The sensation of tapping into terror can became an obsession — even an addiction — and few mediums allow you to do so quite as readily as podcasts. The intimacy of the medium — just you, your earbuds, and your cortisol response — can be a portal into the places that scare us the most, whether they are real or entirely imagined.
The podcast space is, if anything, oversaturated with scary content (and I’m not talking about true crime); wading through all of it can be frightening on its own. To combat that particular monstrous task, I’ve rounded up a dozen shows that will absolutely scare you (and sometimes make you laugh, too.) Via haunting soundscapes, spine-tingling tales both real and invented, and immersive narration, these shows will take you to dark places. I’ve ranked them from least to most scary, so you can turn the fear dial up by moving to the next recommendation.
A Funny Feeling
Betsy Sodaro and Marcy Jarreau are comedians and friends obsessed with the paranormal, and on A Funny Feeling, they talk to other comedians and celebrities (and entertain voicemails from their listeners) about their brushes with ghosts, freaky dolls, unexplained noises, and anything else unexplainable. The stories feel rooted in our everyday experiences and just weird enough to be true, but I listen to A Funny Feeling for the laughs. Betsy and Marcy lighten the darkness by interrupting spooky clips with their own hysterical commentary, whether they’re interviewing guests about a haunted AirBnb or hearing a listener talk about a UFO sighting.
Last Podcast on the Left
On Last Podcast on the Left, Ben Kissel, Marcus Parks and Henry Zebrowski deliver over-the-top tellings of iconic hauntings, war crimes, cults, killers, and cryptid encounters, punching them up with jokes and a hilarious storytelling style. The research that goes into every episode is intense — there are multiple-part series about the Salem Witch Trials, the pirate Black Beard, Black Widows, and serial killer Albert Fish that offer the deepest dives around, as well as standalones about some of the most grim and unusual stories of our time, and side stories that offer the week’s weirdest true crime narratives. Even if you’ve heard the same tale on 20 other podcasts, if you haven’t heard Ben, Marcus, and Henry tell it, you haven’t heard it the way Satan intended it to be heard.
Guide to the Unknown
Siblings Kristen Anderson and Will Rogers were raised on mysteries, and now bring them to listeners via their podcast Guide to the Unknown. It’s the same scary, weird, and creepy stuff as the rest of the shows on this list, but delivered with the good vibes of your favourite chat show. Kristen and Will have the kind of banter reserved to a brother and sister who know each other inside and out, and share the same sense of humour and curiosity for the strange. Conversations around aliens, haunted houses, urban legends and internet creepypastas are thoughtful and comfy. You won’t be at the edge of your seat, exactly — more like tucked in to your bed, with the blanket over your head just in case.
One Strange Thing
On One Strange Thing, Laurah Norton digs deep into the archives of local newspapers to find the mysteries that had their communities and small towns completely freaked out. Each story is wildly different, but each has a single, unexplainable element: a house that bleeds, a missing ring that turns up on another continent, or a mysterious hum audible throughout Anchorage, Alaska. It’s less blood and murder, more things that make you go “huh?” and wonder about the liminal spaces that exist unseen all around us. You can find stories about the house that inspired Netflix’s The Watcher, a cryptid nicknamed “Normie,” or the most famous UFO sightings in U.S. history. Warning: Listening might make you feel paranoid that there’s also one strange thing happening in your town.
Phoebe Judge’s true crime podcast Criminal is heavy on the storytelling and light on the true-crime — she doesn’t resort to grisly tales of murderous blood baths, favouring psychological thrillers and character studies about people, and the criminal things they do. Explore the archive and you’ll find beautifully-crafted ghost stories that might not give you nightmares, but will definitely unsettle you. (Or try this episode about how to sell a haunted house.)
