With us being well past the middle of a year, we realized it’s high time we take stock of some of the amazing podcasts we’ve been listening to in 2021. And then, of course, we had to share our top picks with you! Because great podcasts are better shared, right!?
So with no further preamble necessary, here are 21 of the best podcasts we’ve enjoyed in 2021…so far!
*NOTE: (Okay, so there’s a little bit of a preamble…) Although many of the podcasts on this list were first published in 2021, some are a bit older. But they’re ones we’re totally loving this year!
Now, on to the list!
1. Imagined Life
Imagined Life by Wondery is a gem of a podcast! It’s not new by any means, but 2021 did bring us a brand new season. (That’s five and counting!) In each episode, you hear the life story of one famous person or another, past or present, but you never know who it really is until the very end. Through some immersive writing and lovely narration, you’re whisked away to another time, where you experience what this person’s life was like. There are clues along the way as to who the subject is, but you’re often hearing a part of their story which you’ve never heard before, making the guessing all the more fun! And the storytelling is just so good! Look out for episodes headed with Imagined Life Family, as these episodes are intended for family listening.
2. The Lazarus Heist
“Almost a perfect crime.” That’s the way The Lazarus Heist is described. And while it may not have been the perfect crime, it’s certainly a near perfect podcast! This true crime show details the 2014 hacking of Sony Pictures. Which then escalades to the hacking ring attempting to steal a billion dollars. Over the coats of the podcast, a very tangled web is unraveled. We discover the players, the motives, and those caught in the cyber crossfire. In one corner, the investigators who blame North Korea. In the other, Pyongyang who denies involvement. Hosts Geoff White and Jean Lee tell an incredibly detailed tale. And because of their particular positions, can offer insights with authority and meaning. Each episode creates a bigger picture of a very interesting story – and all of the above means it’s a really top podcast from 2021.
3. The Spy Affair
Another podcast that rocketed to the top of many a podcast chart this year was The Spy Affair. And for completely understandable reasons! Who doesn’t love a good espionage escapade! The Spy Affair introduces us to a charismatic Russian woman, who arrives in the US on a mission to improve relations between the two countries. But she is soon rubbing shoulders with all sorts of connected people, which garners her the interest of the FBI.This is another fascinating podcast by Wondery centering on an anomaly who would eventually plead guilty to a count of conspiracy after her 2018 arrest.
4. Chameleon: Hollywood Con Queen and High Rollers
If you love true crime without the blood and gore, then the two seasons from Chameleon will be right up your alley. Season One: Hollywood Con Queen delves into the bizarre scam in which “someone” lured Hollywood hopefuls with promises of their big break to Indonesia. I’d say you could guess the rest…but you really can’t! And then Season Two: High Rollers, which unravels all the details of the story of a two-year FBI undercover investigation that went bust. A thoroughly researched, thoroughly engrossing true-crime standout!
If you’re looking for a podcast for when you just need a laugh, one of our current top picks is SmartLess. If you’ve never had the pleasure of being entertained by the trio that is Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, you’ve been missing out! On each episode, one host brings on a celebrity guest, but the other two have no idea who it is. What follows is a superb mix of authentic conversation and genuine hilarity! A wide variety of well-known names have already joined the crew, and from our experience, you’re guaranteed to learn something new or have a really good laugh at the very least.
6. Phoebe Reads a Mystery
Phoebe Judge’s voice is well-renowned throughout the podcasting world. Phoebe first became known to us through her work on Criminal, the staple for many true-crime fans, and since then her voice has gathered a devoted following of its own! It’s calming, intriguing, and has a cadence to it that keeps you hanging on to every word. In Phoebe Reads a Mystery you get just what the name suggests. The soothing voice of Phoebe Judge simply reads a mystery. Be it from Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, or from many other beloved mystery writers. This podcast has been a solid pick for “wind-down” listens.
If you love rom coms, or looking for a light-hearted listen, then Showmance is the podcast for you. Brought to life by the creators of RomComPods, this new offering is just as fun, quirky, and full of that romcom magic. And this time they’re taking that magic to London. Showmance tells the tale of Casey. Recently jilted by her boyfriend (who also happens to be her boss…yikes!), Casey is offered a dream job launching the British spin-off of the cooking TV show she produces, and heads to London looking for love. What she doesn’t expect is to find it Twice! Showmance is just a really fun listen, which so many of us are needing right about now.
