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The 15 best fiction podcasts

From side-splitting comedies to spine-tingling horrors, these engrossing fiction podcasts represent the best in escapism

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski

What’s the difference between a ‘fiction podcast’ and a ‘radio play’? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter, and if you want to call these gripping yarns radio plays, then you do you. However, as a rule, these selections are united by scope and length that’s closer to a TV show than a play, with many of these picks lengthy and with multiple series, and several of the more successful ones already well on their way to being adapted for the small screen. For whatever reason, podcast dramas lend themselves to science fiction and horror-based shows, but this lovingly-curated list contains everything from gripping conspiracy thrillers to sitcoms as funny as anything you’ll catch on the box.

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Best fiction podcasts, ranked

Julian Simpson’s brilliant trilogy of HP Lovecraft adaptations for the BBC are audacious, terrifying and occasionally hilarious. Transposed to the present day, each of the three series takes one of the author’s early twentieth yarns of comic horror – ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’, ‘The Whisperer in Darkness’ and ‘The Shadow Innsmouth’ – and makes them the subject of The Mystery Machine, a sly parody of a true-crime podcast, daringly spliced together with Simpson’s own Pleasant Green meta-universe.

This short but very classy 2016 audio drama in some ways represents the high watermark (thus far) of big-budget fiction podcasts. A big-name cast including David Schwimmer, Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac keep us gripped through the story of Heidi, a caseworker at an experimental facility for the rehabilitation of combat veterans, who we also meet five years later when she has, bafflingly (at first) become a small-town waitress. It was remade into an even starrier TV show headed up by Julia Roberts, but the podcast remains the definitive take on the story.


Released a few years ahead of Netflix’s lavish television version, this three-series audio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s hugely acclaimed comic book series is no poor cousin. Translating a wild series of elaborately visual graphic novels to radio play format may seem a bit nuts, but Gaiman smartly divides his sprawling tale of anthropomorphised immortals into three seasons that trace distinctive arcs from the comics, with Gaiman himself on hand to serve as narrator and fill in the visual blanks with the aid of an exceptional voice cast including James as Morpheus/Dream.

‘Fiction’ almost feels like too simple a word to describe this bimonthly cult classic podcast by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor. ‘Welcome To Night Vale’ takes the form of an extremely deadpan community radio broadcast detailing the extremely strange goings on in the titular fictional US town, in which mundane daily life and screaming terrors from beyond human comprehension live together in surreal, imperfect harmony. A droll masterpiece, as much a state of mind as a story.


This classy limited series is a post-apocalyptic mystery thriller with a gripping premise: it follows a night watchman who discovers that everyone who went to sleep the previous night has died, leaving the Earth populated by a dazed rump of night owl survivors who must stay awake as they attempt to get to the bottom of this catastrophe. Popular YouTuber Markiplier produces this enthralling, creepy, ultimately deeply psychedelic drama, which has been renewed for a second season due in the second half of 2022.

Part conspiracy thriller, part contemplation of the nature of grief, this classy two-season drama stars Kelly Marie Tran (of ‘Star Wars’ fame) as Kaitlin Le, a college student whose brother was one of the 256 passengers who mysteriously disappeared along with Atlantic flight 702 from London to New York. Inventively written and brilliant at keeping us guessing whether Kaitlin’s devastation at the loss of her brother is making her seek out a conspiracy that doesn’t exist, Tran is joined by a superlative cast that includes Ben Daniels and Patti LuPone. 


This top-notch sci-fi anthology series boasts big-name guest voice cast members and a gripping sense of trajectory across its seasons. While series one was essentially a classy anthology of classic sci-fi stories from the likes of Philip K Dick and Ray Bradbury, series two - aka ‘Flight 008’ - saw an array of modern authors all tackling the same premise of a passenger jet that travels through a wrinkle in time, while series three, ‘Chrysalis’, is a gripping 14-part serial starring Corey Hawkins and Toni Collette about an artificial intelligence programme that schemes to take revenge on the alien civilisation that wiped out humanity. 

Popular podcast fiction is dominated by sci-fi and horror… and then there’s ’Wooden Overcoats’, a beautifully realised British sitcom about rival undertakers on a fictional Channel Island. Charting the clash between the grimly prosaic undertaker Rudyard Funn and flashy newcomer Eric Chapman, it’s just a very, very funny show, both for its central premise and its delightful evocation of life on an eccentric little island.


This gripping, somewhat ‘X-Files’-indebted faux true crime podcast follows American Public Radio journalist Lia Haddock as she investigates the inexplicable case of the titular self-contained scientific research facility, whose residents all seemingly vanished into thin air one day save for the cremated remains of one of the researchers. Season one traces her investigation as she gets increasingly in over her head; season two, released three years later, cleverly flips the script and changes the focus to a completely new character, Charley Lattimore, leaving you desperate for answers to the first series’ mystery.

This pitch black British comedy centres on a secret agency that specialises in helping its well-off clients to fake their own deaths and start again in new lives. It’s a brilliantly absurdist show that has an absolute hoot with its own premise, each episode following the case of a new strange, usually upper class eccentric who wishes to rip it up and starts again, usually for deeply weird reasons. It also smartly finds ways to keep the premise fresh, with season three heralding an abrupt and clever change of tack. 


To be frank, there are almost as many horror anthology podcasts as there are true crime ones. But the hugely popular ‘Magnus Archives’ is a genuinely terrific place to start. It’s written by Jonathan Sims, who also stars as a man named… Jonathan Sims, who begins season one as the newly-appointed director of the Magnus Institute, a London-based paranormal research institution. The show starts off as a pretty straight down the line horror anthology as (the fictional version of) Sims attempts to digitise the institute’s archival interviews. But let’s just say events overtake him…

These two gritty adventure serials about everybody’s favourite indestructible mutant grouch constitute Marvel’s first radio dramas since the ‘70s. And they’re pretty damn good: launching the Marvel Podcast Universe (ie; a different continuity to the ‘X-Men’ films or the MCU), they star Richard Armitage as beclawed wonder Wolverine. Season one ‘The Long Night’ sees him caught up in an unusual murder case in small-town Alaska; in season two ‘The Lost Trail’ he’s investigating a disappearance in New Orleans. Written by Benjamin Percy, both seasons combine superhero flourishes with the sort of true crime-ish grit and smaller scale that suits the myth of the Wolverine.


Another quirky space-set podcast in which all is emphatically not as it appears, Sarah Rhea Werner’s serial follows X, a young, cheese-obsessed scientist on a decrepit spaceship - she is indeed a girl in space - and the adventures that befall her as she drifts across the cosmos. The show starts off small - just Xon her ship - and expands into a full-on head-spinning space opera. Series one wound up in 2019, but we’re promised that a series two is on its way.

Another post-apocalyptic thriller with a big name cast, ‘Blackout’ stars Academy Award-winner Rami Malek as small town radio DJ Simon Itani who struggles to keep his family and community together after the power grid is destroyed and humanity must carry on into a post-electric future. The first season sees Simon struggling to cope with the drastic change in human lifestyle; the second sees him come closer to the origin of the blackout; a third is heavily rumoured to be coming, though not currently confirmed.


Writer/director Gabriel Urbina’s excellent sci-fi podcast wrapped up back in 2017, but it leaves some 60 high-class episodes. Actually, from solid beginnings, it really hits its stride a season or so in, as ‘Wolf 359’ transitions from a comedy about the dysfunctional crew of a tinpot space station that was told via their ship’s logs, to a more assured dialogue-based thriller with comedy elements. It’s gripping, often very weird stuff that really kicks into gear when the bickering crew begin to unearth the truth about their mission.


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