Acute leukaemia diagnosis is a field requiring automated solutions, tools and methods and the ability to facilitate early detection and even prediction. Many studies have focused on the automatic detection and classification of acute leukaemia and their subtypes to promote enable highly accurate diagnosis. This study aimed to review and analyse literature related to the detection and classification of acute leukaemia. The factors that were considered to improve understanding on the field's various contextual aspects in published studies and characteristics were motivation, open challenges that confronted researchers and recommendations presented to researchers to enhance this vital research area. We systematically searched all articles about the classification and detection of acute leukaemia, as well as their evaluation and benchmarking, in three main databases: ScienceDirect, Web of Science and IEEE Xplore from 2007 to 2017. These indices were considered to be sufficiently extensive to encompass our field of literature. Based on our inclusion and exclusion criteria, 89 articles were selected. Most studies (58/89) focused on the methods or algorithms of acute leukaemia classification, a number of papers (22/89) covered the developed systems for the detection or diagnosis of acute leukaemia and few papers (5/89) presented evaluation and comparative studies. The smallest portion (4/89) of articles comprised reviews and surveys. Acute leukaemia diagnosis, which is a field requiring automated solutions, tools and methods, entails the ability to facilitate early detection or even prediction. Many studies have been performed on the automatic detection and classification of acute leukaemia and their subtypes to promote accurate diagnosis. Research areas on medical-image classification vary, but they are all equally vital. We expect this systematic review to help emphasise current research opportunities and thus extend and create additional research fields. Copyright © 2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.