Cognitive enhancers (nootropics) are drugs to treat cognition deficits in patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, stroke, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or aging. Cognition refers to a capacity for information processing, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. It involves memory, attention, executive functions, perception, language, and psychomotor functions. The term nootropics was coined in 1972 when memory enhancing properties of piracetam were observed in clinical trials. In the meantime, hundreds of drugs have been evaluated in clinical trials or in preclinical experiments. To classify the compounds, a concept is proposed assigning drugs to 19 categories according to their mechanism(s) of action, in particular drugs interacting with receptors, enzymes, ion channels, nerve growth factors, re-uptake transporters, antioxidants, metal chelators, and disease modifying drugs meaning small molecules, vaccines, and monoclonal antibodies interacting with amyloid-β and tau. For drugs whose mechanism of action is not known, they are either classified according to structure, e.g., peptides, or their origin, e.g., natural products. This review covers the evolution of research in this field over the last 25 years.