Over 60 years removed from the first color broadcasts on television and at the same time as the emergence of 6K & 8K camera sensors, the vastness of visual storytelling has yet to be conquered by us humans. Images continue to grow clearer and clearer, VFX become closer to reality, and the art of film and television is telling new stories every single day.
So why the hell are people listening to podcasts so much? The answer probably lies within the realm of increased busyness and the accessibility of podcasts, we listen to them on our commutes, while cooking dinner, I’m even listening to one while I write this. Podcasts have taken control of our content intake. Many of the large projects are your standard “talk show” type podcast. But, if you are like me, you find yourself searching for a story. You want to hear a movie while you take that three-hour flight, you want characters, plot, mystery, humor, action, and many other things that attract us to film. Audio Dramas are the answer to this. Yes, those audio dramas. The updated version of the shows your grandparents listened to when they were young. Except these shows are technologically advanced, intricately layered, and at times, simply jaw-dropping. If you’re willing to give them a chance, I promise you are on the brink of finding your new obsession. Below, I present: Ten Podcasts to Introduce Yourself to Audio Dramas.
10. The Big Loop
A newer and brilliant take of the episodic tales from Paul Bae (Co-creator of The Black Tapes). Each episode tells a new story. Around 40 minutes per episode, every tale conquers a new genre, all the while merging with other genres in a beautiful way that will sometime send a shiver down your spine and then turn around and put a tear in your eye. These stories will grab you and refuse to let go. A great introduction to the new form of audio dramas.
Best Episode — The Eye of the Lord
9. Steal the Stars
Described as a noir science fiction thriller from Gideon Media and Tor Labs, Steal the Stars is a riveting, fast-paced thrill ride that is especially binge-worthy. Taking place in a secret government institute, housing and researching the body of an alien, the protagonist Dak and her partner Matt, plot an incredible plan to make it out alive. Humor covers this project, left and right you have great character development occurring in front of your ears, and the action grows with each episode. The first season tells the complete story, so there is no waiting around for story updates. One long car trip of a day of working in the yard with some headphones will be turned from a mundane task to an enjoyable venture as you following along on this awesome ride.
Best Character — Trip Haydon. Gosh darn it, I have yet to find a more amusing character on any medium. He plays the villain exquisitely well and his money focused mentality will give you chuckles throughout the entire podcast.
It seems that the genre of horror has taken the biggest liking to the audio drama outlet. Due to Creepypastas and other online realms, scary stories have taken over the audio drama world. A great, subtle introduction to this is Skylark’s “Blackwood.” The found footage style tale follows Molly, Bryan, and Nathan as the teens attempt to uncover the secret behind an urban legend in their town of Blackwood. Think “Blair Witch Project” meets the radio. Instead of turning into a monster story or a vicious horror piece, “Blackwood” finds a home in questioning the town and the conspiracy which is carried out by all too many small towns. The characterization is great, the plot is gripping, and it moves at a comfortable pace. Dive into this project next time you’re looking for something to put you a little on edge.
Best Moment — The collision between Nathan and Bryan. My oh my will this have you gripping your steering wheel.
Another work from the fictional Pacific Northwest universe and PRA. Probably the group’s most concise and best work to date. “Rabbits” follows Carly Parker as she searches for her missing friend, Yumiko. This is not missing person story though, this is a part of the world’s greatest conspiracy, the ancient alternate reality game of Rabbits. Carly must play along and piece together the clues spanning across the globe in order to win the game and find her friend. The story is told like a documentary as Carly gives updates into her recorder and conducts research and interviews. The whole thing feels as real as “Serial” and “Up and Vanished” but gives you the thrill of a lifetime.
Best Episode — 106 Strange Strange Attractors
6. 36 Questions
This is my personal favorite on the list. “36 Questions” is a three-part musical series. That’s right, a musical podcast. And eliminate all notions of it being cliche or littered with tropes. This thing packs a punch. The story of Judith and Jase takes you by the heart and doesn’t let go. The couple attempts to save their marriage by answering the famous 36 Questions. The songs are gorgeous, from the arrangements to the vocal performances of Jessie Shelton and Jonathon Groff (from Hamilton), this work is magnificent. You’ll laugh, question, reminisce, and cry with the characters. It’s hard to believe that a musical could be written so raw and real, all the while being in a podcast format. This is without a doubt a must listen.
