Recently there was some research published indicating that YouTube is the most popular Internet platform for teenagers. After reading that I thought “Maybe I should do an article on my favorite YouTube channels so people can have a place to start exploring.” I figured I could let you know about five or six of my favorite subscriptions in a quick article.
When I went to YouTube I discovered to my shock that I am subscribed to over 240 channels.
But thinking about it a bit it made sense: I watch very little “regular” TV, have no interest in “fiction” TV shows, and have a YouTube Red subscription (no ads). There’s plenty of good content on YouTube. You just have to find it. So to get you started here’s a list of over 30 of my favorite YouTube channels. For the most part I stuck with family-friendly channels (there are a few exceptions, one major, which I’ll note) with very little bad language (sorry, Granny Pottymouth.) It’s a bit heavy on STEM topics — I think that’s because as a girl growing up I didn’t have a lot of access to that information and I’m making up for lost time.
Do me a favor: if you see any channels that you like, please subscribe, please support them, and please help them out on Patreon if you’re moved to do so (more and more YouTube channels have Patreon accounts since the accelerating YouTube “adpocalypse.”) Channels I loved have either vanished completely (Cracked) or slowed down video production to a trickle. Small content producers need your support, even if it’s just subscribing and leaving an encouraging comment.
Here’s the list, in alphabetical order:
Allen Pan – Sufficiently Advanced – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVS89U86PwqzNkK2qYNbk5A – Allen Pan describes his channel this way: “My name’s Allen, I try to make pretend things into real things!” and that about covers it! Allen has made videos for wrist-mounted ice and fire throwers, ocarina-controlled home automation, and Spider-Man web shooters. I admit I don’t get some of the pop culture references (who is that guy and why does he have holes in the backs of his legs?) but that doesn’t make the videos any less enjoyable.
Bad Lip Reading – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC67f2Qf7FYhtoUIF4Sf29cA — Just what it says on the tin; video with overdubbed audio of bad lip reads of the speakers. Nonsensical and very, very funny. Sometimes it’s just spoken words but sometimes the channel also does terrific songs. Warning: some of the content is politically related (there’s a whole playlist for “Political Soundbites”) but there’s not a lot of it.
Colinfurze – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCp68_FLety0O-n9QU6phsgw — Colin Furze builds crazy stuff and we get to watch. This week it was a bicycle with a structure made mostly out of springs. Other times it might be a homemade hoverbike, or a full-size Tie Fighter, or a portable fireplace in a briefcase (I loved that one.) Colin’s one of a kind; there aren’t many YouTube channels where you’ll see a guy remove his socks with a rocket launcher.
CrashCourse – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX6b17PVsYBQ0ip5gyeme-Q — The CrashCourse channel has several different series within it, some still going and some completed. The format is that you’ll have a series called “CrashCourse —” mythology, sociology, statistics, whatever — and the series will run for a number of episodes after which a new one will start. Recently I finished watching CrashCourse Sociology and CrashCourse World Mythology. Now I’m enjoying Dr. Shini Somara’s CrashCourse Engineering series. All the series combine excellent hosts and animation into enjoyable videos. There’s apparently also a CrashCourse channel for kids.
Extra Credits – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCODtTcd5M1JavPCOr_Uydg — Like CrashCourse, Extra Credits is several series in one. This channel does series on video game designs, science fiction, and history. The series are all animated and include a pitch-shifted narrator (his voice is speeded up a little) that takes a little getting used to, but I think I wouldn’t like it if they went back to a regular narrator. Thanks to this channel I have learned about Mali, Catherine the Great, the history of paper money, and the Bronze Age collapse among other things. I have watched some of the video game videos but mostly I’m here for the history lessons.
Flite Test – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9zTuyWffK9ckEz1216noAw — These guys are into RC (Radio Controlled) devices and flying. They take their knowledge and use it for basics like product reviews and hardware hacks, but they also do challenges like making a Little Tikes car fly, or making a chair fly, or providing toilet paper via drone. If you want an example of a friendly channel that’s working hard to create and support a community, start here.
