The Best Podcasts of 2018, According To 33 ‘Best Of’ Lists

“Slow Burn” is recommended by 19 out of the 33 “best of” lists surveyed.

“Slow Burn” is recommended by 19 out of the 33 “best of” lists surveyed.

UPDATE (12/23 at 6:23 pm EST): I deleted the Verge list, since it only covered new podcasts, and is thus DQ’d. Numbers updated.

UPDATE (12/23 at 6 pm EST): I added two more lists that I discovered after publishing — one from Audible Feast and one from The Atlantic. That changed things a little bit. I also made a full list, at the bottom of the article, of every podcast mentioned.

I don’t know if it’s that I’m a glutton for punishment, or if I love procrastination, or if I actually thought this could be helpful for me.

But, over the past few days (and hours upon hours of Law and Order: SVU reruns streaming in the background), I went through 33 podcast “best of” lists, to create an aggregated list of the best podcasts from 2018, according to the critics. I compiled them all into a spreadsheet, and added everything up.

The result is the below list, with how many recommendations each podcast was given to see which ones were the most recommended.

In the next few days, I’ll post an article about some of the insights I gleaned from this (highly unscientific) study, but here are a few quick ones:

  • A whopping 439 podcasts were recommended in the 33 articles.

  • 68% of podcasts recommended were mentioned on only one list.

  • The top four podcasts recommended are crime-related.

  • Almost all of the top podcasts recommended are narrative nonfiction.

  • White people — especially white men — dominate the hosting slots.

  • 10 of the top 14 podcasts are seasonal, short-runs, or miniseries.

And a few quick notes on methodology:

  • The way I found the articles was just by googling “best podcasts of 2018” and going through 10 pages of results. Not the most scientific way of doing this, and I’m sure I missed a list or two. But what are ya gonna do.

  • I included mentions of both best podcast series and best podcast episodes. (It’s a strange medium, and I figured that if an episode of a show was recommended, then that podcast as a whole should also be recommended.)

  • I combined miniseries and the feed under which they ran. Both of these options reward great work, rather than penalizing it, if that makes sense.

  • I probably I messed up the count on some stuff. If I did, sorry! Feel free to check all of my math on the spreadsheet I linked to above.

OK. Without further ado, here’s the list!

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#1 (tied): Serial (19 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Galen Beebe, Bello Collective“In Serial’s third season, Sarah Koenig and her team look not at the outlandish aspects of the US criminal justice system but at its everyday functioning — because business as usual is outlandish enough”

Nic Dobija-Nootens, Podcast Review: “On their own, these stories feel like bizarre one-offs, but together they paint a more devastating picture of dysfunction. By the end, Koenig’s plea that Americans acknowledge something has gone wrong with our current system feels incontestable.”

Peggy Truong, Cosmopolitan: “[N]othing short of spectacular.”

Wilbert Cooper, VICE“I was born and raised in Cleveland. My parents are two black retired police officers. So I was a little skeptical that the latest season of Serial, which explores the interworking of the courts in Cuyahoga County, could tell me anything I didn’t already know about my hometown or the American justice system. And yet, from stories of a judge clearly drunk on the power of holding plaintiffs ‘on paper,’ to the threat victims of police brutality live under when they report what’s happened to them, the show solidified things I knew instinctively, but could not put into words.”

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#1 (Tied): Slow Burn (19 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Nicholas Quah, Vulture: “[T]his second season… focused on the more recent Clinton impeachment scandal — and became something truly special. Maybe it’s the fact that it digs into the very recent past, which has a way of feeling more unstable in cultural memory than a more distant history, or the fact that the events and perspectives explored feel less like an echo and more like a direct prequel to the world we see today. Whatever it is, Slow Burn’s second season, committed to seeing things from the ground up, is not only excellent but devilishly uncanny. It couldn’t have been better timed, and it couldn’t have felt more impactful.”

Sarah Larson, The New Yorker“[Host Leon] Neyfakh is a gifted, authoritative storyteller, with a gently wry tone; the details in his writing are lightly comic and razor-sharp, perfectly capturing the absurd ways in which political scandal so often combines the humble and the world-historical…. Like the Watergate season, the Clinton series reveals how its scandal connects to the partisan wrangling and bad faith of today, and makes for enjoyable, illuminating listening. But by the end it’s devastating.”

Sylvie McNamara, Podcast Review: “In a year of sensationalized true crime and bitter fights over the legacies of the once-powerful, Slow Burn stands out for its rigorous reporting, for tackling white-hot controversy without falling into polemics, and (perhaps most of all) for its storytelling. Nowhere else can you get such a heady melodrama, a factual narrative that is tense, informative, and ripe with piquant detail, while building to a conclusion that is bound to unsettle listeners of all political stripes.”

