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Best Fiction Podcasts | My Top 10 Audio Dramas for 2020

Need podcasts that are immersive, emotionally stimulating and intellectually satisfying?

As 2020 unspools before you, you'll need good stories to inspire and keep you company. Using the term “best” to describe anything, particularly “best fiction podcasts,” is a dangerous proposition. For a fiction podcast to be the “best,” not only does it have to have excellent sound production, acting, and writing, but also it has to meet the taste of a lot of people. As has been said before, you can't please all of the people all of the time. Let's not think of these as the “best fiction” podcasts. Let's think of this as “outstanding, independent fiction podcasts for 2020.”

Why independent podcasts?

It would be simple enough to grab the ten top-ranked podcasts from Apple, Spotify and Podchaser, and consider this article done. This is problematic, for many reasons. Most of those podcasts are the product of studios with full-time professional staff, not only to produce, but also to promote them. It's much harder for a podcast to be unique, excellent, and discoverable, when the creator is working alone, and probably has a day job and takes care of their family to boot. It requires more innovation in terms of time, effort, and resources.

I listen to a lot of podcasts, both fiction and nonfiction. It's easy to get jaded. The ones I mention here are high enough in quality to make me forget my surroundings, invest emotionally, and want more when they were over. Distinguished gentlefolk, I bring you the “best” fiction podcasts to sustain and lift you in 2020.

Caravan

Caravan lightning in a red sky over a creepy canyon

In Caravan, a young, queer, Desi-American guy stumbles into a canyon, and finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime. Creator Tau Zaman (Ars Paradoxica) weaves a world of cowboys, demons, sexytimes and self-acceptance. Produced by The Whisperforge (The Far Meridian, Ars Paradoxica) with a multi-layered soundscape by Mischa Stanton (LeVar Burton Reads, Marvels) and infectious voice acting, this “Weird-West adventure about going through hell with the people you love” will have you on the edge of your seat and all warm and fuzzy inside.

Dashing Onions Audio

Dashing Onions Audio a neon onion with a curved stalk against a red background

Dashing Onions‘ style perfectly exemplifies Theatre of The Absurd. Creator Fiona Thraille's “podcast miniseries and one-off absurd, creepy dramas with elements of the supernatural, myth, and comedy” not only thrill and amuse, but also make you question contemporary life as we know it. The mini-series “When We Were Two” leads with a sci-fi fear of cloning. The deeper textual layers, about identity, loneliness, class issues, and poverty vs. hope, are necessary storytelling for 2019's political worries.

Jarnsaxa Rising

Jarnsaxa Rising podcast art

Feeling anxious about the climate crisis and culture clashes? Jarnsaxa wanted to watch the world burn, but in season 2, she changes tactics. This limited-run revenge tragedy shows Norse mythology dropped into a dystopian future of corporate crime. Energy resource wars, fighting Nazis, Thor and Loki are just some of the elements to expect in this adventure.

Moonface 

Moonface: a young dark haired man wearing black sits resting his head on his knees in a California industrial landscape

Early in Moonface, protagonist Paul mentions that he studied “sound art” in college. It's clear from the multifaceted, immersive soundscape that not only does Moonface's creator, James Kim, truly love audio, but that Paul holds onto sound like a magic lodestone to make sense of a troubling world. The coming out and coming of age story is a staple of late 20th and early 21st century art in general. Adding the layers of culture and ethnicity enrich and personalize these tales. Kim elevates the theme with sound design that stirs the listener's emotions in the way Paul's are pushed. Paul's mother is a bird trapped in a cage of language, struggling to connect meaningfully with her son. The Korean-English dialogue dance they share will light up your synapses. James Kim is doing the world a service with this poignant and intricately woven audio tapestry.

Outliers

Outliers podcast art

If When We Were Two provides a hard look at contemporary Britain, Outliers gives us a softer, though no less nuanced, view. Rusty Quill's (Magnus Archives) series of monologues from characters just outside the spotlight of history immerses us in intimate moments. Historic locations aren't cold dusty rooms, they're environments where secrets are shared, mischief is wrought and excitement is incited. The series includes interviews with each monologue's author, illuminating their creative process as well as history.

