The leukodystrophies are a group of inherited white matter disorders with a heterogeneous genetic background, considerable phenotypic variability and disease onset at all ages. This Review focuses on leukodystrophies with major prevalence or primary onset in adulthood. We summarize 20 leukodystrophies with adult presentations, providing information on the underlying genetic mutations and on biochemical assays that aid diagnosis, where available. Definitions, clinical characteristics, age of onset, MRI findings and treatment options are all described, providing a comprehensive overview of the current knowledge of the various adulthood leukodystrophies. We highlight the distinction between adult-onset leukodystrophies and other inherited disorders with white matter involvement, and we propose a diagnostic pathway for timely recognition of adulthood leukodystrophies in a routine clinical setting. In addition, we provide detailed clinical information on selected adult-onset leukodystrophies, including X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy, metachromatic leukodystrophy, cerebrotendinous xanthomatosis, hereditary diffuse leukoencephalopathy with axonal spheroids, autosomal dominant adult-onset demyelinating leukodystrophy, adult polyglucosan body disease, and leukoencephalopathy with vanishing white matter. Ultimately, this Review aims to provide helpful suggestions to identify treatable adulthood leukodystrophies at an early stage in the disease course.