In 2019, Apple Podcasts finally added a tag for fiction podcasts — meaning the popularity of fiction podcasts can be ranked and tracked. In the top 20 of the fiction podcast charts via Chartable, a third-party site that aggregates the charts from different platforms like Apple and Spotify, there are plenty of familiar names: Welcome to Night Vale, The Black Tapes, and NoSleep all make frequent appearances. A few might be less familiar to casual podcast-listeners.
Here are some notable top-charting fiction podcasts, what they’re about, and why you might want to get in on the hype.
1. The Left Right Game
Produced by QCODE — a podcast studio focused on big-budget fiction podcasts with big-name actors — The Left Right Game is a supernatural story inspired by the r/nosleep creepypasta of the same name. A year after her strange disappearance, aspiring journalist Alice Sharman’s audio journal is found by an old college friend. While following a team of “paranormal explorers,” Alice goes missing into a strange, supernatural otherworld. There are two hooks for listeners with this podcast: first, Alice Sharman is played by Tessa Thompson (Thor: Ragnarok, Sorry to Bother You), and second, the podcast has some clever uses of audio panning, the directional choices turning the series into an immersive experience. If you’re looking for a podcast to start while it’s still new, The Left Right Game debuted March 23. You’ll be able to listen to each episode as they drop.
Average episode length: 40 minutes
Number of episodes released: 4
2. The Adventure Zone
[Ed. note: Justin and Griffin McElroy were co-founders of Polygon. This does not affect our editorial decision to cover The Adventure Zone or any of their other projects.]
The Adventure Zone is an actual-play podcast now in its third campaign in which a group of people — Griffin, Travis, Justin, and Clint McElroy — “actually play” a tabletop role-playing game together. The first, “Balance,” was a breakout hit for its jokes and memorable characters, but also for its eventual turn towards moving, emotional storytelling. “Balance” used the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition system in a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid setting with Griffin McElroy as the DM. Using the Powered by the Apocalypse system Monster of the Week, the second campaign, “Amnesty”, was somewhere between Gravity Falls and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Led by Griffin McElroy as the Keeper (the DM in a Monster of the Week game), the story followed a group of investigators trying to uncover the secrets of their Appalachian town. The current campaign, “Graduation,” returns to the D&D 5E system, but this time with Travis McElroy as DM. The players in “Graduation” are students at a magical school separated into four groups: heroes, villains, sidekicks, and henchmen. Each of the campaigns can be listened to without knowledge of their previous campaigns.
Average episode length: An hour and a half
Episodes released: 158
3. Six Minutes
Six Minutes is a young adult fiction podcast by Gen-Z Media, a podcast production studio that creates podcasts for kids. Six Minutes is the story of a teen with superhuman abilities, told in six-minute episodes twice a week. Gen-Z might make podcasts with kids in mind, but Six Minutes is one of their productions that can be enjoyed by any age. There are mysterious parents who work for the government, kids who want to figure out what’s really going on in a world ruled by adults, and music that absolutely slaps. It’s a good listen if you have kids, if you’re nostalgic for the thrill of ’90s sci-fi like Animorphs and The Secret World of Alex Mack, or if you’d rather listen to a story in short bursts instead of long episodes.
Average episode length: Six minutes, natch.
Episodes released: 229
DUST is the podcast leg of content studio Gunpowder & Sky’s Dust initiative, focused on telling science-fiction stories across different platforms and media. The first season, “Horizons,” was an anthology podcast with a different sci-fi story each episode, ranging from Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick classics to new stories by contemporary writers. The second season, “FLIGHT 008,” is one serialized story about a flight that disappears through spacetime. FLIGHT 008 features a lineup of actors like Danny Trejo, Alfred Molina, and Calista Flockhart. If you want a story that’s told in full, “Horizons” is nine episodes that can be listened to in any order. If you want a story told over several episodes, “FLIGHT 008” releases every Wednesday through May 27.
Average episode length: 20 minutes
Episodes released: 13
[Ed. note: Chris Plante contributed to the story on the first season of Limetown and is a co-founder and editor of Polygon. He was not involved in our editorial decision to cover Limetown or any other podcasts.]
Limetown is a sci-fi thriller, one of the indie fiction greats that has continually brought listeners into the fiction podcast scene. Limetown follows Lia Haddock, a reporter investigating a town once inhabited by the world’s greatest minds — until everyone went missing. Set 10 years after the incident, each episode is the story of one survivor’s account of Limetown, but also the story of Lia Haddock getting deeper and deeper over her head. What was Limetown’s purpose? Where did everyone go, and how did they leave no trace of their existence behind? And who is the “Man they were all there for” the survivors keep telling Lia about?
Since its debut in 2014, Limetown has been adapted into a Facebook Watch show starring Jessica Biel and had a prequel novel published by Simon & Schuster. It’s a wild, strange story about the nature of truth, ambition, and the darker sides of empathy.
Average episode length: 30 minutes
Episodes released: 21
7. The Edge of Sleep
Another QCODE production, The Edge of Sleep is a serialized fiction podcast about a night watchman named Dave, played by Mark Fischbach (aka Markiplier), who ends his shift and realizes that everyone who went to sleep that night has died. Now, Dave has to unravel what happened in this global pandemic and find a solution—without ever falling asleep.
The Edge of Sleep is an intense horror/thriller that makes use of plenty of sound design and music underneath Fishbach’s narration and each scene’s dialogue. This podcast is best listened to in an environment where you can sink in and pay attention to everything going on versus listening during a commute or while during chores. The first season ended on Nov. 5, 2019, making now a good time to get caught up.
Average episode length: 25 minutes
Episodes released: 8