Neurogenesis initiates during early development and it continues through later developmental stages and in adult animals to enable expansion, remodeling, and homeostasis of the nervous system. The generation of nerve cells has been analyzed in detail in few bilaterian model organisms, leaving open many questions about the evolution of this process. As the sister group to bilaterians, cnidarians occupy an informative phylogenetic position to address the early evolution of cellular and molecular aspects of neurogenesis and to understand common principles of neural development. Here we review studies in several cnidarian model systems that have revealed significant similarities and interesting differences compared to neurogenesis in bilaterian species, and between different cnidarian taxa. Cnidarian neurogenesis is currently best understood in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis, where it includes epithelial neural progenitor cells that express transcription factors of the soxB and atonal families. Notch signaling regulates the number of these neural progenitor cells, achaete-scute and dmrt genes are required for their further development and Wnt and BMP signaling appear to be involved in the patterning of the nervous system. In contrast to many vertebrates and Drosophila, cnidarians have a high capacity to generate neurons throughout their lifetime and during regeneration. Utilizing this feature of cnidarian biology will likely allow gaining new insights into the similarities and differences of embryonic and regenerative neurogenesis. The use of different cnidarian model systems and their expanding experimental toolkits will thus continue to provide a better understanding of evolutionary and developmental aspects of nervous system formation. WIREs Dev Biol 2017, 6:e257. doi: 10.1002/wdev.257 For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.