It is now clear that sex chromosomes differ from autosomes in many aspects of genome biology, such as organization, gene content and gene expression. Moreover, sex linkage has numerous evolutionary genetic implications. Here, I provide a coherent overview of sex-chromosome evolution and function based on recent data. Heteromorphic sex chromosomes are almost as widespread across the animal and plant kingdoms as sexual reproduction itself and an accumulating body of genetic data reveals interesting similarities, as well as dissimilarities, between organisms with XY or ZW sex-determination systems. Therefore, I discuss how patterns and processes associated with sex linkage in male- and female-heterogametic systems offer a useful contrast in the study of sex-chromosome evolution.