Podcasts are hitting different in 2020. 

After coronavirus forced all of us into quarantine and the entertainment industry at large into indefinite hiatus, podcasting found new relevance. Offering entertainment, companionship, and basically the only new content that can be responsibly created while social distancing, in a lot of ways podcasts have been the salve we all needed throughout the pandemic.

But with so many new ones coming out on a daily basis — thanks in part to the bored celebs who see it as a way to stay relevant right now — it’s hard to know what’s worth a listen.

Well we’ve got you covered, with a range of the best podcasts to come out in 2020 so far this year, from true crime, social issues, comedy, and even fiction. If you’re a true crime obsessive, try checking out our other roundup of the best new true crime podcasts too. 

Some on this best podcasts list began before 2020 but recently launched new seasons, while others are entirely new competitors that only just entered the ring this year. Regardless, each is worth giving a shot and one could even become your new favorite podcast. (Note: Some of these best podcasts are still in the process of releasing episodes as of the publication of this article, and our opinions reflect only what’s been released so far.)

Floodlines

Topics: History, society, racism, politics, New Orleans

What it’s about: No matter how much you think you know about Hurricane Katrina, Floodlines reveals how America has only reached the surface of reckoning with this deep national wound. Through interviews with survivors and reporting that addresses the media misinformation and government incompetence around the catastrophe, host Vann R. Newkirk II shows how the real storm that devastated New Orleans was the same one that’s been brewing in America for centuries. 

Systemic racism is at the heart of understanding what happened, with issues that not only trace back to this country’s past but also its near-future. Floodlines was released prior the country-wide protests ignited by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But we’re seeing the same issues repeat once again, with many media reports focusing on pockets of looting rather than the unconscionable suffering of Black people, authorities victim-blaming them for their own oppression, and the total failure of the government to protect and care about the lives of its own people.

The Missionary

Topics: True crime, religion, racism, white saviors, white supremacy

What it’s about: You probably vaguely recall a news story last year about a white American missionary who allegedly disguised herself as a doctor while running a charity for Ugandan children. About a hundred kids in her charity’s care died. The Missionary is an essential deep dive into the story of Renee Bach, with interviews from other missionaries, Renee herself, volunteers who worked with her, local health officials, and most importantly the Ugandan families who lost the loved ones after entrusting them to her care. Is she a serial killer, some white lady with one of the worst cases of the white savior complex, or actually misunderstood? While the show avoids any certain conclusions, Bach isn’t the only one put under the microscope. Her story raises important questions about the white supremacist underpinnings of most missionary work, too.

Somebody

Topics: Police brutality, social injustice, true crime, grief

What it’s about: (From our Best Limited-Series Podcasts to Binge roundup) Somebody is a gut-wrenching reminder of the struggle for survival, answers, and basic personhood that Black Americans face. As yet another viral video of a Black man’s senseless killing — Ahmaud Arbery’s fatal shooting —  launches an overdue criminal investigation, Shapearl Wells’ story dives into the complicated, conflicting, and sickening realities of grieving a loved one killed by a nation’s broken systems. Her son, Courtney Wells, was found shot outside a Chicago police station, and the explanation for how it happened is inconsistent at best. As a mother tirelessly investigating her own son’s death, Wells also captures the exasperation of having to justify the worth of his life to the public — the double-edged sword of forcing people to care so you can get answers. This limited series is heart-wrenchingly personal yet culturally resonant. It’s a must-listen for all who don’t face the lived experience of this ever-present fear and threat.

Rabbit Hole

Topics: The internet, the alt-right, YouTube, technology, society

What it’s about: I know, I know. The Gray Lady hasn’t been seen as a publication that’s especially hip to internet culture. But with Rabbit Hole, host Kevin Roose, a New York Times reporter, paints an impressively comprehensive, complex, clear, and compelling portrait of how the internet fuels this era of political and cultural chaos. From the alt-right’s rise from the ashes of gamergate, to Pewdiepie finally going on record about his endless controversies, and even interviews with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki on the platform’s role in radicalizing viewers, Roose brings all the big guns you’d expect from the Times into the digital age.

Slow Burn Season 4: David Duke

https://www.iheart.com/podcast/351-slow-burn-a-podcast-about-28671199/

Topics: History, politics, society, white supremacy, racism

What it’s about: Podcast listeners will know Slow Burn is pretty much a guaranteed hit by now. The latest season of the podcast known for re-examining key moments from recent American politics is now turning to one of the most relevant topics of the current moment: white supremacy. Slate’s Josh Levin hosts this journey into understanding how former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke became normalized through his election into local Louisiana government. Maybe — just maybe — if we reckon with that recent past, we can learn something about how and why we allowed white supremacist sympathizers to run the White House.

Oh, Hello: the P’dcast

opics: Humor, comedy, interviews, Princess Diana’s death

What it’s about: Dear celebrities: Instead of “helping” through video montages showing solidarity from within your mansions, do what John Mulaney and Nick Kroll did instead. Cure your boredom by making a podcast that’s actually useful and brings some much-needed laughter into our lives. Oh, Hello forgoes any sponsorship to instead encourage listeners to donate to COVID-19 relief charities. If you’re unfamiliar, the comedy podcast is based on a running bit the two comedians brought to Broadway and then Netflix. In the podcast version, their elderly New Yorker alter egos Gil Faizon and George St. Geegland “investigate” Princess Di’s death by asking famous people who have nothing to do with the event to speak to it. Guests range from podcasting legends Ira Glass and Sarah Koening to Actual British Person John Oliver. 

It Was Simple: The Betty Broderick Murders

opics: True crime, famous murders, women’s history

What it’s about: While younger folks may be less familiar, to others the Betty Broderick murders became something of a punchline. Playing out like a Lifetime movie, it’s the perfect embodiment of the ex-wife scorned trope: a woman pushed to the edge who murders her ex-husband and new, younger wife in the bed she used to sleep in. But the Betty Broderick case is also about much more than that, with a new Los Angeles Times podcast digging into how she was in many ways a product of the rigid gender roles imposed on women at the time. 

The world told Betty that her life’s goal should revolve around becoming the perfect, obedient housewife. But in a society where that’s your only value, a divorce can lead to a dangerous loss of self-worth and identity. Don’t get us wrong: This podcast is not an all-out Broderick apologist. It also spends ample time giving the perspectives of the victims, and reckoning with the lives lost because of her abhorrent crime.

Phoebe Reads a Mystery

Topics: Murder mystery, books read aloud, narrative ASMR

What it’s about: We here at Mashable are unapologetic Phoebe Judge stans. If, like us, you fell in love with her ASMR-esque voice that inspires calm even while she’s describing violent crimes in her podcast Criminal, you’ll love this new one too. Throw Agatha Christie into the mix, and you’ve got one of the best new podcasts to fall asleep to or enjoy while otherwise relaxing. Phoebe Reads a Mystery is exactly what it sounds like, and so far she’s taking listeners through Christie’s The Murder on the Links through daily episodes that average about 20 minutes each.

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