The 50 best podcasts of 2016

From Making Oprah to Trumpcast and My Dad Wrote a Porno, here are the most brilliant, essential listens of the year

Storytelling

Mortified

People read highlights from their childhood diaries in front of a crowd of strangers. Wonderfully cringeworthy.
Episode of the year: The Summer Camp Spectacular, largely for the line: Dear Mum and Dad, I cut my penis when I flunked my canoe test Rowan Slaney

The Heart

Stories about friendship, love and the messy beauty of our lives.
Episode of the year: The first of the courageous four-parter from Tennessee Watson, in which she opened up about being sexually assaulted as a child. Without doubt the best listen all year.Jason Phipps

Reply All

A podcast about the internet that is actually an unfailingly original exploration of modern life and how to survive it.
Episode of the year: Voyage into Pizzagate, in which Reply Alls recurring feature Yes, Yes, No (in which Alex and PJ explain weird internet stuff to their boss) inadvertently predicts one of the biggest stories to emerge from the post-US election, post-truth news cycle. Fred McConnell

Radiolab

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I Hart K-Pop Radiolab argues that intrusive paparazzi were good for the almost militarily strict Korean pop music scene. Photograph: The Chosunilbo JNS/Multi-Bits via Getty

Now in its 14th year, Radiolab remains the gold standard of accessible documentary podcasts. This year has been no exception, with episodes on everything from Alzheimers to the ethical conundrums faced by defence lawyers.
Episode of the year:
I Hart K-Pop, which argues that intrusive paparazzi tactics were actually a good thing for the ultra-conservative, almost militarily strict Korean pop music scene. Stuart Heritage

Heavyweight

The hilariously deadpan Jonathan Goldstein helps people deal with unfinished business, whether it is scattering your fathers ashes illegally or getting Moby to give your CDs back. Funny, touching and short. A perfect podcast.
Episode of the year: Gregors story explores something so relatable the feeling of being left behind by your peers. And when those peers are Moby and the president of Estonia, its easy to see why insecurities might arise. RS

The Dollop

Twice a week, standup comic Dave Anthony tells Gary Reynolds the life story of one extraordinary figure in American history such as President Andrew Jackson, who was given a giant cheese that stank out the entire White House. Informative, witty and unbearably funny. You would never learn this stuff in a classroom.
Episode of the year: Huey Long. Did you know that in the 1930s Louisiana was run under a dictatorship that essentially stood apart from the rest of the US? RS

99% Invisible

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The lone phone box in the middle of the desert that became an internet sensation 99% Invisible. Photograph: Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images

Roman Mars delves into design and architecture records to uncover the people and ideas who have shaped the world around us.
Episode of the year:
Mojave Phone Booth the story of a lone phone box in the desert and the man who became obsessed with first calling, and then visiting, it before ultimately turning it into an internet sensation. Leah Harper

How to Be a Girl

An anonymous mum navigates the first few years after her young daughter comes out as transgender. A tender take on an under-represented reality.
Episode of the year: How to Be a Dad. The frank conversation between Dad and Mum, as they compare fears and acceptance processes, is compelling and runs counter to expectation. But equally potent is how much they sound like any old parents; scared, besotted and in awe of their child all at once. FM

Interviews

Roam Schooled

Jim Brunberg takes his twin six-year-old daughters on US roadtrips in their Winnebago to answer questions such as Whats a lone wolf?, interviewing people until the girls come to their own conclusions.
Episode of the year: Whats a hippy? in which the three meet veterans of the hippy movement who speak frankly about drugs and sex. A refreshing, beautiful listen. RS

Love + Radio

Nick van der Kolk advises you to listen to Love + Radio with headphones on and, while it often earns its explicit tag, there is little formula apart from in-depth interviews. They may be controversial, they may be seedy and they may involve taxidermy.
Episode of the year: A Girl of Ivory, featuring Davecat, who is in a bizarre three-way relationship. Hannah Verdier

The Adam Buxton podcast

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The daddy of British podcasting Adam Buxton. Photograph: Ben Meadows

The daddy of British podcasting is beloved for good reason. His pod is laced with the same creativity and nerdy attention to detail as everything he has ever done.
Episode of the year: Although he is most at home chatting to pals such as Joe Cornish and Louis Theroux, the
episode with Michael Palin whom Buxton obviously reveres is a standout, largely for the very moving moment when they discuss the end of Graham Chapmans life. SH

