It’s almost vacation season, which means it’s time to start thinking about all the essentials you’ll need to stay relaxed while you’re lounging on the beach during your time off. If you love the idea of a spring or summer reading list, but don’t want to take up valuable packing space by toting around a bunch of books, why not dive into some truly great podcasts? We’ve rounded up our top 10 serialized fiction podcasts to get absorbed in on vacation this year.
This thriller from award-winning author Naomi Alderman puts the listener front and center, dropping you into the role of hero as soon as you pop your earbuds in. The immersive story begins with an EMP attack that sends Walker, the protagonist and role that the listener takes on, on a dangerous journey across Scotland, attempting to make a critical delivery while running from both the police and a mysterious organization known simply as The Burn. Along the way, you’ll find yourself encountering a host of interesting characters and unraveling a complex web of intrigue. The podcast is best enjoyed when you’re on the move — say, working out or walking — as the story’s soundscape swirls around you from all directions.
With all the philosophical weight of Star Trek and a snarky sense of humor, Wolf 359 is a must-listen for sci-fi fans. What begins as the lighthearted recordings of Douglas Eiffel, a desperately bored and perpetually sarcastic communications officer aboard a secluded space station, ultimately transforms into a compelling audio drama bursting with riveting character development that includes a compelling AI storyline that will tug at your heartstrings. When the series starts, the crew’s mission seems ambiguous, fluid, and, at times, almost nonexistent. But as a larger story begins to unfold, Eiffel and his crew mates find themselves in the middle of a tangled conspiracy that will unearth their past mistakes, test their resolve, and bind their lives together forever whether they like it or not. The series ended its run in the summer 2017, so you can go full Netflix and binge this baby from beginning to end.
Alice Isn’t Dead
If you’re a fan of the strange and wonderful world of Welcome to Night Vale, check out Alice Isn’t Dead, another offering from Night Vale creator Joseph Fink. This podcast has a similar Lovecraftian feel to Night Vale, but in this story, we follow along on the journey of a (mostly) unnamed narrator as she undertakes a search for her wife Alice. The story is told through the narrator’s audio diaries, which she records as she drives her truck through an increasingly strange series of encounters and locations that slowly begin to reveal a surreal scheme that goes far beyond Alice’s “death.” Woven into the horror-mystery is an equally compelling story of the narrator’s self-reflection in the absence of her lover, as she recalls long-passed conversations and lingering decisions that she still questions. The result is a series that is weird, unsettling, and completely awesome.
Hello from the Magic Tavern
If goofy comedy gems like Comedy Bang Bang! and My Brother, My Brother and Me are must-haves on your weekly downloads list, then you’re in for a real treat with Hello from the Magic Tavern. This addictive adventure takes the improv podcast to new heights, with the story of Arnie Niekamp, a Chicagoan who falls through a portal behind his local Burger King and finds himself stranded in the magical, D&D-like world of Foon. Every week, alongside his newfound boon companions Chunt (a sex-induced shapeshifter who most frequently takes the form of a badger) and Usidor (a long-winded, eccentric wizard with a close friend named Pizza Skull), Arnie broadcasts a podcast back to the land of Earth using remnants of Burger King’s Wi-Fi that seep through the portal. The show features a rotating parade of guests, each of whom take on their own magical identity and engage in a ridiculous game of improvisational world-building. The deeper you dive in, the more compelling and hilarious the story line becomes as you listen to series regulars and repeat guests try to one-up one another’s insane tangents while trying to remain true to the established cannon.
We’re Alive: A Story of Survival
Got a hole in your heart where your flesh-fueled love of The Walking Dead used to live? Resurrect your appreciation for the genre with We’re Alive: A Story of Survival. This fast-paced zombie apocalypse survival drama follows soldier Michael Cross, who finds himself living a real-life horror story when an undead infestation begins to take over Los Angeles. He joins up with a hodge-podge group of survivors seeking resources, shelter, and safety while struggling to determine if they can trust each other. As the makeshift-family grows closer and works to create a safe-haven for themselves, they begin to uncover a series of disturbing clues that will leave them wondering which is the greater of two evils: the undead or their fellow humans. When you’re finished, you can move right into We’re Alive: Lockdown, a continuation of the story that introduces new characters and answers lingering questions about old ones. A third series in the We’re Alive family is also in the works, though a final release date is yet to be announced.
