The 10 Best Podcasts We Listened To This Year

Check out some of the thought-provoking, laugh-inducing shows we enjoyed in 2023.
Maddie Abuyuan / HuffPost; Courtesy iHeart Radio; Andrea Renault / AFP via Getty Images; Courtnesy Apple TV+

Our annual list of the best podcasts comes at an interesting time for the industry. Earlier this month, Spotify — the audio streaming service that invested hundreds of millions of dollars in podcasting in 2019 — shocked fans by announcing that it would not be renewing “Heavyweight” and “Stolen,” two popular shows, amid larger layoffs at the company. So with that in mind, it feels almost bittersweet to acknowledge some of the podcasts that made us think, learn and laugh this year while worrying about a precarious media and economic environment that might mean less of this great work gets done in the future.

Despite fluctuations on the business side, podcasters this year continued to chase down stories and invite audiences in to fascinating interviews, life-affirming revelations and thought-provoking narratives. There were a ton of new shows — including two right here at HuffPost, “Am I Doing It Wrong?” and “I Know That’s Right.” As always, we have a finite number of ears and limited time each day, so there are many worthy shows that don’t appear on this list.

One thing I love about podcasts is the granular specificity that the medium invites — a host can dig into a topic that hasn’t been fully covered elsewhere and make it accessible for anyone with an internet connection and (ideally) a pair of headphones. Some of the standout shows in my listening rotation this time around were the product of an exhaustive focus. At a moment when the fire hose of information can feel relentless, it’s nice to stop the scroll, turn off the notifications for a bit and simply listen in. Here are some shows that helped us do that in 2023. — Jillian Capewell

‘The Retrievals’

I get why a real-life story about excruciating pain isn’t an easy sell for people who like their podcast listening to be pure escape. But I’d still encourage even the queasy and tentative to give “The Retrievals” a try. This show follows several patients of a Yale University fertility clinic in Connecticut who unknowingly went without painkillers during their egg retrieval procedures. Clinic staff members repeatedly wrote off their reports of pain and distress, only to discover later that a nurse at the facility had been stealing fentanyl meant for patients, giving them saline instead. Riveting and enraging, it’s a sobering reminder of how women’s pain has been too often dismissed in the medical system. — Capewell

‘Strike Force Five’

During the Hollywood writers strike, a group of late night hosts — Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers and John Oliver — launched a podcast to raise money for their out-of-work staffers. I was initially skeptical, wondering if male egos not used to sharing the stage would trample over each other to land the best joke, but it proved to be the opposite. These men expressed genuine interest in their cohorts’ lives and careers, and the podcast’s freewheeling, no-frills format allowed for a spontaneity that I found much funnier than their rehearsed bits onstage. If you can only listen to one episode, choose the fifth — “Strike Force Wives!” — which saw Fallon organize a “Newlywed Game” style Q&A with the men’s spouses. He bungled it so badly that the hosts mocked him mercilessly — when they weren’t speechless with laughter. “Strike Force Five” was equal parts hilarious and fascinating, especially when the hosts compared notes and anecdotes about their shows and guests. Even their ads were entertaining, and Ryan Reynolds’ Mint Mobile spots provided a perfect plot twist for its bittersweet final episode. Fingers crossed that the writers never need to strike again — but I do hope that we’ll have a “Force Five” reunion someday. — Dru Moorhouse

‘Wiser Than Me’

Wiser Than Me,” hosted by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, feels like a warm, hilarious chat with your grandmother or mentor. It’s an interview podcast that dives into the careers, ambitions, life lessons and wisdom of older women with remarkable stories. Louis-Dreyfus is a funny and thoughtful host, and her conversations with icons like Jane Fonda, Fran Lebowitz, Gina McCarthy and Amy Tan offer a joyful look into their complex lives and inner worlds. I particularly loved the Fonda episode, where she explained how she reviews each “era” of her life (and her many famous husbands). — Lizzie Grams

‘Project Unabom’

I was a kid when Ted Kaczynski was arrested after mailing off a slew of homemade bombs across the country, killing three people and injuring many others from the 1970s up until his capture in the mid-1990s. So I feel I’ve always been aware of the vague generalities of the Unabomber, a specter in a hoodie and aviator sunglasses. But I never knew how the decades-old case finally came to a close — nor that Kaczynski’s brother was a crucial part of it. “Project Unabom” is a thorough, captivating look at the saga that takes listeners through the tense chase for the mysterious bomb mailer and the questions that have lingered long after his identity was revealed. — Capewell

