Five years ago, little was known about kinetoplastid evolution. Recent improvements in the taxon sampling for nuclear rRNA genes and several protein markers have transformed this understanding. Parasitism evolved at least four times in kinetoplastids. Obligate parasitic trypanosomatids are a relatively 'derived' group within kinetoplastids; their closest relative is likely to be the free-living Bodo saltans, and the ancestral trypanosomatids were probably parasites of insects. Although subject to recent controversy, trypanosomes (genus Trypanosoma) probably constitute a monophyletic group. Several unusual features of trypanosomatid genomes (e.g. trans-splicing, mitochondrial RNA editing and intron poverty) are common in kinetoplastids and pre-date the adoption of parasitism. The framework of relationships is becoming robust enough for real comparative approaches to be used to understand kinetoplastid biology.