Death, Sex and Money

A podcast about the things we think about a lot, and need to talk about more, hosted by Anna Sale.
Episode of the year
:Were Not Going to Have Karl Again. The heartbreaking story of Karl Towndrow, who died at almost four months old on his first day in daycare, as told by his parents. LH

Hello Internet

An Australian and an American living in the UK have in-depth debates and banter that is actually amusing. And they are always well informed on topics, whether serious (electoral systems) or silly (the sticks that plug takeaway coffee lids). Their day jobs as educational YouTubers must help.
Episode of the year:A Classic Episode, which is just that. The two bicker over flag design and dissatisfying tech, before launching in to some satisfyingly objective Brexit talk. FM

WTF With Marc Maron

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Peerless Marc Maron. Photograph: Barry J Holmes for the Guardian

Even Marc Marons failed interviews, such as the one Jerry Lewis abandoned half an hour in, are meatier than most. Peerless.
Episode of the year:
Billy Crystal, who drops the schmaltz and fires out one world-class anecdote after another. SH

Fiction

Homecoming

One of the most high-profile launches of the year. The big-name stars David Schwimmer, Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac ensure there is no cringey radio-drama acting. Heidi (Keener) is a caseworker in a government facility helping soldiers with PTSD back into the community.
Episode of the year: The first episode is a scene-setter, and features Schwimmer having a most unRoss-like meltdown at the airport. LH

The Radio Adventures of Eleanor Amplified

Adventure, intrigue and cat videos. The silly drama of this kids pod will keep listeners of all ages hooked. It is filled with drama on the high seas, brainwashing bad guys, trips to Siberia and the mysterious Scary Dangerous Jungle Island.
Episode of the year: Its Breakfast Time, America. Its hard not to root for an intrepid girl reporter going up against a villain armed with cat videos. Will hard-nosed journalism prevail over viral content? Melissa Locker

The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air)

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Most surreal podcast of the year The Orbiting Human Circus (of the Air). Photograph: Caleb Bryant Miller

And the prize for most surreal podcast of the year goes to Neutral Milk Hotels Julian Koster and his oddball offering set in a variety show at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Listen in order, because you will be confused enough as it is.
Episode of the year: Start with the addictive first episode, in which Julian the janitor sets the scene. HV

Darkest Night

This horror anthology podcast follows the top-secret Project Cyclops, where researchers uncover the secrets of the dead. But we are including it for one reason it is recorded in binaural sound. After 10 minutes of the noises and voices coming at you from all angles, you will be so disoriented you may walk into a lamppost. Fully immersive.
Episode of the year: Horns Limo Service has stomach-turning sound effects and brilliantly blunt forensic pathologist chat: Head almost completely crushed. FM

The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel

Students are disappearing from HG Wells middle school and only Mars Patel and his friends seem to notice. With no adults willing to help, it is up to Mars to investigate. This adventurous kids podcast, reminiscent of old-time radio dramas, is gripping listening for young and old.
Episode of the year: The Gift, in which a mysterious message shows up from halfway around the world. ML

Discussion

Another Round

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Tipsy twosome Another Rounds Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton. Photograph: Jon Premosch/Buzzfeed

Calling out racism, quaffing cocktails and spilling sharp one-liners: Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton bring consistent podcast joy. No matter the subject, from healthy eating to tickling Whitney Houston, the tipsy pair tackle it with humour.
Episode of the year:
Oh, The Racism!, in which Nigatu and Clayton bond with Insecures Issa Rae over karaoke and lipstick. HV

The Guilty Feminist

If you are the kind of feminist who secretly sings along to Robin Thickes Blurred Lines, then Sofie Hagen and Deborah Frances-White understand your pain. The Im a feminist but intro brings confessions and laughs each week. Sample: Im a feminist, but I realise that my own dreams have the same men-to-women ratio as most British panel shows.
Episode of the year:Not Having Kids switches from funny to beautifully sad and back again in style. HV

Beautiful Stories from Anonymous People

A podcast with two rules: a nameless stranger will phone up comic Chris Gethard and talk about anything they like, and he cant hang up on them. So far, callers have discussed homelessness, the fact that they just discovered they are married to a child molester, and which animal they would be happiest to be eaten by.
Best episode of the year:I Cry When I Run. Its infectious to hear two strangers connecting so easily. SH

