Microglia are the immune guardians of the central nervous system (CNS), with critical functions in development, maintenance of homeostatic tissue balance, injury and repair. For a long time considered a forgotten ‘third element’ with basic phagocytic functions, a recent surge in interest, accompanied by technological progress, has demonstrated that these distinct myeloid cells have a wide-ranging importance for brain function. This review reports microglial origins, development, and function in the healthy brain. Moreover, it also targets microglia dysfunction and how it contributes to the progression of several neurological disorders, focusing on particular molecular mechanisms and whether these may present themselves as opportunities for novel, microglia-targeted therapeutic approaches, an ever-enticing prospect. Finally, as it has been recently celebrated 100 years of microglia research, the review highlights key landmarks from the past century and looked into the future. Many challenging problems have arisen, thus it points out some of the most pressing questions and experimental challenges for the ensuing century.