The PE and PPE proteins of Mycobacterium tuberculosis have been studied with great interest since their discovery. Named after the conserved proline (P) and glutamic acid (E) residues in their N-terminal domains, these proteins are postulated to perform wide-ranging roles in virulence and immune modulation. However, technical challenges in studying these proteins and their encoding genes have hampered the elucidation of molecular mechanisms and leave many open questions regarding the biological functions mediated by these proteins. Here, I review the shared and unique characteristics of PE and PPE proteins from a molecular perspective linking this information to their functions in mycobacterial virulence. I discuss how the different subgroups (PE_PGRS, PPE-PPW, PPE-SVP and PPE-MPTR) are defined and why this classification of paramount importance to understand the PE and PPE proteins as individuals and or groups. The goal of this MicroReview is to summarize and structure the existing information on this gene family into a simplified framework of thinking about PE and PPE proteins and genes. Thereby, I hope to provide helpful starting points in studying these genes and proteins for researchers with different backgrounds. This has particular implications for the design and monitoring of novel vaccine candidates and in understanding the evolution of the M. tuberculosis complex. © 2019 The Authors. Molecular Microbiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.