Scummy Mummies

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Grace Jones, who invited Miranda Sawyer back to her hotel room. Photograph: Steve Lyne/Rex Shutterstock

Ellie Gibson and Helen Thorn are two south-east London comedians who present this very funny parenting podcast with guests. Disclaimer: Ive appeared on it, so I know how drunk they are when they record it, and its amazing that it even exists.
Episode of the year:
The midlife crisis special with Miranda Sawyer, purely for the anecdote that ends with Grace Jones inviting her back to her hotel room. SH

2 Dope Queens

Live standup meets intimate chat between friends as Phoebe Robinson (Broad City) and Jessica Williams (ex-Daily Show) argue about careers, racism and whether its OK to like Bono.
Episode of the year: How to Channel Your Inner White Lady. Or, getting better customer service by saying: Its unacceptable! HV

Unorthodox

I love podcasts that make you feel as if you are listening in on a conversation you would never usually get to hear. These guys discuss weekly news of the Jews, as well as religious issues and secular Jewish culture, all of which I would otherwise have no insight into.
Episode of the year: Into the Woods, with a progressive-yet-conservative rabbi guest, perfectly exemplifies the lively conversations about theology that Unorthodox does best. FM

Call Your Girlfriend

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedmans podcast for long-distance besties everywhere celebrates the therapeutic power of a catchup. From the fake body positivity of Meghan Trainors All About That Bass to Fleabag and free boobin, little is off-limits.
Episode of the year: The detailed deconstruction of Taylor Swift v Kanye West in Make America Smell Great Again. HV

RuPaul Whats the Tee?

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Graham Norton on Conchita Wursts success is a gem RuPaul Whats the Tee. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

The natural pairing of RuPaul and Michelle Visage is camp, opinionated and hilarious. Drag Race gossip, life lessons and beauty tips keep coming, along with celebrity guests.
Episode of the year:
Graham Nortons enthusiastic guide to Eurovision and Conchita Wursts success is a gem. HV

Sooo Many White Guys

One half of 2 Dope Queens, Phoebe Robinson, nails a chatshow that turns the tables on white-guy privilege in the podcast zone. Her Ryan Seacrest impression may not cut it, but her humour and chat with people who are killing it who are not just straight up white dudes certainly does.
Episode of the year: The end of season special with token white man Mike Birbiglia and so much warmth. HV

True crime

They Walk Among Us

Proof that a podcast recorded in your bedroom really can become a hit. A mysterious husband and wife obsessed with true crime tell the stories of chilling cases, from Canoe Man John Darwin to the murder of Sadie Hartley.
Episode of the year: The disappearance of Shannon Matthews is an outstanding piece of storytelling. HV

Crimetown

The creators of HBO documentary The Jinx turn their attention to corruption in American cities. The show starts with young prosecutor Buddy Cianci, who takes on the local crime family in Providence, Rhode Island. But as his political ambitions grow, he ends up in bed with the mob. A gripping series that weaves brutal crimes and dirty politics with good humour.
Episode of the year: The Making of a Mayor. When Cianci decides to run for office, the cut-throat world of party politics makes him question everything. ML

In the Dark

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Minnesota guardsmen search for Jacob Wetterling. Photograph: Alamy

Twenty-seven years ago, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was biking home from the video store in his Minnesota hometown when he was kidnapped at gunpoint by a stranger. He was never seen again. The case gripped the nation and led to the US creating a sex-offender register. This enthralling podcast retraces the criminal investigation, ending in the courtroom where a prisoner admits his involvement and Wetterlings parents finally get answers.
Episode of the year:
The One Who Got Away. The reporters look at a related crime involving a young boy that slipped through the cracks of the police investigation with dire results. ML

My Favourite Murder

A world of horror and hilarity. Once a week, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark come together to talk about murder. One of them tells the story of a killing, while the other reacts in utter shock and outrage. Its important to note that they are incredibly respectful, and despair at the world almost continuously. This has built up quite a following, with fan art, Etsy pages and a sell-out run of T-shirts (all profits go to charity). Stay Sexy and Dont Get Murdered.
Episode of the year: Where the women focus on a Hometown Murder case submitted by a fan and theres a cat who loves cookies. RS

Comedy

My Dad Wrote a Porno

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