PURPOSE To evaluate difference in therapeutic outcomes between deep anterior lamellar keratoplasty (DALK) and penetrating keratoplasty (PKP) for the clinical treatment of keratoconus. METHODS A comprehensive search was conducted in Pubmed, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, and Web of science. Eligible studies should include at least one of the following factors: best corrected visual acuity (BCVA), postoperative spherical equivalent (SE), postoperative astigmatism and endothelial cell count (ECC), central corneal thickness (CCT), graft rejection and graft failure, of which BCVA, graft rejection and graft failure were used as the primary outcome measures, and postoperative SE, astigmatism, CCT and ECC as the secondary outcome measures. Given the lack of randomized clinical trials (RCTs), cohort studies and prospective studies were considered eligible. RESULTS Sixteen clinical trials involving 6625 eyes were included in this review, including 1185 eyes in DALK group, and 5440 eyes in PKP group. The outcomes were analyzed using Cochrane Review Manager (RevMan) version 5.0 software. The postoperative BCVA in DALK group was significantly better than that in PKP group (OR = 0.48; 95%CI 0.39 to 0.60; p<0.001). There were fewer cases of graft rejection in DALK group than those in PKP group (OR = 0.28; 95%CI 0.15 to 0.50; p<0.001). Nevertheless the rate of graft failure was similar between DALK and PKP groups (OR = 1.05; 95%CI 0.81 to 1.36; p = 0.73). There were no significant differences in the secondary outcomes of SE (p = 0.70), astigmatism (p = 0.14) and CCT (p = 0.58) between DALK and PKP groups. And ECC in DALK group was significantly higher than PKP group (p<0.001). The postoperative complications, high intraocular pressure (high-IOP) and cataract were analyzed, fewer cases of complications occurred in DALK group than those in PKP group (high-IOP, OR 0.22, 95% CI 0.11-0.44, P<0.001) (cataract, OR 0.22; 95% CI 0.08-0.61, P = 0.004). And no cases of expulsive hemorrhage and endophthalmitis were reported. CONCLUSION The visual outcomes for DALK were not equivalent to PKP. The rate of graft failure was similar between DALK and PKP. Fewer postoperative complications occurred in DALK group, indicating that compared with PKP, DALK has lower efficacy but higher safety.