The 16 Best Podcasts of 2021

The best true crime, fantasy football, comedy, and politics podcasts, and more

Podcasts have exploded into our culture and are an excellent way to entertain yourself while commuting, traveling, or working out. This crop of podcasts covers a range of topics, including sports, politics, pop culture, news, identity, and everyday life.

01
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Best for a Quick Take on the Story of the Day: The Daily

The Daily Podcast - New York Times


What We Like
  • New episode every weekday.

  • A few ways to listen.

  • Sort by oldest or newest episodes.

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't highlight the most popular episodes.

  • Several website ads.

Hosted by journalist Michael Barbaro and powered by The New York Times, The Daily covers one story each weekday in about 20 minutes. Guests include journalists Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush, as well as story subjects. Notable episodes include a "fake news" story that transformed the small town of Twin Falls, Idaho and a deep dive into the Andrew Cuomo sexual harassment scandal.

02
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Best Exploration of Race and Ethnicity in Our Lives: Code Switch

Code Switch podcast from NPR
What We Like
  • Queue up several episodes at once.

  • Includes transcripts.

  • Download any episode as MP3.

What We Don't Like
  • No sorting or filtering options.

  • Text posts are mixed in the list of podcasts.

Code Switch from NPR explores race and ethnicity and how it all weaves into different parts of our lives, from places of worship and the business of selling marijuana legally to the terrible events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the summer of 2017. Hosted by five journalists of color, Code Switch dissects the complicated news and events happening all over the country and illuminates the lives and voices that we don't always hear as loudly as others.

03
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Best for Politics the Way People Actually Talk: Pod Save America

Pod Save America podcast
What We Like
  • Includes video version.

  • Listen on any device.

  • Consistent episodes every few days.

  • Downloadable episodes.

What We Don't Like
  • Unable to sort or filter the episodes.

Produced by the cleverly named Crooked Media, Pod Save America is the brainchild of former staffers of the Obama White House. The podcast's mission is to discuss politics "the way actual people talk" amid nonstop cable news coverage, Twitter, and the rash of fake news that's all over the internet. While the hosts lean left, they're not afraid to discuss where Democrats went wrong in 2016. Get their take on the NFL "take the knee" controversy in the "Stick to Sports" episode and their thoughts about the NRA and the current state of U.S. politics.

04
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Best Big Apple Take on Pop Culture and Politics: The Read

The Read podcast
PC Screenshot
What We Like
  • Engage with others in the comments.

  • Weekly episodes.

  • Easy listening with the queue.

What We Don't Like
  • Few places to listen.

  • User account required to download episodes.

  • Ads at the beginning of each episode.

New York City transplants Kid Fury and Crissle chat about hip-hop, politics, and pop culture while bonding over adapting to life in the city that never sleeps. Their biting commentary on The Read is highly entertaining with targets including reality show stars and Oprah, but never Beyoncé. Tune into the "Wakanda Forever" episode to get their insights about Marvel's Black Panther and recent theater releases.

05
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Best for Dealing With Pain and Loss: Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Terrible, Thanks for Asking podcast
What We Like
  • All episodes are under an hour.

  • New episode alerts over email.

  • Download or listen online.

What We Don't Like
  • No sorting or filtering abilities.

  • Can't search for an old episode.

Have you ever wanted to tell the truth when someone asks, "How are you?" Unless you're truly doing "fine," this question usually leads to an empty exchange. This podcast features guests who open up about their pain and loss. Host and author Nora McInerny describes herself as a "notable widow." In one episode of Terrible, Thanks for Asking, Nora, suffering from insomnia, goes to Twitter to poll listeners about what keeps them up at night. Newer episodes include one about being on the edge of an emotional breakdown and another about the desire for a "good death."

06
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Best Collection of Personal Stories From the Internet: Reply All

Reply All podcast
What We Like
  • Listen from a wide variety of podcasting platforms.

  • Access episodes from 2014.

  • Follow along with the included transcript.

What We Don't Like
  • Inconsistent releases.

  • Can't search through or filter the episodes.

If you're obsessed with internet culture and find yourself getting lost in Reddit forums and social media threads, Reply All will feed your need. The creators mine the web for personal stories, such as a man who wants to turn his family's struggle with cancer into a video game, and dig deep into mundane-sounding topics, such as domain names, that are anything but dull. Robert Downey Jr. announced he planned to star in a movie based on episode #86, Man of the People. A recent piece features a conversation about the chaos on the internet after the January 6th attack on the Capitol.

07
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Best for the Intersection of Sports and Pop Culture: The Bill Simmons Podcast

Bill Simmons Podcast
What We Like
  • Listen on a few different websites and apps.

  • Can download episodes.

  • More than one new episode a week.

What We Don't Like
  • Most episodes are well over an hour.

  • Can't sort by popularity or date.

  • Several ads on the site.

Bill Simmons is a sports columnist, founder, and CEO of The Ringer, a blog and podcast network, and the former host of HBO's Any Given Wednesday. His self-named podcast covers sports and pop culture and where it converges, such as the Rocky movies. The podcast features interviews with celebrities, athletes, and journalists and often delves into that hard to avoid topic: politics. Recent episodes focus on the NBA draft and Team USA basketball.

08
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Best for People Who Love Terrible Movies: How Did This Get Made?

How Did This Get Made? podcast
What We Like
  • Updates once a week.

  • Download any of the 200+ episodes.

What We Don't Like
  • Available on few podcasting platforms.

  • No search or sort function.

  • Episodes older than six months require Stitcher Premium.

