35 Best Podcasts You Should Be Listening to in 2021
With so many options, it can be hard to find the best podcasts worth listening to. We're here to help with the top recommendations in every genre.
Whether you’re true crime obsessed, a pop culture fanatic, or all about self-improvement—there’s a podcast for you. In fact, that’s the beauty of this medium. There are literally thousands of podcasts covering a wide variety of topics. From the best comedy podcasts to the best true crime podcasts, some options are totally niche, while others have mass appeal.
Another major perk: They can be listened to anywhere. On the treadmill? Go ahead and play one. Have a long commute? A good podcast will make time fly. As long as you know how to listen to podcasts, you can literally tune in wherever you are. And, of course, you can’t ignore the fact that they’re totally free entertainment.
But with so many options, how do you find the ones really worth listening to? We’ve got your back. Here, a list of the best podcasts to listen to in 2021.
The Ezra Klein Show
Twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays, Ezra Klein invites you to listen in on conversations about things that really matter. Topics he’s covered in the past include climate change, racism, and violent crime spikes. Klein invites experts from all different backgrounds and political affiliations to share their point of view, giving listeners a well-rounded perspective on any given topic. Jack Conway, editor of the Podcast Review, says it’s one of the best podcasts currently running and that guests are always insightful.
Need help staying updated on what’s going on with the world? Look no further. This podcast, from the New York Times, is hosted by political journalist Michael Barbaro who breaks down the biggest stories of the day so you can stay informed. Episodes range from 20 to 30 minutes, making them the perfect (quick!) way to get your news fix.
This daily news podcast drills down on the top news and cultural issues of the moment. Episodes are only 30 minutes long, but they’re packed with information. Each episode follows the same format—an introduction from host Mike Pesca about what topics will be covered followed by an interview with a guest (usually a journalist or political figure). Then, Pesca ends with a summation of what was discussed and shares his own opinion.
What a Day
The tagline for this podcast: Big news. Short podcast. The 20-minute episodes are hosted by comedian Akilah Hughes and reporter Gideon Resnick. Their promise is to cut through the chaos and clickbait to deliver the information that really matters. New episodes come out Monday through Friday at 5 a.m., so they’re perfect for some early morning listening.
Do No Harm
You’ll get wrapped up in the story of Melissa Bright from NBC News. When her 5-month-old baby tumbles from a lawn chair and hits his head, she rushes him to the hospital—and that’s where the nightmare really begins. Melissa and her husband are accused of child abuse. What follows is a fascinating look at the medical and legal system. With exclusive interviews recorded during the process, you’ll wonder if the system can sometimes do more harm than good.
The Apology Line
In the 1980s in New York, Allan Bridge set up “The Apology Line,” and invited people to call in to anonymously apologize for their wrongdoings. At first, callers confessed things like infidelity, little white lies, and cheating on tests. But then callers begin fessing up to crimes—from shoplifting to murder. Allan gets totally wrapped up in his experiment and his obsession begins eroding his finances and relationships.
Power: The Maxwells
You’ve probably heard of Ghislaine Maxwell, Jeffery Epstein’s alleged partner in crime. Well, this podcast wants to help you get to know her media tycoon father, Robert Maxwell. Follow his rise from nothing to being one of the most powerful businessmen in England all the way to his mysterious death on board his superyacht. Through it all, you’ll get a fascinating look at this self-made man and some insight into his much-buzzed-about daughter.
Take a deep dive into the lives of real-life American psychos—white-collar killers. Each episode tells the tale of a different murderer. There’s a chilling look at the man who murdered Helen Brach, the heiress to the Brach candy fortune. Another episode tells the tale of Robert and Maria Marshall, a wealthy power couple who were gunned down on the side of the road after getting a flat tire. If you’re interested in looking into what drives people to do the darkest of deeds, this is the podcast for you.
