The fungal kingdom comprises some of the most devastating plant pathogens. Sequencing the genomes of fungal pathogens has shown a remarkable variability in genome size and architecture. Population genomic data enable us to understand the mechanisms and the history of changes in genome size and adaptive evolution in plant pathogens. Although transposable elements predominantly have negative effects on their host, fungal pathogens provide prominent examples of advantageous associations between rapidly evolving transposable elements and virulence genes that cause variation in virulence phenotypes. By providing homogeneous environments at large regional scales, managed ecosystems, such as modern agriculture, can be conducive for the rapid evolution and dispersal of pathogens. In this Review, we summarize key examples from fungal plant pathogen genomics and discuss evolutionary processes in pathogenic fungi in the context of molecular evolution, population genomics and agriculture.