There's something magical about movies that are so, so terrible but so much fun to watch. We've all asked the question posed by this podcast's title, "How Did This Get Made?" The podcasters screen and tear apart the movies that are so bad they're good (think would-be horror flick Lake Placid) both in-studio and occasionally live. Learn more about The Garbage Pail Kids movie (we previously didn't know of its existence) in a live episode featuring Jon Lovett from Pod Save America. In one episode, the hosts talk about Freejack, a 1992 science fiction movie, and in another, they review Tammy and the T-Rex from 1994.

09
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Best for Old Radio Stories With Modern Actors: Homecoming

Homecoming podcast
What We Like
  • Very simple, attractive design.

  • Easy to listen to the whole podcast.

  • An Amazon Prime Original TV series.

What We Don't Like
  • Available through few apps.

  • Limited number of episodes.

We typically associate podcasts with stories, like Serial, or conversations, like Marc Maron's WTF podcast, but Homecoming harkens back to old radio stories, with its fictional thriller starring actors Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, and David Cross. The experience of listening to the podcast is less about the plot than it is about enjoying the performances, chemistry, and character development. You can binge all 12 episodes, and once you've finished, be sure to check out the Amazon Original Series, starring Julia Roberts based on the podcast.

10
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Best Tips for Dealing With Depression: The Hilarious World of Depression

The Hilarious World of Depression podcast
What We Like
  • Listen with several apps or websites.

  • Most episodes are under an hour.

  • Download any episode.

What We Don't Like
  • Unable to filter or sort the podcast episodes.

Supported in part by the Make It OK campaign, The Hilarious World of Depression talks to comedians who suffer from the disease with the goal of removing the stigma of mental illness. It also serves to help people who have depression know that they are not alone. In addition to interviews, the podcast offers support, including how to get help when you need it and coping skills to get you through each day. Dip your toe in with the ​episode "How to Get Help" or with the episode where Rachel Bloom of the TV show "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" talks about that character, her history with depression, and being inspired by Rebecca Black, singer of the infamous song "Friday." 

11
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Best for Modern Career Advice: Ctrl Alt Delete

Ctrl Alt Delete podcast
What We Like
  • A few new episodes each week.

  • Search for podcast episodes.

  • Not your typical career podcast.

What We Don't Like
  • Can't easily locate older podcasts.

London-based Emma Gannon talks to a vast array of actors, writers, and other creatives about how social media and the web infiltrate their lives and careers. Named after her first book, which has the tagline "How I Grew Up Online," the Ctrl Alt Delete podcast benefits from Emma's high energy and enthusiasm as she gets guests to share their best stories and advice. Check out the "Your Personal Brand vs. Reality" episode or the "Masculinity & Mental Health" episode.

12
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Best for True Crime: Crimetown

Crimetown podcast
What We Like
  • Show notes for all episodes.

  • Written transcript is available.

  • New episode every seven days.

What We Don't Like
  • Works only from the website or Spotify.

  • Can't download episodes for offline use.

If you loved the first season of Serial and were disappointed that the second season didn't have the same level of suspense, Crimetown could be just the podcast for you. One of the hosts produced and co-wrote the series "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst." Crimetown takes place in Providence and is a crime and corruption podcast that goes all the way up to the mayor.

13
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Best Look at One Man's Racism in a Small Town: S-Town

S-Town podcast
What We Like
  • Unique book-like presentation, including transcripts.

  • Several ways to listen.

  • Episodes are around an hour long.

What We Don't Like
  • Includes few episodes.

  • Playback controls are hard to use.

What starts as exploring the dark side of a small town in Alabama at the request of a listener turns into a look into one man's life and how it affected so many others. (It also continues to reveal more disturbing details about the town, including the blatant racism that the podcast's subject John D. had warned the host about from the start.) This podcast was a one-off, but the team behind it also produces Serial and This American Life, so you can expect to see more engaging podcasts down the road.

14
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Best Take on all Types of Love: Modern Love

Modern Love podcast
What We Like
  • 30-minute, weekly episodes.

  • Download the audio clips to your computer.

  • Stream from a variety of apps.

What We Don't Like
  • No way to sort the episodes or filter by criteria.

The Modern Love column from the New York Times explores all sorts of love—romantic, family, heartbreak, friendship, and more. The podcast brings personal essays to life with readings by famous people from Peter Gallagher to Cynthia Nixon to John Cho. Hosts Miya Lee and Daniel Jones sometimes even get updates from the essay writers.

15
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Best for Fantasy Football Fans: NFL Talking Heads

NFL Talking Heads podcast
What We Like
  • A must listen for any fantasy football addict.

  • Light-hearted but knowledgeable fantasy football info.

  • The hosts know their stuff.

What We Don't Like
  • Sounds a little amateurish.

If your love of football extends off the field into fantasy leagues, the NFL Talking Heads fantasy football podcast will help you up your game. Hosts Jeff Carrier and Seth Lull offer the tips and information you need to win, including statistics, draft strategies, and their unfiltered opinions.

16
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Best for Discussing Sex, Identity and Relationships: Food 4 Thot

Food 4 Thot Podcast
PC Screenshot
What We Like
  • The hosts are high-spirited and outrageous.

  • Not your typical podcast.

  • Laugh out loud funny at times.

What We Don't Like
  • Sometimes the hosts talk over each other.

  • Some people might be uncomfortable with the topics.

Food 4 Thot is not about food; it's about life. While drinking rosé, the four hosts discuss sex, race, identity, and other juicy topics in a format they describe as "like NPR, but on poppers." The hosts, who are all writers, wanted a place to discuss Beyoncé, gay bars, literature, and their adventures in publishing. The podcast released nine episodes in the first season, and season three is on deck. Listen to the trailer to get a taste of what to expect.

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