It’s definitely no secret that there are a lot of amazing podcasts out there. All the way from internet creator talk shows to educational pods sprinkled with comedy bits, there’s certainly no shortage of options to choose from.
Within all this variety, there is one particular genre of podcasts that has managed to get a foothold in modern popular culture that rose to prominence since the mid-2010s and became among the menagerie of online entertainment. I am of course referring to fiction podcasts, beloved little sister of the once-famous radio drama genre.
Whether you’ve seen heaps of podcast fandom content across your social media feeds, or don’t have the first clue what’s going on and are simply intrigued and want to give fiction podcasts a shot, here are three options to get you started:
- Welcome to Night Vale
“A friendly desert community where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.” – Episode 1
Genre: Paranormal, Horror, Comedy
Number of Episodes: 186
Duration per episode: 25 – 30 minutes
If you’re old enough to have been on Tumblr since mid-2013, then chances are you’ve at least heard of Welcome to Night Vale. With its initial fandom boom, the show began picking up a ridiculous amount of traction in a ridiculously short amount of time, and for good reason.
Set in the strange town of Night Vale which is located in the middle of nowhere amidst USA’s vast deserts, Welcome to Night Vale is formatted as the town’s local radio show, hosted by local cryptid Cecil Palmer. Each episode, Cecil regales us with one-shot tales of faceless old women who live in our houses, a mind-controlling Glow Cloud, and the people of Night Vale themselves, who seem oddly unconcerned by the alarmingly paranormal state of their hometown.
With tales such as the Sheriff’s Secret Police and stories of how Dogs Are Not Allowed in The Dog Park, at first glance you’d expect Welcome to Night Vale to be a terrifying horror show – and to some extent, it is. But the longer you listen, the more you realise that Cecil spends just as much time reciting cosmic horrors as he does cracking jokes laced with thinly veiled real-world social commentary, and raving poetically about Carlos The Scientist and his perfect hair.
With its twice a month release schedule and the fact that the show has been ongoing since its pilot episode all the way back in 2012, Welcome to Night Vale was the metaphorical gateway drug into fiction podcasts for many, and a nostalgic comfort show for many more. I personally consider it a classic, and recommend everyone to at least give it a shot.
- The Magnus Archives
“I work for the Magnus Institute, London, an organisation dedicated to academic research into the esoteric and the paranormal.” – MAG 001
Genre: Horror, Drama, Tragedy
Number of Episodes: 200
Duration per Episode: 20 – 40 Minutes
Second on our list, we once again have a horror podcast, though this time less about “charming cryptid narrates daily occurrences” and more about “slightly-less-charming Head Archivist constantly needing to re-evaluate his questionable life decisions”.
Narrated by Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, London, The Magnus Archives starts off as an anthology of bone-chilling short stories. Each of them an account of an encounter with the paranormal, based on testimonies of individuals who have found themselves crossing paths with whatever lies beyond the shadows.
As the episodes go on, these seemingly disparate short stories begin to weave together into a masterfully crafted long-haul meta plot, where Jon and his co-workers in the Archives find themselves in a much deeper hole than they had initially imagined. If you’re a fan of horror stories and deeply interconnected lore tidbits and mysteries, then you’ll definitely enjoy The Magnus Archives and the many payoffs of its slow-burn plot.
During its runtime, the show updated weekly, from its first episode’s release on the 24th of March, 2016, to its series finale that aired less than a month ago on the 25th of March, 2021. Unfortunately, this does mean that the novelty and anticipation of waiting for new episodes to come out is decidedly over, but on the bright side, you can now binge all 200 episodes in one sitting.
At the very least, you are certainly welcomed to try. Whether or not that course of action is advisable, however, I can’t necessarily say.
- The Penumbra Podcast
“Hyperion City. Some people say it’s the most beautiful place in the galaxy. The rest of us live there.” – Episode 1.01
Genre: Noir, Sci-Fi, High Fantasy, LGBT
Number of Episodes: 86 (Not including bonus episodes)
Duration per Episode: 20 Minutes – 1 Hour
Last but not least on our list is what I would imagine happens if you were to take an audio book and bump its theatricality to the max. The Penumbra Podcast follows two entirely separate storylines, so if you’re only into either noir sci-fi or high fantasy, you could absolutely go with one over the other.
This podcast follows the adventures of Juno Steel, our beloved brooding noir-detective, through the shenanigans he faces on a daily basis working as a private-eye on planet Mars. On the flip side of the coin, we have the tales of the Second Citadel, a storyline that centres around a high-tasy city-fortress of the same name, and its sprawling ensemble cast of knights and monsters.
Both storylines captivatingly explore LGBT themes, albeit in starkly different ways. Juno’s universe is one where LGBT people, identities, and relationships are deeply normalized, with they/them mayors and transgender assassins commonly found, and where the protagonist himself is a non-binary Lady. These characters and themes have all been seamlessly interwoven into the story, creating what many fans consider to be some of the best normalized and casual representation of gender identities and LGBT relationships in recent media.
The universe of the Second Citadel, however, is far less accepting. In their world, prejudices against sexuality, gender, as well as disabilities, are still the norm. These tales, contrasting Juno’s, explore the hardships faced by the characters and their relationships who lived under Second Citadel’s conservative culture.
Both storylines are astonishingly well-written, well-acted, and well-produced. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Penumbra boasts a cast of characters that you easily fall in love with from minute one.
As of right now, the show is still ongoing, although currently on its usual post-season hiatus, just having wrapped up its third season last March. This current off-season is a perfect opportunity for you all to start listening and get yourselves caught up with the story before Season 4 kicks in.