Best Song — “Hear Me Out” or “Natalie Cook”
5. The Message/ Life After
This two-season project is simply astonishing. I’m on probably my fourth listen of both works. Each season tells a different story. Both are science fiction but based in a reality we all know and fear. Without giving too much away, “The Message” follows the podcast detective style while a signal from extraterrestrials has reached earth and “Life After” follows a man trying to conquer the grief that comes with the passing of his wife. These two seasons are binge-worthy and will take you on a roller coaster. Possibly the most beautifully concise plots in audio dramas, listen to these for your own enjoyment. You will love them.
Best Moment — The twist at the end of both seasons.
4. The White Vault
Some of the best horror to ever grace audio dramas. Taking place at Outpost Fristed in Svalbard, a group of researchers is sent to conduct standard maintenance at the Outpost. They begin to search the area while doing their work and soon they uncover secret after secret all the while something terrible is in their presence. Aside from the writing and brilliant voice acting from the likes of Lani Minella, David Ault (NoSleep), and Peter Lewis (NoSleep), the sound design and narration are incomparable. The set up is that the entire story is composed of the audio recordings of each of the team member’s devices. A stone mannered, government narrator walks us through each piece of the story. You’ll feel as cold as it is in Svalbard while listening to this project.
Best Episode — 7::Interlude. The tensions skyrockets and the set up is well worth it.
3. Leviathan Chronicles
Essentially the OG of these audio dramas. The trailblazer. Leviathan began in 2008 and ran for an unbelievable 5 years. A monumental undertaking of epic proportions, an adventure through time and fantasy. Whether you’re a fan of the Lord of the Rings series, Harry Potter, Hobbit, any of those, this is for you. A blockbuster for your ears, big episode after big episode with tons of action, adventure, history, lore, basically anything you could ask for. There’s plenty to work through here and its well worth it.
Best Moment — The gigantic martial arts fight, I cannot believe they made it happen in an audio drama.
2. The Black Tapes
If you talk to many people within this awesome community, you’ll find a mixture of love and animosity towards this series. Yes, its arguably the biggest ever and mixes horror, suspense, and documentary in such a genius way; but, the ending really polarized the listeners. It's an ending, and whether or not you loved or hated it, or if you’re looking forward towards the reboot, there is an understanding that this series was pivotal in Audio Drama’s resurgence. “The Black Tapes” is the final project from Pacific Northwest Stories on this list, similarly to “Rabbits” and the Unlisted “Tanis” TBT is a documentary style, investigative podcast. With its constant referral to real things and historically correct references, this whole thing feels real. It's so real that you research the references and dig yourself down into the rabbit hole that is TBT. Alex and Dr. Strand take us through an incredible journey of horror, supernatural, and ancient conspiracies. This is seriously an amazing work of art and entertainment. Take a listen.
Best Moment — When Alex realizes what the Black Tapes truly are. Whoa...
1. Bright Sessions
I feel completely fine saying that I would give my body to science so long as I could have my memory erased and be able to listen to the Bright Sessions again for the first time. This is arguably the opus of audio drama podcasts. Yes, there are several other arguments, but in my opinion, this is the height of the medium (so far). Julia Morizawa plays Dr. Bright, a therapist for “atypicals” or aka people with special abilities. A few of her patients work with her and as they tackle a huge government conspiracy all the while falling in love as a big, strange, but simply beautiful family. Each of the character’s abilities and the problems they cause are directly paralleled to issues we have as human beings. The story tackles, anxiety, coming of age, losing our power over loved ones, moving on from mistakes and disasters, and countless others. The characterization is peerless. The writing is as natural as the medium has seen. No forced lines, no overly descriptive paragraphs, no throwaway scenes. This work of art is simply perfect. I can’t begin to explain how important this podcast was in my life. Hopefully, it’ll catch your heart too.
Best Episode — 50: Rose I guess I’m a sucker for musical podcasts, but this episode is unbelievable.