Phase transitions are a common phenomenon in condensed matter and act as a critical degree of freedom that can be employed to tailor the mechanical or electronic properties of materials. Understanding the fundamental mechanisms of the thermodynamics and kinetics of phase transitions is, thus, at the core of modern materials design. Conventionally, studies of phase transitions have, to a large extent, focused on pristine bulk phases. However, realistic materials exist in a complex form; their microstructures consist of different point and extended defects. The presence of defects impacts the thermodynamics and kinetics of phase transitions, but has been commonly ignored or treated separately. In recent years, with the significant advances in theoretical and experimental techniques, there has been an increasing research interest in modeling and characterizing how defects impact or even dictate phase transitions. The present review systematically discusses the recent progress in understanding the kinetics of defect-characterized phase transitions, derives the key mechanisms underlying these phase transitions, and envisions the remaining challenges and fruitful research directions. We hope that these discussions and insights will help to inspire future research and development in the field.