With so much content available, finding good podcasts can be more than a little daunting.
And with so many different lists proclaiming they know exactly what you should listen to, there are very few tools out there to help you actually find productive or meaningful ways to spend your listening time. Curated selections do little to empower the reader to make a decision for themselves, and often miss the overall trends of podcasting.
Well, I’m going to cut right to the chase: I don’t know if you’ll like these podcasts. Hell, I don’t know if many of them are even that good! Some of them I love, others I hate. That’s not the point of this article.
However, I believe what follows to be shows you need to be aware of in order to be an informed listener in this dynamic and ever-changing media landscape.
|EDIT: This list has been updated for the summer of 2019|
- Society and culture
- Government and organization
- Health and wellness
- Children and family
- Religion and spirituality
- TV and movies
What are the best podcasts?
The podcasts listed in this article were taken from the “top shows” section of Apple’s iTunes platform and sorted by the aforementioned 16 categories. I chose to use Apple’s platform for a few reasons: firstly, as of September 2018, Apple’s podcast platform accounted for 52% of the podcast listener base and had over 50 billion episode downloads. Second, it is one of the longest-standing and most comprehensive libraries of shows available, with over 550,000 active podcasts reported last year.
Therefore, the podcasts on this list are not a representation of what the author considers to be the "best" podcasts. They are, instead, an attempted cross-section of what people, in general, elevate to the top of the iTunes ecosystem.
This eclectic section contains everything from reporting and coverage of current events to political commentary and sensational true-crime stories.
1. In the Dark
4.5-star rating, 16,402 reviews.
An older true-crime podcast, it is hosted by reporter Madeleine Baran who takes deep dives into various stories of crime and the response of the American judicial system. The current season covers the case of Curtis Flowers, who has been tried six times for the same crime.
2. 22 Hours
4.5-star rating, 942 reviews.
A relatively new podcast, 22 Hours recounts the nightmarish tale of a D.C. couple, their young son, and housekeeper who were held hostage for 22 hours before being murdered in their mansion. It attempts to untangle the complex trail of evidence that could shed light on who committed such a heinous crime and why.
3. The Daily
4.5-star rating, 37,034 reviews.
Returning from the Fall roundup, The Daily is one of the oldest and most well-known sources of news for podcasters. It has episodes that range from 15-35 minutes and is released on a Monday-Friday schedule. The show is provided by the New York Times and is hosted by political journalist Michael Barbaro.
Meant to amuse and entertain, these podcasts range from thought-provoking to absurd.
4. The Joe Rogan Experience
5-star rating, 101,755 reviews.
Hosted by former MMA star and standup comedian Joe Rogan, this show has long been one of the most popular podcasts in America. It’s structured as a long term conversation featuring a variety of topics from acting to music and beyond.
The JRE podcast once again is topping the proverbial iTunes "charts", it's reign continuing uninterrupted from our Fall roundup.
5. Call Her Daddy
5-star rating, 47,918 reviews.
A “reality podcast” that follows vlogger Alexandra Cooper and her friend Sofia Franklyn as they discuss dating, social faux-pas, and more in their quest to make lives for themselves in New York.
6. Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard
4.5-star rating, 32,287 reviews.
Hosted by the eponymous Dax Shepard, this show highlights and explores the different elements of the human experience through a myriad of stories told by a variety of guests on the show, each one viewed as an opportunity for growth.
A somewhat catch-all category, these podcasts view society through a narrative lens or take an in-depth look at issues surrounding daily life.
7. Man in the Window
4.5-star rating 3,691 reviews.
This show is hosted by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Paige St. John and delves into the mysterious circumstances surrounding one of California's most feared and deadly serial killers, told through the stories of his victims.
5-star rating, 795 reviews.
Culpable explores the all too frequent cases where people who appear to be obviously at fault are able to elude justice. This podcast tries to examine these cases and bring closure to the victims of these crimes.
9. The Shrink Next Door
4.5-star rating, 6,529 reviews.
Examining the frightening vulnerability that comes along with psychological treatment, journalist Joe Nocera explores the strange tale of his former neighbor in the Hamptons, a therapist named Ike.
Art podcasts cover a broad range of subject matter: from technical aspects of the artistic craft to expertly-made radio dramas.