Improvement Pill – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBIt1VN5j37PVM8LLSuTTlw – As you might guess from the name, Improvement Pull wants you to be the best you. Characters and word balloons are drawn on the screen while the narrator talks. Recent videos have included finding your true purpose, building self-esteem, and “predicting the future.” If you object to Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie, you’ll probably find this channel hokey. Otherwise it’s useful information presented in an attractive format.
It’s Okay to Be Smart – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCH4BNI0-FOK2dMXoFtViWHw – Take PBS Digital Studios, science topics, and a PhD named Joe Hanson, and you’ve got this channel. The topics are all over the map and include things like overpopulation, itching, the color blue in nature, and radioactivity being used to date paintings. I find this channel makes me mostly want to go out and investigate things on my own; the brief videos are not very deep dives into topics.
The Slingshot Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVZlxkKqlvVqzRJXhAGq42Q – You may have heard of Jörg Sprave and his YouTube channel. Originally focusing on slingshots, his chanel has evolved into a series on exotic weapon builds. Mr. Sprave is in Germany and the weapon laws are much more restrictive than the laws in the US, so his exotic weapons shoot things like Oreo cookies, and pencils, and playing cards. Still, there’s been controversy about his designs and their danger. I like his problem solving, his woodworking, and his outrageous designs (that bowling ball launcher was a kind of scary!)
Josh Way – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs7caOn0YaZfzznVuVI_4fA – I have been a big MST3K fan since the Jungle Goddess epiode in 1990. As much as I like the movies, though, the MST3K shorts are my favorite. Josh Way riffs mostly shorts on his channel, with just a few movies thrown in — there have got to be over 130 shorts on his channel. His riffs are funny, sometimes topical, and clean. If you watch one of his recent shorts you’ll see my name among the others at the end — I support Josh on Patreon.
Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell — https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsXVk37bltHxD1rDPwtNM8Q – This channel doesn’t publish every day, but when it does it’s a must-watch. Produced in colorful animation with a terrific narrator, Kurzgesagt produces videos like “The Deadliest Being on Planet Earth – The Bacteriophage,” “String Theory Explained – What is The True Nature of Reality?,” and “Why Alien Life Would be our Doom – The Great Filter”. Some of the videos on this channel will leave you uncomfortable but I guarantee they will make you think.
Laura Kampf – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRix1GJvSBNDpEFY561eSzw — Laura Kampf is another builder, but instead of building outrageous things, she builds practical (mostly practical), classy things. All of her build videos I’ve seen (for things including industrial lamps, a “beer bike,” and a mini table-top workbench) are not narrated, but are beautifully shot and include wonderful music. She’s really good with labeling the wood and items she’s using to build so you can get a sense of what she’s doing without a lot of talking.
Mark Rober – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCY1kMZp36IQSyNx_9h4mpCg — Mark Rober is another YouTuber who doesn’t post much but when he does post it is absolute gold. Past videos have included the world’s largest super soaker, a dartboard that moves so that the dart player always gets bullseyes, and a swimming pool filled with 25 million Orbeez. Highly recommended, even if the liquid sand hot tub video did scare me a little (okay, a lot.)
Mike Boyd – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIRiWCPZoUyZDbydIqitHtQ — The premise of Mike Boyd’s channel is simple. He times and films himself learning something. Things like opening a bottle of champagne with a sabre, or breaking a glass with his voice, or throwing an axe, or learning to shoot. The videos themselves are interesting but it’s Mike Boyd’s enthusiasm that really makes the channel. And you get to watch him screw up a lot until he gets it right, which is a great reminder that nobody’s perfect off the bat.
NowThisWorld – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgRvm1yLFoaQKhmaTqXk9SA — NowThisWorld takes a look at news stories with more of a deep dive than you’ll get from a 45-second spot on a nightly network show. Have you ever watched Vox? It’s a lot like Vox, only more internationally-focused. Recent stories have included the current situation in Burundi, which countries have used chemical weapons, and mental health in Northern Ireland. (That last one has several interesting comments, though being YouTube I still can’t recommend reading the comments.)