I’m Not a Monster
According to Conway, this is the best investigative podcast of the year. For the past four years, journalist Josh Baker has been hard at work trying to unravel the story of Sam Sally, a woman from Indiana who winds up inside ISIS territory with her children. In 2015, Sam traveled to Syria with her then-husband Moussa Elhassani and their children. Elhassani’s intention was to join the Islamic state. The question this podcast attempts to answer is whether or not Sam knew what her husband’s intention was and whether she supported ISIS at any point.
Welcome to Your Fantasy
Find out what happens when an immigrant from India and a children’s TV producer from New Jersey team up to turn a seedy Los Angeles nightclub into the global male exotic dancing phenomenon Chippendales. But under all that glitz and glam was an underbelly of drugs, corruption, and murder—and that’s exactly what this show dives into.
Twenty-five years ago, Slate launched as one of the first magazines to live inclusively online. This year, they launched ICYMI, a bi-weekly podcast dedicated to making sense of the internet. From breaking down the latest TikTok trends to diving deep into Twitter feuds, hosts Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher analyze how what happens online influences our larger cultural conversations.
Under the Influence with Jo Piazza
Best-selling author and journalist Jo Piazza takes on the world of momfluencers in this podcast, which Conway calls hilarious and delightful. Piazza takes a humorous look at moms with big social media followings who seem to have a perfectly curated life sans the usual chaos that comes with kids. This podcast looks at how we got here, how much these moms are making via endorsement deals, and how this commodification of motherhood is affecting women.
Spectacle: An Unscripted History of Reality TV
Calling all fans of reality television! From The Bachelor to Jersey Shore and every show in between, dive deep into the history of this genre one show at a time. Even if you’re not a fan of this type of programming, you’ll be fascinated by how these shows have impacted society.
You’re Wrong About
Equal parts entertaining and educational, this podcast revisits big media events from the past—including the O.J. Simpson trial, Princess Diana’s death, and Y2K. In each episode, they uncover information that was either misrepresented or was never released—which will make you see these events in an entirely new light.
Pop Culture Happy Hour
Need a new show to watch? Searching for a good book? This is the show for you. Each week, this podcast from NPR serves up recommendations and commentary on the buzziest movies, TV, books, videogames, and more.
Mike Birbiglia’s Working It Out
Each week comedian Mike Birbiglia invites a comedian on to try out untested material! Past guests include Nathan Lane, Conan O’Brien, and Judd Apatow. Sometimes the new material works—other times, not so much! No matter what, it’s a fascinating look into a comedian’s process.
The Mortified Podcast
We all have that one embarrassing childhood story—the one that still makes you squirm when you think about it. On this podcast, guests share their most mortifying stories from childhood. Sure, they’ll make you cringe—but you’ll also chuckle in a major way.
Better Off Better
Chris, Jenny, and Sam are three friends who are on a mission to better themselves. Each week, they take on a new challenge (like fixing their posture, working out every day, and quitting swearing) and compete to see who can do it best. The result: A hilarious and inspiring take on self-improvement.
How Did This Get Made?
Have you ever watched a movie so bad you wonder, “who the heck greenlit this to get made?!” That’s exactly what this podcast is about. Comedians Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas host this laugh-out-loud podcast. For each episode, the trio watches a terrible movie and then discusses just how bad it is.
Wheel of Misfortune
Sometimes the best way to deal with the tough stuff in life is to laugh about it. That’s the concept behind this podcast hosted by pals Alison Spittle and Fern Brady. Each week they pick a theme—past topics have included funerals, bad dates, parents, and pee. Then, they share their own cringe-worthy stories relating to the theme and invite listeners to do the same. The result is cackle-worthy.
Health and wellness
Not for the faint of heart, hosts Justin and his wife Dr. Sydnee McElroy dive deep into the weird, gross, and occasionally dangerous ways medical professionals have tried to solve medical woes through the ages. They look at why vinegar used to be considered a cure-all for just about any affliction, talk about how leeches were used to draw out sickness, and more.
