Ever since Serial hit the airwaves in 2014, podcasts have slowly overtaken documentary series and literary non-fiction as the genre for true crime in the 21st century. Thousands of self-styled “crime junkies” and “murderinos” tune in and get their fix from shows like Criminal, Sword and Scale, and many more. But in such a crowded landscape, it can be hard to figure out which podcasts are just okay and which deserve your devotion. Follow along as I guide you through the best true crime podcasts available today.
Criminal (Radiotopia and PRX)
The Premise: Every two weeks, Phoebe Judge explores criminality from any possible angle. Instead of recounting the usual grisly cases, Judge broadens her focus and selects nuanced, interesting stories over exploitative, sensationalized fare. Unexpected topics include the museum officer who stole a Native American tribe’s ancestral remains, a secret 1970s network run by pro-choice ministers and rabbis, Harper Lee’s fascinating uncompleted true crime novel, and so much more. Because of its humor, sensitivity, and complexity, Criminal is hands-down my very favorite true crime podcast.
Recommended Episodes: For new listeners, start with Money Tree, Finding Sarah and Philip, and Angie. For people looking to embrace the weird world of Criminal, go for Ex Libris, Officer Talon, and He’s Neutral.
Crime Junkie (Audio Chuck)
The Premise: Each week, Ashley and Brit keep things simple by choosing a missing person, murder case, or occasionally a conspiracy theory to investigate. While this format is nothing new, a few things set Crime Junkie apart. First, Ashley researches each episode rigorously (take notes, My Favorite Murder) and second, the hosts consistently pivot towards prevention and education, rather than exploitation.
Over the years, they’ve run multiple episodes on domestic violence, victims who are ignored by the police (especially racialized victims), and wrongful convictions. Ashley and Brit are also lifelong friends; their natural banter makes listeners feel like they’re chatting with friends, instead of listening to a podcast while doing dishes alone (just me?).
Recommended Episodes: O.J. Simpson, Israel Keyes, Women in the US Military
The Premise: Of course Serial is on this list; it’s the grand-daddy of the true crime podcast. In the first season, Sarah Koenig and her producers famously explored the potentially wrongful conviction of Adnan Syed. In the process, they kick-started several tropes that we now associate with true crime podcasts: female victims, unanswered questions, and relatable hosts.
However, in my opinion, the third season is by far the most sophisticated and ambitious. In it, Koenig teams up with Emmanuel Dztosi to explore not a single case, but a year in the life of a Cleveland courthouse. As they get to know the defendants, lawyers, judges, and investigators, Koenig and Dzotsi also encounter the small and large cruelties of the so-called justice system.
Recommended Seasons: If you somehow haven’t heard it yet, season one is worth your time. And if you tuned out of the incredibly dull second season and haven’t gone back yet, give season three a chance. I promise it’s good!
Hunting Warhead (CBC)
The Premise: This six-episode Canadian podcast explores what might be the darkest corner of true crime: child abuse. Centered on Benjamin Faulkner, the sinister Ontario man who covertly ran the dark web’s most depraved child abuse websites, Hunting Warhead explores topics we’d expect, like the way that officers caught Faulkner, while also sensitively interviewing Faulkner’s family, friends, ex-girlfriend, and the family of one of his victims.
One particularly significant episode discusses the lack of resources and treatments available to people who experience inappropriate urges and genuinely want to stop themselves from doing something they can’t take back. This episode reminds listeners that refusing to talk about something is not a solution and emphasizes the importance of preventative measures.
Recommended Episodes: Episode 5: Becoming Warhead.
Swindled (Independent—of course)
The Premise: In Swindled, our anonymous host styles himself as “A Concerned Citizen” before diving into the fascinating world of white-collar crime. Think Fyre Festival, the infamous too-hot-McDonalds-coffee-case, and Martin Shkreli’s pharmaceutical price hikes. Instead of focusing on individual people, the host discusses corrupt companies and greedy corporations who will do anything to turn a profit. It’s a refreshing reminder that we desperately need better ways to reckon with and prosecute crimes where the blame can’t be leveled at just one person.
Recommended Episodes: The Contraceptive, The Leak, The Judges, The Lawsuit.
Slow Burn (Slate)
The Premise: Each season of Slow Burn takes a deep dive into America’s most notorious conspiracies: Watergate, the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and most recently, the mysterious deaths of Tupac and Biggie. Because Slow Burn takes eight hour-long episodes to cover a single—albeit extremely complicated—case, the detail and pace distinguish it from other podcasts. You really get an in-depth look at each case as the hosts explore context, supporting players, and each crime’s aftermath.
Recommended Seasons: Even though I’m a major Watergate nerd, the second season about Bill Clinton had my jaw on the floor. It turns out that the Monica Lewinsky scandal was about way more than a stain on a suit.
Missing and Murdered (CBC)
The Premise: Connie Walker, a veteran journalist with Cree ancestry, sensitively investigates colonialism’s brutal legacy on hundreds of Indigenous women in Canada. Despite the country’s current era of “Truth and Reconciliation,” Walker’s podcast unveils how the vagaries of the past continue to shape life for Indigenous women today.
In the show’s stunning second season, Finding Cleo, Walker remixes the usual narrative arc of the true crime podcast by uncovering Cleo’s fate halfway through. The following episodes couldn’t be less like filler as Walker uses her air time to investigate connections between the Sixties Scoop, Cleo’s life in the adoption system, and the way the Canadian government systematically tries to destroy Indigenous cultures.
Recommended Seasons: Both are strong, but the show’s second season Finding Cleo is remarkable.
Bonus Recommendation: This Sounds Serious (Castbox)
The Premise: If Comedy Bang Bang and Serial had a baby, it would be This Sounds Serious, a scripted faux-documentary spoof of true crime podcasts. The first season concerns a Florida weatherman, his buffoon-ish twin, a ridiculous water-based cult, and boy bands. The second focuses on a missing woman named Melissa, the absurd world of local politics, and a bank robbery gone awry. The brilliance of the show lies in its blend of humor and suspense. Hiding behind all the jokes are two genuinely compelling, tightly-plotted whodunnits. If this podcast team ever writes a novel, I am pre-ordering it ASAP.
Recommended Seasons: Both are great, but the first season has my heart. It’s hilarious, until it closed things out with an amazing twist ending.