Cadherin genes encode a superfamily of conserved transmembrane proteins that share an adhesive ectodomain composed of tandem cadherin repeats. More than 100 human cadherin superfamily members have been identified, which can be classified into three families: major cadherins, protocadherins and cadherin-related proteins. These superfamily members are involved in diverse fundamental cellular processes including cell-cell adhesion, morphogenesis, cell recognition and signaling. Epithelial cadherin (E-cadherin) is the founding cadherin family member. Its cytoplasmic tail interacts with the armadillo catenins, p120 and β-catenin. Further, α-catenin links the cadherin/armadillo catenin complex to the actin filament network. Even genomes of ancestral metazoan species such as cnidarians and placozoans encode a limited number of distinct cadherins and catenins, emphasizing the conservation and functional importance of these gene families. Moreover, a large expansion of the cadherin and catenin families coincides with the emergence of vertebrates and reflects a major functional diversification in higher metazoans. Here, we revisit and review the functions, phylogenetic classifications and co-evolution of the cadherin and catenin protein families.