Best Podcasts of 2021

The best podcasts of 2021

It’s that time of the year when the best-of lists will pop up everywhere, including for podcasts. While some podcasting platforms like Libsyn or Stitcher do put out their comprehensive annual reports, a lot of people watch out for the ones by Apple and Spotify—after all, Apple Podcasts and Spotify are the two biggest podcast services out there.

This year, Apple Podcasts Best of 2021 features shows and creators that provided listeners with a powerful sense of connection in a challenging and uncertain time. That’s similar to Spotify’s theme for 2021 Wrapped that is a celebration of the million ways to listen and live in a world that continues to keep us on our toes. Clearly, the pandemic and the new normal is on everyone’s mind.

While Apple recognizes the best and most popular podcasts for their ‘exceptional content, unique ability to engage audiences, and innovation in craft, spanning production, presentation, sound design, and more’, it is curated by Apple Podcasts’ editorial team. Spotify’s annual Wrapped campaign is more data-driven and based on actual streams. This also throws some interesting insights and patterns around consumption.

Apple Podcasts

Best Show of the Year

A Slight Change of Plans with Maya Shankar

A Slight Change of Plans blends compassionate storytelling with the science of human behavior to help listeners navigate their own big change. The show features stories about all sorts of change, from Tiffany Haddish discussing how she navigated the foster care system and discovered that she had a rare gift that would change her life, to John Elder Robison, who underwent experimental brain treatment to try and increase his emotional sensitivity. The show dives deep into the science of change with experts like Adam Grant and Angela Duckworth, and features illuminating conversations with Oscar-nominated actor Riz Ahmed, Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves, professional rock climber Tommy Caldwell, and other real-life inspirations like Shankar herself.

Maya Shankar is no stranger to change. Before she was a cognitive scientist who founded the White House Behavioral Science Team and served as the first Behavioral Science Advisor to the United Nations, she had a different plan.

Newcomer of the Year

Anything for Selena with Maria Garcia

Maria Garcia, a queer Chicana journalist, ponders what it means to belong through her relationship with artist Selena Quintanilla. Her podcast, Anything for Selena, asks profound questions about belonging.

In addition to Best Show of the Year and Newcomer of the Year, Apple recognized a curated collection of shows and episodes that defined and reflected 2021. You can find the complete list here. Apple Podcasts also published new charts today, highlighting the most popular new shows, free channels, and individual shows and channels with subscriptions that launched this year in the US.


Like I said, Spotify Wrapped offers data-driven insights, that are more global. The campaign intends to tell the users what they were listening to through the year, but the assorted data is how we know what’s popular.

Most popular podcasts

The most popular podcast on Spotify was The Joe Rogan Experience.

Joe Rogan is a popular culture commentator and brings his sensibilities as a stand-up comic to the show with diverse guests discussing far-ranging topics. Launched in 2009, The Joe Rogan Experience has been one of the most popular, often controversial, podcasts in the world and became exclusive to Spotify in September last year after he signed a multi-year exclusive licensing deal with the company. According to Joe Rogan, the JRE reached about 190 million downloads a month in 2019.

After The Joe Rogan Experience, the other popular podcasts were Call Her Daddy, Crime Junkie, TED Talks Daily, and The Daily in that order. Here’s the complete list of what the world streamed in 2021.

Most popular podcasts in India

The most popular podcast on Spotify in India this year was The Mythpat Podcast, followed by The Ranveer Show, The Stories of Mahabharata, Naallanaa Murukku – The RJ Balaji Podcast, Srimad Bhagavad-Gita Adhyaya 1, The Joe Rogan Experience, Speak Better English with Harry, On Purpose with Jay Shetty, Bhaskar Bose, and Unconventional Ghalib

ALSO READ: The rise and rise of Tamil podcasts in India

Interestingly, 7 of the top 10 most streamed episodes are from Spotify Originals. Similar to last year, 50% of the top 10 podcasts consumed are Originals from Spotify.