Background: Glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) are multifunctional detoxification enzymes that play important roles in insects. The completion of several insect genome projects has enabled the identification and characterization of GST genes over recent years. This study presents a genome-wide investigation of the diamondback moth (DBM), Plutella xylostella, a species in which the GSTs are of special importance because this pest is highly resistant to many insecticides. Results: A total of 22 putative cytosolic GSTs were identified from a published P. xylostella genome and grouped into 6 subclasses (with two unclassified). Delta, Epsilon and Omega GSTs were numerically superior with 5 genes for each of the subclasses. The resulting phylogenetic tree showed that the P. xylostella GSTs were all clustered into Lepidoptera-specific branches. Intron sites and phases as well as GSH binding sites were strongly conserved within each of the subclasses in the GSTs of P. xylostella. Transcriptome-, RNA-seq- and qRT-PCR-based analyses showed that the GST genes were developmental stage- and strain-specifically expressed. Most of the highly expressed genes in insecticide resistant strains were also predominantly expressed in the Malpighian tubules, midgut or epidermis. Conclusions: To date, this is the most comprehensive study on genome-wide identification, characterization and expression profiling of the GST family in P. xylostella. The diversified features and expression patterns of the GSTs are inferred to be associated with the capacity of this species to develop resistance to a wide range of pesticides and biological toxins. Our findings provide a base for functional research on specific GST genes, a better understanding of the evolution of insecticide resistance, and strategies for more sustainable management of the pest.