Hierarchical modulation (HM), which is also known as layered modulation, has been widely adopted across the telecommunication industry. Its strict backward compatibility with single-layer modems and its low complexity facilitate the seamless upgrading of wireless communication services. The specific features of HM may be conveniently exploited for improving the throughput/information-rate of the system without requiring any extra bandwidth, while its complexity may even be lower than that of the equivalent system relying on conventional modulation schemes. As a recent research trend, the potential employment of HM in the context of cooperative communications has also attracted substantial research interests. Motivated by the lower complexity and higher flexibility of HM, we provide a comprehensive survey and conclude with a range of promising future research directions. Our contribution is the conception of a new cooperative communication paradigm relying on turbo trellis-coded modulation-aided twin-layer HM-16QAM and the analytical performance investigation of a four-node cooperative communication network employing a novel opportunistic routing algorithm. The specific performance characteristics evaluated include the distribution of delay, the outage probability, the transmit power of each node, the average packet power consumption, and the system throughput. The simulation results have demonstrated that when transmitting the packets formed by layered modulated symbol streams, our opportunistic routing algorithm is capable of reducing the transmit power required for each node in the network compared with that of the system using the traditional opportunistic routing algorithm. We have also illustrated that the minimum packet power consumption of our system using our opportunistic routing algorithm is also lower than that of the system using the traditional opportunistic routing algorithm.