‘The Scottie & Sylvia Show’

When Netflix canceled the hit podcast “Okay, Now Listen” last year, fans of media personality Scottie Beam and journalist Sylvia Obell let out a collective boo. So what a joy it was to see the duo team up with Issa Rae and Raedio, her audio production company, to create “The Scottie & Sylvia Show,” which launched in July. The podcast is a balm for Black women as the hosts talk about relationships, careers, pop culture and all the big conversation starters on the internet. But perhaps the best part of the pod is witnessing Beam and Obell’s friendship blossom — and seeing them pour good vibes into each other and share laughs with us serves as the perfect medicine when the rest of the world just seems like too damn much. — Erin E. Evans


Safeword” is hosted by sex therapists Casey Tanner and Kamil Lewis. Their chats stand out in a sea of therapists giving advice because of the pair’s funny candor and how they affirm queerness in all its complexities. As they mention at the top of each episode, “This isn’t sex and it’s not therapy, but we are sex therapists and what you hear today may excite you.” From threesomes to sexual fantasies, Lewis and Tanner’s willingness to talk about their own relationships and queer identities makes each topic they cover an entertaining, informative listen. The episode “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” is what I send to everyone considering a breakup or dealing with the aftermath, while I highly recommend “Your Bisexual Era” to anyone dealing with the pressure to present a cohesive narrative about their sexuality. — Monica Torres

‘Maintenance Phase’

If you’ve ever felt the skinny on diet culture is that it’s a big fat lie, we’ve got a podcast for you. “Maintenance Phase” — hosted by journalist and former HuffPost staffer Michael Hobbes and fat activist and author Aubrey Gordon — serves up a healthy heaping of skepticism and humour, while taking deep dives into wellness fads and culturally accepted ideas about weight loss and health. Topics can range from the current Ozempic craze to who decided that we need to take a minimum of 10,000 steps a day. But some episodes skew sillier, with reviews of celebrity diet books (Elizabeth Taylor’s was covered this year, but Angela Lansbury’s is quite the memorable episode) or right-wingers’ hatred for liberal “soy boys.” Regardless of which episode you choose to listen to, “Maintenance Phase” will challenge your preconceived notions about health and, at the very least, make you laugh out loud. — Elyse Wanshel


It seems like nostalgic icons of girlhood are in right now. Obviously, we had the summer of “Barbie,” and American Girl dolls have become memes as well as stars of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch. “Wilder,” then, fits right into this theme, focusing on the life and works of Laura Ingalls Wilder — who you might know as the author of the “Little House on the Prairie” children’s book series. Host Glynnis MacNicol looks at the cultural legacy of these books, the role they played in her life and the enduring love that fans have for them — all while not shying away from discussing the works’ problematic, racist depictions of Native Americans and other controversies. (Like, who knew Wilder’s daughter was a staunch libertarian?!) If you love deep dives and smart commentary, check this one out. — Capewell

‘Field Trip’

As an aspiring outdoors girlie, I really enjoyed this brief series from The Washington Post about America’s national parks. Lillian Cunningham, who has also hosted the great “Presidential” podcast, takes listeners on a journey to five iconic and varied landscapes. But don’t expect a surface-level, travel guide-esque narrative. Cunningham talks to those inside the parks, as well as those who have been excluded from them — namely, the Native communities who lived on the land long before these geographic wonders were cordoned off by the government — and paints a fascinating portrait of their history and future. It’ll be hard not to want to lace up your hiking boots while you listen. — Capewell

‘Sold A Story’

Technically, this show came out at the end of 2022, but I’m including it on this list since I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until this year. “Sold a Story” is a fascinating look at the way children learn to read in America, how this has shifted over the past two decades, and how good intentions ended up creating a lot of headaches for elementary educators and their students. It examines the history of teaching kids to read, the philosophy behind various curricula and the larger forces at play. You might be skeptical about the bingeability of an education podcast, but even as someone without kids, it kept me hooked. — Capewell


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