8. Ask We Edit
Looking for a great podcast to answer all those podcasting questions? Well, We Edit Podcasts started a podcast this year! The Ask We Edit Show is a place where we share all the knowledge we’ve collected over the past six years of producing hundreds of thousands of episodes. There’s all sorts of technical advice, product reviews, monetization methods that actually work, podcasting how-to’s, tips and tricks, even some podcast myth-busting, and so much more! We shared 150 episodes, so there’s plenty to work through. There’s no fluff, just bite-sized sound podcasting advice.
9. Poog with Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak
Poog is a hilariously unique podcast concept! (Just look at the name alone! Poog = Goop, backwards…) Wellness is a trillion-dollar industry full of scams and snake oil salesmen but comedians and best friends Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak just can’t get enough. Hosts Kate Berlant and Jacqueline Novak are first and foremost, razor-sharp comedians. But they’re also braving the world of cosmetics and body treatments to bring their listeners the truth about so many things grouped under the huge “wellness” umbrella. Have a fabulous laugh as you join them as they try products and practices, consult healers and experts, and ask the ultimate question: is it truly wellness they’re after or just the thrill of the chase?
10. Start With This
From the creators of the beloved Welcome to the Night Vale, comes Start With This, a show designed to get you thinking about, talking about, and, most importantly, making art. Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink have created a really great space to help writers turn their ideas into stories. Each episode focuses on a different aspect or topic related to writing. And while these topics are really practical in nature, they also serve as a launch pad for creativity. And that’s thanks in part to the other aspect of this show, the assignments. Each episode, you’re given something to consume and enjoy, as well as something to do or complete. It’s this actionability aspect to this podcast that makes it a must for writers and creators – be it professional or recreational – but it’s also the passion and enthusiasm for writing that the hosts share that can’t help but win you over.
11. The Alarmist
By no means a new podcast, The Alarmist was “new” to me this year, and has since found a cozy little spot of our list for top podcasts for 2021. This is a history podcast, but it focuses on some of the most devastating historical events and acts we all want to know the answer to, and asks who is to blame. Who is to blame for history’s greatest tragedies? The Plague. The sinking of The Titanic. The break-up of the Beatles. Writer/Comedian Rebecca Delgado-Smith, along with a special guest, scrutinizes history’s greatest disasters to figure out what went wrong, and most importantly, who’s to blame. This comedy podcast is the perfect remedy to our everyday anxiety! They say history repeats itself, not on The Alarmist’s watch! It’s a really informative podcast, and it will help you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to information
This podcast might be the most perfect of productions, but it is a really great concept! Ever wondered what kind of job you would have if you were born in a different time? Ever think about what you’d be doing if your job didn’t exist? Well, on Jobsolete, Helen Hong and Matt Beat take a spin through the workplaces of the past, looking at a different obsolete job in every episode. From the forgotten jobs of history to obscure occupations that still survive, you’ll discover some of the most interesting and unusual ways that people have made a living. There are so many weird and wonderful occupations that have now become jobsolete! And this podcast is a really enjoyable expedition into the incredible changes and developments, many of which have taken place over a fairly small portion of time!
13. Inside of You with Michael Rosenbaum
Michael Rosenbaum (Lex Luther from Smallville for those in the know) has graced our screens for the last two decades, but perhaps his greatest achievement is his podcast, Inside of You. Through his open and honest interviews with his peers and others in the industry, you discover that they’re no different to you and me. They have anxieties. They face battles in their mental health. They have the same insecurities and flaws that we all deal with every day. And through these frank conversations, and both Michael and his guests being really vulnerable and going deep into all these challenges, it’s a huge help to all of us who face similar struggles. For all these reasons, and so many more, this podcast, especially in these strange times we are facing, is a real gem.
14. Dolly Parton’s America
One of the few things everyone still seems to agree on is Dolly Parton—but why? That simple question leads to a deeply personal, historical, and musical rethinking of one of America’s great icons. Dolly Parton’s America, like Dolly’s music, is just a joy to listen to. It’s really a wonderful celebration of all that Dolly has done, and the upliftment she brings to America, and beyond. It’s a 9 episode journey deep into the Dollyverse, and it’s one fun ride!
