According to Everyone Else, These are the Best Podcasts of 2023…

Dec 18th

What are the best podcasts of 2023? It’s a question a lot of publications and podcast apps are trying to answer at the moment. We’ve asked our freelance writer, Francesca Turauskis, to try to make sense of the listicles for you…

Deciding what the best podcasts of the year are is so difficult! Or to be more accurate, this is difficult to do objectively. I could easily write about my personal favourite podcasts this year (my only difficulty would be limiting them to double figures). But my personal favourites are just that – personal.

It’s for this reason I think we need to take any list that uses the word ‘best’ with a pinch of salt, because it’s fairly arrogant to believe one writer or team can figure that out. It is more accurate to say that these end of year lists are the favourite shows of the people adding to the search results.

Speaking for myself, after reading more than twenty ‘best-of’ lists, scrolling through multiple apps, checking newsletters and award winners… all the recommendations start blurring into one.

That’s when I noticed it: how many shows were appearing on multiple lists, in multiple apps and winning awards. I realised that with a bit (a lot) of work, I might be able to figure out what the actual best podcasts of 2023 are – or at least, what we are being told the best shows are…


I have created my list by cross-referencing the recommendations and nominations from four main sources of podcast curation:

  • Lists released by some of the most influential podcast apps: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music and Audible.
  • High-profile ‘Best-of’ lists from 2023 (so far). I read more than twenty lists claiming to have found the best podcasts this year, found from the top twenty Google results plus some podcast-specific newsletters and websites.
  • Winners and nominees in awards. I checked the ones featured in this article, as well as the new Independent Podcast Awards, the Irish Podcast Awards and the Pod Bible Polls.
  • The Earworms articles from PodPod website. I looked at these recommendations because I wanted to get an idea of what audio professionals like, even if they aren’t writing about podcasts.

I found 50 shows that were in at least two places, and then narrowed it down to the twelve podcasts that were featured in at least five places.

This methodology is not going to be fault-proof. Algorithms will give me search results that are ‘relevant’ to me, there are gaps in my knowledge (particularly regarding the USA) and I will have missed something. None-the-less, this has revealed some frontrunners that a collection of influential people consider the best podcasts to listen to.

The 12 best podcasts of 2023

12. Huberman Lab

The show where Andrew Huberman, Ph.D discusses neuroscience is consistently in the charts for UK podcasts, and was among the most-listened podcasts for Spotify, Apple, the Edison Top 25, and is a ‘most viewed pod’ on Great Pods. Whilst it didn’t make any of the curated 2023 lists I read, it was one of the most recommended shows by industry professionals in Earworms this year. – Listen here

11. Scamanda

Scamanda investigates the story of Amanda – a woman blogging about her cancer journey – and the crowdfunding that she received from followers and her real-life acquaintances, supposedly for treatment. This one made curated lists for Apple, Mashable, Esquire and Great Pods, and there was one recommendation for it in Earworms. Scamanda was featured in a lot of publications and apps when it first came out, and I think if it had come out later in the year, it probably would have made it into more places. – Listen here

10. If Books Could Kill

From Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri, this is a book podcast that analyses the type of ‘airport bestsellers’ that become a part of cultural and political conversation – for example Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Michael and Peter often highlight the problems in the premise of each book, bringing in fact-checking and examples of how the books have led to political policies and more. This made it onto four best-of lists, and Content Is Queen’s own Imriel Morgan was the one that recommended it in Earworms. (It is also one of my favourites!) – Listen here

9. Ghost Story

A show from Wondery that you may have heard advertised on other podcasts, this is an investigation about – surprisingly – a ghost. But the intrigue comes from the fact the investigation leads the host deep into his wife’s family history, and the murder of her great grandmother. Ghost Story also had five recommendations on lists – including from Fiona Sturges in The Financial Times. It launched in October, so has established itself as a favourite quite quickly. – Listen here

8. Filthy Ritual

A short-series that made an impression, Filthy Ritual comes from the makers of the hit show Redhanded. Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala are on the case of one of the most prolific con women in British history – Juliette D’Souza – whose scams at the turn of the 21st century made her one of the richest people in Hampstead. This is another show that Fiona Sturges recommended, and it also made it onto three other lists and an Earworms recommendation. – Listen here

7. The News Agents

An award-winning daily news podcast, The News Agents features Emily Maitlis (previously a lead anchor at BBC News), Jon Sopel (once the presenter on the Politics Show) and Lewis Goodall (previously a political correspondent for Sky News). This show has a wide spread of recognition: it won British Podcast Awards, featured in one list, it was recommended in Earworms and also made it into the Edison Top 25. This is an example of a podcast taking talent from other media, and finding the audience for a different type of show. – Listen here

6. The Girlfriends

iHeart Podcasts and Novel created this true-crime set in the 90s. It follows Carole Fisher who, after breaking up with her boyfriend, bands together with some of his other ex-girlfriends to uncover the truth about his wife’s death. With such a hook, it’s easy to see why this captured people’s attention and this featured six times in my calculations. Apple Podcasts recommended it as a new show, and The Week and Podcast Rex were among the lists recommending it. – Listen here