Yes, This Happened / Esto Si Ocurrio
Mario Góngora, the voice of Fox Channels and Disney+ Latin America and the official national Hispanic voice of Sprint, Wendy’s, Ford, and Univision’s UniMás Network, hosts Yes, This Happened, a show that shares real-life spooky stories told by the very people who swear that yes, this really happened to them. Tales of haunted houses, a ghost whispering in a woman’s ear, entities from another planet, and seismic energy are among a few the show’s most memorably chilling offerings. What these stories have in common (other than the fact that they are totally unnerving) is their origins; all of them come from the Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin America. The show is also available in Spanish, as Esto Si Ocurrio; if you aren’t a native or fluent speaker, you can at least strengthen your vocabulary of paranormal words.
Jim Harold’s Campfire
Since 2017, Jim Harold’s Campire has been stoked with listener-generated scary stories, told by the people who experienced them. The host has a knack for connecting with regular people to mine their memories for the most frightening moments they’ve ever experienced, or those that convinced them we are living closely alongside the paranormal world. With stories of haunted houses, transparent nightly visitors, and odd encounters with the unexplainable, the archive is packed with hundreds of tales that will give you goosebumps. (And his line is always open, so if you’ve experienced the paranormal yourself, you should definitely give him a call.)
Stories with Sapphire
Pansexual Filipino American artist Sapphire Sandalo brings something totally different to the scary storytelling space on Stories with Sapphire, sharing stories with an eye toward diversity and empathy. She speaks with real people and adds context to their stories — it’s almost like the storytellers are in a therapy session, with Sapphire is their wise guide to figuring out what creepy encounters mean, where they fit into our culture, and how they are connected to both the real world and the other side. On YouTube, Sapphire also writes, narrates, and animates fictional horror stories inspired by folklore, urban legends, or real experiences. Stories For Change is an offshoot series not about things that go bump in the night, but about important current events (like the horrors of the Marcos regime) that will still completely horrify you. Filipino folklore, liminal spaces, brushes with the people who came before us, and more.
Snap Judgment is quite possibly the best storytelling podcast around — the pulsing sounds of the stories, which are always emotional and heart-stopping, take hints from slam poetry to weave narratives that are lyrical and powerful. It’s creepy spin-off Spooked employs the same immersive soundscapes to tell scary stories in a way that makes you feel like you’re experiencing them yourself. The show is led by Glynn Washington, one of the best voices in podcasting, who kicks off every episode with a dark story to set the mood, then hands the mic off to someone else to share their own weird tale. The theme song alone will take your imagination into the dark, dark woods.
Old Gods of Appalachia
I could create an entire list of fiction horror shows, but Old Gods of Appalachia is one of the best. It’s a horror-anthology podcast set in an Alternate Appalachia, a terrifying wild place that resembles the Appalachia you may have visited, but is full of the monster inhabitants that came before. Created almost entirely by a crew of people actually from Appalachia, and featuring haunting music and twisty tales tied to its history and lore, Old Gods of Appalachia wins by giving us a strong sense of place that only the brave will choose to enter. Dip in anywhere, but I suggest starting with “The Boy.”
On Euphomet, Jim Perry isn’t aiming for jump scares (though he will probably scare the shit out of you.) Instead, he’s investigating stories of missing places, haunted objects, alien contact and abduction, and the dark unknown, seeking to discover the humanity within them. In conversations with ghost hunters, psychic spies, paranormal journalists, and hypnotherapists, Jim unpacks stories quietly and artistically, sharing them like a spooky whisper. Each episode is a multi-level audio experience that demands a good set of headphones. Fun fact: Lifehacker named the episode Idol of Nightmares as one of the best 16 podcast episodes of 2018.
Radio Rental places you in a fictional 1980s movie rental store (think: a haunted Blockbuster) run by eccentric host Terry Carnation (voiced by The Office’s Rainn Wilson) and his cat MalechaiTK. Terry is the scary story DJ spinning real-life tales that range from the spine-tingling to the bizarre, shared straight from the source. Produced in a documentary-esque style, the show collects stories of close encounters with serial killers and unexplainable brushes with the other side that will make you question your ordinary, every-day interactions, and remind you that something worth fearing could be lurking around every corner. It doesn’t get too intense — Terry brings a pinch of humour to the proceedings that relieves the tension — but it still earns its spot at the terrifying top of this list.