Melanoma is an aggressive neoplasia issued from the malignant transformation of melanocytes, the pigment-generating cells of the skin. It is responsible for about 75% of deaths due to skin cancers. Melanoma is a phenotypically and molecularly heterogeneous disease: cutaneous, uveal, acral, and mucosal melanomas have different clinical courses, are associated with different mutational profiles, and possess distinct risk factors. The discovery of the molecular abnormalities underlying melanomas has led to the promising improvement of therapy, and further progress is expected in the near future. The study of melanoma precursor lesions has led to the suggestion that the pathway of tumor evolution implies the progression from benign naevi, to dysplastic naevi, to melanoma in situ and then to invasive and metastatic melanoma. The gene alterations characterizing melanomas tend to accumulate in these precursor lesions in a sequential order. Studies carried out in recent years have, in part, elucidated the great tumorigenic potential of melanoma tumor cells. These findings have led to speculation that the cancer stem cell model cannot be applied to melanoma because, in this malignancy, tumor cells possess an intrinsic plasticity, conferring the capacity to initiate and maintain the neoplastic process to phenotypically different tumor cells.