More than any other type of podcast, fiction podcasts have the power to transport you. If you’re listening to a good audio drama, you might find yourself floating in a remote space station or soaking up the paranormal in a small desert town — even if you’re really just doing the dishes.
Audio fiction has been around nearly as long as radio, but the advent of podcasts revolutionized how we listen to these stories. Today’s fiction podcasts come in many different forms, from simple storytelling podcasts to complex, richly produced audio dramas. Here are some of the best fiction podcasts out today.
Top 10 fiction podcasts to listen to
Bronzeville shines a spotlight on the self-sufficient Black-American communities in big cities during the first half of the twentieth century. “It’s equal parts historical drama, crime story, and mob saga,” says my colleague and Descript’s Head of Content, Brandon Copple. “It features a fascinating time and setting — the historic, once-thriving (now gentrifying) Bronzeville neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago in the 1940s — and a bang-up cast including the great Laurence Fishburne.” Best of all, the sound design and the acting fully immerse you in the story.
A political thriller from Gimlet Media, Homecoming is a delicious slow burn. “It draws you in with compelling characters and then gets its hooks in you with a harrowing storyline,” Brandon says. Featuring big-name actors including Oscar Isaac, Catherine Keener, and David Schwimmer, the story revolves around a therapist at a secure government facility, her supervisor, a soldier, and unraveling secrets. Homecoming is told through conversations, telephone calls, and recorded therapy sessions, which only serves to heighten the sense of reality. You may have caught the 2018 TV adaptation starring Julia Roberts, but Brandon says the podcast is better.
3. The Edge of Sleep
The Edge of Sleep, a sci-fi thriller from QCode (known for other audio dramas like Carrier and Blackout), follows Dave, a night watchman who realizes that everyone who went to sleep the previous night has died. Together with a handful of other surviving night owls, Dave struggles to stay awake — and alive — while being driven mad with sleep deprivation. The podcast’s real strength is its sound design: the driving pace and the often chaotic soundscape recreate the feeling of a fever dream, pulling you right into Dave’s world.
4. The Amelia Project
From Imploding Fiction, The Amelia Project is a dark, absurd comedy about a secret agency that arranges fake deaths and new identities. The writing is smart with philosophic tendencies and is filled with ridiculous situations and eccentric characters. There’s a natural flow to the dialogue that leaves you feeling like you’re sitting in the room with the Amelia Project’s “Interviewer” and his many weird, desperate clients.
5. Phoebe Reads a Mystery
In this podcast, Phoebe Judge, long-time host of the non-fiction Criminal podcast, lends her famously calm, even-keeled voice to the reading of celebrated mystery novels. “Well, it's not always a mystery,” Brandon says. “She's also read Moby Dick, The Age of Innocence, and other classic novels. But it works best when it features one of the golden-age mysteries — Agatha Christie, Wilkie Collins, and so on — because those are so easy to follow and essentially all plot, so they really suck you in.” Like a good bedtime story, it’s a charmingly comforting listen.
6. Archive 81
“A sort-of horror podcast that's not particularly scary, Archive 81 pulls off some good tension, especially in the first season, when you can't tell what's going on,” Brandon says. Another one that was eventually adapted for streaming services, this psychological thriller is a story-within-a-story. Dan is an archivist organizing and digitizing audio files, which were recorded 20 years before by a woman tracking mysterious happenings at a particular building. “The concept is brilliant, the acting is great, and the writing is sharp, though the exposition gets a little heavy handed,” Brandon says. Keep an ear out for nods to Steven King’s The Shining.
7. Old Gods of Appalachia
When you listen to the eldritch anthology Old Gods of Appalachia, you feel like you’re sitting around a campfire hearing ghost stories from a full theater cast. Co-creator and narrator Steve Shell’s voice is hypnotic, and the quiet background music is a bit eerie. But unlike other vintage ghost story podcasts, this one weaves in elements of the real, cruel history of racism, xenophobia, overconsumption, and environmental destruction in Appalachia. The stories may take place in an alternate Appalachia, but the horror feels all too real.
8. 36 Questions
36 Questions is a musical from the producers of the famous fiction podcasts Limetown and The Wilderness. But this is no mere novelty soundtrack. The pop score is more in-your-face and also more intimate than a stage play score can ever be — after all, the actors are singing right into your ears. A love story in three acts, it’s based on a “Modern Love” essay in the New Yorker about 36 questions that supposedly can make two people fall in love.
9. Wooden Overcoats
Wooden Overcoats is a clever British story about rival small-town morticians that’s perfect for fans of comedy and classic BBC sitcoms. The twins Rudyard and Antigone Funn own the only mortuary on a small fictional British island — until a charming new rival sets up shop across the street. It’s exactly what you’d expect: quaint, quirky, and a bit bizarre, with plenty of dry wit and a delightfully odd cast of characters.
10. My Dad Wrote a Porno
My Dad Wrote a Porno is best described as part fiction, part commentary, though the premise is stranger than fiction for sure. In each episode, host Jamie Morton reads aloud chapters of the erotic novel called Belinda Blinked written by — you guessed it — his own father, under the pen name Rocky Flintstone. The writing, which centers on the office escapades of sales manager Belinda Blumenthal, is exactly as laughable as you’d expect amateur erotica to be. The hilarity of the situation is heightened by Morton’s co-hosts, James Cooper and Alice Levine, who add their reactions and thoughts as they listen to Jamie read.
These might be some of our favorites, but there are thousands of fiction podcasts out there to try. Whether you listen to fill the time between seasons of your favorite TV shows, keep you entertained while you’re completing mindless tasks, or just immerse yourself in a fascinating new world, there’s a storytelling podcast out there for everyone.