From the enduring appeal of true crime to a boom for podcasts trying to make sense of the political landscape, listeners have been gifted with too many high-quality podcasts to mention in 2022.
Narrowing them down to the best 20 was tough, but hours of listening gave us this eclectic list of the very best podcasts from the past year.
1. Disaster Trolls
Sadly the BBC’s disinformation correspondent Marianna Spring has unearthed some shocking trolls and bullies in this excellent podcast. She tracks down conspiracy theorist Richard D. Hall, who’s spread claims that the May 2017 Manchester Arena bombing didn’t happen and set up surveillance cameras outside a survivors’ house. But it’s the interviews with those on the receiving end of trolls’ abuse that are particularly moving.
2. Where There’s A Will, There’s A Wake
Fantasy football meets funeral planning in comedian Kathy Burke’s death-based podcast, filled with joy and the darkest of humour. Burke is at her bleak and hilarious best asking friends, including Vicar of Dibley actor Dawn French, Diane “Philomena Cunk” Morgan, and stand-up comic Jamali Maddix about their ideal death, funeral, and wake. You might be surprised to hear who’s insisting on a totally transparent coffin.
3. Fiasco: The AIDS Crisis
Hit history podcast Slow Burn’s Leon Neyfakh shows how far the world has come since the advent of AIDS, but doesn’t shy away from the mistakes made in this information-packed podcast. From the early whispers of a “gay plague,” cruelty, and panic to the advent of vital medication, he speaks to people affected. Proof, if needed, that denial, blame, and mistrust of the medical establishment follow when an epidemic hits.
4. Welcome to Provincetown
Not so much a podcast as a life transformation for The Heart’s Mitra Kaboli, who heads to P-town, the LGBTQ community on the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Although it’s billed as a reality series, Kaboli’s exploration of the characters becomes more personal as she can’t fail to be moved by a Summer of Sass (comedian and activist Kristen Becker’s camp) that will change young people’s lives too.
5. The Trojan Horse Affair
It’s the podcast that divided opinion. On one hand, you have S-Town’s Brian Reed and aspiring journalist Hamza Syed unveiling the story of an anonymous letter sent to a Birmingham, UK, councillor laying out a plot by Islamic extremists to infiltrate schools. Podcast catnip right there. But its detractors claimed it was problematic and one-sided, portraying the UK as a racist land plagued by bad food. Er… Listen and decide.
6. Will Be Wild
“Be there. Will be wild.” Donald Trump’s tweet no doubt stoked the Jan. 6 insurrection, but were early warnings about the violent protest ignored? Trump Inc. hosts Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz uncover many opportunities when the authorities might have prevented the attack in their compelling listen.
7. Slow Burn: Roe v Wade
Slate’s timely look at the landmark abortion law was named Apple Podcasts’ Show of the Year and for good reason. Host Susan Matthews tells the story of Shirley Wheeler, the first woman convicted of manslaughter for getting an abortion and Ann Hill, the law student who took on Connecticut’s ban, through the lens of eroding rights.
8. Big Spender
Violence, gangs, and politics all feature in this six-parter about notorious Hong Kong criminal Cheung Tze-keung. Listeners will be left open-mouthed at tales of his multiple heists and audacious kidnappings, as well as anecdotes about his glamorous lifestyle. You might already know the ending, but the action unravels beautifully.
Sarah Hagi and Scaachi Koul’s podcast has more scammers than Fyre Festival and the super-smart duo love unveiling stories of how the public have put their trust in influencers. If the sound of a bogus ballet school, a celebrity sports coach with secrets and a scammer who’s obsessed with interviewing serial killers sounds intriguing, dive right in.
10. Pig Iron
Many questions were left unanswered when aspiring war reporter Christopher Allen was killed in South Sudan, but journalist Basia Cummings aims to find out what really happened in this podcast from Tortoise. Was he a mercenary? Did he take unnecessary risks? Or was his death an accident? It’s meticulously covered and sensitively handled.
11. Case 63
Oscar Isaac plays a patient who claims he’s from the future and Julianne Moore is his cynical psychiatrist. Has he really returned from the year 2062 to save the world from annihilation? If he’s telling the truth, the future’s grim. Together, the two stars make this sci-fi podcast one of the most bingeable listens of the year, packed with twists.
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12. Black British Lives Matter
Comedian Lenny Henry and journalist Marcus Ryder’s “jollof rice for the mind, jerk chicken for the spirit” opens conversations about what it means to be Black in Britain, moving through fashion, hair, food and more. Soul II Soul legend Jazzie B, designer Ozwald Boateng, and singer Beverley Knight are among the contributors bringing more barber shop laughs than po-faced discussion.
13. 28ish Days Later
Is progesterone “the Wednesday Addams of the hormone world”? Presenter India Rakusen thinks so – and if you only have a vague understanding of periods and cycles, listening to her 15-minute episodes will put them in a new light. Factual rather than squeamish, it’s a gem of biological knowledge. Oh, and did you know the ovary is the size of a walnut?
14. The News Agents
In a year when the headlines spun even more out of control than ever, political journalists Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel, and Lewis Goodall provided a solid analysis and dash of side-eye, analysing former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, that lettuce and much more. Nicknaming and smirking as they go, the trio’s half-hour daily episodes made as much sense of the news as anyone could.
15. The Witch Farm
Danny Robins has made a career out of scaring people (see also: The Battersea Poltergeist and Uncanny). The Witch Farm focuses on the true story of a couple who move into a remote Welsh farmhouse to find that no exorcist can rid it of a pesky ghost. Actors Alexandra Roach and Joseph Fiennes star in the dramatised sections.
16. Wild Things: Siegfried and Roy
The irresistible legend of the flamboyant German magicians, from their triumphant Vegas shows to Roy’s near-demise in the jaws of a tiger, is podcast gold. It’s easy to poke fun at the pair, but they spent nearly 50 years thrilling punters. Scandal, shootings, and speculation about why that tiger really went for its co-star are all covered in nine episodes.
17. Feast is Feast with Big Zuu
The irresistible Zuu has an easy way with his guests including lovable stand-up Mo Gilligan, Bake-Off’s Nadiya Hussain and the Re-Rewinder Craig David. And who doesn’t love talking about food? Zuu asks the right questions that draw out a wider discussion, demonstrated by Jermaine Jenas’ realisation that cooking gave him post-football confidence.
18. Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV
Journalists Pandora Sykes and Sirin Kale delve into the genre they love to find out if reality TV really is “trashy, bottom feeding, and the end of civilisation”. Even the most devoted fan will find something new here, as the duo so expertly cover the darker side of exploitation and aspiration with contributions from show insiders.
19. Hot Money
No-one expects the porn industry to be squeaky clean, but The Financial Times’ Patricia Nilsson and Alex Barker’s investigation lays its profits and power players bare. Faceless tech bros make the big bucks, leaving the straight-talking on-screen talent angry and they’re ready to tell the hosts exactly how it is.
20. Jamie Winstone’s Greatest Night Ever
If you long for the halcyon days before filtered selfies at parties, you’ll love actor Winstone’s charming chats about big nights out. Pop dungeoness Charlotte Church, EastEnders’ Danny Dyer and DJ Nick Grimshaw are among the “massive ledges” busting out the anecdotes, but Bez wins with his tale of supporting New Order at the Hacienda, accompanied by 200 microdots.
Is your favourite podcast in the list or are you furious about its omission? Take a look at more Best of 2022 lists here.