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Quid Pro Euro

Quid Pro Euro podcast art

Looking at the future through the lens of the past has long been an entertainment staple: think steampunk, Bioshock, Blade Runner. In Quid Pro Euro‘s series of audio captured from found videotapes from 1998, we find a rosy view of a 21st-century European Union, intended for government employees. The aged quality of the sound gives the experience a dreamlike quality, as if seeing a colorful utopia's landscape, warped and stained with acid rain. This dream (or acid trip) is the brainchild of Felix Trench (Wooden Overcoats) and Zachary Fortais-Gomm (The Orphans), as unearthly and yet relevant to a real environment as What's The Frequency is to Los Angeles.

A Scottish Podcast

A Scottish Podcast

The study in contrasts in A Scottish Podcast never fails to surprise and amuse me. In Season 2, Lee and Dougie went way down a rabbit hole of conspiracy horror. Then, they came up for air with a season finale of heartbreaking minimalism. If you enjoy multi-layered sound, horror and complex, gritty characters, this one's for you. The bonus holiday episode is a bracing sip of bitter to contrast Yuletide sweetness.

Standard Docking Procedure

Standard Docking Procedure podcast art

If you like workplace situation comedies like Parks & Recreation and The Office, hold onto your headphones. Gavin Gaddis brings you a love letter to the art form… IN SPACE! Standard Docking Procedure will remind you of everything you love about sitcoms, with voice acting that satisfies. In particular, Graham Rowat (Red Dead Redemption, Meteor Shower) provides a standout star turn as the growling level boss you can't get enough of.

The Tower

The Tower podcast art

Tin Can Audio (Middle: Below)'s latest audio drama miniseries is deceptively simple. A woman decides to climb a tower. Her phone calls from various stops are for her what footholds are for rock-climbers. On her travels, she unravels a mystery. The Tower‘s story moves like a watercolor painting, understanding spreading through its details like color across water. It makes the most of multilayered sound productions and only a very few characters. Its silences speak volumes.

Unwell 

The first time that I listened to Unwell, I went back and re-listened to the last seven minutes of the second episode three times. The multi-layered sound design by Eli McIlveen (Alba Salix), multifaceted characters, complex script and distinct voices make a petty family argument, and subsequent silent-treatment tension, as rich as a symphony. HartLife NFP (Our Fair City) weaves a Midwestern Gothic tale of a family at odds with each other, a small town whose main claim to fame is celery soda, and ghosts both literal and emotional. You won't be able to stop humming the celery soda jingle, or wondering what's beneath the layers of this story.

Montage fiction for 2020

Best Fiction Podcasts – Honorable Mention:

Some parts of series pushed the boundaries of what's good in acting, sound design, and story crafting. Wooden Overcoats produced mini-episodes to promote their Final Season's Kickstarter campaign. The beauty is in the brevity, in these highly concentrated doses of Funn. Victoriocity‘s Season 2 lifted listeners to an aerial circus. Quirky Voices Presents celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with The Moonologue Sessions.

There's a common thread running through these “best fiction podcasts” that shows us a lot about not only 2019 and 2020, but also the human condition. We're all struggling to find our place in this world. We're all feeling the hurt of divided cultures. We're keeping secrets, while uncovering others. The reality is that while culture is dominated by superhero stories, many folks are taking time to listen to what others are actually feeling.

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.

Best Fiction Podcasts Hostile WorldsIf 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!

The Fiction Podcast Weekly

Fiction Podcast Weekly is an email newsletter, bringing you the latest from the world of audio fiction, audio drama, and sound storytelling.

Are you involved in the medium in any way? Whether that's as a writer, producer, voice actor, curator, or even just a hardcore listener who loves the ‘behind the scenes' stuff. Whoever you are, whatever you do, this is a great way of staying up-to-date with the latest happenings and opportunities in the fiction podcasting realm!

47 Comments

  1. Pete Lutz on 2nd February 2016 at 6:16 pm

    I hope you’ll see fit to include Pulp-Pourri Theatre, which is producing new episodes on a monthly basis, and is an anthology series adapted from or inspired by pulp fiction. Considering we won several awards last year, we are fairly certain you and your followers will enjoy it.