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#3 (tied): Caliphate (18 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Nicholas Quah, Vulture“The New York Times’ first serialized audio documentary is essential listening, full stop.”

Galen Beebe, Bello Collective“If I had to pick just one show to recommend this year, it would be Caliphate.”

Sarah Larson, The New Yorker“…Rukmini Callimachi takes us as close to ISIS as we can safely get, bringing stunning intimacy to everything from the fall of Mosul to the training and disillusionment of a young recruit…. [T]he content is consistently astonishing, revealing the human and political dimensions of ISIS in ways we haven’t heard before.”

Alexander Kaufman, Huffington Post“The show is a haunting masterpiece of gonzo journalism, at once an empathetic examination of the allure of revolution and an unsparing chronicle of performatively depraved violence.”

Nikki Lohr, Podcast Review: “Evocative and visceral, this podcast is not simply informative but also perspective-changing. It will enrich every article about ISIS that you read thereafter.”

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#3 (tied): In The Dark (18 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Margaret Lyons, The New York Times: “This isn’t a whodunit but rather an examination of power and the people who wield it, and it’s fascinating and devastating.”

Eliana Dockterman, TIMEIf only all true-crime shows would take this boots-on-the-ground approach: host Madeleine Baran susses out leads at family barbecues and on witnesses’ porches. The podcast diligently avoids ­sensationalism — a rarity in true crime. Instead, Baran breaks down the case against Flowers quietly but thoroughly.”

Nicholas Quah, Vulture“[I]t’s everything a sophomore season should be: even more confident of itself; rigorous, composed, and thoughtful, with the precision of a scalpel; and deeper in its weight, ambition, and scope.”

Sarah Larson, The New Yorker“…‘In the Dark,’ in its second season, sets a standard that every investigative podcast should aspire to…. It focusses on justice, not crime, and on reporting so thorough that definite conclusions can be drawn — and powerfully articulated…. It’s full of enraging details and surprising revelations.”

Caroline Chamberlain Gomez, KUOW“The series is powerful, infuriating and features reporting at its most heroic.”

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#5: Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness (12 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Eliana Dockterman, TIME: “Van Ness’s effusiveness buoys the show, even extending to the titles of the episodes (“How Can We Be Less Rude to Bees?”). It’s an age-old interviewer trick to pretend to know less than you actually do, but Van Ness disarms his guests with his genuine eagerness to learn.”

Caroline Siede, The AV Club: “As Van Ness himself might put it, this podcast is totally gorgeous and well worth checking out. ”

Kristen Aiken, Huffington Post: [Van Ness’s] interview style is stream-of-conscious, humble and quirky, and you’ll put down your earbuds having learned a lot of amazing conversation starters to take to your next party.

Elena Hudgins Lyle, CBC: “As an interviewer, his (highly underrated) thoughtfulness and intellect also get to shine.”

Peggy Truong, Cosmopolitan: “Warning: the catchy AF theme song will definitely make you get up and dance, so make sure you have the space for it.”

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#6: 30 for 30 and its third season, “Bikram” (11 combined recommendations)

What the critics said:

Nicholas Quah, Vulture: “The podcast version of ESPN’s beloved documentary series really took a leap this year.”

Kate Evans, CBC“This podcast is harrowing…. [T]op-notch reporting from Julia Lowrie Henderson…. As someone who not only practiced Bikram, but ran her own studio for a time, Lowrie Henderson brings expertise and empathy to a story that is not easy to tell.”

Eliana Dockterman, TIME: “Henderson hands the microphone to [Bikram] Choudhury’s victims to share their experiences, setting an example for how to tell a story about perpetrators of abuse while honoring survivors’ pain.”

Caroline Chamberlain Gomez, KUOW: “Just stop what you’re doing and listen. It will change your life.”

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#7: The Habitat (9 recommendations)

What the critics said:

WIRED“[A] striking documentary series that’s part Big Brother and part The Martian, told through interviews and audio diaries.

Sarah Griffin, The Irish Times: “It had that rare impact on me where I wasn’t sure if it was true, or written as fiction — a gripping listen, beginning to end.”

Julian Uzielli, CBC: “It’s a little bit like a reality TV show, except not trashy and with really high stakes.”

Caroline Chamberlain Gomez, KUOW“It’s enchanting.”

