Wireless sensor networks entail of miniaturized battery-powered sensor nodes with inhibited computational competency. Thus, a routing protocol for sensor networks needs to ensure uniform energy dispersal during its operation. In addition, it is also expected to guarantee fast data delivery irrespective of node density, besides being flexible in terms of the routing framework and route computation metric. The restricted and constrained resources in wireless sensor networks have directed research towards minimization of energy consumption, reduced storage usage and complexity of routing functionalities. In this paper, a number of striking routing algorithms have been studied to afford an insight into energy-efficient designs and present a generous study of different topology control techniques for sensor networks. The routing protocols have been categorized based on the underlying network structure: flat, location based and hierarchical. For all of the protocol families, authors have stressed on the primary motivation behind the development and expounded their operation along with the advantages and disadvantages of those protocols. In conclusion, a number of open research issues have been pointed as an outcome for achieving energy adeptness in the development of routing protocols. © 2021, Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.