Don’t get us wrong—we’re big fans of Serial, the This American Life spinoff that blew up in 2014. And we wake up on Thursdays ready to tune in for Sarah Koenig’s latest reporting on Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl just like everybody else. But we mostly love Serial because it broke down the doors for podcasting, allowing thousands of storytellers to experiment with a medium that brings us reportage, comedy, radio dramas, musical exploration, history, bathroom humor—all while we’re doing our laundry or commuting to work.

So next time you’re doing dishes or walking— or, come to think of it, right now—check out these fantastic episodes from our favorite podcasts this year. From CRISPR to voyeurism to President Obama to how “the smell of butt crack with a hint of dead animals” proved invaluable to the US Army, there’s a lot of great stuff out there to listen to. Koenig and Mailkimp are just the beginning.

‘The Living Room’

from Love + Radio
Podcast enthusiasts often talk about how intimate the medium can be, how it can fully bring you into the mind and perspective of someone else. Love + Radio shows are among the best at it, exemplified in the jarring, deeply personal “The Living Room.” In the episode, Diane Weipert lives across the way from a young couple, who never close their curtains. Her experience is increasingly invasive and voyeuristic—as is ours, as listeners. Whether you find her actions morally reprehensible or not, Weipert’s story will be hard to shake from your mind. —Charley Locke

‘Source Code’

from Mystery Show

Gimlet Media’s third podcast, hosted by Starlee Kine, examines everyday mysteries ranging from tracing a unique belt buckle back to its rightful owner (“Belt Buckle”) to why a Welcome Back, Kotter lunch box depicted a scene that never happened on the show (“Kotter”). But the funniest of Kine’s six first-season episodes is “Source Code,” where she attempts to verify the exact height of actor Jake Gyllenhaal. It’s uproariously funny, both for the mundanity of the detail and the difficulty in obtaining the actual information. Kine goes through several channels, such as an unreliable online database of celebrity heights and a friend who sees the Gyllenhaals eating in a restaurant, while attempting to crack the case, but her final tactic brings about a lovely conversation that gets at why some mysteries always end up being unsatisfying even when they’re solved. —K.M. McFarland

‘President Barack Obama’ and ‘Madam Secretary, What’s Good?’

from WTF Podcast and Another Round

OK, so this is two different podcasts from two different shows, but hear me out. The 2016 presidential election will be the first major political race to utilize the podcast format, and to not acknowledge its influence would be foolish. President Obama demonstrated that potential when he made a guest appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF in June, speaking eloquently on American racism, what the role of a president actually should be, and how it feels when his daughters find him boring—all from Maron’s garage in Pasadena, California. But Obama on WTF is nothing compared to Hillary Clinton on Another Round, wherein the former secretary of state manages to transcend the brusque manner she’s often criticized for, coming across as articulate, personable, and funny. And hosts Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton ask her tough questions—about reparations, Black Lives Matter, and how sexism has shaped her portrayal. If television transformed our perception of politicians in the 1960s, the intimacy of podcasts may swing the pendulum back towards radio, offering a way for candidates to show us a more human side in 2016. —Charley Locke

‘The Strange Journey of the World’s Worst Smell’

from The Leap

KQED’s bi-weekly storytelling podcast The Leap is my favorite new show of the year. There are only a handful of episodes so far, but they’re all absolutely great. Start with this one—the weird and funny and unpredictable tale of how the US military came to rely on a popular prank product—and then be sure to go back and check out the others. —Eric Steuer

‘The Problem We All Live With’

from This American Life

Yes, we know that the world of podcasts is far greater than This American Life in 2015. But TAL is the gold standard for a reason—and this two-part episode examining racism in the American public education system is straight-up quality reporting. Part one looks at how Missouri’s Normandy School District (including Normandy High, which Michael Brown attended) inadvertently implemented a desegregation program—and how it actually worked. Part two looks at stories of intentionally desegregated schools—and how to convince white parents to send their kids to them. —Charley Locke


from Criminal

In the wake of Serial, several other true crime podcasts raced up the iTunes charts due to spillover interest in that genre. Criminal had actually been in production long before the This American Life spin-off, and has only grown in complexity under the spotlight. Phoebe Judge is a stellar host, always doggedly investigating even the most seemingly plain cases to tease out important information. “Angie” was the high point of the year, following the story of a professional soccer player who gave out sandwiches to the homeless, and became an amateur detective when one person went missing. —K.M. McFarland

Meet Dave with Paul Scheer’

from I Was There Too
On this series, host Matt Gourley interviews actors who had tiny roles in big movies to get an uncommon take on how films are made. This time he talks to comedian and podcaster Paul Scheer about the strange and hilarious experience of being cut from the dreadful-sounding Eddie Murphy movie Meet Dave. —Eric Steuer

‘”The Commander Thinks Aloud” by The Long Winters’

from Song Exploder
We started posting each episode of Hrishikesh Hirway’s podcast in May of this year, but we’ve been admiring Song Exploder since long before that. In the midst of the stories behind the Downton Abbey title theme, Will Butler’s ebullient “Anna,” and Bjork’s “Stonemilker,” was John Roderick of The Long Winters talking about his achingly beautiful “The Commander Thinks Aloud.” The song was inspired by the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, not exactly a sunny topic. But Roderick’s memories of the production are incredibly moving, especially his recollection of Matt Chamberlain’s recording session for the drum parts. The experienced producer played five masterful takes in a row, all wildly different, then instructed the engineer to send each take to a different channel of the booth speakers so everyone could hear how he instinctively linked them all together. —K.M. McFarland

‘Anything for a Witness’

from Everything Is Stories

This episode revolves around an interview with a woman named Lois Gibson, who was a semi-successful model in the 1970s before finding her true calling as a forensic artist. She has helped solve more than 1,200 crimes through her drawings and her extraordinary talent for helping victims remember tiny but crucial details about criminals’ faces. I really like the way that Everything Is Stories uses sound and editing to convey meaning, and this episode is a great example of what works so well about the show. —Eric Steuer

‘Antibodies Part 1: CRISPR’

from Radiolab

CRISPR makes possible a host of post-apocalyptic sci-fi futures: Designer babies. Bioweapons. Mutant species. The uses of the gene-editing tool are hard to fathom—and hard to understand. If you (like us) had a hard time wrapping your head around the biggest biology story of 2015, then ask some friendly science guys to explain it to you. In this episode of Radiolab, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich pose all of your CRISPR questions to science writer Carl Zimmer, molecular biologist Beth Shapiro, and one of the scientists who discovered CRISPR’s potential, Jennifer Doudna. And if you still have questions, we’ve got the next place to turn: Amy Maxmen’s excellent August cover story. —Charley Locke

‘Rukmini Callimachi’

from Longform

Rukmini Callimachi is The New York Times‘ chief reporter about ISIS. In this fascinating two-part interview, she describes the tactics she uses to identify and cultivate sources within the militant group, and explains how ISIS uses technology and media to spread its message. (It’s no coincidence that journalists are so frequently the group’s targets.) Callimachi’s expertise is deep, and her insights about the mechanics of terrorism are unique and illuminating. —Eric Steuer


Waiting for Serial? Try Some of These, Our Favorite Podcasts