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The Best Podcasts to Listen to in 2021

If you’ve been listening to podcasts over the last year, you may have worn a few out. Hundreds of thousands of podcasts are in existence, so narrowing down what to get into next can be quite a challenge. And then finding what’s actually good out of those can be a tough job in its own right.

You could listen to friends or hope that the “You Might Also Like” section of your podcast app is up to snuff, but those approaches are most likely hit or miss. Yes, we understand that finding the best podcast for you might be too overwhelming with the wide selections out there, but you know what’s not going to be hit or a miss? Reading the rest of this article and realizing we picked out the best ones for you.

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We’ve gathered some of the best podcasts to listen to in 2021. Whether you’re into politics, sports, true crime, or something else, we’ve got you covered here.

Rabbit Hole

I just recently binged this one in a day — no irony detected. Rabbit Hole takes a look into how the internet affects our lives and our politics every day and in insidious ways, plus how it got to that point. Unparalleled in its research and production, The New York Times’ eight-part series is haunting at times, but the story it’s telling about how we interact with the internet is profound and hard to forget. Well worth your time. 

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Lolita Podcast

Jaime Loftus’ podcast series are always deeply researched and often very personal. Lolita Podcast looks into Nabokov’s classic and controversial novel, but then it looks into how Lolita persists in our popular culture, in ways good and bad. Righteous and alive, Lolita Podcast is definitely one of the best new podcasts for you to check out this year. 

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Startup

In this last season of the series, Startup is Gimlet Media’s CEO Alex Blumberg’s take on the successes and pitfalls of running his media company. Having sold to Spotify earlier this year, this final season looks at the intersection of art and money and how one values each. That value changes, you find out, when you have your employees’ fates in your hands.

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Slow Burn

From Slate, Slow Burn takes on a new subject every season — topics like Watergate, the rise of David Duke, and even the most tense feud of the ’90s between Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. Its newest season recently premiered, taking on a subject that does need some revisiting: The U.S. invasion of Iraq. Slow Burn’s ability to present a comprehensive narrative around complicated topics is inspiring and completely addicting to listen to. 

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The Right Time

I will go so far as to say that The Right Time is the smartest sports podcast available today. Bomani Jones covers all aspects, high and low, around sports in a way that no other sports journalist can. ESPN is taking notice, too, upping the drops from twice a week to three times just this year. Any time is the right time with Bomani Jones. 

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Still Processing

And if you want that kind of deep and intelligent discussion around your other interests, you should be sure to keep Still Processing in your podcast rotation as well. Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris add meaningful perspective to ongoing important conversations regarding movies, music, politics, and more. 

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NYT Popcast

The New York Times also has one of the smartest and most fun music discussions on the podcast market. Journeyman journalist Jon Caramanica has been covering pop music and hip-hop like no one else has for decades now, and as much as he is an expert, every episode includes music-writing guests with even deeper expertise on each artist and subject. I’m a longtime fan of Popcast and can’t recommend it enough. 

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Everything Is Alive

An “unscripted interview show,” Everything is Alive is an interesting take on exploring the world. How so? In each episode, an interviewee is an inanimate object telling its life story. Ever wanted to hear how a bar of soap feels? What about an elevator? Think of this as that part of Fight Club concerning Jack’s organs, except you’re not part of Project Mayhem or burning your and other people’s hands with lye. As far as storytelling podcasts go, it certainly isn’t This American Life, but it is worth a listen.

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The Daily

The Daily is a daily news podcast that drops every weekday morning at 6 a.m., reporting on The New York Times. Hosted by journalist Michael Barbaro, its episodes are based on the Times’ reporting of the day (about 20 minutes of reporting and headline summaries) along with interviews of journalists from the New York Times. If you want audio updates on the latest breaking stories, this is a great podcast to listen to in the morning.

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Bodega Boys

This is a podcast from Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, aka the Bodega Boys. You might have seen them on the Complex TV web series Desus vs. Mero or on the late-night talk show on Viceland, Desus & Mero. Since 2015, the duo has been bringing their raw comedic takes on all things pop culture. If you need a laugh, tune in and become part of their Bodega Hive.

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Stuff You Should Know

You should know more stuff. Lucky for you, there’s something really easy about that! SYSK is long one of the best podcasts — its back catalog at this point is crazy. It certainly has a bundle of episodes you’re already interested in, but the special thing about Stuff You Should Know is how often the episodes spark new interests. Learn something new! Find your new obsession this year with the help of this pod. 

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This American Life

This should be on every Best Podcast list every year. This American Life’s decades-long run as a radio show and podcast showcasing the eccentric and mundane around the country across various themes is a true pioneer in what to expect from any good podcast. The gold standard in audio storytelling, This American Life remains in every quality podcast rotation. 

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Start With This

Start With This is not just a regular podcast; it also serves as a playground for creativity. The hosts, Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink (creators of Welcome to Night Vale) focus on a topic in each episode and end it with two assignments — something to create and something to consume. Overall, the show is designed to encourage listeners to think about, talk about, and make art.

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Every Little Thing

Do you have a nagging question that googling just won’t answer? Try calling into Every Little Thing. No, seriously. Call them at 833-RING-ELT, and they just might answer in their podcast. “Why do we cry?” “Why do punches sound like that on TV?” It’s only the important questions on Every Little Thing, and maybe your question is next. 

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You’re Wrong About

And, if you want to learn even more, You’re Wrong About sheds new light on subjects you think you already know. With the speed at which news and culture move in 2021, it’s so easy for things to get oversimplified. Luckily, the hosts of YWA use their journalistic skills to look into how our collective understandings may be mistaken. Some episodes are one-offs, and some installments in series — regardless, You’re Wrong About is definitely one of the best podcasts on the market. 

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99% Invisible

In what originally began as a podcast about architecture, 99% Invisible is really about design, and design is everywhere. Design is responsible for your street, your house or apartment, how you dress — it’s responsible for how this website is set up. With that in mind, 99% Invisible takes a closer look into those aspects of design that we fail to notice. 

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Finding Fred

If you don’t love Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers to most of us), then can you call yourself a good person? The man that taught so many to be kind over generations is revered by countless, and Finding Fred is a continuation of that. Through conversations with a wide range of people, host Carvell Wallace does his darnedest to continue the legacy that Rogers started more than 50 years ago.

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Article originally published December 28, 2018. Updated to include new suggestions for 2021.

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