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The Best Podcasts of 2018
by Dave Zohrob · December 26, 2018

2018 was, by all measures, an amazing year for podcasts.

According to our records, nearly 200,000 shows were launched in 2018—that's almost a third of all shows, ever. Those 200,000 shows published over 13.5 million episodes this year.

No matter how you slice it, podcasts have been growing, and that growth has been accelerating.

Now that the year is coming to a close, let's take a closer look at the year, finding the most noteworthy shows from a few different angles—the longest run in the US top ten, the most podcast reviews, top 10 in the most countries, and finally we'll look at what the critics think. 

(We'd be remiss not to take a moment to mention Chartable Radio, our podcast about podcasts, where we talk about the lists and our personal favorites. Subscribe now.)

Longest time in the Top 10

We've been tracking the Apple Podcasts/iTunes podcast charts closely since launching Chartable earlier this year. Altogether, we've seen about about 4,200 show reach the Top 400 in the US this year.

If you follow the charts at all, it's obvious that there's a small group of shows that dominates the highest reaches of the charts, so this list might not be a surprise to veterans:

45 weeks
24 weeks
14 weeks
13 weeks
10 weeks

Joe Rogan tops the charts by the largest margin — Rogan has built a significant and sustained audience. What's more interesting is that Serial's third season, which came out mid-year, propelled them to the top of the charts since then—the season has been well-received by critics and listeners alike. 

A global perspective

Like many Americans in the podcast industry, I can be guilty of focusing too much on the US podcast charts. So I thought it would be important to see which shows are popular on Apple Podcasts around the world—and the list looks pretty different than the US chart:

130 countries
123 countries
87 countries
77 countries
76 countries

To be honest, I hadn't even heard of the Global News Podcast from the BBC before compiling this list—but it's clear that it's very popular around the world. And The Joe Rogan Experience, which is so supremely popular in the US, hit the Top 10 in fifty fewer countries than the top 2 in this category. If you look further at podcasts that are popular around the world, you'll see lots of other educational content, especially podcasts aimed at helping people learn English. Clearly there's something special about podcasts as an educational medium.

Most-reviewed

How many times have you heard this at the top of a show: "Be sure to rate and review us, wherever you get your podcasts." At least some of you are listening: e've tracked almost 1.2 million podcast reviews on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher this year, or about 27% of all reviews ever. 

This list gives a bit of a different lens on audience engagement with podcasts—it's actually a bit of a pain to write a review, especially if you generally listen to podcasts while you're commuting or where your hands are otherwise occupied. 

5.0 stars · 13,014 reviews · 28,234 ratings
4.9 stars · 6,912 reviews · 26,702 ratings
1.7 stars · 4,232 reviews · 42,659 ratings
4.9 stars · 3,170 reviews · 25,391 ratings
4.8 stars · 3,161 reviews · 25,258 ratings

One of these shows jumps out: the Michael Rapaport show has a very high number of low ratings. Apparently when Rapaport left his job at Barstool Sports early in the year [1], die-hard Barstool fans swarmed his podcast and left a ton of nasty reviews. [2] Otherwise, one way to read this list is: these are new shows with deeply engaged fanbases. 

What the critics say

Love it or hate it, the annual ritual of critics' best-of lists included plenty of great lists this year, including major media outlets publishing "best of 2018" lists for the first time.

In the spirit of ratings aggregators like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, I've aggregated all the lists I could find that seemed reputable (ie, not obvious clickbait) and recent. This included 25 lists totaling 522 recommendations from US outlets like The New York Times, The New Yorker, and TIME magazine, as well as podcast-centric lists from Vulture and the Bello Collective, and international sources like The Globe and Mail and The Sydney Morning Herald. (The full list of lists is at the end of the post, or you can click on the little icons next to a podcast to see the list it's featured on).

Without further ado, here are the critics' favorites from 2018:

18 recommendations
16 recommendations
12 recommendations
12 recommendations
11 recommendations
8 recommendations
8 recommendations
7 recommendations
7 recommendations
7 recommendations
7 recommendations
6 recommendations
6 recommendations
6 recommendations
6 recommendations
6 recommendations
5 recommendations
5 recommendations
5 recommendations
5 recommendations

We can take away a few lessons from this list: first, that people really, really loved Caliphate and Slow Burn. (These shows happen to be my personal favorites of the year, so perhaps I should become a podcast critic. Or maybe I'm just a snob). If you haven't listened to them, it's probably worth giving them a shot.

Second, It's pretty obvious by looking, but this list is pretty different than the other lists — there's no Joe Rogan or Pretty Basic here. The vast majority of these shows are scripted, documentary podcasts, mostly with an investigative bent (e.g. Caliphate, Serial, etc). Only a few conversational shows made the list: Heavyweight and Getting Curious both made the cut.

Finally, it's interesting that two mini-series made the top list: Articles of Interest from 99% Invisible, and the 30 for 30 miniseries about Bikram Yoga. It's interesting that Articles of Interest in particular was dropped into the 99% Invisible feed rather than being launched as a separate podcast—perhaps to maximize its listenership? I'm curious if we'll see more podcasts in this format next year.

Wrapping up the year

We've been incredibly happy to serve the podcasting community this year. It's hard to believe that we just started working on the site in June, and already over 5,800 shows are being tracked on Chartable by over 4,200 different podcasters. We're thankful that our users and customers trust us to give them clear and accurate data about their own shows and about the podcast industry at large.

We've got some amazing things in the works for 2019, but we're signing off for the year. See you next year!

For more posts like this, subscribe to our newsletter using the form below or by visiting https://chartable.com/blog. And if you're a podcaster, be sure to sign up for Chartable's podcast analytics.  Finally, be sure to subscribe to Chartable Radio, our new podcast where we go into these lists in even more detail.

Have any questions about podcasts you'd like answered? Just reach out via email at info@chartable.com or on Twitter @ChartableDotCom; or check out Chartable's API and Data Concierge service.

Critics' Lists

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