Stories play a powerful role in our culture. They don’t just entertain and inform us. They are tools to create connections between people. So it’s no surprise that people love storytelling podcasts.
A storytelling podcast is any show where episodes are structured as narratives. Each episode could be its own complete narrative, but in some cases, multiple episodes (or entire seasons!) are strung together to form a broad, cohesive narrative.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins discovered that people are especially attracted to stories because of our social nature. A story gives us the chance to be empathetic; to put ourselves in the storyteller’s position. Ultimately, this helps us relate to other people, which explains why some of the biggest podcasts in the world use stories.
Depending on your podcast topic, a narrative-driven style could be right for your show. Admittedly, these are a bit harder to craft than traditional interview style shows, but if you do them well, the payoff is worth the effort.
To help you understand podcast stories, we’ve put together a list of the best storytelling podcasts. Add these to your listening queue and use them as inspiration for your show.
1. This American Life
This American life is one of the most popular storytelling podcasts, so it belongs at the top of our list. Each week includes one or more narratives related to a common theme. They often tell stories from multiple perspectives. Host Ira Glass and his team are great at blending investigative journalism and personal storytelling.
2. Revisionist History
Revisionist History is a storytelling podcast that examines and reinterprets historical events. Each episode focuses on a single event, idea, or person. They reinterpret each event to make you consider what actually happened. “Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance,” they say.
3. The Moth Podcast
Just like it’s namesake nonprofit, The Moth Podcast is dedicated to the craft of storytelling. Each episode features a curated, unscripted first-person story told by different people without notes in front of a live audience. It re-airs all of the new episodes of The Moth Radio Hour and publishes additional stories from the vast archive they recorded over two decades.
4. LeVar Burton Reads
LeVar Burton, the man who taught us to love stories on Reading Rainbow, has moved to his own podcast. Burton reads stories from his favorite fictional authors, such as Neil Gaiman, Octavia Butler, Haruki Murakami, and others. His warm and familiar style and subtle music and sound design are easy to fall into.
5. The Other Stories
The Other Stories is “a modern take on The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, or The Outer Limits.” They tell fresh, unique stories each week based on a monthly theme. Fans of science fiction, thriller, and horror storytelling podcasts will definitely want to add this one to their list.
Heavyweight tells the stories of people who wish they could do something over again. Each episode follows a single person who’s holding on to something from their past. Host Jonathan Goldstein tries to help that person understand their mistakes and how they can make amends or fix their problems. It’s a deep and heartwarming show that examines the flaws of being human, but it’s also quite funny at times.
Jo Piazza, author of How To Be Married, hosts Committed, a podcast that tells the stories of couples who go to great lengths to abide by their marriage vows. She chronicles their obstacles, solutions, and what they learn throughout their relationship. This is one of the best storytelling podcasts for listeners who want to work on their marriage.
Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life and the first podcast to ever receive a Peabody award. The show tells one true story over the course of a season. Host Sarah Koenig spends up to a year researching a true crime story, then tells you a riveting story with twists, turns, and unexpected surprises. We’re used to hearing crime stories when it’s all sewn up, but Serial walks you through the events and messy investigations.
9. Reply All
Reply All is one of the best storytelling podcasts about how people shape the internet and how, in turn, the internet shapes people. In one episode, they unpack how social media has been used to combat oppressive governments. In another episode, they explore how much of our personal information is floating around the web. But each episode follows people who affect and are affected by the internet.
10. Selected Shorts
Selected Shorts is an award-winning show that’s broadcast on over 150 radio stations. It’s a weekly show where famous actors read great pieces of classic and contemporary fiction in front of a live audience. Each episode contains several stories connected by a theme. Guest readers have included David Schwimmer, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Colbert, Cynthia Nixon, Paul Giamatti, Holly Hunter, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and other famous names.
11. The Truth
This podcast’s name is a bit disingenuous because it’s content is anything but! This is one of the most unique storytelling podcasts on our list because each episode is short and weird. In 10 to 20 minutes, The Truth takes you through a fictional story, complete with sound effects and music. You are thrust into each episode with very little introduction or preparation, which makes it an eerily powerful experience.
Of all the storytelling podcasts on this list, Radiolab has to be one of the strangest. Each one-hour episode covers various scientific, cultural, and philosophic topics. But unlike typical journalism, Radiolab editorializes their episodes with clever narratives, music accompaniments, and interview segments. Some episodes chronicle true stories of real people. Other episodes use fictional stories to explore real concepts. (e.g. A whale trying to thank divers for rescuing her from nets. Yes, that’s a real episode!)
This is one of the best storytelling podcasts about abstract forces that influence our lives, like emotion, belief, and culture. It blends clever narrative with science to inform you (and help you understand your own world) in a captivating way. The founders of this show worked on This American Life and Radiolab at one point, so they have plenty of experience with stories.
14. Writer’s Voice
Writer’s Voice has a simple premise: New York fiction writers read their own stories. The weekly episodes contain an eclectic mix of short fiction. This is a great way to expose yourself to new writers. And since the author is the reader, you get to hear the story exactly as they intend it to be heard. As one reviewer put it, “Hearing the writer’s voice adds a distinctively personal quality to the listening experience.”
15. Ear Hustle
Have you ever wondered what it’s like in the American prison system? In Ear Hustle, you’ll hear about the prison experience from people living in it right now and people trying to survive post-incarceration. Some stories are funny and full of unexpected tidbits. Others are dark and hard to hear. But they’re all true.
16. The Thrilling Adventure Hour
The Thrilling Adventure Hour is “a collection of original tales that harkens back to the heyday of genre entertainment.” Each standalone episode contains multiple stories from several genres – fantasy, western, superheroes, science fiction, horror, war drama, and more. It’s recorded on a live stage with the style and charm of old radio and silver age glamour. They even create their own fictional sponsored ads to match the style!
If you like storytelling podcasts about weird phenomena, Unexplained is for you. Each episode recounts mysterious events that evade explanation. Each episode tells a story about the paranormal, radical science, or misunderstood events that don’t have clear answers. You’re left to decide for yourself what really happened.
18. We’re Alive
This fictional story podcast follows a group of characters who are trying to survive a zombie apocalypse in Los Angeles. They use vivid descriptions of horrid creatures and ruined landscapes, professional performances from voice actors, and clever audio effects (like a car’s engine while the characters ride) to add weight to the story.
19. Myths and Legends
Have you ever wondered about the original stories behind popular myths like Aladdin, Robin Hood, or Thor? On Myths and Legends, you’ll hear these fantastic stories (and all their versions and variations), and then deep-dive into their impact on modern culture. Some stories have surprising origins!
20. The Leviathan Chronicles
The Leviathan Chronicles is an epic science fiction drama podcast that centers around a hidden city deep within the Pacific Ocean. It’s inhabitants have lived peacefully for a millennia, but now a deep secret threatens their existence and the rest of the world. It features more than 60 voice actors, professional sound effects, and original music.
What Are Your Favorite Storytelling Podcasts?
Do you have a favorite story podcast? We love finding great content, so comment below with your favorite storytelling podcasts for us to explore and possibly add to our list.