The Best Podcasts of 2022, According to the Podcast Industry

“Brilliant.” “I honestly can’t believe I’m including this.” “The most exciting podcast I’ve heard in years.” “I’m kind of annoyed at how much this one captivated me.” “This should be on everybody’s list.” Those are just some of the sentiments that came in when we surveyed more than 220 people in the podcast world about the year’s best podcasts.

Welcome to the second annual Vulture Podcast Survey. The idea is to get a sense of what the podcast world is listening to — and more important, which shows fellow podcasters believe had an outstanding year. Our first stab at the project anointed Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes’s Maintenance Phase as the standout. We had so much fun putting it together in 2021 that we’ve decided to run it again.

Let’s talk methodology. We reached out to several hundred people in the podcast community — producers, hosts, independent creators, executives, agents, sound designers, production coordinators, lawyers, and so on — and polled them on what they felt were the three best podcasts of the year. Votes would be anonymous, and they were given two limitations: They can’t pick a show that they’re affiliated with, and their selections (whether new or existing shows) had to be active this calendar year. People were given the opportunity to provide explanations for their votes, but that wasn’t mandatory. Many respondents gave them anyway, some of which we printed in the results below. (Everyone quoted gave us permission to do so. Some are named, while others are left anonymous.)

Our outreach yielded 227 responses (up from around 150 last year). Submissions came from various corners of the podcasting ecosystem — from independent creators to indie publishers, large studios, media organizations, tech platforms, and, yes, even Vox Media. A few things to note. First, a few respondents qualified their picks along the lines of “Well, my personal top three are A, B, and C, but professionally, I’d say my top three are X, Y, and Z.” In those instances, we prioritized the respondent’s personal picks over what they thought they should be highlighting. Second, quite a few respondents provided deep lists of honorable mentions in addition to their top-three picks. Those were disregarded. Finally, not unlike last year, about 20 people declined to participate with a reason somewhere along the lines of “I didn’t listen to any podcasts this year. I was too busy working on my own stuff,” which happens!

Finally, let’s talk results. It might be interesting to note that the number of podcasts receiving more than one vote was 77 — up from 60 last year. (Overall, 291 individual shows received at least one vote.) We tallied up the counts, and in this list, we present the 15 shows with the most votes in ascending order. For cases in which a few shows brought in the same number of votes, we ordered them alphabetically. This year, there were three shows from last year’s list with vote counts getting them into these 15 slots. We kept one and took out the other two. (Explanations are given in an addendum at the bottom.) We also decided to include a few more picks with much smaller vote tallies that came with fun comments so that we could spread the love around.

This year’s list doesn’t cut all that broadly, and there weren’t many major surprises. You’ve got some predictable names: Serial Productions, Pineapple Street, and Michael Hobbes, who should pretty much be considered a household name in this business. There was a decent mix of narrative and conversational podcasts along with one standout that blurred the line between the two. Two entries are headlined by cable-news anchors, suggesting an intriguing lane for that particular talent class, though I tend to think those anchors are unique in their ability to truly cross over. Spotify came in with just one entry, and it’s a good one. Few fiction podcasts showed up in the final tally, though many respondents projected 2023 would be the year the genre finally pops. Maybe they’ll actually vote for them in the next survey. Independents, once again, had a very strong showing, making it clear that there’s still plenty of room for independents to build a strong place for themselves in the face of rapid consolidation.

And then, of course, there was the year’s winner — a show that seemed to be on the lips of everyone in the industry. Without further ado, here’s the full list.

This is Rachel Maddow’s first big audio project since shifting into a more relaxed (and lucrative) arrangement with MSNBC. It saw the cable-news anchor doing the Slow Burn thing with a mostly overlooked World War II–era episode involving an ascendant far-right movement and a fascist conspiracy literally run out of Congress.

If scholarly history podcasts like this are what we should be expecting from Maddow in the years ahead, then that’s perfectly fine with voters. “Like her or not, Maddow has a charismatic voice that pulls through a ton of information, makes it crystal clear, leaves you with questions and hungering for more,” said Latif Nasser, co-host of WNYC’s Radiolab. “I’m not from this country, but I know a fair bit about twentieth-century American history (probably a bit more than the average American), but I didn’t know any of this. The echoes to today felt EEEEEERRRRIIIEEEE.”

Photo: The Ringer

Between the return of Bob Iger and the ongoing Zazlavification of Warner Bros. Discovery, the entertainment business has never been more chaotic. And for industry nerds in particular, Matt Belloni’s Hollywood-insider pod is often a front-row seat to the wildest show in town.

Voters agree. The Town turned out to be a favorite among those who fashion themselves as media executives … and those whose intellectual pursuits involve the ever-weirdening world of celebrity and entertainment. “This is the know-it-all, seen-it-all, most Hollywood-insider podcast out there, and I absolutely can’t get enough,” said one renowned indie podcaster. “Listening to The Town is what I imagine it’s like to live in Los Angeles and overhear people chatting in line at a Starbucks. I don’t want to actually be there, but I want to eavesdrop and hear everything they’re saying.”

