Background and purpose - Adequate staging of chondroid tumors at diagnosis is important as it determines both treatment and outcome. This systematic review provides an overview of MRI criteria used to differentiate between atypical cartilaginous tumors (ACT) and high-grade chondrosarcoma (HGCS).Patients and methods - For this systematic review PubMed and Embase were searched, from inception of the databases to July 12, 2018. All original articles describing MRI characteristics of pathologically proven primary central chondrosarcoma and ACT were included. A quality appraisal of the included papers was performed. Data on MRI characteristics and histological grade were extracted by 2 reviewers. Meta-analysis was performed if possible. The study is registered with PROSPERO, CRD42018067959.Results - Our search identified 2,132 unique records, of which 14 studies were included. 239 ACT and 140 HGCS were identified. The quality assessment showed great variability in consensus criteria used for both pathologic and radiologic diagnosis. Due to substantial heterogeneity we refrained from pooling the results in a meta-analysis and reported non-statistical syntheses. Loss of entrapped fatty marrow, cortical breakthrough, and extraosseous soft tissue expansion appeared to be present more often in HGCS compared with ACT.Interpretation - This systematic review provides an overview of MRI characteristics used to differentiate between ACT and HGCS. Future studies are needed to develop and assess more reliable imaging methods and/or features to differentiate ACT from HGCS.