Autophagy, a critical process for bulk degradation of proteins and organelles, requires conjugation of Atg8 proteins to phosphatidylethanolamine on the autophagic membrane. At least eight different Atg8 orthologs belonging to two subfamilies (LC3 and GATE-16/GABARAP) occur in mammalian cells, but their individual roles and modes of action are largely unknown. In this study, we dissect the activity of each subfamily and show that both are indispensable for the autophagic process in mammalian cells. We further show that both subfamilies act differently at early stages of autophagosome biogenesis. Accordingly, our results indicate that LC3s are involved in elongation of the phagophore membrane whereas the GABARAP/GATE-16 subfamily is essential for a later stage in autophagosome maturation.