As podcasting becomes more of a household form of media, the world of audio dramas–or fiction podcasts, or audio fiction–is ever-expanding.
Audio dramas can range from audiobook-esque single-narrator stories to full-cast productions with music and sound effects. Audio dramas can be serialized narratives or anthologies, changing stories each episode. If you think the forms are varied, the genres are just as diverse.
Whether you’re looking for a story that will make you laugh, cry, or ponder about the universe–or, oftentimes, all three–there’s an audio fiction out there for you.
Creating a “Best Fiction Podcasts” List
When it comes to naming the best audio dramas, my list often changes save for a few special exceptions. This list is given in no particular order, but is instead a collection of standout audio dramas that have been my favorite at some point.
With this list, I wanted to show a variety in form and genre while highlighting some of the most interesting work happening right now. This means everything on this list is an ongoing audio drama with new episodes still coming out.
When it comes to audio dramas, I usually prefer full-cast productions with a focus on character versus plot. I love meticulous sound design work, and I also love stories that take their time to develop.
1. What’s the Frequency
What’s the Frequency is a psychedelic noir–think The Maltese Falcon meets Eraserhead. This audio drama follows Walter “Troubles” Mix, a private investigator, and Whitney, his assistant, as the two try to figure out what happened to a radio play writer who mysteriously went missing.
I like to think of What’s the Frequency as advanced listening in audio drama. This innovative podcast mixes comedy, drama, and sometimes horror. It slips between straightforward scenes and surrealist interludes, all combining to make something bizarre, beautiful, and extremely memorable.
2. Greater Boston
Greater Boston is a work of slipstream fiction, a genre that blends the realistic with the fantastical. Taking place in a fictionalied version of Boston, this audio drama follows the event of the world’s most boring man deciding to die while riding a roller coaster for the first time.
Greater Boston is a wily audio drama that lures you in with its silliness and strangeness only to quickly make its audience emotionally invested in its huge cast of characters. As each of their plots intersect and develop, the listener is left with questions like, “What is the nature of community?” and “How can we measure empathy?”
3. The Far Meridian
The Far Meridian is a magical realism audio drama that follows Peri, a young woman who lives in a lighthouse that changes location each day. Peri is agoraphobic, but her lighthouse’s changing locale brings out her confidence and courage.
The Far Meridian is a mix of an ongoing narrative and short character studies for everyone Peri meets during her reluctant travels. It’s a tender story with a focus on humanism and introspection–and sound design. The Far Meridian is a Whisperforge production, a network well known for having some of the best-sounding audio dramas in the industry.
4. The Big Loop
If you’re looking for an audio drama that you can jump into at any point, it’s hard to do better than The Big Loop.
The Big Loop was created by Paul Bae of The Black Tapes. It’s an anthology series of monologues written by Bae, all incorporating a theme of the supernatural.
Each episode is completely different in tone and story, but what they have in common is the lush, beautiful way they’re written and performed. Each episode allows you to steep in the story, feeling completely immersed even with its simple design and delivery.
Marsfall is a classic space opera with a twist: each episode follows a different main character’s perspective. Marsfall easily lends itself to discussions of the objective truth and the turmoil going on in others’ lives, but that’s all baked into a suspenseful story about surviving on Mars.
If you want an audio drama that feels cinematic, Marsfall has some of the best action scenes you’ll hear in podcasting. It transports you to the world with audio alone, usually using stunning music to really punctuate the emotions in each episode.
6. The Amelia Project
The Amelia Project is a strange and hilarious audio drama about an agency that helps people fake their deaths. In each episode, a client tells an interviewer why they want to fake their death, and then how they want to return.
Each episode of The Amelia Project is filled to the brim with jokes. Each episode starts with a hilarious premise, but the real magic is the show’s pacing and the writing of the interviewer. Just as jokes start to verge on being stale, the episodes pivot to open up a new line of jokes. The interviewer in each episode is high-energy and plucky, making for quickly-paced, witty conversation with the client.
If you’re looking for something with the energy of Futurama or Cowboy Bebop, StarTripper!! is a perfect place to start. In his audio drama, Feston Pyxis leaves his office job to pursue a life of travel and adventure. It’s essentially an intergalactic, comedic travel podcast.
Because each episode is one of Feston’s adventures, new listeners can jump in anywhere and not be lost. It’s a high-energy podcast with a delightfully fun and funny spirit. Because it’s another Whisperforge production, it also sounds phenomenal.
8. Join the Party
Join the Party is an actual play podcast–a genre of podcasts in which friends play a tabletop roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons together. Often, actual plays don’t really feel like audio dramas, but Join the Party has such phenomenal sound design that it easily fits into the intersection of the two genres.
Join the Party is the adventures of Inara Harthorn, an elf rogue; Johnny B. Goodlight, a half-elf warlock; and TR8-C, a warforged (think fantasy robot) barbarian. In its first arc, the team has to help a wedding between two royals go smoothly. The story has a rich world and moments of intense drama, but it’s punctuated by humor and wild antics, like any good game of D&D.
9. Everything Is Alive
Everything is Alive blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction. Hosted by NPR’s Ian Chillag, Everything is Alive is a series of improvised interviews with inanimate objects. Each episode has information that’s true, but it’s all rooted in the fictional conversation with the object.
Everything is Alive is an audio drama that consistently surprises you with how moving it is. It’s easy to expect humor given the show’s concept, but each episode also leaves a lingering feeling of wonder and often remorse.
10. The Once and Future Nerd
The Once and Future Nerd is the story of three teenagers from modern-day America who are transported to a fantastical realm. It’s a bit of a Chronicles of Narnia story with a Tolkein edge.
What starts as a silly story filled with anachronism quickly becomes one of the most socially-aware, politically vocal audio dramas being made. The Once and Future Nerd tackles everything from racism to power structures to misogyny, all while being one of the best high fantasy audio dramas being made.
The Great Wide World of Fiction
Fiction is one of the biggest emergent parts of podcasting. They’re a way to experience amazing works of fiction for free.
Like I said, my list of favorite audio dramas changes often because there’s just so many great works out there. The world of audio dramas is huge and well worth exploring. We hope this list has been a helpful road map for you to start your journey into fiction.
What Did We Miss?
Are we missing your favorite audio dramas(s)? Let us know what you love and why in the comments below, or mention us in your #AudioDramaSunday recommended listens on Twitter.
If you fancy creating your own, then we actually have a series of articles on how to make a fiction podcast too.
And if you’d like to check out The Podcast Host’s own effort in the world of audio drama, have a listen to Hostile Worlds. It’s a space exploration series that combines fiction with science documentary elements!
Getting the Best from Your Audio
One final note. Audio drama producers spend huge amounts of time painstakingly building nuanced and atmospheric soundscapes that help paint entire worlds in your mind.
If you’re a fan of fiction podcasts then it’s totally worth listening on a good set of earbuds or headphones. That doesn’t mean breaking the bank, either. Here are our best headphones for listening to audio drama – there’s something there for any budget!