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The 15 best story podcasts

From spooky yarns to sprawling investigations, these are the best story podcasts out there right now

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

‘Storytelling’ isn’t necessarily a genre that’s 100 percent easy to pin down, but it’s clear that some of the biggest, best and longest-running pods in the world are story podcasts. We’re talking gripping fiction; we’re talking engrossing documentaries; we’re talking engagingly oddball genre experiments. Almost all of them are American – it’s a country that takes storytelling seriously – but needless to say, a great story is universal. So if you’re looking after a good yarn – of any length or any genre – then here are the finest examples out there from a crowded field.

📖 The best fiction podcasts
🕰 The best history podcasts
🔪 The best true-crime podcasts
👩 The best podcasts for women
💀 The best murder podcasts

Best story podcasts, ranked

Not just podcast but arguably the podcast, ‘This American Life’ began in 1995 under the title ‘Your Radio Playhouse’ when it was - as you’d imagine - ‘just’ a radio show, but it took like a duck to the water to the podcast age. Presented since its inception by cult hero Ira Glass, each episode of the NPR show comes with a theme attached that Glass introduces at the start, following which we get a series of storytelling pieces on the theme that - while wildly diverse - do tend to settle on first-person stories and narratives.

What is the true-crime podcast boom, if not a triumph for the art of storytelling? The outcome to almost every one of these lavishly detailed, multi-part shows is almost always available via a quick Google - but it’s the journey, not the destination that audiences are interested in. ‘Serial’ borders on a cliche to include, but the Sarah Koenig-hosted show’s first season - which looks into a 1999 murder case - remains the popular and critical high watermark of the entire genre. If you’re interested in storytelling and have never listened, you’re being ridiculous. 


This hauntingly beautiful history podcast (kind of)has been running since 2008. Hosted by Nate DiMeo, the actual subject matter of the individual, often obliquely named shows is kept deliberately opaque until you listen. But you can generally expect quirky and or obscure historical episodes - think the unusual origins of certain phrases or odd facts about famous figures - recounted by DiMeo in drifting tones, set to a specially chosen soundtrack. Yes, the history is interesting. But it’s the recounting of it that makes ‘The Memory Palace’ a classic.

The very definition of a cult show, the bimonthly ‘Welcome To Night Vale’ is basically one enormous, very weird shaggy dog story that newbies can start from the now distant beginning or (possibly wiser) pick up where it is now just fine. Taking the form of a fictional local radio show hosted by one Cecil Gershwin Palmer, it follows life in the very titular bizarre desert town in the southern States, where all conspiracies are real and fantastical beings drolly stalk the darkened streets. 


No journal is more closely synonymous with the short story than The New Yorker, and ‘The Writer’s Voice’ is effectively the audiobook version of its weekly stories, with the authors themselves reading out their own stories (hence the name!). Stretching back to 2016, you’re obviously not going to get classics from the likes of Salinger or Nabokov, but it’s a great way to digest the magazine’s ever-erudite fictional output. And yes, you do get Kristen Roupenian reading ‘Cat Person’.

You can’t be serious about storytelling and not include Homer (the Ancient Greek oral poet, not the beloved ‘Simpsons’ character). Pushing 3,000 years old, ‘The Odyssey’ tells the story of the Greek hero Odysseus’s adventure-filled journey home from the Trojan War. Storyteller Jeff Wright’s 23-hour podcast version puts the whole thing in contemporary language and adds contextualising appendices to each of the episodes. Yes, it’s been adapted. But the ‘Odyssey’ was a story designed to be listened to. It’s a great standalone, though Wright has also done a similarly excellent adaptation of the preceding ‘Iliad’, entitled ‘Trojan War: The Podcast’.


Unlike its sister podcast ‘Serial’, ‘S-Town’ does take a completely unexpected route to the one the listener might expect. It’s perhaps best not to give too much away here. But in essence, what looks like a quintessential example of a cold case true-crime podcast takes a shocking turn in the years after one John B McLemore persuades veteran radio producer Brian Reed to look into a death in his hometown of Woodstock, Alabama. Some ethical questions have been justifiably raised over whether it was entirely appropriate to complete the show (you’ll know what we mean when you get the whole story), but it is a truly gripping tale.

Well, this is proper, hardcore storytelling: The Moth is a not-for-profit group dedicated to the art of storytelling that stages live events across America and beyond. Its most popular manifestation, however, is ‘The Moth Radio Hour’, which gathers together live recordings and bundles them up for wider consumption. Each hour is themed but tremendous varied, mixing up fiction and non-fiction, little known storytellers with the odd celebrity, but the standard is uniformly high.


This enormously popular, heavily syndicated US public radio show is another one that doesn’t try and play it complicated. Recorded live at Symphony Stage in New York City, each week on ‘Selected Shorts’ host Megan Wolitzer introduces two short stories (or one slightly longer story) per episode. The remit varies a lot, and some of the stories are commissioned specifically for the show, but as a rule, it’s lesser-known works by usually longer-form writers. The stories are read by heavyweight actors – occasionally very famous ones.

Looking for something a little spookier? Aaron Mahnke’s fortnightly podcast delves into the spooky world of folklore. Each episode comes with a loose theme - such as North American vampire myths, among others - and a certain amount of analysis, but the real pleasure is Mahnke’s spooky, ‘campfire’-style recounting of the innumerable folk legends and myths the show draws upon. There’s an emphasis on North America, but there’s plenty of spookiness from all over the world.


Sometimes a great storytelling podcast is just as simple as a guy with a great voice reading some great stories aloud. LeVar Burton is best known globally for his role as Geordie La Forge in ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and its spin-offs, but in the US, whole generations of kids were raised on PBS’s kids’ book show ‘Reading Rainbow’, which he hosted for 23 years. ‘LeVar Burton Reads’ is aimed at an older audience and features stories from a wide variety of genres with a focus on the fantastical (think: Murakami, Gaiman, King).

Yet another fine US show, human interest podcasts don’t get more human or interesting than ‘StoryCorps’. The podcast brings together true-life tales of people who’ve lived through remarkable events, from forgiving their child’s murder to remembering Martin Luther King’s final days. The episodes are marked out by the intimacy of the recounting and the relative brevity of the telling - episodes are generally between five and 20 minutes long. 


Comic Chris Gethard’s show puts real people under the spotlight… anonymously. The premise of ‘Beautiful Stories by Anonymous People’ is extremely simple: Gethard speaks to his subject on the phone for an hour, and whatever they want to talk about has to be the show. There’s obviously a fair amount of pre-selection involved, but beyond that, there’s pleasant randomness to a show that pleasingly veers between fun anecdotes and something more confessional.

This independent New York-based podcast is simply… very weird, and that’s why ‘The Truth’ has such a dedicated cult following. Produced by Jonathan Mitchell, the all-new stories – which tend to last around a half-hour – mostly skew towards the surreal and darkly comic. But what really defines them is Mitchell’s lush, trippy sound design: it’s recommended that you listen via headphones, and yes, you absolutely should.


After some straight-up chills down your spine? ‘The Other Stories’ is completely unabashed about saying it wants to be a modern version of ‘The Twilight Zone’ or ‘Tales from the Crypt’ and features all-new tales of terror, sci-fi, and in its own words, ‘WTF’ every week. It’s a mercurial show based on new work: not every episode will be to everybody’s taste. But the episodes are of an eminently digestible size – around 20 minutes – and it’s in a great American tradition of creepy storytelling.


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