In recent years, our understanding about the functional complexity of CD8+ T-cell populations has increased tremendously. The immunology field is now facing challenges to translate these insights into phenotypic definitions that correlate reliably with distinct functional traits. This is key to adequately monitor and understand compound immune responses including vaccination and immunotherapy regimens. Here we will summarize our understanding of the current state in the human CD8+ T-cell subset characterization field. We will address how reliably the currently used cell surface markers are connected to differentiation status and function of particular subsets. By restricting ourselves to CD8+ αβ T cells, we will focus mostly on major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I-restricted virus- and tumor-specific T cells. This comes with a major advantage as fluorescently labeled peptide-loaded MHC class I multimers have been widely used to identify and characterize these cells.