Photo: Vox Media, Inc.

Oh, would you look at that? Vulture’s very own weekly pop culture podcast, hosted by former It’s Been a Minute host Sam Sanders, came in at the thirteenth spot. We think it’s great, but listen, don’t take our word for it.

“It feels like a pop-culture podcast that isn’t afraid to dive past the surface level,” said Caroline Patton, director of growth marketing at City Cast. “Most of the time, things like pop music, reality TV, or the drama around an upcoming movie’s press run aren’t looked at as intellectual topics, but somehow, Into It is able to bridge that gap and bring together a more all-encompassing conversation.”

[I should note: No votes for Into It came from anybody related to Vox Media or New York Magazine.]

Photo: CNN

Anderson Cooper’s ode to grief is something of an unexpected release from CNN Audio given the cable-news operation’s recent mandate of shifting back to a “hard news” sensibility under new boss Chris Licht. But Cooper’s interview podcast has made a strong impact since its launch in September with the heavy-on-feelings corner of the podcast community coming out to vote for the star CNN anchor’s deeply personal project.

“A tearjerker,” said Maggie Taylor of Pushkin Industries. “I was fascinated to learn more about Cooper’s family history and felt totally transported to Gloria Vanderbilt’s fancy NYC apartment and lifestyle, which was reminiscent of The Just Enough Family.”

“Don’t love the sometimes treacly scoring but found myself savoring this one,” said Julie Shapiro, executive creative director of Novel. “Every conversation in this series feels raw and vulnerable and certainly speaks to a range of feelings that likely anyone listening can relate to.”

Photo: Pineapple Street Media/Amazon Music

There wasn’t a shortage of podcasts on the January 6 insurrection and its attendant hearings this year, but this co-production between Pineapple Street, Wondery, and Amazon Music stood out. Voters admired its delicate balance between not moralizing and not morally equivocating along with its ability to dig deep into the terms of the individuals being documented.

“What makes it truly remarkable is the access hosts Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz had to a family ripped apart by its patriarch’s participation in the January 6 Capitol attacks,” said Alyssa Bereznak, host of The Ringer’s This Blew Up. “Hearing the pain and denial in each family member’s voice as they try to process the situation in relation to one another is deeply relatable for anyone who has lost a family member in a current of disinformation.”

Photo: Serial

Brian Reed and newcomer Hamza Syed’s twisty-turny political thriller ranked near the top of our Best Podcasts list, but in this survey, it wasn’t the highest-placing Serial Productions release from the year. (See No. 4.)

One notable trend in the responses: a seemingly begrudging quality to many of the explanations accompanying The Trojan Horse Affair votes. “I’m kind of annoyed at how much this one captivated me,” said an editor at NPR. “Like, I get it. You rifle through old papers and find something overlooked and there’s a twist, blah blah. But man, the Serial team can really tell a story. There were some journalistic choices that I found a bit questionable, but even when it made me uncomfortable, it still got me thinking and was a reliable conversation starter for a month or so.”

Photo: Crooked Media

Crooked Media’s Mother Country Radicals scored high marks for the obvious reasons: host Zayd Ayers Dohrn’s personal relationship to the Weather Underground given that his parents (Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers) are former leaders of the group, the resonant nature of the topic, and the production’s overall polish. “This is narrative docuseries at its best,” said one agent, repping the general vibe of the responses.

But another recurring theme among responses was an acknowledgment of the project’s sheer level of difficulty. “This show shouldn’t have worked,” one senior producer at a large entertainment company said. “Too many characters, the story is too complicated, the narrator is too close to it. Yet they managed to use all of it to their advantage. Dohrn is the only person who could have told this particular story in this way, and he does such a great job.”

Photo: If Books Could Kill

Maintenance Phase, Michael Hobbes’s first project since leaving You’re Wrong About, topped this survey last year with voters responding very well to the sharp grilling of the health and wellness world. The support for Hobbes now extends to his latest project, If Books Could Kill, which sees him pairing up with 5-4’s Peter Shamshiri to take on the popular nonfiction books that dispersed widespread cultural ideas that may or may not have ruined our minds.

“It’s kind of punk, which I like,” said Pat Kelly, co-founder of the studio Kelly&Kelly. “Podcasting could use a little more edge, and as this show goes on, I hope they focus even more on how impatient they are with things that suck.”

Is Hobbes the most influential independent podcaster working today? Quite possibly. In the words of Avery Trufelman, who hosts Articles of Interest, “It’s Hobbes’s world. We just live in it.”