    • Matthew McLean on 3rd February 2016 at 9:52 am

      Cheers Pete, I’ve never heard PPT before but it has been on my ever growing list for a while.



  2. tygr. on 2nd February 2016 at 8:32 pm

    Wait, all of the “Cinematic Epics” have been dead for several years! And there are so many more good, ongoing podcasts that would fit into this category. For example: Wolf 359, EOS 10, The Elysium Project, Audio Diary of a Superhero… all of them great, interesting and new audio dramas that would really benefit from a mention on a list like that.



    • Matthew McLean on 3rd February 2016 at 9:51 am

      Edict Zero is still well and truly alive Tygr, and so is We’re Alive (the new project Lockdown will be released in a few months). It is a shame about Leviathan though as I really enjoyed it. There’s a good case for including The Cleansed in here too, and I’m looking forward to checking out the shows you mentioned. Appreciate it.



  3. J.C. on 5th February 2016 at 1:13 am

    These are some solid recommendations. There’s a lot of great audio drama podcasts (an some not in podcast form) out there. I run Audio-Drama.com, an online audio drama directory with almost 3,000 links. If you ever do another list, I could recommend many productions.

    Also check out the Audio Drama group on reddit, where new shows are posted and discussed daily: https://www.reddit.com/r/audiodrama/



    • Matthew McLean on 16th February 2016 at 11:01 am

      Cheers J.C, A-D.com is a great site. I often read the Reddit page to look for new shows too.



  4. Danilo "Dansfx" Battistini on 16th February 2016 at 10:23 am

    Hello!

    First of all, thanks for all the good material you’re providing and also I’m a brazilian listener of “Audio Drama Production Podcast”, it really helps me a lot!

    My country doesn’t have much material about Audio Drama but I’m really into this stuff, thanks for everything and cheers!



    • Matthew McLean on 16th February 2016 at 10:50 am

      Thanks Danilo. Good to hear from you. Are you producing a show yourself at the moment?



      • Danilo "dansfx" Battistini on 26th February 2016 at 11:20 am

        Hi!

        I’m not producing a show “series-like” with episodes, but I’m producing monthly short stories for my Podcast Contador de Historias (it means Story Teller in english) and I’ve recently released an audio drama adaptation for the book Odd and the Frost Giants (Neil Gaiman) altough it’s in portuguese hahahahaha (:



  5. MadMikeyD on 19th May 2016 at 5:01 pm

    While you have listed lots of great stuff, I see the glaring omission of Decoder Ring Theatre’s “Red Panda Adventures” and “Black Jack Justice,” my two favorites. And the great “Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd” deserves a spot as well. Oh, and also “Thrilling Adventure Hour.” There are just so many.



    • Matthew McLean on 23rd May 2016 at 11:06 am

      Great suggestions Mike. Yeah there’s a whole load of shows that I love that I’ve left out of this list. I had to draw the line somewhere or it might have turned into a book 🙂



      • DALE MCFAUL on 26th May 2018 at 9:00 am

        I grew up listening to CBS Radio Mystery Theater. I encountered no other audio productions untill 2013 , these being OTR rebroadcasts on SiriusXM. I had been a longtime Audio Book Junkie, borowing mostly from the lending library. Being on the Road I found that nearly all Fuel Stops had more space allocated to audio books than to Cigaretts. But cleaning out the Truck one day, I found myself with a couple of banker boxes full of media. Unlike music, audio shows tend to become re-runs, like books or movies. Finding that the local library did not want them, I found a bookstore (experienced volumes only) that paid 8% of the original sticker in cash$48.50 ( you could get a 25% credit towards anything in the store. I then found ARCHIVE.ORG . I at once became a contributor. Guilt alone, and 20,000GB per month in downloads for 6 months, will insure that their yearly emails I recieve will have its desired effect for years to come. I at last purchased a preloaded 500GB pocket drive loaded with 74,000 episodes. All the Public domain OTR that exists, I think. I had heard of a group of artists in Portland OR that produce original weekly Detective episodes. I guess 74,000 sidetracked me. Tardy,as usuall, I am delighted to find the artform is not dead. They say everyone has one Novel inside them. This was probably mine, so even tho you may never see another post from me, I assure you I will be lurking in the wings. Thanks .