10. Nice Try! -- Utopian
3.5-star rating, 1,628 reviews.
Hosted by Avery Trufelman, this show explores those who have tried to design a better world and how the search for the perfect place can often go awry. It is currently in its first season.
11. TED Talks Daily
4-star rating, 5,928 reviews.
TED Talks have long been one of the most popular sources for inspiration and knowledge; it’s no wonder their bite-sized lectures have translated well to podcasts! Like its YouTube counterpart, this series brings in a variety of experts to give talks on subjects ranging from Artificial Intelligence to Botany.
12. Lauren Conrad: Asking for a Friend
4.5-star rating, 1,925 reviews.
Each week, author, designer, and lifestyle expert Lauren Conrad hosts a series of interviews that shed light on how to best navigate our Instagram-obsessed culture while keeping perspective on what life is actually like.
Podcasts on coverage, analysis, and discussion of the latest trends and goings-on in the sports world. Yay, sportsball!
13.Pardon My Take
5-star rating, 55,301 reviews
A brash and audacious sports talk-show, Pardon My Take blends humor with free-wheeling insights into everything you could possibly want to know about your favorite teams and leagues.
14. The Bill Simmons Podcast
4.5-star rating, 15,925 reviews.
Bill Simmons hosts this podcast with a wide variety of sport's related personalities. It is one of the most downloaded sports podcasts of all time.
15. The Kirk Minihane Show
5-star rating, 2,158 reviews.
This podcast is hosted by Kirk Minihane, who brings his own spin to sports commentary with frequent dips into politics, culture, and other issues of the day.
These podcasts look at personal finance, professional development, and entrepreneurship.
16. Spectacular Failures
4.5-star rating, 144 reviews.
This show focuses on some of the most harebrained schemes and business catastrophes of all time and gives insights into what we can learn from them. Host Lauren Ober takes you through a journey of failures that are funny, shocking, and sometimes downright sad.
17. The MFCEO Project
5-star rating, 14,325 reviews.
Andy Frisella hosts this podcast on entrepreneurship and achieving your potential. He focuses on giving business owners the tools they need to solve issues from finance to marketing as well as offering coaching in the success mindset and goal setting.
18.The Dave Ramsey Show
4.5-stars, 14,105 reviews.
Hosted by the eponymous finance speaker and author, this podcast is comprised of edited cuts of his live radio show where Ramsey answers called-in questions about personal finance, debt, insurance, and other matters from listeners. He is known for his blend of Christian spirituality and life advice.
Podcasts focused on self-education in all topics as well as discussions on the practice of teaching itself.
19. Duolingo Spanish Podcast
4.5 stars, 5,110 reviews
Departing from Duolingo’s strictly education content, this podcast takes a look at the experiences of English speakers learning Spanish and the lessons they learn about the world around them through the lens of a new language. The podcast is entirely in Spanish but has incorporated English narration, and is meant to be both a supplement to Spanish students as well as an engaging show for all listeners.
20. The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast
4.5-star rating, 10,587 reviews
A collection of essays and lectures by a professor of psychology Jordan Peterson. While I’m including this show per the structural dictates of this article, Peterson has been known to spread a de-humanizing ideology about women and racial minorities.
21. The Tony Robbins Podcast
4.5-star rating, 4,055 reviews
Tony Robbins stars in an advice show where he offers strategies to help people achieve their goals in business, health, and relationships.
Gaming podcasts have exploded in popularity in recent years. These podcasts are generally interested in video and board games as well roleplaying.
22. Critical Role
5-star rating, 6,144 reviews.
A podcast that stars a bunch of nerd-centric professional voice-actors as they undertake fantastical adventures under the guidance of Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer. It has extremely solid storytelling, high production values, and a fun ensemble of characters rendered by the various voice actors who make up its colorful cast.
23. Car Talk
4.5-star rating, 9,962 reviews.
Car talk is hosted by two auto mechanics who take calls from car owners and diagnose their problems. It’s generally billed as a humorous podcast and is meant to be approachable for hobbyists of all stripes.
24. The CouRage and Nadeshot Show
5-star rating, 1,548 reviews.
