Melanomas comprise multiple biologically distinct categories, which differ in cell of origin, age of onset, clinical and histologic presentation, pattern of metastasis, ethnic distribution, causative role of UV radiation, predisposing germ-line alterations, mutational processes, and patterns of somatic mutations. Neoplasms are initiated by gain-of-function mutations in one of several primary oncogenes, which typically lead to benign melanocytic nevi with characteristic histologic features. The progression of nevi is restrained by multiple tumor-suppressive mechanisms. Secondary genetic alterations override these barriers and promote intermediate or overtly malignant tumors along distinct progression trajectories. The current knowledge about the pathogenesis and clinical, histologic, and genetic features of primary melanocytic neoplasms is reviewed and integrated into a taxonomic framework.