Photo: Rococo Punch and Room Tone

Few podcasts this year sounded quite like the drifting, ethereal Welcome to Provincetown, and for many, that represented a triumph. Voters were particularly taken with the capacity of host Mitra Kaboli, producer Emily Forman, and their team to identify the right set of characters to serve as guides into the titular Massachusetts queer haven.

“Mitra does something that’s so hard to do with a serialized doc podcast — find compelling people to anchor the story,” said James Kim, who made Moonface and Vermont Ave. “I am invested in Sonny and his dumb-slut summer. I am enamored with Vanessa Magixx’s journey to stardom. I am hooked on Mitra’s point of view on the people who make Provincetown … This show makes me excited about where podcasting is heading.”

Based on the official categories of Apple Podcasts.

Photo: Lava Productions, LLC

Gilbert King and Kelsey Decker’s Florida project, which investigated the wrongful conviction of a man named Leo Schofield dating back decades, was our pick for the Best True-Crime Podcast of the Year. It topped the list for many audio producers as well.

“I haven’t been gripped by a podcast this way in a long time,” said Jess O’Callaghan, a producer at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “Even though you know from the opening scenes that Leo is innocent, you were still pulled through by strong questions. The writing in the final episode is some of the best I’ve heard in any podcast.”

One noteworthy thing about the strong response to Bone Valley is how it seems to emerge against a broader feeling of exhaustion with the true-crime genre. Several votes for Bone Valley were couched with the caveat “I’m not a true crime person, but …” In some ways, this is perhaps the greatest compliment of all.

Photo: Headgum

As one would expect, Tom Hanks delivers. The guy’s appearance on Dead Eyes was the apotheosis of the series with creator and host Connor Ratliff finally getting an answer to the lifelong mystery driving the entire conceit of this soulful shaggy dog of a podcast.

“I mean, he got Tom Hanks to come on his show about Tom Hanks not casting him in Band of Brothers,” said Jeffrey Cranor, co-creator of Welcome to Night Vale and Unlicensed. “The premise of this show was great, though it seemed like it should run out of steam after a couple of episodes. Yet somehow it didn’t. This podcast turned into a funny, smart exploration of insecurity, of that universal feeling of Am I good enough?”

Photo: Serial

The second Serial Productions release of 2022, following The Trojan Horse Affair, was a comparatively quiet project that told the story of one family torn apart by COVID and conspiracies. There appears to be a general wariness around longform pandemic-narrative projects these days, but that didn’t stop We Were Three from leaving a strong impression.

Specific praise was directed at the show’s language. “Nancy Updike is such a beautiful writer,” said Eric Mennel, a senior producer at Pineapple Street. “This show feels new in what it allows her to do as a reporter, but it’s just fundamentally the thing she’s been good at for, like, 20 years — telling a good, human story on the radio.”

Interesting enough, a decent portion of the votes for We Were Three — some, not all — seem to have come at the expense of The Trojan Horse Affair with respondents often prefacing their pick with some version of “I’m sure most people are voting for The Trojan Horse Affair, so let me pick this one instead …” A curious phenomenon!

Photo: Perisphere Productions

As a philosopher once said, make it fashion!

Avery Trufelman’s return to Articles of Interest in the fall was ecstatically received with respondents taken by the rigor of her dive into the history of the Ivy League aesthetic, which, of course, is more complicated and surprising than one might think. “It’s one of the few instances when fashion commentary has been placed appropriately in the world of cultural and historical observation, thereby elevating it,” said Susan Orlean, journalist, writer, and Book Exploder host.

The season even sent some Blackbird Spyplane–subscribing voters into reveries. “Listen, I’m the type of dork who has serious opinions about OCBD collar rolls, the J.Crew men’s revamp, and spent a few months subscribed to r/NavyBlazer,” said one public-radio reporter. “But even if you aren’t, you have to appreciate the deep and thorough look the Articles of Interest team did with Ivy this year. It’s an aesthetic that can easily be dismissed as just rich blue bloods doing their thing — and there is some of that — but the show lays out how the look has crossed lines set by gender, race, geography, and class to become something that’s rare in the world these days: timeless.”

Photo: LRM Works

The podcast world has anointed its consummate insider. Laura Mayer’s wry, funny, and distinctly meta chronicle of her time in the podcast boom as a journeyman executive ran up a strong tally in the survey. Scores of respondents emphasized the overwhelming sense of catharsis they felt listening to the show, which spoke to their experience as people working in the biz during a stark period of corporate consolidation.

“This made me feel seen,” said the co-founder of one podcast studio. “Love Laura and her hustle. God, does she nail it with this one.”

“It wafts away the smoke and kicks aside the mirrors of the podcast boom to talk about the realities of making a living making podcasts in 2022,” said Martin Austwick, an independent producer. “It’s gonzo and funny as hell — like if Hunter S. Thompson made trade mags. I think it’ll be seen as an important record in the years to come.”

