In the last few years, our pop culture has largely become brighter, kinder and more focused on empathy. The curve towards the positive has been dubbed “hopepunk,” inspired by a viral Tumblr post, with media like Steven Universe, Undertale and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before all responding to a grimmer real world with a mission to mine joy.
One of the most prominent surges of hopepunk is in podcasting, both in fiction and nonfiction. Because podcasters usually don’t have to answer to a traditional network, there’s more room to try stories that have different types of stakes and protagonists. When you look past the politics and true-crime genres, the state of podcasting right now can be downright therapeutic, and completely free.
We’ve compiled a list of podcasts to start with to bring in the good vibes, practice radical empathy and help remind yourself that, sometimes, the world can be pretty okay. Make sure that you listen to the fiction in order starting from their first episodes, but the nonfictions can be listened to however you choose.
StarTripper!! is an ode to the classic space adventure, following in the footsteps of Futurama, Cowboy Bebop and Galaxy Quest. This audio fiction follows Feston Pyxis, a bureaucrat who sells all of his belongings to go on an intergalactic road trip with his ship’s information system, Proxy. StarTripper!! has space pirates, drag races, heists, weddings — and some of the most incredible sound design you’ll get in podcasting. It’s an immersive, wild ride that’s hilarious, exciting, making for the perfect escape.
Love and Luck
Written as a direct response against the “bury your gays” trope, Love and Luck is an audio-fiction podcast about two queer men who fall in love, start a cafe, and find out they’re magic. Told through a series of voicemails, the protagonists, Jason and Kane, immediately strike sparks. As their love grows, so does their ability to help those around them. Love & Luck is a story about resilience, community and found family. It’s sweet, but the podcast doesn’t shy away from the often harsh realities of living as a queer person, even while promising a happy ending.
Kind World is a bite-sized nonfiction podcast about real acts of kindness in the world. Each episode has an arc, one that starts out with someone in need of help, and then discusses the kindness afforded to them. Not only is each story moving, they also sound incredible: the editing is clean and sharp without sounding over-produced. In under 10 minutes an episode, Kind World is a nice way to get a quick dose of true-life loveliness when times get dire.
Wonderful! has a simple premise: a husband and a wife sit down each week to discuss two things they love. What comes from that, though, is something heartwarming and hilarious. Born from their previous The Bachelor recap podcast Rosebuddies (which is still on Wonderful!’s feed), Wonderful! is a way for hosts Griffin and Rachel McElroy to celebrate what’s good in life when The Bachelor became more and more of a bummer. The hosts talk about everything from root beer to wombats to Sufjan Stevens to Li-Young Lee to Animal Crossing. Even if you don’t already love the things being discussed, you’ll love the couple’s sweet, goofy dynamic. (Full disclosure: Griffin McElroy used to work for Polygon.)
Kaleidotrope is a romantic comedy audio fiction about Harrison and Drew, the two hosts of a college radio show at a fantastical university. This podcast is true to its name, delighting in the tropes of its rom-com forerunners and using them to steer the plot. Harrison and Drew — two opposites, and near enemies when the show starts — help people across campus sort out their love lives while, of course, accidentally sorting theirs out along the way.
The Far Meridian
The Far Meridian is a magical realism audio fiction about an agoraphobic woman trying to find her brother. When the protagonist Peri finds that her home, a lighthouse, changes location each day, she has to make strides to get out into the world even though it terrifies her. The Far Meridian is strange and very tender, giving the audience an introverted, quiet protagonist who is still courageous and strong, even if not in the most traditional ways.
Everything Is Alive
Everything Is Alive is a series of improvised interviews with inanimate objects. It’s a strange concept at first, but you’ll be shocked at how a can of cola can make you feel about the soul versus the body, or how a grain of sand can make you feel about taking moments of silence. It’s a show that surprises you with its beauty — and its humor — and makes you remember the importance of the mundane.
HORSE is a show about every aspect of basketball except the points. In HORSE, hosts Eric Silver and Mike Schubert talk about the wild culture of the NBA, all while being deeply humanistic. HORSE has gamified kindness: if the hosts dunk on a young player, they have to tell an embarrassing story from their college years. You don’t need to know anything about basketball to listen; HORSE is as much about two people making something they love hilarious and accessible as it is about sports.
Mercury: A Broadcast of Hope
Mercury: A Broadcast of Hope is an answer to the grimdark, zombie-apocalypse media. Instead of arguing that humans would be as fatal for each other as the zombies, this audio fiction is the story of survivors banding together, helping each other and building friendships, families, and communities, even in the harshest conditions. It tries to show that people, at their core, will help each other out, even (or maybe especially) when the world has gone to hell.
The world of visual art is usually reserved for the rich, the educated and those who can see, but Accession aims to break down those walls. Each episode of Accession discusses a piece of art, going into depth about how it’s displayed, what it looks like, and what it could represent. The sound design of each episode makes it feel like a storybook, and the writing never assumes that you are, or should be, educated in art or art history to enjoy the piece it’s discussing.
Wil Williams writes, listens, and loves podcasts. She runs the website Wil Williams Writes, co-hosts the podcast Tuned In Dialed up, and has work featured in Discover Pods and Bello Collective. She is afraid of whales and suspicious of dolphins.