Does the G-spot really exist? Can magic mushrooms really cure depression? Is there any truth to astrology? These are just some of the questions this podcast tries to answer. The show looks at what is fact and what is fiction and delivers it all so that you can make your own decision.
Christy Harrison is a registered dietician and intuitive eating coach who is passionate about helping people make peace with food and break free from diet culture. She interviews everyone from leaders in the body-liberation movement to psychology professionals to dismantle diet culture and shift perspective when it comes to eating.
Deep Questions with Cal Newport
This computer science professor and New York Times bestselling author talks about technology and the way it can both support and impede efforts to live a meaningful life. Conway applauds the productivity advice the show provides.
Sleep With Me
Need help sleeping? Try listening to these bedtime stories. The twice-weekly centers around stories meant to gently lull you to sleep. Dan Ackerman was inspired to start the podcast by his own insomnia. He has said that his rambling storytelling style started in childhood when he would tell his brothers boring stories to get them to sleep.
The Lazy Genius
Need to get out of a dinner rut? Maybe you want pointers on putting together the perfect playlist? Or perhaps you need help with something more serious, like making peace with your body or figuring out your faith. There’s no issue too big or too small for host Kendra Adachi, whose goal is to help you find easy solutions to all of life’s quandaries.
Dare to Lead with Brene Brown
Based on Brown’s book of the same name, Dare to Lead has made quite a few best podcast lists—and with good reason! Brown interviews change-makers and culture shifters like former president Barack Obama and soccer player Abby Wambach with the goal of having conversations that help inspire listeners to show up, step up, and dare to lead.
How to Fail
Some say that it’s not your successes that make you, but rather your failures. That’s the premise of this show where host Elizabeth Day celebrates the things that haven’t gone right and interviews people to ask them what their failures have taught them.
Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris
Dan Harris is an ABC News anchor who had a panic attack live on television. That incident inspired him to start meditating; he went on to write a bestselling book called 10% Happier. This podcast is an offshoot of that. Listen in as he explores all angles of happiness and interviews experts on meditation, social anxiety, and more to show that happiness can be learned.
70 over 70
Conway recommends this new podcast which exclusively features interviews with 70 people over the age of 70. Host Max Linsky asks them about their pasts as well as their lives right now and he doesn’t shy away from the big questions. Guests reveal what it means to live well and what they are still searching for.
Dolly Parton’s America
If you’re not a Dolly Parton fan, you will be after listening to this! Host Jad Abumrad takes a deep dive into all things Dolly—from investigating the stories behind some of her most popular songs to visiting her small childhood home. The result is a deeply personal look at one of America’s music icons.
Actor Dax Shepard and his co-host Monica Padman are all about discovering what makes people tick. They ask their celebrity guests to reveal their biggest challenges and setbacks and share what they learned. Guests have included Prince Harry (who candidly spoke about his mental health struggles), Lena Dunham (who spoke about her sobriety), and Natalie Portman (who discussed the difficulty of being a child star).
Join siblings (and actors!) Kate and Oliver Hudson as they talk to other famous siblings to discuss the importance of family and how our relationships with our brothers and sisters shape us. They also invite experts in various fields to talk about proven ways to improve yourself to speak on the show.
Renegades: Born in the USA
Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen team up to chat about life, music, and their enduring love of America. The most surprising part is just how much this former president and the rock and roller have in common. As the two converse, you’ll find out how their unlikely friendship began, learn more about their fascinating childhoods, and get an inside look at their approach to parenting.
Fake Doctors, Real Friends
Zach Braff and Donald Faison became best friends while playing doctors on the hit show Scrubs. Each week, they discuss an episode of the show, sharing behind-the-scenes stories and reminiscing about some of their favorite memories. They also bring on some of their other castmates and Scrubs super fans to share in the good times.
- Jack Conway, editor of the Podcast Review
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