5 fictional podcast recommendations

By: Bijou Kruszka

Podcasts are becoming more popular every single day. They allow anyone to become completely immersed in a world from the comfort of anywhere they can listen to audio. One of the best ways to experience stories is through fictional podcasts, but it can be hard to find a really good one. Here are my top 5 personal recommendations for fictional podcasts.

#1: ‘The Magnus Archives

First on this list, and arguably the most popular, is ‘The Magnus Archives’. ‘The Magnus Archives’ is a horror podcast which follows Jonathan Sims, an archivist at the Magnus Institute, as he transcribes their files into an audio format. Every episode brings a new short horror story, which eventually starts to thread together into a larger, mysterious narrative.

Pros: There is a lot to like with ‘The Magnus Archives’. Every story
in the series is very creative and effectively horrific. From the very beginning, every episode delivers something interesting and fresh. It is also genuinely scary, something that can be hit or miss in an audio medium. Once you get a decent amount of episodes in, the show also creates a lovable cast of characters in addition to the main narrator.

Cons: If you’re someone who needs plot fast, this show is not for you. It takes a considerable amount of episodes to reach any small thread of plot, and when each episode is 25 minutes, it feels significantly long to move past the beginning. Additionally, the beginning episodes are not skippable, as some are necessary for plot details later.

#2: ‘Welcome to Night Vale

Next, we have one of the original audio dramas, ‘Welcome to Night Vale’. ‘Welcome to Night Vale’ (WTNV for short) is a radio show detailing the odd happenings of the titular small, desert town. Each episode follows a similar format: news, with a small episodic story flowing through it; then the weather report (which isn’t the weather but fun indie music from smaller artists); and then a conclusion, with the wrap up of the episodic plot-line and a few wise words from Cecil Palmer, the radio host and main narrator.

Pros: WTNV is a fun ride all around. Its comedic writing is top-tier, and Cecil’s deadpan delivery only elevates it further. The setting is consistently bizarre and fun to be in. As the podcast progresses, the town feels more and more tangible, with a recurring cast of quirky characters. There are genuine heartfelt relationships built, especially between Cecil and out-of-town scientist Carlos. The diverse catalogue of music built by the weather segment is also enjoyable. There is also a huge backlog to listen to, as they’ve been uploading every two weeks since 2012.

Cons: WTNV doesn’t really have much of a plot. While there are recurring characters and some arcs that extend outside of episodes, no central plot stays for very long. It also doesn’t have much variety in terms of sound, as most episodes are simply Cecil talking. This makes it a great podcast to relax to, not so much to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you’re looking for a high stakes podcast centered around one ongoing conflict, WTNV is not for you.

#3: ‘The Penumbra Podcast

‘The Penumbra Podcast’ is technically two podcasts in one. It alternates between storylines every chapter, “Juno Steel” and “The Second Citadel”. “Juno Steel” focuses on the titular character, a private eye on futuristic Mars, as he entangles himself in space crime through a series of fun characters. “The Second Citadel” is set in medieval times, and focuses on a group of knights trying to protect their kingdom and navigate their personal relationships.

Pros: ‘The Penumbra Podcast’ is fantastic. Each storyline is treated with the utmost care and is incredibly interesting. Both stories are absolutely fantastic with fully developed casts of characters and wonderful writing. There’s also lots of splendid queer and disability representations through a diverse array of characters. “Juno Steel” does a lot of creative things with its sci-fi settings and its characters are all incredibly distinct and fun. “The Second Citadel” creates a lot of interesting conflicts with its world-building and the variety in plot-lines is fun to see. If you like diverse, well-built characters, Penumbra is certainly for you.

Cons: With the way the storylines alternate, it can be easy to get jumbled up. Sometimes, this organization can lead to confusion in listeners and cause them to lose details that become central to the plot later. It also is fairly long. Each chapter is at least two episodes, each about 45 minutes long. While the Penumbra has settings you want to stay in for that long, if you’re looking for more bite-sized pieces, it’s not quite right for you.

#4: ’36 Questions

’36 Questions’ is a story about Judith and Jase, a couple trying to rekindle their deteriorating marriage by answering the titular 36 questions, proven to make you fall in love with the other person. ’36 Questions’ is different from the other podcasts on this list in two ways: it’s a musical, and it’s only 3 episodes long.

Pros: If you want something short to start listening to audio dramas, ’36 Questions’ is up your alley. Telling a complete story in approximately 3 hours, this is incredibly short compared to everything else on this list. The music for this is also splendid. Jessie Shelton and Broadway legend Jonathan Groff are both fantastic singers, and all of the songs feel very cohesive and are enjoyable to listen to. The central conflict is very grounded and the characters are realistic and well-rounded.

Cons: While it’s a pro, it’s also a con: this podcast is short. The ending isn’t exactly satisfying, and listeners will want to stay in this story for longer than what they’re given. However, there isn’t a whole ton of room for the story to expand. The main two characters are the only two characters (unless you include Henry the duck, which unfortunately I am not) so there isn’t much variety in the story itself.

#5: ‘Wolf 359

‘Wolf 359’ is a sci-fi podcast following Doug Eiffel, an astronaut aboard the USS Hephaestus, as he records his experiences in space via audio logs. He witnesses everything from aliens to mutiny, and he always has some quips to accompany it.

Pros: ‘Wolf 359’ perfectly balances both comedy and
drama. While Doug always has a joke for every moment, it’s not
afraid to get very tense or heartfelt. The crew aboard the USS
Hephaestus is completely charming, and they are all very well-developed. The overarching conflict is interesting for sure, but the filler episodes are sometimes even better. Overall, with an enjoyable cast and fantastic writing, this show is one you don’t want to miss.

Cons: This one is not the simplest to follow in terms of overarching conflict, especially if you are not a sci-fi person. The show throws you into the void of space, both literally and figuratively, and for those unacclimated to the genre, this can be somewhat jarring. I wouldn’t recommend this one as a first for new audio drama listeners, as the show has a tendency to move on pretty quickly without explanation.

In the end, the world of fictional podcasts is very diverse and has a lot to offer. Should you listen to any of these and enjoy them, you might have a fun time at HPSH’s very own audiodrama club. We meet every Thursday after school in the choir room. We discuss fictional podcasts of all kinds, sharing new recommendations and listening to episodes together. We hope to see you there!

All images were taken directly from Spotify, where you can stream all these shows.

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