A talk show hosted by Matt "Nadeshot" Haag and Jack "CouRageJD" Dunlop, it brings a variety of different personalities in entertainment to talk about pop culture, gaming, and a host of other topics.
Shows that focus on the history, operations, and debates surrounding the United States government.
25. Radiolab Presents: More Perfect
5-star rating, 12,037 reviews.
This series focuses on the United States Supreme Court and explores the nuanced ways that decisions from the highest part of the judicial system affect the lives of everyday Americans who are far removed from the bench.
26. Affordable Housing Podcast
No stars or reviews are given.
The Affordable Housing Podcast tackles the contemporary issues and challenges being faced in affordable housing. Host Joanne Green offers insights and interviews with industry insiders.
|Note: this podcast is no longer releasing new content as of October 2017.|
27. LIFT EVERY VOICE
4.5-star rating, 380 reviews.
This podcast is made by U.S. Senator Cory Booker and is dedicated to shining a light on overlooked issues of injustice and inequality in our society and envisioning a path forward from the turbulent reality in which we live. Senator Booker spends each episode talking with grassroots activists and organizers who are making a positive change in their communities.
Health podcasts encompass everything from wellness to self-help and nutrition.
28. On Purpose with Jay Shetty
5-star rating, 3,441 reviews.
Host Jay Shetty shares his conversations with individuals he deems interesting in order to share insights about life with his audience.
29. Teenager Therapy
5-star rating, 737 reviews.
This podcast examines the life of current teens from the source. Join the five teenage hosts as they discuss what it's like being a young person in today's society.
30. The School of Greatness
4.5-star rating, 5,137 reviews.
From Lewis Howes the NYT bestselling author, entrepreneur, and pro athlete comes a show that shares inspiring stories about the most brilliant minds in business, sports, and entertainment to help you understand what makes great people great.
These podcasts are primarily geared towards new parents seeking insights into raising a family as well as a collection of family-friendly, accessible stories that are carefully curated for young listeners.
31. Wow in the World
4.5-star rating, 7,834 reviews.
This podcast is aimed to give curious kids exposure to new ideas and generally cool stuff that is going on in the world around them. Featuring dives into science and technology, this show is one of the most prolific and well-known children’s podcasts available.
32. Brains On! Science podcast for kids
4.5-star rating, 3,584 reviews.
Brains On! is a show for curious kids that is co-hosted each week by reporters from public radio and kid scientists. It covers topics from emotions to outer space.
33. Respectful Parenting: Janet Lansburry Unruffled
4.5-star rating, 1,155 reviews
Hosted by author and parental advisor Janet Lansburry, this show addresses listener's issues through the unique lens of Janet's respectful parenting philosophy.
Podcasts for all things music; from education to performance and industry trends.
34. NBC's Songland Podcast
5-star rating, 96 reviews.
This show interviews a variety of guest artists and gives them an opportunity to delve deeper into their songwriting process and explore their perspective on the craft. It features producers such as Ryan Tedder, Ester Dean, and Shane McAnally as hosts who have worked with some of the biggest names in music.
35. Million Dollaz Worth Of Game
5-star rating, 2,384 reviews.
Hosted by rapper and actor @GillieDaKing and social media influencer @Wallo267, this show blends life issues, personal anecdotes, and comedy.
36. Tiny Desk Concerts
4.5-star rating, 737 reviews.
From NPR Music, this features many of the hottest new names in music as they perform at the desk of "All Songs Considered" host Bob Boilen's in the NPR office.
Podcasts that deal with organized religion, theology, and spiritual lifestyles.
37. That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs
5-star rating, 4,122 reviews.
Christian author and speaker Annie F. Downs imparts her favorite new things including books, faith conversations, and more.
38. Elevation with Steven Furtick
5-star rating, 7,302 reviews.
A podcast hosted by Pastor Steven Furtick. Delivers weekly sermons on self-improvement and spirituality.
39. WHOA That's Good Podcast
5-star rating, 2,986 reviews.
This show features many interviews with an eclectic assortment of entertainers and artists as they discuss the best advice they ever received.
These podcasts range from dramas to informational shows and are centered around recent scientific developments.
40. Overheard at National Geographic
4.5-star rating, 556 reviews.
Overheard at Nat Geo shares the strange and delightful conversations that happen around the program's headquarters. It aims to help people step out of their everyday life and explore the strange and beautiful planet we call home.
