grim, kind of scary but totally gripping and if you’re a big thriller and horror fan, these are right up your alley.
Start With: Lore (Episode 17: Broken Fingernails)
Aaron Mankhe has one of those voices that was made for telling scary bedtime stories. Lore explores the facts behind urban legends and myths, and while you won’t be getting nightmares anytime soon (I don’t think), these stories will definitely give you chills.
Move Onto: Darkest Night (Chapter 1: The Will Reading)
Creepy, creepy, creepy. Incorporating some of the best sound designing there is on a podcast, but if you’re even slightly squeamish, this is not for you. Darkest Night is an audio drama that details the going-ons at the mysterious Roth Lobdow Centre for Advanced Research. The top secret “Project Cyclops” revolves around uncovering the secrets of the newly dead and I’ll leave it at that.
Honourable Mention: The NoSleep Podcast (S1E08 – Laurel Highlands)
One of the horror greats, The NoSleep Podcast is a series of original horror stories accompanied by some truly terrifying atmospheric music. Maybe don’t listen to this by yourself, or at night…
Featured image sourced via Getty, all other images sourced via respective podcasts