Ion exchange membranes (IEMs) are undergoing prosperous development in recent years. More than 30,000 papers which are indexed by Science Citation Index Expanded (SCIE) have been published on IEMs during the past twenty years (2001–2020). Especially, more than 3000 papers are published in the year of 2020, revealing researchers’ great interest in this area. This paper firstly reviews the different types (e.g., cation exchange membrane, anion exchange membrane, proton exchange membrane, bipolar membrane) and electrochemical properties (e.g., permselectivity, electrical resistance/ionic conductivity) of IEMs and the corresponding working principles, followed by membrane synthesis methods, including the common solution casting method. Especially, as a promising future direction, green synthesis is critically discussed. IEMs are extensively applied in various applications, which can be generalized into two big categories, where the water-based category mainly includes electrodialysis, diffusion dialysis and membrane capacitive deionization, while the energy-based category mainly includes reverse electrodialysis, fuel cells, redox flow battery and electrolysis for hydrogen production. These applications are comprehensively discussed in this paper. This review may open new possibilities for the future development of IEMs.