Sometimes, I want a podcast to give me a laugh or some helpful information as I’m going about my day. Other times, I want to just zone out, forget about my day, and delve into a world completely different from my own. Especially with everything going on these days and with my own busy schedule—seriously, how does one juggle work, a decent social life, and staying up-to-date on The Bachelor?—there are times when I want to be whisked away to another world via audio. Luckily, we have podcasts that tell stories, both real and fictional, for that.
From deep dives into true crime cases to memoir-style storytelling to narration reminiscent of 1930s radio shows, we’ve found a great selection of podcasts designed to help you delve into another world and focus on someone else’s story. Here are 12 podcasts that are so good at this storytelling, you’ll feel like you’re watching a movie—cue the popcorn.
1. This American Life
Genre: News, Nonfiction Short Stories
What some may call an oldie but a goodie, This American Life, which has an audience of 2.2 million people, details news stories in a fresh, sometimes even dramatic way. With reporters taking on the roles of narrators, you’ll be walked through stories of scandal, intriguing tales of loss and redemption, and insight from expert sources. Basically, This American Life is a way to learn more about the world without leaving your home. No matter if you’re hearing about essential workers impacted by COVID or distracting yourself with stories about birds (which makes for a surprisingly entertaining episode), the podcast has a way of setting up a story, introducing characters, and feeding into your natural curiosity. I originally heard about This American Life through their infamous “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” blunder and became hooked on the show’s knack for exposing what makes us human—intentional or not. Other standout, memorable episodes include “Lights, Camera, Christmas!,” “129 Cars,” “Audience of One,” and the hilarious “Fiasco” (which is a special that includes one of the most popular episodes ever aired). If you’re not listening to This American Life, you’re missing out.
2. The Bright Sessions
Genre: Science Fiction, Mystery
A fictional podcast, The Bright Sessions brings in the elements of science and psychology as the episodes detail the lives and desires of a group of therapy patients. However, as you listen further into the first episode, you’ll realize that these patients aren’t quite as they seem. With insight into each patient’s sessions, it becomes pretty clear that these aren’t your average cases—these guys have some pretty unusual abilities, from time travel to mind control. Each episode features a dialogue between each patient and Dr. Bright, the therapist offering her services to the atypical. I love this podcast because not only is it intriguing to get into the minds of supernatural characters, but each episode is also fast-paced and easy to digest at about only 20 minutes long. And with a brisk back-and-forth dialogue and an element of mystery as you discover what each patient’s magical ability is, 20 minutes flies by quicker than ever.
3. Scam Goddess
Genre: Nonfiction Short Stories
Self-described as a podcast “dedicated to fraud and to all those who practice it!,” this show takes a deep dive into the real-life stories of embezzlement, political scandals, and impossible scams you’ve never heard of. In each episode, we hear the facts surrounding the life and investigation of scammers from hundreds of years ago to the not-so-distant past. Taking a look into figures like Candace Owens and an entirely all-women ring of thieves in 1900s London, you’ll learn that scamming never really truly dies. Hosted by the hilarious Laci Mosley—who, by the way, also answers to the title of “Scam Goddess”—this podcast feels like a gossip session meets history lesson. And let me tell you, there’s no way I’m missing that.
4. Welcome to Night Vale
Genre: Mystery, Science Fiction
Give me a TV show about a small town disturbed by unexplained phenomena and supernatural characters, and consider me hooked. Give me a podcast about this kind of mystery that I can listen to while trying to zone out at the gym and you’re my hero. What I would call Stranger Things meets 1930s radio, Welcome to Night Vale tells the fictional story of, you guessed it, a town called Night Vale and the strange happenings that occur to the people in it. Though a bit unconventional of a podcast genre, this podcast hooked me as soon as I read its tagline of “turn on your radio and hide.” Each episode starts with an eerie intro and a deep, haunting voice greeting you with, “Welcome to Night Vale” and then sets up a story complete with unexplainable events and “sound bites” from witnesses in the story. And Night Vale has sure got some pretty interesting characters—I’m talking hooded figures, angels, and possibly mad scientists. With over 200 episodes, each only 20-30 minutes long, I’m wondering, is binge-listening a thing?
5. Noble Blood
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my high school history class made me want to fall asleep. While telling stories of the past in a way that makes you not want to hit the snooze button can be a challenge for some, Noble Blood host Dana Schwartz has mastered the art of giving a fresh, even bone-chilling perspective to stories of the past. Also an author, Schwartz brings the stories of the world’s most intriguing royals and tyrants to life. Whether they were murderers, were murdered, or just have a mysterious history surrounding their reputation, Schwartz effortlessly balances suspense with elements of factual reporting as you learn of the bloody history surrounding leaders of centuries past. Of all the stories of royal scandals, a few of my favorite “I can’t believe this actually happened” episodes have to be “Charles the Beloved, the Mad, the Fool,” “The Devil and the Duchess de Praslin,” and “The Three Husbands of Lucrezia Borgia.” No matter if you want to learn about Bloody Mary’s tumultuous life (the episode on her is another favorite of mine) or the scandals of French countesses and spies, you’re sure to find a historical figure that will capture your interest—no chance of falling asleep during this history lesson.
6. Wooden Overcoats
Genre: Fiction, Comedy
If British dramas are more of your thing, Wooden Overcoats is the treat for you. Another fictional podcast, this drama tells the story of Rudyard and Antigone, two siblings who run a funeral parlor. When a rival funeral parlor opens up—I guess even the funeral parlor industry is competitive—the two go on a mission of antics and misadventures to try and stay in business. It’s funny, it’s over-the-top, and each episode is narrated by a woman who sounds like the English grandma I never had. About a half-hour long, all episodes are told almost in an audiobook style, with dialogue from each character interspersed between the narration. It’s like reading a novel but being able to close your eyes and get immersed in the story instead. Pour yourself some tea and get lost in the underrated world of funeral parlor feuds.