  6. Sigrid on 19th July 2016 at 5:11 pm

    There’s also lesbianromantic.com (The Lesbian Romantic Podcast) for the #lgbt community! And yes, this is a shameless plug of my own productions 😉

    Great blog post! Wish there was more audio fiction like this…



  7. Melissa on 10th August 2016 at 3:13 pm

    The Thrilling Adventure Hour (although it is currently “finished”) is well worth listening to. But – here’s a caveat. you must start at the beginning. I tried to jump in mid-way, and it wasn’t making any sense to me. I didn’t like it at all. My brother said no, go to the beginning and start there. I did. It’s so fabulously brilliant that I went back and listened to all the episodes twice.

    After Nightvale, they have been great at introducing new podcasts as well. Alice Isn’t Dead, and Within the Walls are brilliant female-led storytelling podcasts. Again, they are a series, so it’s no good jumping in mid-way.

    Thanks for this article. I’m so excited to listen to more fictional and fabulous stories!!



  8. Zak on 7th September 2016 at 10:58 pm

    If you’re looking for a comedy anthology in the vein of Naked Gun, then try out Radio Phonic Audio For Hearing (and also listening). They do a few serial shows as well as one-off “pilots.”



  9. Brent Robison on 2nd December 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Hi Matthew,
    Thanks for providing so much helpful information! My collaborator and I are new to the podcast world and are learning an incredible amount. Our podcast, The Strange Recital, launched in August with twice-monthly episodes, each featuring a short story plus an author interview with a twist. We fall into a weird gap between literary and speculative, sort of like Selected Shorts meets The Twilight Zone. Hope you’ll listen and enjoy! http://thestrangerecital.com



    • Aidan on 11th December 2016 at 7:17 pm

      I love Nightvale and was just checking that someone mentioned their podcasts in the comments. Your podcast sounds really cool; I’ll have to give it a listen. Pretty long list now that I’ve read this article. 🙂

      It’s good. I need to break away from political podcasts. My very sanity depends on it. XD



      • Matthew McLean on 12th December 2016 at 1:17 pm

        Cheers Aidan, yeah you need some escapism now and then eh…



  10. Julia Dulia on 21st February 2017 at 3:58 am

    If you haven’t given it a listen yet, you NEED to check out Welcome To Nightvale, its what got me into podcasting in the first place and its probably my all time favorite besides maybe Limetown.



    • Sarah on 8th June 2017 at 4:25 am

      I feel like we all started out with Welcome To Night Vale. It’s like the gateway podcast for many listeners. Nearly every time I ask a friend what podcast they started out with they say WTNV. It gets you hooked on the audio drama genre, not to mention the podcast itself.



  11. Tristan on 20th April 2017 at 10:47 pm

    Wow! This a seriously comprehensive list! Thanks for sharing, now that NoSleep season 8 is over I needed some new podcasts to listen to to hold me over.

    Thanks for sharing!



    • Matthew McLean on 21st April 2017 at 8:54 am

      You’re welcome Tristan. Let us know what ones you enjoy.



  12. Sarah on 8th June 2017 at 4:35 am

    Don’t forget Archive 81, guys. It’s one of the best besides Alice Isn’t Dead, Wolf 359, The Bright Sessions and The Black Tapes Podcast.
    Whoa, I actually had to stop myself there. There’s so many wonderful podcasts out there. Honestly, all you really have to do to find recommendations for audio dramas is search up #podcasthell on Tumblr if you want to find all the good ones. The best ones are totally captivating and interesting to the point of listener obsession so generally they’re under that tag. A great story is the bane of any working class procrastinator’s existence. How many times have I ignored a deadline to listen to Wolf 359? (-_-) Oh well, it was totally worth it though.



