Light modulation is an essential operation in photonics and optoelectronics. With existing and emerging technologies increasingly demanding compact, efficient, fast and broadband optical modulators, high-performance light modulation solutions are becoming indispensable. The recent realization that 2D layered materials could modulate light with superior performance has prompted intense research and significant advances, paving the way for realistic applications. In this Review, we cover the state of the art of optical modulators based on 2D materials, including graphene, transition metal dichalcogenides and black phosphorus. We discuss recent advances employing hybrid structures, such as 2D heterostructures, plasmonic structures, and silicon and fibre integrated structures. We also take a look at the future perspectives and discuss the potential of yet relatively unexplored mechanisms, such as magneto-optic and acousto-optic modulation.