Best Fiction Podcasts | My Top 10 Audio Dramas for 2021

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

As 2021 unspools before you, you'll need great 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. That's what might get you into the top podcasts list… As has been said before, though, 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 2021.”

Why are indies the best audio drama podcasts?

2020's stay-at-home orders brought more demand for audio entertainment. The result is more corporate investment in celebrity podcasts. It's great that celebrities bring more attention to the medium. However, it's much harder for independent podcasters. These audio drama creators often work alone, and probably have a day job and take care of their family too. It requires more innovation in terms of time, effort, and resources. When I made Jarnsaxa Rising, I learned a lot of these things the hard way. It gives me a healthy respect for what independent audio drama creators go through.

Deeper Dive: How to Make Your Own Fiction Podcast

Additionally, some of the best audio drama podcasts have been optioned for television. On the one hand, it's terrific to see good stories gain a wider audience. However, when we see audio drama podcasts as a testing pool for television or movies, we forget what's most enduring. Audio stirs emotions in a different way from visual media. Indie audio drama producers understand that audio drama is a goal in itself. It's not a set of training wheels to practice for TV.

The audio drama podcasts I mention here are high enough in quality to make me:

  • forget my surroundings and immerse myself in theirs
  • invest emotionally in the characters and stakes
  • want more when they were over.

Distinguished gentlefolk, I bring you the “best” fiction podcasts of 2020, to sustain and lift you into 2021.

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Listen, Rinse, Repeat

Listen Rinse Repeat podcast art

Remember back when we thought the global pandemic meant we’d all be locked down for two weeks, maybe a month? Ah, memories. Shannon Perry (Oz 9) grabbed this opportunity and created Listen, Rinse, Repeat. It's an audio fiction podcast to make your constant cycles of hand washing more exciting. Each segment runs twenty to fifty seconds, long enough for you to comply with World Health Organization standards. Not only can you find this on your favorite podcatcher app, but also it's available via smart assistants. You can tell Alexa, Siri or Google to play it for you, whilst your filthy hands wipe down the groceries. Most importantly, this series is an excellent exercises in story crafting: each installation asserts itself and gets to the point.  

The Golden House

The Golden House podcast

The Golden House is part mystery story, part puzzle. It's a multimedia experience that piques your curiosity while it unspools its mystery. On its surface, it’s the brand podcast of a mysterious scientific think tank, where everything seems perfect. Hidden in the narrative are clues to puzzles. Solve them, and you’ll find recordings hidden on the Internet. These tell the true story of what’s really happening in The Golden House. It’s not often that a podcast delivers the rush of “aha!” moments. It’s particularly exciting when a podcast makes you want to learn more about visual art or poetry. Ross Sutherand’s Imaginary Advice received critical acclaim for its experimental audio. They bring that expertise to make The Golden House experience at times vulnerable and heartwarming, or bring you to the edge of your seat with excitement. This series will definitely leave you wanting more. 

Mockery Manor

Mockery Manor Podcast Art

Gen-Xers especially will enjoy this story, or anyone who came of age in the 80s. Anyone who has ever been a teenager will have a lot of feelings pop up. Mockery Manor, an audio drama about teens who work at a very unusual amusement park, is chock-full of secret treasures. Nostalgia for way back when we could be social face-to-face makes this story particularly poignant. The music is utterly contagious, especially the Smiths-esque “Leave This Place Behind Me” by Foucault’s Pendulum. Fans of Dark Shadows, Defunctland, and John Hughes movies will have their thirst quenched. You'll want to sneak out at night and explore in the dark.

Unseen

Unseen podcast art

This much-anticipated urban fantasy series exceeded its Kickstarter fundraising goal by over 400%, and with good reason. Gabriel Urbina, Sarah Shachat, and Zach Valenti assembled a supergroup of audio drama talent. They drew from Wolf 359, Wooden Overcoats, The Bright Sessions, Ars Paradoxica, The Amelia Project, and many more. This juggernaut is dripped out a bit at a time. It's monologues about “identity, connection and personhood.” A standout episode is “We Ourselves.” Karim Kronfli's Nicholas Carrick feels two parts as heartwarming as Father Christmas, one part as dangerous as Leland Gaunt, and one part as dark as Dracula. If you've ever needed connection in a world where magic feels necessary, Unseen provides slices of life that should satisfy.

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Primordial Deep

Primordial Deep Podcast Art

Jordan Cobb (Janus Descending) makes the most of your ocean nightmares. Then, Julia Schifini’s (Spirits) sound design makes them even more visceral. The “team of experts isolated in close quarters” motif is a staple of audio drama. Cobb and Schifini freshen it with the fear and fascination of undersea prehistoric creatures. In the first episode, the submerging sound Schifini created was so resonant, I had to listen more than once. Let's just say that I am resolved to check for scorpions every single time I go to the bathroom now. Primordial Deep is an excellent podcast for dark times. Don't listen to this right before going to sleep.

