The human brain is arguably the most complex structure among living organisms. However, the specific mechanisms leading to this complexity remain incompletely understood, primarily because of the poor experimental accessibility of the human embryonic brain. Over recent years, technologies based on pluripotent stem cells (PSCs) have been developed to generate neural cells of various types. While the translational potential of PSC technologies for disease modeling and/or cell replacement therapies is usually put forward as a rationale for their utility, they are also opening novel windows for direct observation and experimentation of the basic mechanisms of human brain development. PSC-based studies have revealed that a number of cardinal features of neural ontogenesis are remarkably conserved in human models, which can be studied in a reductionist fashion. They have also revealed species-specific features, which constitute attractive lines of investigation to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the development of the human brain, and its link with evolution.