  13. John on 8th December 2017 at 11:18 am

    Check out http://www.yarnpodcast.com
    Short autobiographic stories fro Ireland. Mixture of narration and actors with original music.



  14. Richter Von Streed on 6th February 2018 at 3:14 am

    You can’t be serious. I loved We’re Alive and decided to try EDICT ZERO FIS but I couldn’t make it through 3rd episode. While audio quality was good, the acting was weak and the ambient sound effects seemed almost arbitrary. The voices of many of the characters were over-exaggerated and cartoonish and completely ruined the immersion for me. Here’s to hoping your other recommendations result in more fruit.



    • On3Foot on 18th April 2018 at 4:57 am

      I’m probably years out of date but i just came across TheDarkVerse by Sharkchild , ive only listened to a few so far, the storytelling and soundscaping are immaculately crafted, spanning all manner of subject matter from lovecraftian horror to futuristic cyber punk, shot through with intricate touches of dark humor and esoteric deep cuts, overall its top notch both as literature and as an immersive listening experience



  15. eli on 11th October 2018 at 4:02 pm

    We’re alive is very long and of incredible quality. It is a zombie survival drama!



    • nathan on 17th April 2019 at 3:43 am

      We’re Alive is the gold standard of audio dramas! Everything from character development, plot, storyline and the amazing sights and sounds for your ears. I have listened to it 4 times through and still love every second.



      • Julie on 10th May 2019 at 2:51 pm

        YES! YES it is!! Gold rush is the next one and it will be out September 2019!! I cannot wait!!!



  16. Trevor on 11th February 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Try out Story Arc at feyrealms.com it’s super cool and you get to see a graphic novel deloped from it and help in the process!



    • wilwilliams on 13th February 2019 at 8:37 pm

      Ooh, I love projects that are multimedia like this. Thanks for the recommendation!



  17. Sarah on 20th February 2019 at 1:13 am

    The penumbra – took me a few eps to get in, but once in loved it. Girl in space, is great. The strange case of starship Iris – is great. The Magnus archive – quirky, dark, hypnotising.



    • wilwilliams on 20th February 2019 at 8:24 pm

      Great recommendations, Sarah! I’m a big fan of all of these podcasts. The Magnus Archives is one that got me listening to fiction in the first place. Thanks for sharing!



  18. A. Pena on 8th March 2019 at 10:15 pm

    Hi,

    I wish you could give “The VEIL” audio drama a listen and tell me what you think about it. We have worked really hard to make it the BEST!



    • wilwilliams on 11th March 2019 at 8:02 pm

      Glad to hear you’ve put so much work into it! We’ll give it a listen.



  19. Jamie Ryen on 16th March 2019 at 1:38 pm

    The Leviathan Chronicles are a MUST, and Broken Sea Audio has tons of great fan fiction and originals.



    • wilwilliams on 27th March 2019 at 10:19 pm

      Ooh, I’ll have to listen. Thanks for the recommendations!



  20. Khristina on 17th March 2019 at 6:46 pm

    You guys missed Gay Future. It’s an amazing drama based off of Mike Pence’s book and high quality too. Got some good representation as well.



    • wilwilliams on 27th March 2019 at 10:19 pm

      Gay Future is so much fun. I wrote this article just before starting it, but I’ll be sure to add it on in a future revision. I already miss it!



  21. vic on 23rd March 2019 at 9:45 am

    I would like to also recommend a new podcast called Dreamboy. It has a gay male lead and it’s a mystery/thriller podcast hell bent on scaring and arousing it’s listeners simultaneously. It’s available on Shudder (app), Podbean, listennotes and Spotify.



    • wilwilliams on 27th March 2019 at 10:18 pm

      Absolutely LOVE Dreamboy. It’s been one of my favorite new releases this year.



  22. EMma Williams on 2nd April 2019 at 10:06 pm

    Another great audio series is Quest of Heroes! It’s just the pilot for now and you have to request it through facebook, because they’re still trying to get funding for the rest of the first season. But I think they’re planning to release it this summer some time. It’s a great show, good acting and writing.