The Dungeon Economic Model

The Dungeon Economic Model podcast art

In the 1970s, New Jersey relaxed its gambling laws. They hoped that Atlantic City's casinos would become as popular of a tourist destination as Las Vegas, bringing economic stability to the region. They forgot about the difference between the winters in Nevada and New Jersey. Similarly, The Dungeon Economic Model is a satiric take on what governments will do to promise progress to their citizens. Did you know that a dungeon full of monsters guarantees that adventurers will come to your village, spending plenty of shiny coins at area taverns and markets? No? Well, get a dose of this “series of informational mind incursions,” and you'll find out why it has the Royal Seal of Approval.

Anyone F'Coffee?

Anyone F'Coffee podcast art

What do we talk about when we talk about what we're most afraid to talk about, and how? Sarah Golding's audio drama explores anxieties about medical conditions. Specifically, they explore what's swept under the rug as “women's troubles.” As women gather for a cup and a chat, they talk about conditions as insidious as any fantasy creature, and in some cases as deadly as any horror villain. Anyone F'Coffee shows us how women can be the greatest secret-keepers, and the most enduring fighters. This series is part of Quirky Voices Presents, and supported by The British Podcast Awards and The Wellcome Trust. 

The Orphans: Exposé

The Orphans Exposé podcast art

The Orphans' first mini-series, Exposé, brings together audio drama's two most powerful Beths, Eyre (Wooden Overcoats) and Crane (We Fix Space Junk) into one exciting Bethrrito. Not available at Taco Bell, this satisfying story snack includes adventures in political intrigue, journalistic integrity, and espionage. In particular, a scene between Beth Eyre and Sarah Golding shines in ways I won't spoil for you. Packed into five episodes, this is an adventure that should not be missed.

Crowley Time

Crowley Time podcast art

I want to assure all of you that I am not stalking Tom Crowley (Wooden Overcoats). I will cease praising his work on Twitter, as soon as he stops making vastly entertaining and multifaceted audio snacks. For 2020, Mr. C raised the stakes of Crowley Time with meta-fiction explorations of how all this comedy-podcasting-in-a-global-pandemic caper is really going. June's “Sold Out” and March's “Pandemonium” hit home. The pièce de résistance is his November episode, Quid Pro Crowley. Aided and abetted by Felix Trench (Wooden Overcoats), this interpodcastal collaboration satirizes current events. Put this through the filter of ancient audio tape and the American fetish for IKEA. You've got a recipe for a hard belly laugh that'll restore your dopamine and serotonin levels.

Best Audio Drama Podcast Standalone Episodes

Some parts of these series pushed the boundaries of acting, sound design, and story crafting. They also highlighted current anxieties in the culture, while simultaneously helping audiences escape and cope.

Wooden Overcoats- The Trouble With Rudyard

When it's not safe to put actors into a studio together, you make lemonade. By “make lemonade,” I mean, “fundraise for the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.” Wooden Overcoats (wisely) put off its Season 4 release. Fortunately, they released an episode which makes the absurdist most of remote recording, The Trouble With Rudyard. Not only does it include all the Piffling hallmarks, the socially distant fraternal affection warms the Funn bitterness.

11th Hour Audio

11th Hour Audio annually celebrates World Audio Drama Day with a challenge. They ask podcasters to create a horror podcast episode in less than a month. This year,

  • Faith McQuinn's Highway Chile took the classic hitchhiker horror motif. Then she renewed it through a feminist lens, to show how women wield power over each other.
  • In A Haunting Beyond The Lake, Richard Brooks wove a Möbius strip of small choices and huge consequences.
  • The Audiophile explores the craving for fame, and the torture of working retail. It shows what lengths an audiophile will go to for perfection.
Audio Drama for Pessimists

Audio Drama For Pessimists

Finally, if there's one piece of audio fiction you need from 2020, it's The Kindly Nettle. This intimate, immersive experience gently invites you to experience love, loss, and perseverance. If you liked The Giving Tree, this story improves on it a hundredfold.

What can the best audio dramas for 2021 do for us?

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

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.

Sign up to get the Weekly Fiction Update Here

What Did We Miss?

Are we missing your favorite audio dramas(s)? Shout us up on twitter, and let us know what you love and why.

If you fancy creating your own, then we actually have a comprehensive guide on how to make a fiction podcast too.

And finally, if you're interested in staying up-to-date with the world of audio drama, be sure to sign up to the Fiction Podcast Weekly…

Fiction Podcast Weekly - finding podcast news

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!

What Our Readers Think About Best Fiction Podcasts | My Top 10 Audio Dramas for 2021

Sorry, comments are closed.

  1. Pete Lutz says:

    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.

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

  2. tygr. says:

    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.

    • 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. says:

    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/

    • 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 says:

    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!

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

      • Danilo "dansfx" Battistini says:

        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. 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.

    • 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 says:

        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 says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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. 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 says:

      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

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

  10. 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 says:

      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 says:

    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!

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

  12. Sarah says:

    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 says:

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

  14. Richter Von Streed says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

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

    • nathan says:

      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 says:

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