41. Dr. Death
5-star rating, 66,318 reviews.
This show takes a deep dive into a story about a charming and psychotic surgeon, his patients, and the shortcomings of a medical system in the face of malicious medical malpractice.
42. Hidden Brain
4.5-star rating, 18,283 reviews.
Host Shankar Vedantam examines the unconscious patterns, schemas, and assumptions that drive human behavior and actively shape our lives every second of every day.
Podcasts that look forward to the future of society and consider how new innovations impact humanity.
43. TED Radio Hour
4.5-star rating, 13,079 reviews.
This weekly podcast takes a look at new ideas, inventions, and accomplishments that challenge the way we think about the world and understand our own humanity.
MORE TECH TRENDS: Learn how business tech impacts employee retention, productivity and happiness in the 2019 State of Software Happiness Report.
44. 13 Minutes to the Moon
4.5-star rating, 845 reviews.
This show is the story of Apollo 11 and the near brush with disaster that could have kept the first moon landing from happening. The music is by noted cinematic composer Hans Zimmer.
45. Reply All
5-star rating, 17,105 reviews.
A podcast about the internet, but with a twist. This show dives into modern life and how we are shaped by our interactions in social media, and how the internet affects our perception of the world around us.
These shows act as supplemental content for popular television shows and movies, as well as discussion on the state of the entertainment industry.
46. The Chernobyl Podcast
5-star rating, 5,485 reviews.
This is the official HBO podcast to accompany the Chernobyl miniseries. Series creator Craig Mazin and Peter Sagal sit down to discuss the history and stories that shaped each episode.
47. Whine Down with Jana Kramer and Michael Caussin
5-star rating, 4,497 reviews.
In this show, host Jana Kramer shares her insights and humorous anecdotes from her life and gives advice to listeners.
48. Ellen on the Go
4.5-star rating, 2,051 reviews.
This podcast is the place to hear what they're talking about on the Ellen Degeneres show. It's hosted by the shows executive producers and is the audio catchup to what's happening on the weekly talk-show.
Some podcasts that I felt like writing about, even if they fall outside the purview of iTunes’ popularity algorithm. Also, I wanted to make the list an even 50!
49. Dan Carlin's Hardcore History
5-star rating, 33,864 reviews.
This podcast is one of the best things to ever grace the airwaves. Dan Carlin goes into loving detail about historical events ranging from World War I to the fall of the Persian Empire to Alexander the Great. With his signature raspy growl, he brings intense historical color and drama to the events that shaped the world we call home today. You can't miss this show.
50. This American Life
4.5-star rating, 49,988 reviews.
One of the oldest and most-well known podcasts, it is hosted by storyteller Ira Glass. Each week, he and various members of his team take you through stories centered around a specific theme. It features some of the best storytelling on the airwaves and a wonderful variety of content. A must listen for people interested in the smaller stories that permeate society.
How do iTunes rankings work?
Apple has been reticent to publicly disclose how its ranking system works; most likely as an effort to dissuade podcast creators from trying to game the system and compromising the legitimacy of their platforms suggestions.
Despite this, a few members of their podcasting team has shed some light on what it takes to get to the top of the charts. “New and Noteworthy” podcasts are podcasts that are less than 8 weeks old and have been hand-picked by Apple staff to populate the list. “Featured” collections are also compiled by Apple and are comprised of podcasts that might be topical to current events, are popular at a given time, or centered around a theme such as Classic Drama. Finally, “Top Episodes” and “Top Podcasts” are top 200 charts that are determined by the total number of new subscribers over a seven day period.
Example of the iTunes podcast page
By focusing on the “Top Podcasts” section, I hope to provide a snapshot of current trends within each category of podcasting, with the understanding that these lists are unable to show a historical perspective on podcast series, only what is contemporaneously receiving attention.
Whether you're looking for the next big thing to listen to or a creator looking to understand the current landscape of podcasting, this list can serve as a tool to find the content people are listening to.
With this survey of the top 3 podcasts in each category, you should now have a better understanding of the content that is available, popular, and successful for each topic.
Looking for more on podcasts? Check out our podcasting 101 guide for everything you could ask for!