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Podcasts are becoming the new trend, and for good reason. Instead of listening to the same 3 playlists at work or at the gym, many are cracking into the podcast genre to give them some variety to a monotonous day-to-day life, job, or routine. So, having spent lots of time trying to escape routine (or the eternal exercise circuit that I just...cannot endure without distraction), I have delved into podcasts and have found some that are definitely worth at least a shot.
I'm going to go over a few genres that seem to be the heavy hitters in the podcasting world. These are great to listen to in general, but they are also good to springboard off of as well. So I've broken them into these genres:
True Crime; Fiction; Horror; Folklore/Legend; Docudrama; Informational.
I should mention that there are so many more genres out there that have quality content, but the best podcasts out there that I have come across fit into these brackets, or even overlap across multiple brackets.
So let's start with True Crime. This genre is undoubtedly one of the most popular is podcasting. There are a lot of options out there to stock up on if you're a true crime buff. One of the best of the best though is Sword & Scale.
Sword & Scale has been going for a few years now and has lots of episodes which, if you're new to podcasting you will soon find out is great. There's a lot to catch up on and lots of content to enjoy whenever you want before you need to settle into their update schedule.
Sword & Scale provides a realistic dive into different real crime cases across the world. Each episode includes a content warning due to Mike Boudet (the host and creator) using actual 911 calls, interrogation recordings, and/or interviews that contain heavy content. While this content makes the show emotionally heavy, it also puts the listener directly into the case.
Each episode is typically around an hour long, with multiple episodes covering one case sometimes. None of the episodes are what I would call "scary," though most are somewhat unsettling. These episodes don't cover the typical 5 o'clock news tragedies either. Sword & Scale specializes in odd, traumatic, and sometimes controversial cases that most would not have heard of before—and they're not old cases either. These are events that happened last year, 2 years ago, maybe 10 years ago, which makes them all the more real.
I highly recommend this podcast for those interested in the true crime genre. Sword & Scale focuses on the darker, more unsettling side of humanity and really gets a hold of the spirit of the genre. However, as a warning, each episode has heavy stuff in it. They are really good about getting warnings out there before presenting anything that would be a step further, but the nature of the show is to put you as close to the case (emotionally and factually) as possible.
Sword & Scale also has a side show called Sword & Scale Rewind, where two other hosts review each case of the podcast to go over details and update listeners on the case as well if that applies. It is a much lighter show and has a completely different feel that I would classify as blunt comedy. It is still respectful of the events and victims (as Sword & Scale is) but it does not deal with the heavy emotional scene.
Unsolved Murders is a different style of podcast within this genre. It is set up like a old-time radio show and covers mainly much older unsolved cases. It utilizes voice actors and sound effects to retell the case's story, which sets up the events as a story that you are listening to from all angles. Because of the voice acting and additional ambient sound and sound effects, it can sometimes be slightly unsettling.
This podcast is set up into 2-part episodes. The first part recreates the events leading up to a murder or disappearance, while the second part covers the various suspects and case progression. The hosts Wendy and Carter will look into each suspect and give their own opinion on the actual culprit. They also have an online platform on Facebook so that listeners can give their own conclusions as well.
There are many other true crime podcasts of course, but I've picked 2 (3 really) that showcase the different sides of the genre—both the extremely real and traumatic side of true crime, and the historical and mysterious side as well.
Fiction is a broad genre, but to avoid breaking it into 10 to 30 sub genres, I'm keeping it broad. First on this list is the podcast Fictional. Jason Weiser reads through and studies classics and non-classic books and then retells them with a comical, but accurate overtone. If there was ever a story that you wanted to read but were daunted by the language or understanding the linguistic meaning, then this is an entertaining option. I never thought I would laugh through Macbeth, and yet.
Next on the list is Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children by Scott Thrower. Most of the episodes are in the 10-20 minute range are contain a short story usually written by him. He has brought in the help of ambient sound and sound effects to really give his stories presence and they are written and told beautifully. There are some really unique and interesting ideas and plots within each episode. There is also a Facebook group devoted to analyzing the meaning behind each story.
The Twenty Percent True Podcast has a similar backbone. Carolyn Rahaman writes and performs short stories that are creative and fun. With only 36 episodes currently, she is fairly new to podcasting but has some great stuff to offer—every episode has been intriguing and new, and just fun to listen to.
If you're looking for something a little more out there in terms of fiction, Welcome to Night Vale will definitely deliver on that front. It is told through a daily radio show, hosted by Cecil Baldwin, in the town of Night Vale—a town where the weird is normal and the normal is unpronounceable (a favorite episode of mine features Cecil trying to pronounce the "surely obscure" state of Michigan). Each episode is around 30 minutes and has light, quirky overtones—though you will find if you listen well that there is definitely something else going on beyond the radio host's microphone.
Finally, to add some more variety, there is The Adventure Zone. Created and hosted by three adult brothers and their father, it is a hilarious dive into D&D. Even for those who have no interest or understanding of how D&D works, not only is this simple enough to follow, it is absolutely hysterical. This podcast is, simply put, this family playing D&D, but is just a fun and hilarious thing to listen to. One brother plays as the Dungeon Master, and it is his own story and arcs they are playing through, so he reigns as the one (and only) member who is familiar with D&D. The rest of the family stumbles through the game at first but somehow still turn out amazing twists and successes. It is definitely worth a listen—especially for long road trips.
