© 2019 Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim The adhesion of some marine organisms to almost any kind of surface in wet conditions has aroused increasing interest in recent decades. Numerous fundamental studies have been performed to understand the scientific basis of this behaviour, with catechols having been found to play a key role. Several novel bio-inspired adhesives and coatings with value-added performances have been developed by taking advantage of the knowledge gained from these studies. To date there has been no detailed overview focusing exclusively on the complex mode of action of these materials. The aim of this Review is to present recent investigations that elucidate the origin of the strong and versatile adsorption capacities of the catechol moiety and the effects of extrinsic factors that play important roles in the overall adhesion process, such as pH value, solvent, and the presence of metal ions. The aim is to detail the chemistry behind the astonishing properties of natural and synthetic catechol-based adhesive materials.