Over the past few years, podcasts have developed into an incredible medium for long-form reporting and creative fiction, with shows like Serial and Welcome to Nightvale garnering massive mainstream followings.
If you’re a fan of these types of programming, and want more to add to your listening queue, there are 11 of our favorite podcasts that debuted (or ran a new season) this year.
Bear Brook, NHPR
33 years ago, a hunter in New Hampshire stumbled upon a gristly find: a pair of bodies that had been abandoned in an oil drum in the forests of Bear Book State Park in Allenstown, New Hampshire. Decades later, another such barrel was discovered a hundred meters away. New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Jason Moon began examines the cold case in Bear Brook, uncovering a fascinating story of passionate volunteers working to try and discover the names of the victims, as well as how advances in DNA forensics helped uncover the identity of the killer.
In 2016 a series of bombshell reports accused former Olympic gymnastics physician Larry Nassar of being a serial sexual abuser. Hundreds of women and girls came forward with their stories, and it became a scandal that rocked the gymnastics world. In Believed, Michigan Radio reporters Kate Wells and Lindsey Smith take a close look into the case, speaking with the victims to reveal how Nassar was able to get away with his crimes for so long, and how he was ultimately caught and convicted. [CW: this show is about sexual assault and contains graphic descriptions.]
Bubble, Maximum Fun
Maximum Fun’s first foray into scripted entertainment was this year’s science fiction comedy, Bubble. Set on another planet, humans live in protective bubbles to keep away from the world’s native and hostile lifeforms. The series follows Morgan, who grew up in the outside, as she and her friends use a new app called Huntr to kill any creatures that get inside, and discover that there’s more to the corporations that run their home than they thought. It’s a funny series that channels Douglas Adams and Rick & Morty.
Caliphate, The New York Times
In 2014, a militant Islamist group known as ISIS rose to prominence amidst the violence and chaos of the Syrian Civil War. Its members were able to push back against Iraqi forces and captured key cities in Syria and Iraq, where it established a brutal regime, murdering civilians and journalists, and inspiring a wave of terror attacks around the world. New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi’s series Caliphate is a deep dive into the world of ISIS, looking not only at the bigger geopolitical picture of what the group has done, but also that of the individual. Callimachi interviews ISIS recruits and victims, and uncovers a complicated story behind the rise of the group and what motivates is followers.
Chapo: Kingpin on Trial, Vice
One of the biggest names in the War on Drugs is Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the world’s largest Mexican drug lord who made headlines in recent years when he escaped from a Mexican prison via a tunnel in 2015. Extradited to the US, he’s currently on trial for his alleged crimes. Vice’s podcast Chapo: Kingpin on Trial is a look into his life and his rise to become one of the most notorious criminals in the world.
Constitutional, The Washington Post
How much do you really know about the US constitution? The last decade of politics has often felt like an ongoing civics lesson, and coming off of her 2017 podcast Presidential, Washington Post reporter Lillian Cunningham turns her eye to the history of the US constitution, looking at not only how it was was created, but at the people behind the various amendments that shaped the document, and what that means for the present day. Her next looks to be just as exciting: the space race.
The Hyacinth Disaster, Independent
The crew of a spaceship called the MRS Hyacinth sets off to a remote asteroid in the asteroid belt to try and pay off a ransom of a sister ship, the MRS Corvus, which was taken hostage by a rival space mining corporation. But when they touch down on asteroid Saniss 130991, they find more than they bargained for. Writer David Carlson noted that he was inspired by listening to radio chatter from air traffic controllers, and this gripping series plays out through the radio traffic between the members and their ship.
Serial, Season 3, This American Life
This American Life’s Series arguably kicked off the current state of podcast storytelling when it launched in 2014. The series returned for its third season this fall, focusing not on one, overarching story, but a number of smaller stories that took place within Cleveland, Ohio’s criminal justice program. It’s an excellent return for the series, looking at a microcosm of the criminal justice system in the US, and highlighting the numerous flaws that leaves it biased against minority communities.
Slow Burn Season 2, Slate
Last year, Slate staff writer Leon Neyfakh examined the fall of President Richard Nixon, taking listeners step by step through the events that ultimately led to his impeachment and and resignation. This year, Neyfakh returned to follow the story of President Bill Clinton and examining the various scandals, lawsuits, and figures that led to the 1998 impeachment. Both seasons examine the political tides that are still deeply relevant in 2018, helping to provide some vital context for headlines today.
Today Explained, Vox and Stitcher
If you’re a fan of The New York Times’ excellent daily news podcast The Daily, you might also want to check out Today, Explained. Host by Sean Rameswaram from our sister site Vox.com, the 20-minute episodes break down current issues like the Mueller investigation, Tumblr’s war on sex, and Trump’s trade war. In between all the serious talks, they also fit in a little humor to make you laugh.
Wolverine: The Long Night, Marvel and Stitcher
Wolverine is best known as a Marvel comics character and the alter-ego of actor Hugh Jackman. Marvel and Stitcher partnered this year to bring the character to life in a podcast, following FBI agents as they travel to a remote Alaskan fishing village to investigate a series of murders, and discover the identity of Logan (voiced by actor Richard Armitage.) Marvel has announced that it will bring the series back for a second season, and that a comic series based on the story is coming next year.
Here are some others that we’d recommend checking out this year: Adventures in New America, Death in Ice Valley, Decoder Ring, Dr. Death, Drawn: The Story of Animation, Fansplaining, Halloween Unmasked, Jolted, Sandra, Standoff, Video Palace, and Wild Thing
New from The Verge
The Vergecast interviews
Our flagship technology podcast tried something new this year, launching a second weekly episode where Editor-in-Chief Nilay Patel interviews the most interesting people in tech right now. We’ve talked to Silicon Valley’s Rep. Ro Khanna about tech regulation, Anker CEO Steven Yang about why he’s all-in on USB-C, Tim Wu about why it’s time to break up Facebook, and many more. New interview episodes drop every Tuesday.
Why’d You Push That Button? Season 3
Ashley Carman and Kaitlyn Tiffany returned with their podcast about the hard, meta, and occasionally silly questions about the way technology influences our thinking. This season asked why you left the group chat, when it’s okay to record someone, why you delete your tweets, and all of your most pressing questions about Instagram.