Endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD) has been developed to overcome the limitations of endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR). Yet, the potential for EMR should not be ignored. This study aimed to compare the efficacy and safety of ESD and EMR in the treatment of superficial esophageal carcinoma (SEC). All relevant articles were retrieved from electronic databases. The primary outcomes included en bloc resection, curative resection, R0 resection, and local recurrence rates. Secondary outcomes included procedure time, rates of perforation, bleeding, and postoperative stricture. Subgroup analyses based on histologic types and lesion sizes were conducted. Twenty-two studies were enrolled. Overall results showed higher en bloc, curative, and R0 resection rate, and lower recurrence rate in ESD compared with EMR. ESD was significantly more time-consuming and induced more perforations than EMR procedure. In subgroup analyses of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and Barrett’s esophagus (BE)-associated neoplasia and esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) subtypes, ESD also excelled in en bloc, curative, R0 resection and local recurrence rates. However, in subgroup analysis stratifying outcomes according to lesion sizes, the superior effect of ESD in en bloc resection, curative resection, and local recurrence rate only manifested when lesion size >20 mm. Overall, ESD seemed to have superior efficacy and similar safety profiles compared to EMR in treating SCC, BE-associated neoplasia and EAC. Nevertheless, the selection of ESD or EMR should take lesion size into consideration. EMR is appropriate when lesion size ≤10 mm, EMR and ESD are both applicable for lesion between 11 and 20 mm, and ESD is preferable for lesions >20 mm. More evidences are needed to confirm the current findings.© The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of International Society for Diseases of the Esophagus. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.