  23. Julie on 10th May 2019 at 2:49 pm

    GAH…as a HUGE audio drama podcast fan-this list is super frustrating to read! Honestly I am unsure if the author enjoys or even listens to audio drama podcasts after this list LOL?? Maybe I have just listened to so many more truly great ones than this writer…cant think of another explanation for this particular list. I would absolutely expect to AT LEAST see “Were Alive” listed! So many others out there that are just AWESOME all around…in sound, writing, story line, acting/cast, length of pod in its entirety, episode length…there are many things that make up a great audio drama pod in my opinion. Check out any of these and you will NOT be sorry. I listen 8-9 hours a day of podcasts and have for at least past 3 years so I think I have a pretty decent idea audio drama recommendation 🙂 Try them out and see:
    Were Alive, Were Alive-Lockdown, Ars Paradoxia, Breakers, Bright Sessions, Brownsville, Ghosts in the burbs, Wooden Overcoats, Wolf 359, Rose Drive, Congeria, Duggan Hill, Limetown, Sandra, 19 Nocturne Boulevard….so many more too, this is just a small sample of all the great audio dramas. Kinda sad to see this list didnt include one of them.



  24. Carrie Katz on 31st May 2019 at 5:15 am

    Greetings, and thanks to all for these great recs and resources! I’m very excited to now have four episodes of our first, new podcast out there, released every two weeks. It’s called The Fertile Void, and Season One, The Coveted Silk is an audio drama, a web of interconnected stories mixing personal memoir with fairy tale, magical realism, and music, all traversing the liminal spaces of the fertile void, the liminal space between the worlds. Tarantulas, mad dancing, a golden cape of the silk of one million spiders….thank you for taking the time to listen, if you do! (website is under construction- fb: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=the%20fertile%20void%20podcast&epa=SEARCH_BOX



  25. Steph on 2nd June 2019 at 10:17 pm

    Honestly one of the best horror audio dramas I’ve found is hands down the Magnus Archives. It’s an amazing series, each episode is tense and gripping in it’s own way. The series takes place in the Magnus Institute, a place where strange phenomena are reported and archived by the main character : the Archivist Jonathan Simms. The first few episodes feel disconnected but ohhh boy it’s All Connected. I will give a little shout of forewarning, most of the episodes deal with horror that can stem from rather common phobias so if you’re sensitive to any one particular phobia ( the dark, spiders, ECT.) Proceed with caution.



  26. Andre Michael Pietroschek on 12th September 2019 at 12:18 am

    I know some free ones:

    http://www.19nocturneboulevard.net/all_show_pages/Dunwich/Dunwich1.htm by Julie Hoverson & team is a humorous version of ‘The Dunwich Horror’ by H.P. Lovecraft.

    This one is villain’s with style thriller or cautionary tale kinda horror:

    https://podtail.com/podcast/campfire-radio-theater/ravenous/

    And last but not least:

    This one works with supernatural explanation, or typical #crimefiction madness & insanity:

    https://www.spreaker.com/user/8428262/ghosts-of-flannan-lighthouse



  27. Bonnie on 29th November 2019 at 5:59 pm

    I realize this list is relatively old {it’s now 11/29/2019}; however, I just wanted to post my, “THANKS!!” to both this article’s Author & Also, to ALL the Commentors!! As my iPhone recently died (last night completely {That terrible cell phone state where it is simply dark, cold, and unresponsive.}, and as it is currently, the Extended Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend, I am currently in “Limbo”, until next w9eek,(after the Black Friday and Cyber Monday Rushes), SO…I have borrowed a friend’s phone yo look up some Audio Dramas….and I Thankfully, found this treasure trove of Audio options, THANKS!!!…as my Google Home, apparently needs the name of the PodCast in order to pull it up and play it. I now have an extensive list that is sure to keep me Amused for Hours & until I can get to the phone store and back out of the Dark Ages (pre-smartphone)…May You All have a Healthy, Safe, and Happy…and FABULOUS 2019 Holiday Season!!.. (and NEVER experience the Loss+Life stopping feeling of a Cold, Dead, and Life Less Smartphone!!…*Laughs*



Written by:

Lindsay Harris Friel

January 7th 2020