Listening to fiction podcasts can make grocery shopping, data entry, driving or household chores exciting. Tasks that you usually put off or that feel like a weight dragging down your day can be fun with the right story. If you want a strategy for productivity and to banish procrastination, this list of the best audio drama and fiction podcasts for 2024 is for you.
Curated by Lindsay Harris Friel, creator of the Jarnsaxa Rising audio drama series, co-host of the Audio Drama Writers’ Independent Toolkit podcast, and editor of the Fiction Podcast Weekly newsletter.
Best Fiction Podcasts for 2024
2023 was unusual for the entertainment industry because of the Hollywood strikes. Some screenwriters and actors turned to “new media” to (try to) pay the bills. Though the Internet could have been flooded with WGA-scripted podcasts and SAG performers, it wasn’t. Since making a good fiction podcast isn’t as quick as it looks, how much big-budget and independent artists can collaborate remains to be seen. Just enough integration occurred to show it’s a good idea.
In the meantime, the best fiction podcasts push the boundaries of what’s possible in digital storytelling and elicit rare emotions. Here are my top picks from the past 12 months.
El Extraordinario is a Spanish podcast company that specializes in wonder. Their first fiction podcast, Blum, merited enough praise to justify an English-language version. Part travelogue, part thriller, this history-mystery follows a young journalist as she investigates the life of (unfortunately fictional) avant-garde painter Ursula Blum. Not only will you feel like you’re traveling through Switzerland, making friends, and sharing secrets, but you’ll also delve into intrigue at the bottom of the mental health industry. You’ll feel like you’re solving a mystery and traveling through Europe while grocery shopping.
Cry Havoc! Ask Questions Later
It was too easy to feel as though the world was ending in June of 2023, when Canadian wildfire smoke blanketed the Mid-Atlantic. Fortunately, showrunner David K. Barnes brought us Cry Havoc! Ask Questions Later. The hilarity he exercised in Wooden Overcoats takes a tour of the end of the Roman Republic. I listened to this while walking my dog over the summer; it made me add extra miles.
When Rome tried to reconstruct itself after Julius Caesar’s pincushion impression, nothing could save them but an alliance with Egypt. Gaius Caesar and Marc Anthony repeatedly fail to impress Cleopatra. Famine, unruly soldiers, and pirate attacks make it seem like their world is ending. Nights at the theatre, subterfuge, orgies, kidnappings, and pirates are the fun wrappings of this delightfully chaotic ride. The ego death each character endures makes Cry Havoc a podcast that must be at the top of your listening queue.
Is it a fiction podcast? Is it an interview show? Digital Folklore is a purple cow: unique, surprising, and unexpectedly helpful. From the description: “Digital Folklore is a fusion of audio drama and narrative documentary exploring how our online expressions and culture- from scary stories to cat memes- are folklore.” And, if that’s not complex enough for you, dig into their Discord server to find the puzzle game elements buried in every episode. Not only does Digital Folklore investigate Internet phenomena such as Slenderman, LARPing, and Candle Cove, but they also theorize as to why we can’t get enough of this stuff and need to push it around. Anyone interested in communication can learn a lot from Digital Folklore.
Shadows At The Door
Season 3 of the horror anthology Shadows at the Door explored how communication builds or abuses trust. In this case, communication could involve academia, tattoos and rituals, or digital cameras, sex workers, and true crime podcasts. Creators Mark Nixon and David Ault made the most of 2023’s challenges by getting television talent involved. Jamie Flanagan (of Netflix’s Midnight Mass) wrote for them, and TV actors Rahul Kohli, Sacha Dhawan, and Lani Tupu guest-starred in stories that heightened real-world fears into supernatural specters.
It’s rare that a horror podcast is poignant. Flannagan’s “Bruiser” episode made me cry till it hurt. In this audio drama, the haunted house is a care home for the elderly, and the specter is a shambling scarecrow of slow, physical decay. Our heroes’ saving measure is the stories we tell ourselves and our friends. For anyone who feels forgotten and lonely, Bruiser is terrifying, heartbreaking, and uplifting.
Every year, thousands of people struggle with addiction. Audio drama and fiction podcasts are uniquely situated to show that struggle, and WGC’s Small Victories brings out the best in that fight. Marisol has to reconcile her old self-image with the person she wants to be. Creator Jade Madison Scott and director Nathan Gabriel cook up an experience where Mo McKynzie’s Marisol hops over the fourth wall and runs around reality. The conflict between interior and exterior selves reaches Biblical proportions and will make you re-think how to tackle conflicts.
LeVar Burton’s commitment to literacy and critical thinking skills strikes again with Sound Detectives. This kids and family show gives us a world that can only exist in an audio drama or fiction podcast. Detective Hunch and Audie The Ear examine sounds closely to determine their origins, showing the subtleties of how sound works. The bonus recurring segment, “Waxing On Ears,” teaches how ears process sound and how to keep ears safe and healthy. Burton produces and guest stars as a deeply conflicted version of himself. Not only is this show a great companion for car rides with kids, it’ll put a smile on your face while you notice real-world subtleties anew.
The Truth: Pariah
The audio drama and fiction podcast world suffered a major blow when Jonathan Mitchell closed the shutters on The Truth. Mitchell said, “We’re not sure if or when the show will return; we hope it does, but it will likely take a different form.” Pariah, a miniseries written by Tribeca Audio’s Davy Gardner, was a good place for The Truth to take a bow.
Performance art is a tough sell. At best, it’s sensationalist; at worst, it can destroy a career. In the case of Pariah, it’s lethal. When a woman is found dead in a performance art opening, an art critic is determined to find out why. On its surface, Pariah seems like a clever, hip, thoroughly modern murder mystery. But, the story’s points of view from different narrators explore secrets, alliances, and conflicts. The audience’s loyalties are nurtured in one episode, then yanked in the opposite direction in the next. Who is art really for, and why do people make or consume it? Who really benefits? Like The Truth, Pariah is a piece of art that will spark intrigue for a long time.
Audio drama and fiction podcasts thrive when they tell stories in a way that can only exist as sound. Vanishment is a perfect example of what the medium can do. In “Don’t Let Your Mind Wander,” an experimental space mission goes awry when messages from different quantum realities overlap in time. Creator Richard Brooks assembled a team of independent audio drama stars to make a fiction podcast that will make you drop everything and pay attention to every layer. If you liked the movie Interstellar, this show is for you.
If you enjoy Scooby Doo, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Harriet The Spy, and Encyclopedia Brown, but wish teen detective stories included more psychological drama and neo-absurdism, ZOINKS! is your jam. On the surface of the story, Nolan Blackwell and her dog Casper explore an abandoned house, uncover corruption, and unmask the bad guys. Queen City Flash uses its considerable theater experience to layer internal monologue with external behaviors, showing what it means to ask tough questions and get comfortable with discomfort. You’ll hug your dog a little closer and never see scented lip balm the same way again.
The Best Audio Drama and Fiction Podcasts Can Make Your Chores Feel Like Adventures.
Some people say that they don’t have time to listen to podcasts, let alone audio drama and fiction. In his recent article, The 25 Hour Day, Tom Webster posited that podcast listening is “a way to grab five minutes to yourself, away from a screen, in those little pockets of time that we all know we have.” What if boring tasks could become opportunities for escape? It’d be like getting more time for yourself: an extra hour in your day.
Independent audio drama and fiction podcasts give you a world of ideas that you won’t find elsewhere. These shows ask tough questions, spark audiences’ imagination, and help you experience the world in a different way. To experience a new kind of curiosity and excitement, make it a point to follow and dig into more independent audio drama and fiction podcasts.
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