Porphyrins and phthalocyanines have outstanding chemical and thermal stability. The macrocyclic structure and chemical reactivity of tetrapyrroles offers architectural flexibility and facilitates the tailoring of chemical, physical and optoelectronic parameters. The specific optical properties of the tetrapyrrole macrocycle combined with the synthetic methodologies now available and the already available theoretical and spectroscopic knowledge on their optical behavior make porphyrins a target of choice for this area. They are versatile organic nanomaterials with a rich photochemistry and their excited state properties are easily modulated through conformational design, molecular symmetry, metal complexation, orientation and strength of the molecular dipole moment, size and degree of conjugation of the π-systems, and appropriate donor-acceptor substituents. Here we review the structural chemistry and optical properties of recently synthesized porphyrin derivatives that offer potential for nonlinear optical (NLO) applications and complement existing studies on phthalocyanines. Classes of interest include the classic A4 symmetric tetrapyrroles, while optimized systems include push-pull porphyrins, oligomeric and supramolecular self-assembled systems, films and nanoparticle systems, and highly conjugated porphyrin arrays.