7. The Amelia Project
Genre: Drama, Dark Comedy
OK, so maybe I have an affinity for English podcasts, but this podcast brings in much more than the English charm. A perfect mix of mystery and dark comedy, The Amelia Project explores the possibilities in a company that allows people to easily fake their deaths and reenter society with a new identity. In the first few episodes, you’re introduced to members of the eponymous secret agency—as well as their strong love for hot cocoa—and the clients’ desperation for a way out of their own lives. Though there’s humor, don’t mistake this podcast as a lighthearted mystery; with an eerie voice message announcing “Congratulations, you’ve reached The Amelia Project” to kick off each episode, you’ll feel as if you’re actually listening to a phone call between the agency and someone who believes they have no way out of their current identity—and you just have to find out why. With a compelling storyline that leaves you on the edge of your seat every episode, it’s no wonder why The Amelia Project has won a number of podcasting awards.
Genre: Science Fiction
When done right, I love a science fiction story—and SAYER knows how to balance creepy elements of science fiction with an easy-to-follow storyline. A narrative fiction podcast, each episode documents the happenings of people who move to a manmade second moon, Typhon. Usually, my issue with science fiction podcasts is that they’re hard to follow, but SAYER sets you up with everything you need to know in the first episode, describing the motivation and need to move to another home, as Earth is in squalor. A cautionary tale, SAYER explores what would happen if our planet really did become uninhabitable and the dangerous repercussions of relying on artificial intelligence. So if you’re looking for a storyline exploring humanity’s relationship with technology and morals, SAYER is the podcast for you.
9. Dolly Parton’s America
Genre: Documentary Style, Nonfiction
As soon as I saw that there was a podcast with Dolly Parton’s name attached to it, I had to give it a listen. Seriously, Dolly is an American treasure, which, of course, is the seemingly unanimous verdict this podcast explores. Through a series of interviews with fans and Dolly herself, the hosts of the show try to answer, “what is it about Dolly that makes almost all Americans, no matter their backgrounds and political beliefs, absolutely love her?” Hailed as a queen by church ladies just as much as members of the LGBTQ+ community, Dolly is the one thing people can agree on, even in a political climate as contentious as that of the 2016 election. In less than 20 episodes, you’ll learn exactly why this is, from her attitudes on faith and the working class to a lyrical analysis of her hit, “Jolene.” Each episode exemplifies excellent reporting and storytelling and is truly fascinating. While the podcast started and ended in 2019, many of the topics discussed are more relevant than ever in today’s divided nation. And I mean, really, can you ever have too much Dolly Parton?
10. Modern Love
Genre: Nonfiction Short Stories, Personal Essays
Created after the success of their column of the same name, The New York Times’ Modern Love podcast takes a closer look into how a relationship can impact one’s own identity. With submitted personal stories, each episode details a search for love, whether it was found or lost. With heartfelt anecdotes featuring the classic friends-to-lovers trope to unexpected stories about how a failed marriage can result in discovering your life’s purpose, there are enough episodes to make you laugh, bring tears to your eyes, and everything in between. And of course, we are talking about modern love here, so a lot of episodes also take on topics that aren’t talked about nearly as much as they should be in the world of love—including skepticism toward marriage and a traditional family structure, the things you never knew about open marriages, and getting serious about astrological services. Seriously, nothing is off limits. But no matter what type of love stories you’re in the mood for, the episodes “Devoted But Doomed,” “Single Woman Seeking Manwich” (narrated by Awkwafina, by the way), “Was It Me or Our Astrology?,” “The Language of Love” (narrated by the Saoirse Ronan), and “When Two Open Marriages Collide” won’t disappoint.
Genre: Comedy, Nonfiction Stories
If you want to get lost in other people’s true stories and maybe even have a laugh, RISK! is the podcast just for that. Host and comedian Kevin Allen walks listeners through the unbelievable stories people, including well-known comedians (I’m looking at you, James Gordon), never thought they’d publicly tell. From anecdotes of sauna fun to Christmastime disasters, you’ll hear the uncensored stories that personally make me believe that my life actually might be in order. With stories ranging from the plain old weird to centering on, um, adult content, think of this podcast as the comedy special you shouldn’t watch with your parents. Though every episode documents funny misfortune and amusing anecdotes, I’d say it’s really the episodes “Re-Set,” “Whammy,” “The Seven Year Itch,” and the oh-so-juicy special “The Best of RISK! Celebrity Stories” you can’t miss. At its core, RISK! shows us that it’s OK and even fun to laugh at the cringey tales from your past—because let’s be honest, that disaster date story of yours is actually hilarious.
Genre: Mystery, Drama
Drama meets mystery in this podcast about the fictional Tennessee town known as Limetown. The storyline takes place 10 years in the past when over 300 residents of the area disappeared without a trace. The Roanoke-esque story features “newscasts” and interviews with the townspeople in an attempt to try and figure out what happened that day. Similar to The X-Files, detectives, journalists, and police officers try to find someone who can reveal any clues to what happened, but not everyone is telling the truth. Each episode is narrated by Lia Haddock, a reporter covering the strange disappearances. And with her own newsgathering and occasional episodes in which she comes on to discuss the strange events happening to her while covering the story, you might even forget you’re listening to a work of fiction.