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#7 (tied): 99% Invisible and its miniseries, “Articles of Interest” (9 combined recommendations)

What the critics said:

Sarah Larson, The New Yorker“[“Articles of Interest” host Avery] Trufelman is wonderful to listen to: she has a great voice, her writing and delivery are unaffectedly intelligent and fun, and her passion for the ideas she delves into — about blue jeans, plaid, punk, Hawaiian shirts, and more — comes through at every turn, and ignites our own.”

Eric Silver, Bello Collective“[‘Articles of Interest’ is] smart, insightful, easy to understand, and so, so cool… Someone, anyone, give Avery her own show!”

Nicholas Quah, Vulture“There is so much to love about Avery Trufelman’s spin-off series on fashion and the world of the things we wear.”

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#7 (tied): This American Life (9 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Caroline Chamberlain Gomez, KUOW“If you’re reading this, you probably already know that This American Life is consistently great and pretty much the reason why people talk about podcasts in the first place.”

Ashley Lusk, Bello Collective“For a show that has been around for more than 20 years, This American Life has never felt more vital to our national conversation…. As a show, it still has the power to surprise, to console, to find within us our humanity just when I fear most that it is lost.”

Laura Jane Standley and Eric McQuade, The Atlantic“Perhaps no one in narrative audio has the stable of talent that This American Life has, and whether the show is setting its sights on politics or plumage, it is creating awe-inspiring work.”

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#10 (tied): Everything Is Alive (8 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Elena Fernández-Collins, Bello Collective: “Everything is Alive has been one of the most delightful debuts of 2018…. [H]ilarious and poignant reflections on what it means to be human, to consume, and to desire intangible things.”

Eliana Dockterman, TIME“[T]he show manages to be laugh-out-loud funny, surprisingly informative and often moving…. It all makes for a profound pleasure.”

Aaron Yost, Podcast Review: “The play between traditional interview and magical realism keeps things exciting and unpredictable. It’s as bizarre as it sounds and just as wonderful, too.”

T.K. Matunda, CBC“Everything is Alive is a magic blend of whimsy, information and emotion.”

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#10 (tied): Heavyweight (8 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Travis Roberts, Relevant MagazineHeavyweight is an awkward show. There’s no two ways about it. Jonathan Goldstein has a delightfully Canadian sense of humor rooted in deadpan self-deprecation and a total fearlessness of making his listeners (and interviewees, for that matter) uncomfortable.”

Liam Niemeyer, Bello Collective“From his obnoxious yet endearing qualities, to the way he talks with people, Goldstein pulls me into every story he tells.”

WIRED“Be prepared to laugh and cry.”

Jake Greenberg, Podcast Review: “Bugging people in the direction of catharsis makes Heavyweight the world’s most pleasant narrative podcast.”

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#10 (tied): Reply All (8 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Julian Uzielli, CBC“After four years, Reply All is well-established as a consistently good show. But this year it seemed like the podcast took an extra-big leap forward. Just about every episode has been outstanding, compelling and expertly told. Whether they’re exposing the shady world of Snapchat hackers or the inner workings of a phone scam operation in India, Reply All is able to consistently produce gripping stories with the journalism to back them up. And thanks to the unique comedic chemistry between hosts Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogt, they manage to do it all while making you feel like you’re hanging out with friends, swapping stories and jokes over beers.”

Audible Feast: “Reply All had a really good year.”

Geoffrey James, Inc.: “Fascinating and funny.”

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#10 (tied): The Dream (8 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Laura Jane Standley and Eric McQuade, The Atlantic: “Enough can’t be said about how entertaining [host Jane] Marie is — she wisely puts her NPR voice in a drawer and instead frames the show around funny, lively conversations she has with people.”

Steve Greene, IndieWire: “Finding personal examples at every stop, Marie manages to illustrate the allure of a get-rich-quick scheme while showing the possible consequences that certain opportunities bring for those individuals caught up in promised high hopes.”

Jillian Capewell, Huffington Post“It’s an eye-opening look at the economic realities that push people into these predatory companies and how difficult it can be to get out.”

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#10 (tied): This Is Love (8 recommendations)

What the critics said:

Steve Greene, IndieWire: “Phoebe Judge and the ‘Criminal’ team bring the same amount of attention and care to tales from the sweeter side of life.”

Laura Jane Standley and Eric McQuade, The Atlantic“Even if we don’t feel it or when we forget about it, Judge’s series is there to help us remember that love is as much an action as a frame of mind.”

Audible Feast: “This show has the greatest hit rate on my Delicious Ingredients list of any show I listen to, meaning its production and content are just outstanding nearly every episode.”

