The 10 Best Podcasts of 2023

Best Podcasts of 2023

As chosen by Podcast Review’s staff, here are the ten best podcasts of 2023:

10. Search Engine

The way we learn is changing. When PJ Vogt launched Search Engine, he recognized that we no longer rely on libraries or lectures for most knowledge; instead, we turn to the internet. Focusing on the kinds of questions you might ask Google, Vogt dives into topics that range from silly to salient with the help of experts that are always well-informed, if not credentialed. My favorite episode so far, “Is there a sane way to use the internet?,” makes good use of Ezra Klein’s knowledge of tech and social trends as well as his personal experiences. Search Engine never misses an opportunity to ask the important questions: How are we living now, and why? – Alice Florence Orr

9. Imperfect Paradise: People vs. Karen

In this four-part series from LAist’s Imperfect Paradise, a white woman falsely accuses a Latino couple of attempting to kidnap her children in the parking lot of a craft store in Petaluma, California. It’s worth mentioning that any show host Antonia Cereijido is involved with is a must-listen, and People vs. Karen is no exception. Cereijido has an expert sense for contextualizing stories and translating them to audio. Expertly reported by Emily Guerin, People vs. Karen comes with an unexpected twist in who is the accuser and who is accused. – Wendy Fox

8. The Dream

From diets to skincare to much beyond, each year we spend billions pursuing our “best” selves. Self-help coaches thrive on this trend, aiming to guide us to salvation. In the latest season of The Dream, host Jane Marie asks what these “gurus” care about more: mindfulness or easy money. The unregulated world of self-help allowed Marie to mix politics with her personal struggles, lending the show a compelling vulnerability. Although it may not be the first show to point a finger at the self-help industry, The Dream stands out for its refusal to conform to expected narratives. The result is another captivating, thought-provoking season that leaves us eagerly awaiting the next. – Alice Florence Orr

7. Heavyweight

The always-excellent Heavyweight is finishing up its eighth and possibly final season as I write. This year, Jonathan Goldstein dedicated the first episode to his childhood best friend Lenny, and trying to understand the immense pain he suffered throughout his life. In “The Budget Motel,” a man shares the story of getting shot 30 years ago, and reconnects with multiple people who remember the worst period of his life, and the ripples it caused in his most dear relationships. The capacity of Goldstein and his team to find the heart of the story, usually one about two people, remains, along with their pension for wild goose chases. – Jake Greenberg

6. Ghost Herd

In Ghost Herd, a family dynasty and a multinational corporation collide in this story of a modern cattle swindle that unravels a ranching empire. The eponymous “ghost herd” in this podcast included 265,000 non-existent cattle that represented $244 million in fraudulent revenue. Set in the rich agricultural region of southwest Washington state, host and veteran reporter Anna King offers a story about the American west that would be just as satisfying to listen to around a campfire as in your earbuds. – Wendy Fox

5. If Books Could Kill

It’s rare for an independent podcast to be immediately popular, but Michael Hobbes is onto a winning formula with his latest show. If Books Could Kill is a podcast dedicated to debunking popular self-help and “smart thinking” books — the sort often quoted by CEOs and featured heavily by celebrity book clubs. Joined by his dry-witted co-host Peter Shamshiri, the show takes on books like The 4-Hour Workweek and The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck with humor and nearly endless disdain. – Alice Florence Orr

4. Classy

Class consciousness may color a lot of our world, but it’s hard to see – and even harder to articulate. Yet Jonathan Menjivar does just that with Classy. He explores how class is more than just a tax bracket by investigating status symbols ranging from Parmesan cheese to The Godfather. Menjivar seamlessly weaves his personal experiences into the fascinating conversations he has with academics, comedians and even a former boss, making it one of the most thought-provoking and entertaining podcasts of the year. – Sabina Wex

3. You Didn’t See Nothin

You Didn’t See Nothin may best be summarized as a historical reflection. Host Yohance Lacour retraces his own reporting of the 1997 beating of Lenard Clark, a 13-year-old Black kid brutally attacked by white teenagers, and in doing so, investigates over 25 years of Chicago political history and media coverage of state and citizen violence against Black people. The series opens with Barack Obama’s election night, which Lacour watched from a Chicago county jail. It gives a hint of the narrative style to come, as Lacour attempts to tell the most comprehensive, living history of what happened to Lenard Clark, and his own life. – Jake Greenberg

2. The Girlfriends

Bob Bierenbaum is good on paper. Almost too good. He is exactly the sort of man your mother wants you to bring home. But things are never that easy. Our narrator, Carole Fisher, has broken up with Bob after being set up by her friend Mindy, who also dated him. As it turns out, many women in Vegas dated him, each with their own unsettling stories. The Girlfriends is a podcast about the women who dated Bob and the friendship they formed around the things that never quite added up about this good-looking plastic surgeon. Eventually, things go a bit Mr. Rochester by way of Nora Ephron. And thanks in large part to a fantastic soundtrack, The Girlfriends shines in a crowded genre. We dare you not to binge it. – Alice Florence Orr

1. The Retrievals

The Retrievals made me believe in true crime again. The podcasting world is saturated by stories of degenerate killers and small towns darkened by shadowy histories — few of these stories are memorable after their short-lived shock and awe wears off, though. But The Retrievals, hosted by Susan Burton for Serial Productions, brings a haunting urgency and keen insight to the genre. Released one year after Roe v. Wade was overturned — at a time when reproductive rights and health care are top of mind for so much of the American public, including for myself — this spellbinding podcast investigates the harrowing experiences of women who turned to I.V.F. when they wanted to become pregnant, and what unfolded when the Yale Fertility Center failed to take seriously their accounts of excruciating egg retrievals. In the process of revisiting the patients’ stories, Burton explores larger questions around pain, desire, addiction, accountability, forgiveness, and the fraught topic of who gets to be a mother and why. I would be remiss not to warn that the podcast, though thoughtfully executed, can be a tough listen. But if you do tune in, it will be worth every minute of your time. – Kat Rooney


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