Podcasts are personal. Unlike the wide public broadcast of radio, a podcast begins whenever you touch “play,” then courses through your headphones and directly into your ears. Listening to a great podcast can feel like falling into conversation with a new best friend or eavesdropping on an infatuating crush. A bad one is like sitting next to the wrong stranger on the subway. Here are 10 good ones that debuted in 2016.
‘2 DOPE QUEENS’ Each week, the comedians and besties Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams — plus guests like Hannibal Buress and Ilana Glazer of “Broad City” — tear through popular culture, bantering and arguing about Tinder etiquette, being black at a Billy Joel concert and the questionable attractiveness of Lenny Kravitz (Phoebe says he’s hot; Jessica, not). Episodes are recorded at live shows in Brooklyn, then published in podcast form by WNYC.
‘WHO? WEEKLY’ A new class of barely recognizable “celebrities” has come to dominate tabloid coverage, and the hosts Bobby Finger and Lindsey Weber are here to guide you through their obscure self-promotional world. The podcast feels delightfully absurd and truly vital in the Trump era, when castoff reality stars are suddenly in the presidential sphere of power.
‘WHY OH WHY’ In this auditory exploration of modern love, Andrea Silenzi plays both host and subject, delving into strangers’ romantic entanglements and processing her own with the same warm, wry curiosity. The show mimics dating’s emotional roller coaster, careening from the excruciating awkwardness of a real first date to the quiet heartache of Ms. Silenzi’s latest breakup. “Why Oh Why” is technically a reboot: It was once a cult favorite radio show on WFMU before it was reborn in podcast form on Panoply this fall.
‘BAD WITH MONEY’ The writer, comedian and YouTube star Gaby Dunn plays an extremely amateur financial adviser here, using her own money troubles to facilitate discussions about unspeakable topics like addiction, exploitation and debt. What Ms. Dunn lacks in financial literacy she makes up for in charm and candor, and she coaxes her guests into trampling the taboos around money until they get to something real.
‘CODE SWITCH’ NPR’s Code Switch blog, a source of required reading on race and culture since 2013, is now a must-listen podcast. The hosts, the NPR journalists Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji — and guests like the former “Hamilton” cast member Christopher Jackson — take on the messy questions of race in America, like the dual identity of black police officers.
‘SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING’ Started just before the election, this interview-driven podcast explores the diversity of backgrounds and experiences that contribute to Muslim identity in America. In recent episodes, the host Ahmed Ali Akbar, a staff writer at BuzzFeed, talks with a Muslim college student with a Trump-supporting roommate; the Iranian-American comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh; and his own father.
‘CRIMETOWN’ Many buzzy true-crime podcasts play like procedurals, focusing on the commission and investigation of a particular deed. This Gimlet podcast advances the genre; it’s less “Law & Order,” more “The Wire.” Each season, “Crimetown” explores one city’s criminal element; first up is an engrossing and disturbing portrait of organized crime in Providence, R.I.
‘IN THE DARK’ A rash of long-form true-crime podcasts was introduced this year, inspired by the success of “Serial.” “In the Dark” is the rare offering that improves on the original. Madeleine Baran, a reporter for American Public Media, reinvestigates the 1989 abduction of Jacob Wetterling, an 11-year-old Minnesotan. In contrast to Serial’s flashy, obsessive and ultimately unresolved whodunit, Ms. Baran’s jumps off from the story of one crime to tell a much bigger tale — one implicating an entire sheriff’s office in decades of failed policing.
‘HOMECOMING’ The first fiction podcast from Gimlet Media is a slow-burning, star-studded thriller featuring Oscar Isaac as a traumatized military veteran and Catherine Keener as the government therapist assigned his case. The plot is cleverly wound with sinister disclosures about this homecoming program, but the real surprise here is the palpable chemistry between Mr. Isaac and Ms. Keener.
‘ALICE ISN’T DEAD’ From the creators of the absurdist fiction hit “Welcome to Night Vale” comes a psychedelic thriller about a woman who sets off on a cross-country road trip to find her missing wife — only to drive into a creepy otherworld that lies off the map. Apart from haunting music and sound effects, it’s narrated exclusively by the actress Jasika Nicole, who manages to ground the story in human drama while describing the supernatural that surrounds her.
The New York Times