This is one of my favorite genres. Unlike watching a horror movie, a podcast only gives audio, which means your imagination can fill in the blanks however it wants. Perfect. Starting off this genre is The No Sleep Podcast with David Cummings as the host and reader of listener-submitted stories. It is a reddit based podcast, as most of the stories are found there or are delivered with the same type of style. Not every story fits everyone's taste, but every episode contains more than one story. Some have stuck with me to this day.
Next is the Scare You to Sleep podcast. It is new to the field with only 20 episodes. The concept is to keep the audio low-key and somewhat relaxing, but also unnerving and chilling. It is just enough of a balance to to keep you comfortable in your bed—but you may want to pull the covers over your head sometimes too.
Finally, the Haunted Places podcast takes a different turn in horror. Hosted by Greg Polcyn, it utilizes the same style that Unsolved Murders does—they are in fact from the same network and swap hosts and voice actors sometimes. This podcast performs a retelling of how haunted places came to be. Their origin story as well as occurrences since. This is done with the help of voice actors and great ambient noise and sound effects. It may not be quite as chilling as the previous two podcasts, but it is an unsettling history lesson.
Within this category is one of my personal favorites: Lore. This podcast is created and hosted by Aaron Mahnke and focuses on folklore surrounding different stories and practices. There are episodes on anything from Houdini to lobotomy to witches. Aaron has a unique form of story-telling that is both relaxing and chilling, and the subjects are always interesting. He has put in long hours over the course of this podcast and it has opened many doors for him. Lore is now an Amazon TV show that is just as chilling, and he has just finished a book series revolving around the same type of stories as well.
If you find yourself enthralled by Aaron's voice and story-telling, he has also just opened two other podcasts. The Cabinet of Curiosities, which focuses on odd and unsettling people, places, or events in history—and Unobscured, which explores one major historical subject each season. Season 1, for example, is a deep dive into the Salem Witch trials.
Pleasing Terrors, by Mike Brown, is a podcast that seems to fit somewhere in the middle between Lore and Sword & Scale. It tells mysteries or unsettling stories of both the historical nature and the more recent. It focuses on unexplained events that may have paranormal or supernatural bones, but can also delve into recent cases as well. As a haunted tour guide though, Mike does a great job of telling each story in a way to keep the listener guessing.
Going in a different direction, we have Astonishing Legends. This podcast is created and hosted by Scott Philbrook and Forrest Burgess, and is a deep, deep dive into topics like UFOs, Big Foot, Amelia Earhart, ghosts, and so much more. They delve into legends and stories, doing endless research as well as conducting interviews from witnesses or experts. In the beginning, it was just them doing all of it. Now though, they have a research core who helps them get through all the information out there.
Beyond having such a wide range of topics, this podcast is discussion and analysis based, so the research is crucial. Most topics are broken down into 2 or 3 episodes that are at least an hour long—usually more. I cannot stress how well they flush out each topic though. This podcast is built to dive into something like the Dyatlov Pass or the Grimm Reaper and research the truths behind it and the possible answers through nose-to-book research, word-of-mouth, and interviews. They really focus on getting through the sensation of a topic so they can analyze the facts of it.
It has many types of episodes, ranging from mysteries, to paranormal, to weird, to legends—so there's something for everyone. The horror type episodes are truly chilling though because they bring on the people who went through it to talk about it, and then question them to get to the bottom of what actually happened. Also, as a side note, they are very human, which means that listening to them listen to someone else talk about the creature they found living in their closet is slightly scary but also hilarious, because they are just as freaked out by it as we are.
I give this section this genre loosely and for one reason: The podcasts I'll go over are set up to be a type of docudrama, but are in fact entirely fictional. Let's just dive in, it'll make sense.
First we have The Black Tapes. This podcast revolves around a journalist and her discovery of a type of supernatural conspiracy. Each episode follows her as she discovers more information and puts things together. It is very well done. It actually sounds like you're listening to a journalist get out her recorder and interview people, and answer phone calls, talk to real people. If you didn't know that it was all fictional, there's no way you would guess.
As this is about the supernatural, there are ghost stories and things of the like, so things can be a bit unsettling, but I would not classify this as a horror podcast. I will give you some advice though: Don't skip any episodes—even if they don't say "episode _." There's some crucial and sometimes creepy information in those as well.
Next there is Tanis, which is actually made by the same group and overlaps characters a little with The Black Tapes. This is a paranormal mystery. There are no ghosts or demons or things like that, but there are odd occurrences and unexplained events that the main character tries to piece through. It has endless twists that never twist the way you think they will. This podcast is set up the same way as The Black Tapes, as an investigative journalist type of deal.
Finally, this same podcast group has created Rabbits and The Last Movie, both of which use the same characters or have some overlap and are designed the same way—using journalism as a type of medium. Rabbits deals with a missing person and a very mysterious video game that is much bigger than anyone could imagine. The Last Movie investigates a movie that is said to turn people insane and uses the same characters as Tanis.
Though we only have one podcast for this genre, it is a great one. Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine is a hilarious and informational podcast created and hosted by husband an wife, Justin and Sydnee McElroy. This podcast focuses on odd remedies and medical techniques used throughout the ages along with the reasons behind them. Sydnee is a medical doctor and provides the topic and facts for each episode while Justin reacts to each bizarre medical fact. You learn a lot but laugh the entire time. Even if you don't find medicine or history particularly interesting (me; that would be me) this is definitely worth a listen. You learn some incredibly hilarious things, and it is entertaining for the whole family.
Speaking of family though, it is Justin, his brothers, and their father who do The Adventure Zone I mentioned earlier. They also have My Brother, My Brother, And Me which depicts him and his brothers answering odd questions from online platforms in hilarious ways.