The Best of the Best Podcasts 2020 - The Ultimate List of Lists
As 2021 approaches, lists of the best podcasts of 2020 have flooded our inboxes, blogs, and podcast players. As it turns out, this unusually catastrophic year was a great one for podcasts. Now, instead of having to sift through each article yourself, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you to find the best of the best! After analyzing the common themes, podcasts, and episodes in 22 lists from Apple Podcasts’ to Oprah’s, we’ve rounded up the ultimate list of best podcasts for the year. Read on for the deets, and once you're ready to listen, check out our Best of the Best Podcasts 2020 playlist below.
Want to skip straight to the goodies? Here’s a handy playlist of all the best of the best podcasts of 2020:
We started off by reviewing podcast players and award shows, in search of their highly-coveted ‘Podcast of the Year’ selection. It turns out each had a different top pick. Here’s what made it:
Apple Podcasts (US)
Apple Podcasts (Canada)
iHeart Radio Awards
E! Online People’s Choice Awards
British Podcast Awards
Australian Podcast Awards
Every year, there is always one episode that stands out from the rest. This year, that episode is Reply All’s #158 Case of the Missing Hit. This captivating listen follows Tyler Gillet, a filmmaker who is on a quest for a 90’s song whose name he can’t recall. With the Reply All team at his side, Gillet’s search intensifies into an epic adventure, worthy of its best podcast title.
Featured By: Spotify, Vulture, Bello Collective, and The Guardian
Podyssey fans also raved about this episode. Here’s what they said:
Download numbers are a sure way to determine the podcasts with the largest audiences. We reviewed the top charts of Apple Podcast US, Apple Podcast Canada, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Podyssey to reveal the top five podcasts that appeared most frequently. This ended with three pods tied for second place, dominating the charts.
Two million listeners everyday keep The New York Times’ flagship podcast reigning supreme on all charts, including this one.
2nd Place (Tied)
Apart from the usual fan favorites, Call Her Daddy gained greater mainstream recognition this year because of its epic internal drama involving their sex-positive cohosts, a boyfriend called ‘suitman’, Wondery, and lots of money. We’re not kidding. Go look it up!
Joe Rogan’s podcast audience is so elusive that Spotify reportedly paid more than $100 million to bring the podcast exclusive to Spotify this year to help it capture a bigger share of the podcast pie. But with Spotify employees already protesting controversial guests, this deal is pushing the audio-streaming giant into new uncomfortable territories. Will it payoff? Time will tell.
This is what you’ve been waiting for: the ultimate podcast list of lists. Looking beyond download numbers, we assessed what made the cut across handpicked podcast lists curated by discerning editors. Combining the results of all 22* assessed sources, from Apple Podcasts to Oprah’s magazine, we determined the ‘best of the best’ 20 podcasts of 2020. Every podcast was organized by the number of times they were mentioned across each “Best of 2020” list.
With the pandemic, worldwide protests for Black lives, and US elections this year, podcast fans turned to host Michael Barbaro and The Daily team to keep informed. Over two million listeners tune into The Daily every day, making this the ultimate chart-topping podcast of the year. (Received 12 mentions across 22 lists)
Nice White Parents was bound to be a hit when it launched as the new major production from the team behind Serial when they were newly acquired by The New York Times. Its examination of the intersection between race and education was timely with America’s racial reckoning this year. (Received 10 mentions across 22 lists)
iHeartRadio’s Stuff You Should Know is a consistent fan favorite. With more than 1400 episodes under their belt and over 50 billion downloads, this explainer pod is proving to be a great acquisition for its even bigger parent podcast network. (Received 8 mentions across 22 lists)
4th Place (Tied)
This American Life is a podcast classic, but The Atlantic’s Floodlines podcast is most deserving of the same regard. The podcast holds a mirror to America by unravelling the disaster behind the Hurricane Katrina tragedy. With heart-wrenching stories, jaw-dropping interviews, and incredible sound design, this beautiful podcast is like a magazine for your ears. (Received 7 mentions across 22 lists)
5th Place (Tied)
Spotify’s two big exclusive podcast drops this year were Michelle Obama’s podcast and the Wind of Change. Both podcasts flexed Spotify’s power in attracting celebrities to the medium and the magic that happens when they combined their music and podcast expertise. Other notable podcasts that tied for fifth — Reply All and You’re Wrong About — are curious cultural listens that force us to rethink who we are and what we know. (Received 7 mentions across 22 lists)
6th Place (Tied)
Sixth place is full of podcast classics. The Dating Game Killer was one of Wondery’s many hits this year, so it’s no wonder that Amazon is in talks of buying them. Planet Money is helping us understand the pandemic economy, while Home Cooking is answering our quarantine cooking questions. Code Switch is our guide on navigating the racial turmoil in America in the wake of the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black lives that matter. (Received 5 mentions across 22 lists)
7th Place (Tied)
This is a fun mix bag of superb podcasts of all time and new and notable ones for 2020. Two miniseries on this list — Rabbit Hole and Chasing Cosby — show that old guard print media institutions can apply their investigative prowess to producing hit podcasts. Quarantine is also making us nostalgic for old TV classics with behind-the-scenes celebrity podcasts Office Ladies and Fake Doctors, Real Friends. (Received 4 mentions across 22 lists)
Now that you know this year’s best podcasts, it’s time to give them all a listen! We’ve placed them all in a playlist, that you can save and listen to later:
*Our sources are as follows: Apple Podcasts US, Apple Podcasts Canada, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Podyssey, Mashable, The Manual, Esquire, CNet, Vulture, Time, Town and Country Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire, Oprah Magazine, Elle, The Webby Awards, The iHeart Radio Awards, Servant of Pod with Nick Quah, PocketCasts, Huffington Post, The New Yorker