Physics Girl – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7DdEm33SyaTDtWYGO2CwdA — Physics Girl looks at the physics behind everyday things. Why do Tic-Tacs bounce weird? What happens when you drip ferrofluid on a magnet? If you watch just ONE video from this channel watch the most recent one at this writing: skateboarder Rodney Mullen and the physics of skateboarding. Enthralling.
Practical Engineering – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMOqf8ab-42UUQIdVoKwjlQ — An engineer in Texas explains engineering topics with the help of experiments and occasionally builds. Among other things, his videos show you how to measure cosmic rays at home, explain how sinkholes form, and gives tours of various types of engineering infrastructure. The delivery can be a little dry at times, but the topics are compelling and the videos well-shot.
Primitive Technology – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAL3JXZSzSm8AlZyD3nQdBA — This channel is amazing and has inspired a number of similar channels. A guy in Australia demonstrates primitive technology in non-narrated videos. He builds huts. He makes sandals. He creates a water hammer. He traps, cooks, and eats prawns. And he never says a word. But if you turn on closed captioning you’ll get a commentary on what he’s doing. I’m still astonished that he’s not on The History Channel or some place like that.
Real Engineering – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR1IuLEqb6UEA_zQ81kwXfg — Practical Engineering is an engineer in Texas, while Real Engineering is a younger guy (I don’t know if he’s an engineer or not) in Ireland (I think) who deals with abstract problems in engineering, with lots of stock video and well-done animations. I’m not sure if this is a single-person channel, but if it is, it’s the best-produced one I’ve ever seen. Videos include “How to Solve the Housing Crisis,” “Designing the Fastest Wheels in History,” and “Material Properties 101.”
SciShow – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZYTClx2T1of7BRZ86-8fow — SciShow is a multi-host show that easily walks the line between stunty and informative and answers interesting questions. Do placebos work for animals? Why does the sky turn green before tornadoes? Why is it so hard to design self-driving cars? Some of the hosts I like more than others, but the videos are short, snappy, and well-produced. SciShow has a few other channels as well.
See Jane Drill – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCraGaDLfWec67xl9FEPndtw — See Jane Drill is hosted by Leah Bolden, who is a certified building trades instructor. The channel is designed for beginning DIYers. Recent videos include soldering tips for beginners, getting a good paint finish without brush marks, and how to sharpen a lawnmower blade with a drill. If you’re put off by the beginner-level stuff, check it out anyway: my husband is pretty handy, and he says he’s learned plenty from this channel. Leah is one of the friendliest and most welcoming channel hosts I’ve seen.
Self Sufficient Me – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJZTjBlrnDHYmf0F-eYXA3Q — Self Sufficient Me features a very enthusiastic guy from Australia and his very enthusiastic garden. Not sure I can grow lemons or bananas where I am, but he also does more general videos on composting, raised bed gardening, and small-scale domestic agriculture (bees, chickens, quail, etc.) I’m surprised he doesn’t have more subscribers.
Sexplanations – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkxMlA7rt-mnIc1AjbyAsPw — Remember how I said this list was mostly family-friendly with one major exception? Here it is. Dr. Lindsey Doe discusses all kinds of sexual topics fearlessly and frankly. I will admit I haven’t watched all the videos because I’m a bit of a prude! But this channel has taught me a lot about sexual orientation, gender, and sexual health. There is zero nudity on the channel and everything that’s demonstrated is demonstrated metaphorically (with props or people in bodysuits), but you do not want children watching this unless you’re ready to answer a lot of awkward questions or you’re willing to risk them bringing up hickeys at a family dinner.
Simple History – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC510QYlOlKNyhy_zdQxnGYw — A lot of history channels on YouTube deal with large things, like wars, or economic crises, or famous people in history. Simple History is a lot – well – simpler. It takes a topic and spends a few minutes on it with simple animation. Recent videos include “The Corpse Which Still Attends Meetings,” “The Queen’s Guard,” and a series on the worst jobs in history (including chimney sweep and leech collector.) As I noted the animation is basic but the narration is excellent.
