I was late to the podcast game. When Serial was captivating listeners everywhere and taking the true crime genre by storm, I was among the few (in my view) who hadn’t yet taken the plunge. It was only after a certain election in 2016 that I starting tuning in and discovered Pod Save America, hosted by former Obama White House aides. That was all it took for me to realize I really enjoyed this medium, and I soon decided to expand my selections beyond politics. Here are the top podcasts to check out on a variety of themes, from true crime to women’s issues to self-improvement.
Current Events: The Daily
Hosted by: Michael Barbaro
I start every day by listening to the New York Times’s hit podcast, which debuted on Feb. 1, 2017, and runs only about 25 minutes an episode—perfect for your morning commute. Barbaro, with a voice and demeanor that sounds more like your good-humored work buddy than your average monotone newscaster, breaks down the previous day’s biggest news with relevant interviews, insights, and on-the-spot reporting. My favorite episodes are the human-interest stories that cover topics such as racial inequality, the plight of undocumented workers, and the rise of right-wing extremism.
Politics: Slow Burn
Hosted by: Leon Neyfakh
This addictive podcast on political scandals past, which launched in November 2017, begins with an engrossing eight-part series on the numerous characters and subplots of Watergate. In Season 2, Neyfakh reminds us — many of whom were in our teens and early 20s — what it was like to live through the chain of events that lead to Bill Clinton’s impeachment. The parallels to present-day Washington are inescapable, and the episodes help shed new light on these troubling incidents in presidential history.
Investigative: The Dream
Hosted by: Jane Marie
This 11-part series, hosted by an award-winning journalist and former producer of "This American Life," takes a deep dive into a subject women of all ages know so well — direct sales, aka multilevel marketing. I’m talking, of course, of the Amways, Mary Kays, and Rodan + Fields of the world. It’s an honest and eye-opening look under the hood of those seemingly harmless business ventures your friends, your relatives, and maybe even you have engaged in. Must. Listen.
Women’s Issues: Hysteria
Hosted by: Erin Ryan
Crooked Media, which brought us Pod Save America, expanded its portfolio last year to bring us a female-run pod hosted by comedy writer Ryan and a revolving cast of co-hosts to talk news, politics, and general absurdities that negatively (and sometimes positively) affect women. It’ll make you laugh, cry, and want to rage against the patriarchy. Stay for the roundups of hills we’ll die on.
Self Development: TED Talks Daily
Hosted by: various speakers
This podcast launched in 2018 as a complement to the highly popular TED Talks speaker series. Every weekday, you’ll hear the latest talks from thought leaders across the globe and from every walk of life. Here are just a few good listens: “Your Elusive Creative Genius,” from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love; “Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable,” from writer and activist Luvvie Ajayi; and “The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage,” from psychologist Susan David.
Beauty: Glowing Up
Hosted by: Esther Povitsky and Caroline Goldfarb
This is more like a refreshingly honest beauty chat with your girlfriends, thanks to the hilarious hosts, Povitsky (a comedian) and Goldfarb (a writer). Listen as they geek out over their latest Sephora hauls and reveal the skin care secrets that cover up their bad decisions (aka one too many shots of tequila). You'll also hear from celebrity guests like Tavi Gevinson, industry pros like Christine Chang (the founder of Glow Recipe), and beauty editors. But the best part? Nothing is off limits, from Kardashian makeup to healing crystals to butt implants that have gone wrong.
Business: Planet Money
Hosted by: Robert Smith, Stacey Vanek Smith, et al
This podcast was launched in response to the global financial crisis of 2008. The hosts and featured experts use relatable anecdotes and conversations to explain complicated economic and political issues, such as in “The Wells Fargo Hustle,” about the lack of accountability at one of largest banks in the nation; and a two-part series titled “Georgetown, Louisiana, Parts One and Two,” on what may be owed to the descendants of slaves that were sold in 1838 to pay the debts of Georgetown University.
General Knowledge: Stuff You Should Know
Hosted by: Josh Clark and Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant
This award-winning podcast, which consistently ranks in the top 25 of U.S. podcasts, was founded in 2008 by the editorial team at HowStuffWorks.com and has featured the same co-hosting duo from the start. These guys, who describe themselves as research lovers rather than experts on any one topic, cover a lot of ground, including what you should know about different food products, toys, tipping, and hangovers.
True Crime: Crime Junkie
Hosted by: Ashley Flowers
This highly rated podcast was founded by a self-described, yep, crime junkie, who’s on the board of directors for her local Crime Stoppers community program. She’s clear about being a storyteller, not a crime expert. Each weekly episode (some, in two parts) focuses on a particular high-profile case, such as the murder of Laci Petersen, the disappearance of Bethany Decker, and four things Serial didn’t tell you about the accused, Adnan Syed. Intrigued?