The plastisphere, which comprises the microbial community on plastic debris, rivals that of the built environment in spanning multiple biomes on Earth. Although human-derived debris has been entering the ocean for thousands of years, microplastics now numerically dominate marine debris and are primarily colonized by microbial and other microscopic life. The realization that this novel substrate in the marine environment can facilitate microbial dispersal and affect all aquatic ecosystems has intensified interest in the microbial ecology and evolution of this biotope. Whether a ‘core’ plastisphere community exists that is specific to plastic is currently a topic of intense investigation. This Review provides an overview of the microbial ecology of the plastisphere in the context of its diversity and function, as well as suggesting areas for further research.