Biochar and activated carbon, both carbonaceous pyrogenic materials, are important products for environmental technology and intensively studied for a multitude of purposes. A strict distinction between these materials is not always possible, and also a generally accepted terminology is lacking. However, research on both materials is increasingly overlapping: sorption and remediation are the domain of activated carbon, which nowadays is also addressed by studies on biochar. Thus, awareness of both fields of research and knowledge about the distinction of biochar and activated carbon is necessary for designing novel research on pyrogenic carbonaceous materials. Here, we describe the dividing ranges and common grounds of biochar, activated carbon and other pyrogenic carbonaceous materials such as charcoal based on their history, definition and production technologies. This review also summarizes thermochemical conversions and non-thermal pre- and post-treatments that are used to produce biochar and activated carbon. Our overview shows that biochar research should take advantage of the numerous techniques of activation and modification to tailor biochars for their intended applications.