The Black Tapes
The Black Tapes has been compared to everything from Serial to X-Files to Creepypasta. The series is hosted by Alex Reagan, an insatiably curious journalist who sets out to produce a biography of Dr. Richard Strand, a paranormal investigator who can best be described as the James Randi of supernatural events. As she works to profile her subject, Reagan becomes increasingly fascinated with what she calls The Black Tapes, a series of strange occurrences that Dr. Strand has been unable to debunk. The more Reagan delves into the Tapes (and a past that Strand seems determined to hide), the more obsessive she becomes about uncovering the truth. In 2017, The Black Tapes released what became one of the most panned series finales in the history of podcasting, with a cliffhanger that left some fans seeing red while others (in response to a Tweet from co-creator Paul Bae that suggested “if it doesn’t feel like the end of a story, it’s probably because it isn’t”) speculated that the ending could be a fake-out. Earlier this month, a mysterious new audio clip popped up in The Black Tapes feeds, seemingly picking up where the much-maligned finale left off and ending with a Morse code message that listeners quickly translated as “It was never over.” If nothing else, you should catch up on this series in preparation for what is bound to be either the most brilliant storytelling long-con ever, or a truly epic Tweetlash.
The Bright Sessions
The Bright Sessions begins as a series of recorded therapy sessions led by Dr. Joan Bright, who has a particularly interesting clientele: she is a shrink for “atypicals,” or people with special abilities that range from mind-reading to time travel to extreme empathy. As we meet more and more of Dr. Bright’s patients, a darker story begins to unfold: one of a shadowy organization that performs questionable research on atypicals, a tortured patient who abuses his abilities, and the ghosts of Dr. Bright’s own past. At the same time, the series explores the inner struggle of Dr. Bright’s patients as they learn how to accept their strangeness, control their powers, and find their place in the world. The series is currently in its last season, with two spin-off series planned for release in 2019 and 2020. Series creator Lauren Shippen is writing three YA novels that will take place in The Bright Sessions universe, and word on the show’s website is that it’s also currently in development for television.
Girl in Space
Girl in Space is a new podcast (it began in fall 2017), but it’s becoming a fast favorite among lovers of audio drama and science fiction. It tells the story of a young scientist stranded on an empty ship drifting through space. Listeners slowly learn more about the narrator through a series of her audio diaries, typically finding that new questions about her circumstances pop up as soon as previous ones are answered: Who is she? How did she find herself abandoned in deep space? And if she’s truly alone, then what is that strange bright light rapidly moving towards her ship? The show is immersive, charming, and surprisingly philosophical as it tackles questions of loneliness, freedom, and truth through the quirky, introspective story of a Girl in Space.
Lesser Gods is a dystopian mystery that tells the story of a future world in which humans are no longer capable of reproduction. After a series of failed government attempts to save humanity, the five youngest people on the planet are now 22 years old and living a life of pure excess under constant government supervision. We are pulled into the narrative just as an unknown force begins targeting humanity’s last generation and a strange murder mystery begins to take shape. Known as the Final Five, the group of young adults serve as an ever-revolving cast of narrators, with each episode being told by a different combination of characters. The tone of the series is equal parts dark, mysterious, and sexy, and the narration style is more like an incredibly well-produced audio book than a radio play, with a soundscape that peppers the story with perfectly placed bursts of gritty sound effects and eerie music.
Wynabego Warrior: The Tale of John Waynnabe
John Waynnabe has wanted to live the cowboy life since he was a young boy watching Westerns from atop his Paw’s knee. In Wynabego Warrior — introduced in the first episode as “a tale of peril and danger, redemption and renewal” — he decides to get an RV and head west in search of the life he has always dreamed of. His journey of self-discovery turns into a full-fledged Wild West adventure when John meets the McCoys, a western Kentucky family battling to keep their land and home out of the no-good hands of the greedy “Deal Baron.” The story is bursting with charm, charismatic characters; tongue-in-cheek humor; and a heart as big as John’s dreams. From the twangy introduction that begins the first episode to the action-packed conclusion of the show’s most recent season, this podcast is an irresistible feel-good adventure that is sure to put a grin on your face.
If you burn through all of these, you should check out our favorite podcasts for road trips, our top overall picks for 2018, these productive podcasts to help get your life together, the best fiction podcasts overall, the greatest history podcasts, some spooky horror podcasts, or The Manual’s own podcast. Need more suggestions? Here are some of our faves for men’s fashion, craft beer, and true crime.
Article originally published March 30, 2018. Last updated December 2018.