Attention reality television junkies! For your reality TV hit, check out Spectacle. This podcast realizes that reality tv is dismissed as guilty pleasure, low brow… even trash. But, Spectacle sees past all this, and celebrates reality tv for all that it has become. Over the past 30 years, reality TV has become a place to see the social and political moment play out in real time — from racial tensions on The Real World New York to gender dynamics on The Bachelor. Host Mariah Smith as she dissects the history of the genre one show at a time, revealing how it’s shaped our culture and how our culture shaped it. It’s another fun listen, that’s surprisingly high-brow, given the write-up!
16. 30 for 30
For the sports fans, you should be listening to 30 for 30. This podcast features original audio documentaries from the makers of the acclaimed 30 for 30 film series, featuring stories from the world of sports and beyond. It’s a great production for the ears, but it feels like a feature film. And while these are sports-centered stories, these stories are so captivating that they’ll move even those who can’t tell a touch down from a two-pointer. Excellent audio productions and great story-telling make this one podcast to thoroughly enjoy this year.
17. Dead Eyes
This is one of those podcasts that caught my attention from the write-up alone. Dead Eyes is the reflective journey actor and comedian Connor Ratliff sets out on in order to solve quest a very stupid (his words, not mine) mystery that has haunted him for two decades: why Tom Hanks fired him from a small role in the 2001 HBO mini-series, Band Of Brothers. What may sound like a “poor me” lament in podcast form is actually a really heartfelt, insightful, and often, really funny, exploration of rejection and disappointment, as well as the vast array of feelings that make up the human experience. Connor brings an intriguing level of thoughtfulness to each episode. Couple that with some top-notch humor, and you’ve got a winning podcast!
18. Unraveled (Long Island Serial Killer and The Stalker’s Web)
If you love true crime, then Unraveled has two incredible seasons for you to binge-listen. The first season unravels the complex mystery of The Long Island Serial Killer. It’s a great investigation and through the “unravelling” hosts Billy Jensen and Alexis Linkletter sift through the many questions remaining in this unsolved mystery. And then season two. What if your fourth grade pen pal turns out to be a sociopath who stalks you and your family and sends you death threats your entire life? Your internet friendship evolves into romance, but the in-person weekend of passion turns into decades of online abuse and harassment? That’s the hook for the second season of Unraveled, and what a hook it is! Billy and Alexis do such a thorough job researching, interviewing, and presenting the facts. And it’s a twisty roller-coaster ride
A slightly different take on the science podcast niche is Unexplainable. Rather than explaining scientific concepts or making plain science concepts, this show focuses on everything we don’t know. Host Noam Hassenfeld is joined by an array of experts and Vox reporters each week to look at the most fascinating unanswered questions in science and the mind-bending ways scientists are trying to answer them. It’s a fun listen and there’s also something new to learn that makes for great conversation starters!
20. You’re Wrong About
In the same vein as Unexplainable, you also have You’re Wrong About. Hosts Mike and Sarah are journalists obsessed with the past. And so every week they reconsider a person or event that’s been miscast in the public imagination. There’s so many vast and varied topics covered! This is the show that makes the perfect travel companion, and will always be one of the best options to offer when your friends ask their podcast-loving buddy (you!) for your top picks to get started. The chemistry between Mike and Sarah is what makes podcasts so special, and with such a myriad of topics covered, you’ll never get bored!
21. How To Fail
Finally, we have How To Fail with Elizabeth Day. This podcast is a breath of fresh air, and a much-needed show in this high pressure society. In a world where we’re all trying to be at the top of our game, and in a society where we really only really see everyone’s highlight reels comes a podcast that celebrates the things that haven’t gone right. In each episode, host Elizabeth Day, along with a new interviewee, explores what their failures taught them about how to succeed better. These episodes are super insightful. They’re uplifting, and bring so much reassurance. There’s some amazing takeaways, and by discussing failure and shortcomings, the stigma and fear surrounding failure is greatly diminished. And that’s empowering as well as reassuring.
There’s very little for me to say other than we’ve had the pleasure of enjoying some seriously stand-out podcasts in 2021, and there’s still a couple of months left before the year is up! And even though there are a gazillion (I may be off just a little) podcasts out there, the 21 podcasts we’re mentioning today are ones you should be adding to your podcast player of your choice immediately, so you can enjoy all these exceptional podcasts today!