In spite of their chemical inertness, hydrocarbons are degraded by microorganisms in the complete absence of oxygen. As all known aerobic hydrocarbon degradation pathways start with oxygen-dependent reactions, hydrocarbon catabolism in anaerobes must be initiated by novel biochemical reactions. In recent years, the enzymes catalyzing oxygen-independent activation of several hydrocarbons have been identified. Surprisingly, a variety of reactions seems to be employed to overcome the activation barrier of different hydrocarbons. This review presents the current understanding on some of these reactions and the associated degradation pathways: oxygen independent hydroxylation as employed in ethylbenzene metabolism, fumarate addition to methyl or methylene carbons in toluene or alkane degradation, and only recently discovered reactions such as methylation of naphthalene or anaerobic methane oxidation via reverse methanogenesis.