5. The Rest Is Politics

The Rest Is Politics can perhaps claim to be the most widely successful podcast on this list getting six nods from different places – Amazon Music recommended it in a curated list, it featured in three 2023 round-ups, and was recommended in Earworms more than once, so the industry clearly likes it. But it is also popular with listeners, making it onto the Edison Top 25 and Amazon Music most listened-to podcasts (Apple doesn’t release a UK-only list, but it is often in the Top 10 within the app). Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart’s analysis of politics across the political divide has clearly hit on something people are craving. – Listen here

4. The Shamima Begum Story

Part of BBC’s I’m Not A Monster series, this show investigates the true story and true motivations of Shamima Begum, who famously left the U.K. when she was 15 years old to join ISIS – and consequently lost her citizenship. This won at the British Podcast Awards, and also featured in five lists, including Spotify. Imriel was one of the recommenders for this show – and I trust her opinion! As she said, “[Shamima’s] story and her treatment to date still haunts me and I credit that to the phenomenal storytelling of this podcast.” – Listen here

3. Heavyweight

We saw the audio industry’s love for Heavyweight when it was recently cancelled, but this is further confirmation that it is one of the best podcasts of the year. Another one that scored six by my calculations, but because Heavyweight has been more prominent because of its cancellation, I have put this as the best of the sixes. Heavyweight started as a Gimlet show seven years ago, and host Jonathan Goldstein helps people each episode to revisit situations in their past – often leading to reconciliations and closure. – Listen here

2. Where Are You Going?

A show with a beautifully simple concept, Where Are You Going? is hosted by Catherine Carr, who goes around the world, stops them in the street and asks “where are you going?”. This podcast gets a score of seven and featured in some very prominent lists including The Week, The Financial Times and Esquire (although it should be said that two of the recommendations were by one person who writes in several places.) It also picked up a British Podcast Award, and secured a place in the Pod Bible Polls after being featured in their magazine. – Listen here 

1.The Retrievals

Any show from Serial Productions and The New York Times is going to be popular amongst both listeners and critics, but The Retrievals is the best podcast of 2023 by a long way. The narrative series explored shocking events that took place at a fertility clinic at Yale, and unravelled aspects of medical bias and the opioid crisis. There were only five episodes, but something clearly resonated – it featured on Spotify, Apple and Audible’s best-of lists, as well as half of the recommendation lists. Overall I have found a massive twelve recommendations for this show (and now thirteen). As an American production, it didn’t feature in any of the awards I checked – according to IMDB, it hasn’t received any awards to date. – Listen here

What does this selection of podcasts tell us?

Representative shows still aren’t being recognised as widely

This list does not reflect the demographics and range of the creators and listeners in the UK and USA. It might pass The Bechdel Test with women producers creating women-centric shows, but there is a noticeable lack of any demographic besides white – even when the subject is a person of colour. I can say the long-list was much more representative, but diverse shows are not being recognised as widely.

UK shows are as good as American shows

This list is split down the middle for American productions and UK productions, and I can say that shows from both countries were recommended widely, regardless of where the recommenders were based.

Both narrative and conversation shows are recommended

The wide popularity of The Retrievals goes to show that the Serial style of storytelling is still very popular. We can see narrative and short-series productions throughout the list, but we also see conversation shows like The Rest Is Politics are appreciated.

(Some) independent shows are making the lists

Shows from big companies like Serial Productions, BBC and Wondery featured strongly, but smaller production companies like Goalhanger and Loftus Media are there too. If Books Could Kill is listener supported. The smaller productions do have a good starting point though – Michael Hobbes and Peter Shamshiri have an established following and 39,803 paid supporters on Patreon, and a version of Where Are You Going? used to be a BBC World Service production, but it is now independent.

We are being recommended shows that are similar

It’s not just me. We are being recommended the same shows in multiple places and this is probably because they are good! But can we honestly say that they are better than some shows not being recommended?

The takeaway

As I said at the start, my methodology is not going to be fault-proof, but I hope this list can be a starting point to assess the type of podcasts we are being told are the best. It seems there is work to do, and I wonder if it’s time we start questioning why we are getting certain shows appearing again and again. After all, a lot of the writers have individually made their lists more diverse, but collectively there is a bias in the shows we are being served.

Perhaps it’s because these types of lists often are curated by similar writers, or a staff of similar-minded individuals with unconscious biases. That might be why the indie creators and voices that we support and champion at Content Is Queen rarely make it into such lists – and when they do, it is as a particular writer’s favourite. I did love to see some shows that we’ve previously mentioned pop up a few times: Bitter/Sweet, Weirdo’s Book Club, Pod Save The UK, Witch, Closet Confessions, Your Mama’s Kitchen and Lights Out. But none of these were mentioned enough to reach the top twelve.

We need wider recognition of the wide range of podcasts there are. That is why Content is Queen will continue to elevate the work we want to see recognised – our micro-grants, community spotlights, and event curations exist to bring these to a wider audience.

And knowing some of the exciting things that 2024 will bring, I’m already looking forward to seeing next year’s lists…