I’m not quite sure how it happened.

Somehow, slowly, stealthily, podcasts have become the soundtrack to my life. Last spring, my Next Episode, Please post revealed my belated arrival to the world of non-musical auditory entertainment. Now, podcasts have so thoroughly woven themselves into my days that they’re often the first thing I listen to when I wake up and the final thing I hear before going to bed. I listen while I walk to my office in downtown Ann Arbor, drive to Grand Rapids to visit my parents, stir a pot of quinoa, brush my teeth. They’ve told me stories of stranded astronauts and taught me about racially charged police actions. They’ve helped me empathize with victims of school shootings and perpetrators of jewelry heists.

I still listen to most of the series highlighted in my original Next Episode, Please post, but my library has blossomed to include new favorites. Here are some of my Season 2 picks:

Real people discussing real life

–  Witch, Please: Two sassy professors dissect the themes, characters, narrative structures, and world-building of each Harry Potter novel and film. You needn’t be a hard-core Potterhead to enjoy their analysis. Average length: 1 hour. Favorite episode: “Episode 1: Sorting Ceremony”

–  We Have Concerns: Jeff and Anthony riff on a new article each episode with off-the-wall goofiness that becomes sneakily insightful. I snicker aloud at least once per episode. Average length: 20 minutes. Favorite episodes: “Mayo on Display,” “U Mad Bro?”

–  The Allusionist: A delightful linguistics podcast that will charm the socks off your inner word nerd. Average length: 15 minutes. Favorite episodes: “Ban the Pun,” “Mountweazel”

–  Millennial: Finally—finally—someone who can talk about the amorphous twenty-to-thirty-something crowd without either fawning or disparaging. Average length: 30 minutes. Favorite episodes: “Men, Moms and Money,” “Long Distance Love Story”

–  Heavyweight: Do you feel the pressure of something you left unsaid or undone? What if you could go back and make things right? Jonathan Goldstein helps people settle long-unfinished business with enough deadpan wit to steer this podcast out of sappy waters. Average length: 40 minutes. Favorite episodes: “Gregor,” “Buzz”

–  Sugar Radio: Advice columnist Cheryl Strayed (you may know her as the author of Wild) and writer Steve Almond are the Sugars, a pair of compassionate, empathetic, and occasionally wicked deep thinkers who answer questions of the heart submitted by listeners. Average length: 40 minutes. Favorite episodes: “Sibling Rivalry,” “Looking for the One: Reimagining Spinster”

Fictional tales

–  Our Fair City: The best audio drama I’ve heard yet. Robust world-building, stellar acting and sound design, and a twisting plot make this dystopian dramedy a true delight. Average length: 20 minutes. Favorite episode: every one of the many blooper reels

–  EOS 10: Life aboard a space station hasn’t been this quirkily entertaining since Benjamin Sisko helmed Deep Space Nine (any Trekkies in the house?). Average length: 20 minutes. Favorite episode: “104 Up Up Up”

–  Wolf 359: Another space-station podcast, but with a darker edge to the humor. Competes with Our Fair City for excellent sound design and plotting. Average length: 20 minutes. Favorite episode: “Memoria”

–  Hello from the Magic Tavern: A dose of pure (and crass) silliness. This fully improvised podcast features a weekly talk show in the magical land of Foon, hosted by a shape-shifting badger, a curmudgeonly wizard, and a hapless human who accidentally fell into Foon through a magical portal behind a Burger King. Average length: 35 minutes. Favorite episodes: “Flower,” “Boys’ Night”

More great shows: 99% Invisible, Sayer, Love + Radio, Hidden Brain, anything ever produced by NPR

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