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The Rest:

Seven recommendations:

Ear Hustle

Six recommendations:

Bodies, Dr. Death, Headlong: Surviving Y2K, My Favorite Murder, Radiolab, StartUp, and The Daily

Five recommendations:

A Very Fatal Murder, Atlanta Monster, Bubble, Griefcast, Making Obama, My Dad Wrote A Porno, Personal Best, , Still Processing, The Shadows, and You Must Remember This

Four recommendations:

Binge Mode: Harry Potter, Cocaine & Rhinestones , Keep It, Last Seen, Latino USA, Love + Radio, No Feeling Is Final, Pod Save America, Sandra, The Good Place: The Podcast, Thirst Aid Kit, Today, Explained, and Wooden Overcoats

Three recommendations:

Alice Isn’t Dead, Believed, Bitch Sesh, Dear Franklin Jones, Decoder Ring, FiveThirtyEight Politics, Gossip, Hardcore History, Hell and Gone, Longform, Missing & Murdered: Finding Cleo, Mission To ZYXX, Revisionist History, The Adam Buxton Podcast, The Cut on Tuesdays, The Dollop, The Joe Rogan Experience, The Nod, The Truth, Walking the Floor with Chris Shiflett, Welcome to Night Vale, West Cork, Where Should We Begin?, Wild Thing, WTF with Marc Maron, and ZigZag

Two recommendations:

2 Dope Queens, A12, About Race with Reni Eddo-Lodge, Anna Faris is Unqualified, ArtCurious, Bear Brook, Before It Had A Theme, Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything, Black Men Can’t Jump In Hollywood, Buffering the Vampire Slayer, Bundyville, Call Your Girlfriend, Caught, Comedy Bang Bang, Cooking By Ear, Dear Joan and Jericha, Dear Young Rocker, Disgraceland, Dissect, Endless Thread, Errthang, Forever 35, Hey, Cool Job!, Hollywood in Color, Household Name, How Did This Get Made?, How I Built This, Imaginary Advice, It’s Been a Minute With Sam Sanders, Last Podcast on the Left, Lost Notes, Love Letters, Love Me, Nancy, No Such Thing As A Fish, Nocturne, Outside/In, Pants on Fire, Punch Up The Jam, Rashomon, Reveal, Scene On Radio, Silent Waves, Someone Knows Something, Song Exploder, The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project, The Anthropocene Reviewed, The Butterfly Effect With Jon Ronson, The Heart, The Horror of Dolores Roach, The One Who Got Away, The Promise, The Receipts, The Rewatchables, The Teacher’s Pet, The Tip Off, The Wilderness, This Podcast Will Kill You, Thunder Bay, Trump, Inc., Uncover, Welcome to LA, Who? Weekly, Why Won’t You Date Me?, Within the Wires, and Wolverine: The Long Night

One recommendation:

2038, #GoodMuslimBadMuslim, 3 Girls One Keith, 600 Second Saga, A Piece of Work, A Pint with Seaniebee, A Stab in the Dark, A24, Accession, Adventures In New America, All Fantasy Everything, All Killa No Filla, Alone: A Love Story, Alright Mary: Rupaul’s Drag Race Podcast, Amazon Book Club, American Fiasco, Archive 81, Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, Athletico Mince, Bag Man, Battle Tactics For Your Sexist Workplace, Beatiful Stories from Anonymous People, Between Us Girls, Blank Check, Brains On!, Brian Gittins and Friends, Bughouse Square with Eve Ewing, But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids, By the Book, Can I Pet Your Dog?, Capital, Carruth, Casually Baked, Centuries of Sound, Change Agent, Chat 10 Looks 3, Classic Kids, Code Switch, Comments by Celebs, Conversations With People Who Hate Me, Couples Therapy, Cover-Up, Ctrl Alt Delete, Darknet Diaries, Dear Sugars, Death in Ice Valley, Death, Sex & Money, Dial M for Mueller, Dirty John, Do the Right Thing, Dolly Alderton’s Love Stories, Dream Diary, Dreamboy, Drink Champs, Earshot, Edge of Fame, Elis James and John Robins podcast, Embedded, Empire on Blood, Every Little Thing, Exeter, Exponent, FAQ NYC, Flash Forward, Flyest Fables, For A Bad Time, Call…, Freakonomics Radio, Fresh Air, Future Perfect, Gettin’ Better with Ron Funches, Ghost of a Podcast, Giant Bombcast, Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast, Gladiator, Good Christian Fun, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Greater Boston, Halloween Unmasked, Hamish & Andy, Hannibal Buress Handsome Rambler, Happy Face, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, Here Be Monsters, Hey Riddle Riddle, High And Mighty, Hip Hop Saved My Life, Hit Parade, Hollywood Handbook: Pro Version, Home Cooked, HORSE, How To Be A Girl, How To Be Amazing, How to Build a Nation in 15 Weeks, How to Fail, HumaNature, Hurdle, I Only Listen To The Mountain Goats, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, Improv 4 Humans, In the Third Person Podcast, Inflection Point with Laren Schiller, Inside Appalachia, Internet History Podcast, Invisibilia, It Seemed Smart, IVFML, Jalen & Jacoby, Joan & Jericha, Joseph, Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services, Ladies, We Need to Talk, Las Culturistas, Latina to Latina, Latinos Who Lunch, Lend Me Your Ears, Lethal Lit: A Tig Torres Mystery, Levar Burton Reads, Life on the Outside, Limetown, Linoleum Knife, Long Distance, Lost In Larrimah, Love Island: The Morning After, Lovett Or Leave It, Marsfall, Meat, Meet Your Maker, Meeting the Moment, Mercury: A Broadcast of Hope, Ministry of Ideas, Modern Love, Mogul: The Life and Death of Chris Lighty, Mostly Lit, Mothers of Invention, Mueller She Wrote, My Brother My Brother and Me, Naval Ravikant’s Periscope Session, Neighbors, NEON, Night Call, No Country for Young Women, Off Book, Oh No, Ross and Carrie!, Ologies, On a Dark, Cold Night, On Being, On She Goes, On Shuffle, Oprah’s Master Class: The Podcast, Other Men Need Help, Peach and Prosperity Podcast, Planet Money, PLAYLIST Podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Popcast, Poptarts, Probably True, Proof, Qualia, Queery with Cameron Esposito, Radio Atlas, Real Time Podcast, Recut, Red Flag, Risk, Rough Translation, Rule of Three, Rumble Strip, Savage Lovecast, Science VS, Secrets, Selected Shorts, Shedunnit, Short Cuts, Skimm’d From the Couch, Sleepy, Slow Radio, Small Doses with Amanda Seales, Sold in America, Sooo Many White Guys, Star Wars Minute, StarTalk Radio, StarTripper!!, StartUp, Stop Podcasting Yourself, StrangerBot, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Stuff You Should Know, Super Best Friendcast, Surely You’re Joking, Susan Calman’s Mrs Brightside, Switchblade Sisters, Switched on Pop, Table Manners, Tara and George, Teacher’s Pet, TED Radio Hour, Teen Creeps, Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Tertulia, The 33voices Dialogue, The A24 Podcast, The Adam Carolla Show, The Adventure Zone: Amnesty, The Assassination, The Big Loop, The Big Story, The Bill Simmons Podcast, The Blindboy Podcast, The Bowery Boys, New York City History, The Bright Sessions, The Bugle, The City, The Comedian’s Comedian, The Competition, The Cosmic Shed, The Dave Chang Show, The Details, The Earth Collective, The Empty Bowl, The End of Time and Other Bothers, The Explorist, The Far Meridian, The GaryVee Audio Experience, The Gist with Mike Pesca, The Goop Podcast, The Guilty Feminist, The High Low, The Hilarious World of Depression, The History of England Podcast, The Impact, The Leap, The Longest Shortest Time, The Memory Palace, The Mental Illness Happy Hour, The Moment with Brian Koppelman, The Morning Stream, The NPR Politics Podcast, The Off Season, The Perfect Scam, The Peter Attia Drive, The Podquisition, The Promise, The Realness, The Recappables, The Reductress Minute, The RFK Tapes, The Rich Roll Podcast, The Secret Cabal, The Sporkful, The Sugar Baby Confessionals, The TED Interview, The Thread with OZY, The Tides of History, The Tim Ferriss Show, The Tony Robbins Podcast, The United States of Anxiety, The Walk, The Watch, The West Wing Weekly, The Windsor Knot, Things That Go Boom, This Sounds Serious, Threshold, Tides, Time Trip!, Time Well Spent, Timesuck, Trumpcast, Twenty Thousand Hertz, Uncivil, Uncover: Escaping NXIVM, Underdog: Beto vs Cruz, Undiscovered, UnErased, Unexplained, Unladylike, Unpopped, Unravel, Up First, Upon Further Review, Varmints!, Venture Stories, Waking Up with Sam Harris, We Came To Win, We Fix Space Junk, We Live Here, What’s Good with Stretch and Bobbito, What’s the Frequency, When Meghan Met Harry, Who Charted?, Whorible Decision, Why Is This Happening? With Chris Hayes, Wine for Normal People, Without Fail, Women Belong in the House, You Beauty, You Had Me At Black, You Made It Weird, and You’re Wrong About

Alex Kapelman