All are eager to see what becomes of Shameless Acquisition Target and what Mayer does next.

Photo: Defector Media LLC

Normal Gossip didn’t just run away with the votes in this year’s survey. It got on a rocket, blasted off into space, and never looked back. The final count wasn’t even close — such is the universal acclaim for this Defector Media podcast.

Recognition for host Kelsey McKinney and producer Alex Sujong Laughlin’s bottling of mundane gossip’s elemental pleasures cut across a wide range of communities, drawing out reams of enthusiastic comment in the written responses. A sampling: “A perfect little escape.” “An absolute voyeuristic joy.” “I love this show, because I am a self-identified chismosa and I LIVE for the mundane.” “This felt like the first show in a few years that got other podcast creators excited for podcasts.” “The pocket-watch episode?? Incredible.” “I fully expect a Normal Gossip Cinematic Universe™ in 2023.” “Not so secretly the invite everyone in audio wants to get.”

Voters directed specific commendation toward the team’s emphasis on publicly modeling equitable production standards. Said one producer, “I love the transparency in explaining the labor that goes into the show and why they need to take breaks between seasons!”

Making all this more interesting is the fact that Normal Gossip, for all intents and purposes, is an independently owned podcast, marking the second year in a row that an indie production has come out on top in this survey. In fact, it’s worth noting that the top three slots in this list are indie shows, making it clear that there remains plenty of room for independents to build a strong place for themselves in the face of rapid consolidation.

There were three listed shows from last year that garnered enough votes to make repeat appearances on this year’s list: Heavyweight, Maintenance Phase, and Dead Eyes. We decided to preserve Dead Eyes in this year’s rankings due to its very special Tom Hanks episode, which felt like a particularly singular moment for the show that came out this year. But we opted to take Heavyweight and Maintenance Phase out of the list, because arguments for those picks tended to revolve around their general level of excellence and we wanted to open up more space for new shows.

Photo: Maintenance Phase

Still, it’s worth briefly recognizing Maintenance Phase and Heavyweight. (They would have placed at No. 15 and No. 8, respectively.) We’ve already talked a bit about the former in the entry for If Books Could Kill, and you can always check out the top spot in last year’s survey for more discussion on the show.

Photo: Spotify

As for Heavyweight, the thing that stood out was a distinct feeling that the show is not getting its appropriate due. Here’s one representative comment: “In my opinion people are still sleeping on Jonathan Goldstein. Not really podcast people, but the mainstream podcast audience. Reply All was great (until it, uh, wasn’t), but Heavyweight has always been consistently the best Gimlet show. It is extremely moving in a way that podcasts rarely are. It doesn’t help that it went Spotify exclusive this year, but I still hope that more people come across Heavyweight.”

Which reminds me: In written responses, grumbles about Spotify continue to persist. As one particularly terse respondent wrote, “I would just like to see Spotify go away.”

There were a few shows with smaller vote tallies that respondents made enthusiastic arguments for, so we thought it would be fun to run a few of those highlights here.

Photo: Third Person

Although this indie fiction podcast has been around for a few years, it popped up as a consistent entry among producers who either work in the genre or pay close attention to it.

Midst was a new discovery for me and immediately caught my ear,” said Lauren Shippen, co-founder of Atypical Artists. “It takes the concept of an exclusively narrated podcast and spins it on its head through the use of three unique voices that speak directly in your ears over rich and full sound design. A lot of podcasts throw around words like immersive, but Midst actually delivers — you feel like you’re inside the world the narrators are building for you.”

Photo: Karina Longworth

The first half of Karina Longworth’s deep dive into the rise, decline, and lingering afterlife of sex and eroticism in Hollywood movies is some of the most fun that the Hollywood historian seems to be having behind the mic — and the film nerds of the podcast community are here for it.

“Karina continues to be a podcasting legend,” said Antonia Cereijido, executive producer and host at LAist Studios. “She manages to always tap into the Zeitgeist, and this series was no exception.”

“I think this is her best miniseries yet,” said Chris Berube, a producer on 99% Invisible. “Seeing America work through its weird hang-ups around sex in the movies is such a rich vein.”

Fans should take note: The second half of the series, Erotic 90s, is slated to come out sometime next year.

Photo: Mailchimp

Why the legendary Icelandic artist decided to make a self-directed podcast retrospective remains a mystery, but the project nevertheless turned a few heads for really working in ways many didn’t expect.

“I honestly can’t believe I’m including this, because a podcast in which a celebrity is interviewed by her friends about her own work sounds like the most intolerable b.s. in the world,” said Rebecca Lavoie, host of Crime Writers On …. “But I love the way this show was put together, and there’s no denying that Björk is a unique and compelling artist we’ve probably been typecasting ever since she put on that swan dress. I’m including it here, because I love hearing something I’ve never heard before and this fits that bill completely.”