Methylation of lysine and arginine residues on histones has long been known to determine both chromatin structure and gene expression. In recent years, the methylation of non-histone proteins has emerged as a prevalent modification which impacts on diverse processes such as cell cycle control, DNA repair, senescence, differentiation, apoptosis and tumourigenesis. Many of these non-histone targets represent transcription factors, cell signalling molecules and tumour suppressor proteins. Evidence now suggests that the dysregulation of methyltransferases, demethylases and reader proteins is involved in the development of many diseases, including cancer, and several of these proteins represent potential therapeutic targets for small molecule compounds, fuelling a recent surge in chemical inhibitor design. Such molecules will greatly help us to understand the role of methylation in both health and disease.