Amino acids are required nutrients for proliferating tumor cells, and amino acid transport is upregulated in many tumor types. Studies of radiolabeled amino acids in animals and humans demonstrate that amino acid based tracers have advantageous characteristics relative to 2-[(18)F]fluoro-2-deoxyglucose in certain tumors, particularly brain gliomas. Non-natural amino acids for tumor imaging generally have greater metabolic stability and can be labeled with longer-lived radionuclides for positron emission tomography and single photon emission computed tomography such as fluorine-18 and iodine-123. Amino acids enter cells via amino acid transport with varying selectivity based on their chemical structure. This review focuses on the rationale, biological basis, current status and future prospects of radiolabeled non-natural amino acids for tumor imaging and discusses various classes of these compounds including aromatic, alicyclic and alpha,alpha-dialkyl amino acids.