Three-dimensional (3D) structural analysis is essential to understand the relationship between the structure and function of an object. Many analytical techniques, such as X-ray diffraction, neutron spectroscopy, and electron microscopy imaging, are used to provide structural information. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM), one of the most popular analytic tools, has been widely used for structural analysis in both physical and biological sciences for many decades, in which 3D objects are projected into two-dimensional (2D) images. In many cases, 2D-projection images are insufficient to understand the relationship between the 3D structure and the function of nanoscale objects. Electron tomography (ET) is a technique that retrieves 3D structural information from a tilt series of 2D projections, and is gradually becoming a mature technology with sub-nanometer resolution. Distinct methods to overcome sample-based limitations have been separately developed in both physical and biological science, although they share some basic concepts of ET. This review discusses the common basis for 3D characterization, and specifies difficulties and solutions regarding both hard and soft materials research. It is hoped that novel solutions based on current state-of-the-art techniques for advanced applications in hybrid matter systems can be motivated.