Smarter Every Day – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6107grRI4m0o2-emgoDnAA — Smarter Every Day is all over the place, and I mean that in a good way. The host’s most recent video was a trip to the Whitney Art Museum that eventually leads to him shooting playing cards in half and recording it in slow motion (it makes sense in the video.) That one was a nice combination of art, science, and slow motion. Then you’ll get a video where he’s blowing bananas up in slow motion. This channel is where I learned why slow-motion videos don’t also have slowed-down audio.
The Backyard Scientist – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC06E4Y_-ybJgBUMtXx8uNNw — I love The Backyard Scientist’s videos but I think I’m glad I’m not his neighbor. He’s kind of like Colin Furze only a little more science-oriented and nerdy (not that there’s anything wrong with that.) He has a reputation (that he lives up to) for blowing things up and setting them on fire, but he also does things like a giant mousetrap-powered vehicle, a rocket-powered knife, and a 40-watt laser blaster. Don’t try any of this at home.
Thomas Frank – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG-KntY7aVnIGXYEBQvmBAQ — Thomas Frank is similar to Improvement Pill in that both channels are self-improvement oriented, but Thomas Frank a) doesn’t have animation and b) seems more student-oriented. The student focus has not stopped me from enjoying his videos on breaking bad habits, goal setting, and getting better at math (I have no hope for that one.) I seem to remember him mentioning NoFap once or twice, but not in an extensive or offensive way.
Veritasium – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnyfMqiRRG1u-2MsSQLbXA — When I think about Veritasium, I usually put it in the same category as the aforementioned Kurzgesagt, only there’s less animation and more a guy talking to you – mostly high-level discussions that leave my brain feeling slightly unfolded. I enjoyed “How Neutrons Changed Everything,” and “Inside the Svalbard Seed Vault,” but really did not need to see the laser hair removal in slow motion.
Vihart – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOGeU-1Fig3rrDjhm9Zs_wg — I’ve never met a math class I couldn’t flunk, and yet somehow I still like Vi Hart. Her videos, which are basically her narrating ruminations on math topics while doodling, are weirdly compelling. She will rant about Pi. She will show you how to make hexaflexagons. She will make the case for hover cars. I will admit I have sometimes had to watch the videos more than once to understand what she’s talking about, but that’s my brain and not her problem. Wins the award for “Most favorite YouTube channel about which I cannot explain my enjoyment.”
Warped Perception – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFH4dWqQQOYkyJZUGT4q5pg — There are plenty of slow-motion channels on YouTube, but this is one of my favorites just based on what he chooses to shoot in slow motion. Like a see-through rotary engine, or a rocket fired in a vacuum chamber, or a plasma cutter. His videos are unusual in that they vary a lot in time (some are over 15 minutes, while some are under 5) and he doesn’t appear to post on a regular schedule.
You Suck at Cooking – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCekQr9znsk2vWxBo3YiLq2w — If the title puts you off, let me assure that it’s the most offensive thing about the channel, in which a guy cooks recipes in a completely surreal way that somehow results in delicious food. (His April Fools day video was doing a recipe completely without jokes, which was oddly unsettling.) Grab some corn during corn spawning season! Be sure to shake the nails out of your kale, then pull on its tail while muffling its wails! This channel has taught me how to make honey-roasted carrots, spicy peanut butter soup, and macho nachos among others.
Vox – https://www.youtube.com/user/voxdotcom — Vox is a news channel that provides longer looks at topics you might not expect. Videos include flooding in New Jersey, the solar energy “duck curve,” and the culture wars between doctors and midwives. The tilt here is definitely progressive/liberal, though Vox did a video on the ELD mandate that gave me and my very conservative uncle something to talk about — and 100% agree on.
Zoe FPV – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvlTQTasvJQ9quf6QCoJb3Q — I like drones. I can’t fly them worth a rip, but I like watching people who can fly them. Zoe does drone builds, but she also does some terrific flying videos. Her About page describes her as the “Top Ranked Female FPV Pilot in the US!” Also she picks great soundtracks for her flying videos.
Based on news coverage you might get the idea that YouTube was all pirated content, vloggers, or cat videos. Not so — there are plenty of great channels, you’ve just got do hunt a little to find them. Hopefully this list will get you off to a good start.
Have a YouTube channel you love? Let me know in the comments!